“Leaving me already boss?” Hyde asked as she sat on the floor, keeping her eyes away from Faustus as he stood nearby, hastily putting his things back in his satchel.
“Were you honestly thinking I would stay?” The painful sting that came with his biting remark made Hyde snicker, the sound coming out like static through her gas mask as she busied herself peeling the wraps still glued to her skin.
“Can you blame me for hoping you would? You know how much I love babysitting… Especially when the kids are actually awake.” Hyde squinted, wondering if Faustus could tell how utterly unenthusiastic she truly was. Rather unexpectedly, he stopped what he was doing to give her a look over, setting aside a small bottle filled with green pills and half a dozen filled syringes.
“These should be enough to hold you both over until you make it back to civilization providing you don’t kill each other before you get there first.” He said as Hyde rolled her eyes, pulling herself backwards up on the mattress and pushing herself to her feet. She took three steps forward and made everything he’d set out on the table disappear, listening as he kept talking. “I’ll be in town with some acquaintances for a few days and then I’ll be returning to the bridge to file paperwork.”
Hyde couldn’t help but be amused. Faustus’ deadpan tone of voice made even her and her gas mask modifications sound perfectly normal. “So, to translate, you’re going to the Hell Mouth to meet up with your imaginary girlfriend then NOT reporting it back to Our Dearly Beloved Big Brother?” Her sarcasm was only matched by her bitterness and accentuated by the literal metal laced into her voice. “Can I keep the modulator since you’re fucking off to get laid? I might as well keep Basha’s heart since I basically broke it.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend Hyde; I’m visiting some old friends.” Faustus was glaring daggers as he took the dead reactor out of the box he’d put it in and handed it over to her anyway. “And The Maestro already took care of Basha’s heart when he ripped it out of his chest and swallowed it.”
“Hence the replacements shittier than your ability to lie.” Hyde shot back as she slunk back to her spot against the metal bed frame, shivering from what she tried to tell herself was the cold. “Speaking of broken hearts, who do you think got upgraded first? Basha or Eremis?”
“Neither, actually, but since we’re not going to discuss that here, we’ll stick with Eremis.” Hyde’s eyes grew wide at his answer but the look on her face was quickly replaced with mild consternation.
“Didn’t Basha get his modulator first and then convert Eremis because she tried to kill herself?” Faustus was right; Eremis wasn’t the kind of topic that came up in the conversation very often and Hyde knew he’d drop it faster than he’d dropped his surgical gloves and thrown his trench coat back on. Presently, he’d finished tying up his bag and was strapping it around his neck, looking deathly fucking grim while he pulled his zipper back up to his nose.
“If you’ll follow me upstairs, I’ll give you the keys the locks I used on the doors. I doubt anyone followed me here but you really never know.” Came his predictable evasive reply. Avoiding the topic entirely, he then turned around and headed back up the rusty staircase, not giving his apprentice the opportunity to protest.
“WAY TO ANSWER THE QUESTION, FAUSTUS!!” She yelled up at him instead, finding new and much better curse words to mutter under her breath as she shoved the modulator into one of her side pockets and chased after him.
“I did answer your question, it just wasn’t what you wanted to hear.” Faustus pointed out flatly once she’d caught up to him.
“Who was the first to get upgraded if it wasn’t Basha or Eremis?” She tried again.
“That’s not what you asked.” Faustus sighed as they headed towards the exit. “Remember when we started working together, I had you explain to me how you self-mutilate for practice?”
The sudden and unexpected question rattled Hyde harder than the howling winds outside made the wooden doors rattle on their hinges. She flinched, her whole body twitching as she clenched and unclenched her fists, waiting a moment before she spoke. “Because I’m a curious intellectual who chose to install some of her own modifications out of boredom, NOT because I have an actual fucking problem.” She attempted to reiterate. Faustus shot her a sideways glance, lowering his gaze until his eyes settled on her bandage-covered fingers until, flustered and increasingly annoyed, Hyde snapped. “Alright, fine… SOMETIMES I do it on purpose… But I’m still not suicidal. If I was going to kill myself, I would’ve done it already.” She pointed to the gas mask Faustus himself had given her as the ongoing proof she wasn’t lying about it.
“Yes, well, let’s say Eremis never got the option. HE simply went crazy and used her as a guinea pig… Rationalizing she had no will to live anyway so it didn’t matter.” Faustus stopped himself a few feet away from the door, hesitating at the thought of the storm but resigning himself to it nonetheless.
“Who’s HE? You mean Big Brother?” Hyde kept asking but Faustus’ face turned to stone as he fished out his key rings and pulled off the proper keys.
“Please do me the honors.” Were all the words he offered as his eyes narrowed down to slits and his voice dropped in tone, leaving no room for discussion or any further questions.
“Sure thing, boss.” Hyde bowed her head, bit her tongue and refrained from saying anything else as Faustus took off his glasses and tucked them back up his sleeve. He then ducked through the open doors, graciously helping her hold them closed until she’d managed to lock them up again behind him.
“…Jeez…Us…” She breathed once she was positive he wasn’t coming back. She reached into her pocket for Basha’s broken modulator, coiling her fingers around it as she tried to calm her racing heart. “Good thing shit happens.”
She pulled it out and examined it, finding the sharp tip of her tweezers and using them to remove the tiny bolts holding the warped, titanium plates together. She wasn’t entirely sure what she thought she was doing or why she’d wanted to keep the broken reactor. She didn’t even really know what she was looking for until she found it, neatly wrapped in multicolored wires and further protected by a second shell mostly consisting of freshly melted plastic.
“Well aren’t you an actual fucking gem…” She muttered to herself gleefully as she yanked the plastic case out with her fingers, shoving the modulator back into her pocket. She decided to use her teeth to peel back its flimsy corners until she was able to reach the ball of wires with her tweezers. She then began yanking them all out one by one, discarding them on the floor like hairs as she slowly made her way back down to the sub-basement, careful not to trip over the misshapen stairs. Once she had finally pulled it free, she shook it out into the palm of her hand, throwing the plastic case somewhere in a far corner where no one would miss it.
“Look at this princess. I bet you’ll never guess what your second favorite lady got her twisted little fingers on.” Hyde announced to the still unconscious Basha as she waltzed back into their makeshift operating room. She climbed back on top of him, finding her favorite spot under his belt while she sneered at him. “Nevermind what Faustus said about Big Brother eating your heart… This right here could almost pass for a wedding ring.”
Hyde examined the highly polished silver disc under the dim lights. Nearly forgetting Faustus had untied Basha’s hands while citing blood loss and irreparable nerve damage, Hyde did the unthinkable; reaching up behind her head and under her hair, she undid the clasps that held the top half of her mask firmly attached to her face, digging her fingers into her cheekbones and forcing it down its invisible hinges to her chest. The gush of air felt cold and refreshing on her bare skin as she exposed what should have been her mouth and lower jaw… IF she’d still had a mouth and a lower jaw to expose.
Even after all this time and everything that happened, Hyde couldn’t make herself care enough to look at her own, very real reflection in any kind of mirror. She didn’t need to. She already knew exactly what the fuck she looked like… Just like she already knew she couldn’t speak with her mask pulled down. Still, she managed to let out a nearly sadistic laugh as she placed the miniature disc over her open gullet and, just like Big Brother before her, swallowed it whole.
Although she felt it make its way down what remained of her throat, Hyde still didn’t get much time to dwell on the Maestro or what little remained of their collective humanity. As fast as it reached what no longer served as her stomach and with absolutely no warning whatsoever, a massive ball of electricity came surging out of her midsection, racing up her spine and screeching out of her ears louder and sharper than the feedback from a mishandled microphone. Unable to scream in pain or make it stop, Hyde slammed her hands up against her ears in a futile attempt at what felt like a nuke trying to force its way out of her petite frame. Then, if only to complete the absolute fucking insanity, her vision blurred, turning to static before it was almost immediately replaced with the sentence;
“ERROR://VIDEO FILE CORRUPTED.”
In a panic, she dug her nails into Basha’s stomach hard enough to make him bleed as she forced her neural systems into a hard reset. Regaining her normal vision, she was then able to adjust the cacophony of white noise still screaming at the back of her head until the audio cleared up enough she thought she could make out the sound of Basha’s voice;
“For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God…” It began. Hyde had to rewind and play it back more than once before she nearly fell over laughing despite herself.
“I bet there’s way more than one, princess…” Hyde thought snidely as the loopy audio kept playing.
“Bloody Mary, full of Vodka…” The static was making it nearly impossible to hear his voice, let alone make out where he was or what he was doing. “… Blessed are you amongst cocktails…”
Hyde had never drank alcohol. At first, she had been much too young. Then he so-called ‘accident’ had happened and suddenly, she’d been far too… Inhuman. She remembered to re-attach her gas mask as her already throbbing skull was rocked by what sounded like yet another explosion.
“… Pray for me now…” Basha’s words rang out over the static.
“What the fuck just happened?” Hyde didn’t realize she was talking out loud, too engrossed with the Basha she was listening to noticed the Basha she was sitting on was coming out of his drug-induced stupor. She rewound it, turning the volume nearly all the way up as she strained to make out what was going on in the background.
“Pray for me now and at the hour of my Death…” There had definitely been a crash followed by an explosion; Hyde could hear what sounded like nearby buildings falling over while Basha swore, clearly annoyed something had interrupted his unemotional soliloquy.
“Which we still hope is soon.” It hadn’t come from the disjointed audio track that time, resulting in Hyde crawling out of her skin as her throat closed up, making her choke. Forced to return her attention to her real life surroundings, she quickly realized her impromptu patient had returned to enough of his senses to figure out what she was doing. Basha had then reached up and wrapped his weakened hands around the base of her thin neck… The only human skin that remained between her collarbone and the bridge of her nose.
The voice on the disc finally broke apart, drowned out by waves of heavy, rolling static. In deafening silence, a now conscious Basha stared at Hyde until the audio glitched hard enough to force Hyde into painful spasms, forcing her to blink away sudden tears.
“Who the Hell is Mordred?” Overwhelmed and completely confused, Hyde wasn’t sure if she’d seen the word or heard someone say it as the audio crashed and stopped playing altogether.
“Did it hurt?” Even though he had a hard time talking due to his unregulated modulator and the anaesthetics still coursing through his system, Basha was still able to dodge her question with another question.
“Does what hurt? Your hand around my neck?” Hyde, perched as she was under his belt, refused to move or loosen his grip on her. “Hardly, princess. You’ve already done much, much fucking worse.”
“No… The disc… Did it hurt?” Basha had never been much for proper explanations.
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. Was it supposed to?” She didn’t feel like telling him how it had almost completely wiped out her clocks. Not after everything he’d done.
“It was supposed to self-destruct when my reactor died.” Basha stated, his chilled, dark blue gaze unwavering.
“Just like YOU were supposed to self-destruct when the Ezrmatheia died?” Hyde simply glared right back at him. “Just like Eremis did.”
“Eremis was dead before I met her.” Basha said as Hyde proceeded to pull his hands from her neck, convincing herself she was choosing to slide off of Basha and the bed and settle herself back down on the damp, cement floor. Once she’d made herself as comfortable as she could, she pulled out the pill bottle Faustus had given her along with a single syringe. “She was dead before Faustus or the Maestro knew she even existed and you don’t even know who she is so shut the fuck up.”
“My previous offer to kill you on the spot and bury you in the sand dunes out back still stands.” The murderous rage Hyde had so far been holding back was threatening to swell back up again. Basha didn’t seem to notice or care however, having shut his eyes trying to shut out and ignore their pathetic excuse of an existence. Overwhelmed, confused, angry and increasingly frustrated and tired, Hyde sighed. “Look, I can’t… REALLY shouldn’t give you another needle anymore than I can technically swallow these pain killers… But you can hold on to these anyway. Do what you want with them. I’m taking a shot and drifting off until you can stand up and walk back to wherever the Hell we wind up going.”
She’d picked up the bottle and pushed it into the palm of his right hand, tightening his freezing digits around it until she was sure he wouldn’t drop them on the floor. She then stuck herself with the needle, emptying out half it’s contents into her veins before her overburdened system softened up and began to shut down. She pulled it out, putting it away with the others as she turned into a puddle of mush next to Basha’s bed.
Unknowingly to Hyde, who’d stopped paying any kind of attention to him, he’d turned his head and was now watching her as she took a turn drifting off into the ether at the back of her head.
Basha finally finished.