Your Friend, Connie (TexCT)
[AO3] [Ko-Fi in Bio]
Word Count: 4849
Summary: Connie’s running out of options when a mission gone wrong gives her an opportunity she never expected to have: the chance to talk to Texas, one-on-one. But complicated problems rarely have such simple solutions.
Notes: Final fic for @rvbfemslash February! An immediate heads-up: this fic is not as overtly shippy as I first intended and whilst it’s certainly intended to imply TexCT, it’s not explicit and it focuses more on the potential in their relationship. So it’s toeing the line of counting for this month, but it was written with the ship in mind.
This was ridiculous.
Connie huffed, twisting her wrists in their bindings a little more, trying to get the right angle. There was a little give now, but not enough to get her hands free without breaking a couple of bones and dislocating a couple of joints. She’d rather not do that. Easy fix with some knitting polymer back at the ship or not, it wasn’t pleasant.
She couldn’t believe this had even happened. She was better than this, she didn’t get captured by untrained goons and thrown into the back room of some shady warehouse that smelt like centuries outdated petrol and god knows what else—noxious and distracting, painfully so. Yet here she was, in exactly that situation, with her wrists tied behind her back and her armour nowhere to be seen.
This wasn’t going to help her tenuous standing at the Project. Getting captured two times in as many missions was going to catch much too much attention from command.
If only it hadn’t come so soon after her last intel drop. Sending intelligence over the Project’s own communication networks, even routed through a variety of proxies and other safety measures, was getting too risky. So, rather than take that chance, she’d arranged for her contact to ‘capture’ her on her last mission. It was simple enough; she tripped an alarm that she’d never have fallen for in an actual infiltration and let Sleeves, their muscle, grab her. Cutting off her own comms was easy and the drop went smoothly; by the time someone had made their way to retrieve her, her contact had retreated and she pretended that she’d escaped part way on her own.
Simple. They got what they needed from her, she kept herself out of the suspicions of the Project.
Whether or not that would last now, she couldn’t be sure. Things were getting… precarious.
Time was running out and she couldn’t see the countdown.
Shaking the thought away, Connie focused back on the bindings wrapped around her wrist and the situation she was in now, not the one she faced when—if—she got out of here. The warehouse was far out of the way; it had come up on the Project’s radar only after reports of them using—maybe even attempting to sell—experimental equipment had reached the UNSC.
Going by the strange way her armour had locked up, allowing them to grab her without her even throwing a single punch, those reports were true. Experimental or not, it did its job and completely shut down her armour’s systems, she hadn’t even been able to trigger her emergency beacon to call for immediate help.
Hours had passed since and she knew that, by now, they had to know she was in enemy hands. Or, more importantly, that her equipment was.
Agents were disposable, if worst came to worst. But their armour, their modifications? Never.
So she knew someone would come, eventually. For her gear, if not for her.
The two guards that stood over her changed out fairly regularly, as someone got bored or they were needed for another duty. Watching them gave away no organisation or pattern of any kind, so that was a bust. Even with her bindings almost loose enough to remove, to do so without access to a weapon or her armour, with armed guards so close by? It would be suicide.
And so it became a waiting game.
More guards came and went. No one seemed to know what they were going to do with her, not-so-subtle whispers passing between the assortment of grunts about their options—should they have killed her already? Dumped her somewhere? Tried to actually interrogate her and find out what she was here for? Something else entirely? No one knew. Capturing a UNSC-sponsored prisoner was clearly not part of their plans for the day.
At first, she didn’t notice when those whispers shifted target. She’d almost tuned them out entirely before a sudden yelp came from one of their earpieces, the high-pitched sound of someone being struck down mid-word.
The guards shared a look.
“I’ll… go check what’s going on,” one said, taking a few, reluctant steps away. His current partner, who looked somehow even less enthused about the concept of investigating than he did, just nodded.
“You do that,” he said, before turning to Connie with his rifle raised. Connie tensed her shoulders. “And don’t you try any funny business. I can still shoot quicker than you can move.”
That was almost certainly true.
Unfortunately for him, they wouldn’t have chance to find out. Moments after the words left his mouth there was a loud CRASH behind him as his buddy was slammed against the wall with inhuman force.
He jumped out of his damn skin, turned his attention away from Connie—
—who tore herself free from her bindings, planted a hand on the floor and swept his legs from under him.
A yelp, a clatter, a shimmer, the snap of bone—
He dropped to the floor dead.
Connie landed back on the floor, her heart pounding at the rush of adrenaline after hours of sitting still. Looking up at her rescuer, she exhaled; it could only be one person. “Texas.” The clean-up crew.
The shimmer in front of her solidified, smooth black armour reappearing in swathes of reality and an outstretched hand. Eyeing it for a moment, Connie took it and let herself be pulled to her feet.
“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were showing off with that entrance,” she said, rubbing her wrists. They’d definitely bruise. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of blankness in Tex’s posture, before something clicked into place and she chuckled. Delayed social reaction. That checked.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. You okay?” Tex stood almost an entire foot over her. She’d be imposing, if Connie didn’t know as much about her as she did. Oddly, it made her more… human, knowing that she wasn’t. “No injuries that are gonna stop you moving?”
“No,” she shook her head, “I’m fine. They didn’t subdue me physically, it was tech that got me.” Speaking of… “Did you get my armour?”
Connie raised a brow. “I’m surprised. Shouldn’t you have been grabbing the important stuff first?”
Tex’s tilted head held the same sarcastic confusion. “Yeah, well, my orders are to prioritise your armour and the tech, but hey, I found you first, what am I supposed to do? Backtrack on myself? Nah.” Then, a shrug. “Besides, I know you’re our best intelligence agent. That seems pretty important to me.”
Stance relaxing a little and her face softening, Connie sighed.
“But hey,” Tex continued, “you don’t wanna be saved I can just leave you here, go grab the armour and swing back to you if I have time, no skin off my back.”
“Alright, point taken,” Connie said, before pausing. “…and thanks. I don’t mean to sound… ungrateful.”
“Don’t worry about it, you’ve been stuck here for hours, I’d be grouchy too. You know where your armour is?” Tex said, taking a pistol off her thigh and offering it to Connie. She took it. “Fully loaded. Haven’t touched it.”
“Didn’t need to, I’m guessing.” A knife would have been preferable, but a pistol was better than nothing. “I have a rough idea. I imagine it’ll be wherever they’re keeping their other tech. They have some kind of armour locking technology, more advanced than things like the paint. It locked my entire body up with some kind of energy field.”
“Huh. That’s the kind of shit you’re out here for isn’t it?” Tex nudged the dead guard with her foot and glanced over at the other one—not dead, just unconscious and collapsed in a pile of broken crates. No threats in the room.
“Essentially. So, all going well, we’ll be able to complete the mission anyway.” Connie took a deep breath in. Being without her armour on a mission she was meant to run with armour was a new kind of vulnerability she didn’t appreciate at all. “Okay, let’s get this over with before I think too hard about the fact I’m only wearing a kevlar bodysuit.”
“Don’t worry,” Tex said, cracking her knuckles, “I won’t let anyone hit you.”
There was a kind of surety to the statement that only Tex could give off; it wasn’t just a promise, it was a statement of fact. With her track record in the field and training backing that up, Connie felt a little of the tension in her shoulders release.
“Alright, I’m holding you to that.”
“Wouldn’t expect anything less.”
The warehouse wasn’t kitted out with alarms, but the mess in the open rooms they passed and the sound of distant voices betrayed the panic that had quickly spread once the invisible, wrecking ball of a woman had torn her way through. The halls had been vacated, besides a couple of people grabbing the injured, but alive, members of their group and dragging them away.
There was no point in fighting them if they weren’t an active threat, so they let them go. Going by the buzz of turbines above them, the second assault had provoked an evacuation.
“Think I scared most of ‘em off?” Tex said, nodding towards the ceiling.
“Most of them. I doubt they’ll want to leave behind all their tech and they certainly weren’t moving out before you turned up,” a silent infiltration with no casualties never did have the same shock factor as a true assault, “some of them will have to be near wherever they’re storing it, packing it up.”
“Okay, so where we heading? Where would you keep all your top secret, fancy tech?”
A laptop secured against the underside of her bed. A signal scrambling system built into her personal Data Pad. Her medical information used as a layer of defence over the top of a whole drive’s worth of stolen intel. Innocuous places people would never think to look, hidden in plain sight if anyone even bothered to search in the first place.
“One of the standard warehouse rooms, but the furthest one away from where they were keeping me tied up.”
Tex nodded. “Got it. Stick behind me.”
Connie was right. A few halls away they heard voices; orders to hurry up and attitude in return, interrupted by the scraping sound of crates being dragged and the sputter of an old engine. A quick peek inside and they could see them packing crates up into a very outdated van. There was a growing pile of opened and unopened crates beside it, whilst a couple of the group wrangled others into the back.
Stacked on top of one such crate was Connie’s armour.
“You think you can sneak around to your armour whilst I clean up the rest of them?” Tex said. A moment later she was nothing more than a shimmer, distorting the blank wall behind her.
“I should be able to, yeah,” Connie said, double checking the pistol. “See you at the other end.”
The shimmer shifted slightly—an arm being lifted, perhaps—and then it was gone, disappearing into the rows of shelves between them and the vehicle bay at the back.
Connie waited until she heard the first person take a punch and then she was on the move, too.
Moving quickly but quietly, finger rested close to the trigger and on high alert, she slipped down the aisle closest to the entrance. Thuds and bangs and grunts travelled through the shelving—crunching from unarmoured fists against metal and heavily armoured fists against bone, scampering feet and a crate smashing against the floor.
Connie shuddered. Thank god she’d never had reason to be on the wrong end of her strength.
She was at the end of the aisle when one unforeseen side effect of Tex’s distraction made itself known: a couple of the group had ducked behind the crates. Her path was no longer clear, but their view of her certainly was; movement in their periphery drew their attention the moment she got close enough to register they were there.
Emboldened by her lack of armour, they stood to try their luck. That was their first mistake.
They didn’t have guns, so when they ran at her Connie didn’t feel anywhere near as vulnerable as being in open hallways where someone with a weapon that could tear through her suit with ease was a threat. She didn’t even level her own pistol. Soon, they were in range, fists clumsily raised and—
Connie ducked, swept beneath them and half-knocked their legs from under them. By the time they’d steadied themselves she’d already grabbed one of their arms, twisted it up behind their back and slammed her foot into their spine, knocking them down again. As the second of them turned to face her, she bolted towards the end of the aisle. Gave herself room to move and react.
When he came at her again, she ducked, threw a punch into his gut and dodged around him. With a knife this would have been over in seconds. Instead, he came for her again, the first guy grabbed her ankle—
And then he was thrown into the shelves and their arm snapped between the ground and Tex’s foot.
That was their second mistake.
Connie exhaled. Okay.
Tex kicked the first guy in the head and knocked him out. “Told you I wouldn’t let them hit you.”
“You sure did. The others—?”
“Dealt with, get your armour on. I’ll tear open some boxes.”
As soon as the final piece of her armour clipped into place and her HUD lit up, the last of the hairs on her neck settled. Even her knives were still there and she gladly attached them back to their respective hard-points, resting her fingers against the hilt reflexively. There were no more threats, but being in the field was always easier with multiple inches of armour plating between your vital organs and everything around you.
“What did the thing they use on you look like?” Tex called, the sound slightly muffled by the walls of the van.
Connie hopped up into the back with her. Most of the crates had been pulled open by force, their contents now easily seen and examined. Most of them seemed to be weaponry, much of it completely familiar, but one or two contained more… interesting things.
“I didn’t really see, but if I had to take a guess…” Her HUD was scanning and highlighting things that gave off unique energy signatures. Slowly panning past the guns and ammo, she settled on a box of square units that were highlighted as being electromagnetic. “Those things.” Tex reached out, but Connie grabbed her arm. “I wouldn’t. I don’t know how they activated them and I wouldn’t know how to deactivate it either. Find a smaller box and I’ll take off my gloves, minimise the risk of it touching armour.”
Tex tilted her head, but she stepped away.
Connie exhaled. How one would have reacted to Tex’s body, she didn’t know. And she didn’t want to take the risk. Tex had to know eventually, but… not like that.
Taking off her gloves, she picked up a couple of the units. When Tex returned with a suitable box she set them down carefully, padding between them with packing from the original crate to keep them from touching.
“There. Alright, call for extraction.”
“Already on it.”
Turning back, Connie could have sworn she saw Tex… staring, at her? Staring may have been too strong a word, but looking at her, for sure. Maybe that wasn’t notable, but…
In the back of the Pelican, Connie spoke up. “Hey, Texas?”
Tex’s head snapped up, shattering the eerie stillness that had lingered since she sat down. She didn’t share transports often. “Uhh… yeah?”
“I know you’re busy, with briefings and training and all, but… when you have a free hour or two, do you think we could meet up and talk?” It was reckless. Riskier than anything she’d done before now. But she was more aware than ever of that invisible timer, counting down until she’d have to make a choice.
So she was making one.
Tex stalled. That split-second delay she’d noticed before lingered longer this time—ingrained protocol warring with social rules warring with personal desires warring with whatever else was on her mind.
But, eventually, it passed.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll… set some time aside. I think I have an hour between training and briefing in a couple days? About 1300,” Tex said, shifting a little in her seat. Nerves?
“I can make time. Do you know where the observatory deck is?” Quiet, mostly private. Especially during the day.
“Yeah, I know where it is. Guess uhh… guess I’ll see you then.”
Connie offered a smile. “See you then.”
Tex may have tried to smile back, but it was hard to tell behind that helmet she’d never seen her remove. Regardless, the silence felt a little more companionable after that.
A human connection, first and foremost, that was what Connie wanted to offer. Break the isolation that Tex had been experiencing since she came into existence. Maybe, just maybe, if she was able to get past that… maybe she could tell her. Maybe she could do something without having to leave.
It wasn’t a sure thing.
Still, Tex deserved to have a friendly face to turn to. Her unusual circumstances had dictated her isolation and no one had made the effort to change that, not even Connie herself. Tex was owed that much, surely.
Upon their return, everything went as Connie had expected. Without even so much as a ten minute diversion to check her physical condition, Connie was dragged into a dressing-down disguised as a debriefing. She stood there and took it, zoning out and saying ‘yessir’ and ‘it won’t happen again sir’ in all the right places to placate his anger at her incompetence. It didn’t matter, anyway; that board hadn’t changed since the AI started going out, she wasn’t being demoted to Beta Squad now. Even if she was, it would hardly change anything.
It ended, she left, she passed out in bed with only a wave at South.
Tex was nowhere to be seen for the next two days, but that was expected too. It was a miracle she’d even found one hour of free time to promise. So Connie went about her business as normal, continued her work, kept up appearances.
But when that hour came, Tex wasn’t there.
The observatory deck was dark and empty, so silent that the hum of the engines was no longer just background noise. Connie waited there for three hours, just in case—it didn’t make a difference, Tex didn’t come.
Maybe she should have expected that, as well.
After that mission, everything at the Project seemed to move faster than ever and Tex was somehow more absent than she’d ever been before. No one saw her for days, then a few weeks. Never caught so much as a glimpse. AI production showed no signs of stopping and Connie found herself backed further and further into a corner. Every new piece of intel she stole upped her chances of getting caught and the pressure from Jarrett to leave was piling by the day. Tex had been one of her only other avenues of action and that had clearly closed.
Connie was racing that invisible countdown and she couldn’t keep up.
Eventually, she knew something would have to give. Opportunities to drop her intel discretely had faded. Her next chance involved ignoring direct orders, abandoning a mission and risking exposure. Or, perhaps worse, having to leave before she was really ready to make that decision.
So the night before, she found herself back on the observatory deck, amidst the eerie silence of space that made her lungs feel compressed and her mind run in circles about the what ifs of the void in front of her. Unpredictable and infinite. Absolutely terrifying.
And then a voice broke the silence. “Room for another?”
“I’m certainly not going to stop you.”
Texas emerged from the darkness, her pale face and light hair a stark contrast to it and her black clothes. It was the first time Connie had seen her face outside of the files that recorded every detail of her existence, from the exact shade of her hair to the beauty marks that, if pressed right, would open her power cell compartment.
She knew more about Tex than Tex may ever know about herself and it felt as wrong as it was.
The AI who knew nothing of what she was sat beside her, leaned back upon her palms and stretched her legs out in front of her. Stared out at the abyss in front of them, all of the distant stars that only Maine seemed to know the names of, and said nothing more.
Connie glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, watched her. The slightly too even rise and fall of her shoulders, the unnatural stillness of her position—all the little things. Maybe if she’d been around them more, she would have adapted her patterns to match, began to act more human. Then again, what did it matter? She thought she was human, she acted human in all of the most obvious ways.
Shattering that illusion required more trust than Tex had been given time to place in her. She couldn’t do it now.
Quiet ruled the room for almost ten minutes before Tex spoke again.
“Sorry I stood you up. Shit got kinda busy after we got back, I didn’t have the time.”
“It’s fine. You’re a busy woman.”
Another pause. Connie picked at the scar across her palm and took a deep breath in.
“You ever have to make an impossible choice, Tex? One that could either fix or ruin everything all at once?”
Tex hesitated, but this time it felt more… real, not like a software delay. “Not really. Things have always been… pretty straightforward, for me, I guess. I do my job, do it well… don’t have to make the hard decisions, just gotta follow orders when I get ‘em.”
“Hopefully it stays that way,” Connie sighed, pulling her knees up to her chest. Another beat. “You on the mission tomorrow?”
“Technically, that’s classified, but… nah, not tomorrow. Got me hanging back on the ship, ready to go if things get dire, but,” she shrugged, “pretty sure you guys can handle this one.”
Connie rested her head against her knee, turned to face her. “Even me? The one who’s been captured twice?”
“Hey, from what I heard, the first time you got out on your own. Second time, you only got caught because they had some weird tech. I think you’ll be fine,” Tex said. Nudging Connie with her elbow, she offered the first and last smile Connie would ever see her give.
“Next time I get a break, I’ll try and let you know. See if we can find time to really have that talk you wanted to have. Seems like something heavy, if that dramatic question was anything to go by. Like, seriously; that was a hell of a welcome.”
Connie muffled a quiet laugh, shaking her head. “Sorry. I suppose I have a lot on my mind right now. Hence the staring out into space thing.”
“Literally,” there was a note of amusement in her voice, in her eyes. Connie smiled and nodded.
“I’d ask what choice you gotta make, but that might be a bit personal for a first meet-up.”
“Ask me next time you see me,” Connie said, “I’ll have made the choice by then, it won’t matter so much.”
“Can I hold you to that?”
“Yeah. You can.”
“Well alright then, I gotta get going so…” Tex hopped up to her feet, stretched her arms above her head. Even out of armour, she was built like a brick wall. “Guess I’ll have to ask you next time. See you around, CT. And good luck tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Tex. I’ll see you around. Hopefully we have more time next time.”
Tex gave her a mock salute and vanished back into the darkness of the connecting hall, gone as quickly as she’d come. Connie was alone again and as midnight hit, her countdown was no longer invisible. The mission clock projected itself on the glass in front of her.
Eleven hours, fifty-nine minutes and fifty-six seconds, fifty-five seconds, fifty-four…
One way or another, she was going to have to make her choice.
Pushing herself from the ground, she marched through the halls until she reached the locker room. Empty, this late at night, with camera blind-spots that were easily exploited. Finding one, she set her helmet up on a bench and sat against the lockers behind it.
Taking a deep breath, she set it to record.
“Agent Texas. Allison. If you’re reading this, then that means I escaped. Or, well, at the very least, I’m probably not around anymore…”
It took a few takes. The words flowed by with ease, but her voice was unsteady and her tone was off and her heart pounded so loudly in her ears that she couldn’t even hear herself. Recording this was admitting something, something she didn’t want to face. Not yet, not until that countdown was over and things would change irreversibly.
Maybe she hadn’t been able to tell anyone whilst she was here, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try even when she was gone. Texas was still her best bet, the one at the centre of all of this.
Things could have gone differently, in another world. Where she’d spoken up sooner, where she’d made the effort to reach out and give her that human connection before it was too late for it to make a damn difference. Where maybe they’d have had the chance to know each other, before Connie had to shatter Tex’s concept of her own existence.
Where the sentiment behind, “…your friend, Connie,” could truly have been realised.
But this wasn’t that world.
Choices had already been made.
Within a couple of months, branded a traitor and a liar and risk to UNSC security for the second time in her life, Connie was dead.
Bled out, alone in an escape pod. As alone in death as she’d been in her final months in the Project and in all of her efforts to make a difference.
And, eventually, Texas would open her locker. Find a set of dog-tags that didn’t belong to her. See that name.
Watch the video.
“I want to leave behind all the data I've been collecting about Project Freelancer. I never could shake the feeling that something was wrong with the program. The secrets, the lies, the manipulation; smoke, all of it, obscuring a big damn fire.”
Everything clicked into place. Everything Connie had said, the strange way she’d looked at her, the way she had tried to reach out… the reason she’d left, the reason she’d provoked her, the reason the Director gave no order to preserve life.
“I did some digging, and now I know what the Director's been hiding. What he did.”
The reason something had felt off for months now.
“He broke the law, Allison. The one law they don't just slap you on the wrist for. I'm taking the originals with me as an insurance policy. I leave this copy for you not because you are the best soldier in the squad…”
Constant training and meetings. Carolina’s increasingly bitter attitude towards her. The AI. How she never had even a spare moment to interact with the team. The fact that Connie had to have been the only person she’d ever shown her face to.
“…but because I know that I can trust you the most.”
Before she killed her.
“After reading these files you will understand why.”
There was a long list of things that Texas would regret in the years to come. At the top was what happened in that bunker. What she’d done.
In another world, things would have gone differently. Connie’s attempt to reach out wouldn’t have failed. They’d have had the chance to talk, to know each other beyond the surface level banter and offerings of friendship that had at least proven the concept—that they would be a good team, that they could be good friends or even something more.
Maybe, even if she’d still been forced to leave, Tex would have realised something was up and found the message sooner. Soon enough to matter.
In another world, things wouldn’t have been perfect, but they would have been better. The things that could have been lingered in the back of Tex’s mind.
But this wasn’t that world. In this world, they’d both been just a little too late.
Tex rested her hand over the image and made a promise.
If nothing else, she’d finish what she started.
“Good luck. Your friend, Connie.”
8 notes · View notes
I’M ON A ROLL @splendiferousblog asked for “ CT discovering/telling Tex she's an ai fragment (bonus points if they're a couple)” And, you know me, I’m a SUCKER for TexCT, so let’s get this show on the road!
WARNINGS FOR: Discussions of the Director’s creepy-ass relationship with Tex. Mildly NSFW but nothing really serious.
Also on Ao3
Connie’s girlfriend isn’t human.
She’s joked about that before, when Tex comes out of a fight, still full of energy, never seeming to tire or falter. She’ll kiss Connie and the world will shift, and Connie will laugh. “You’re not human,” she’ll say, before following Tex’s lead, which inevitably ends in one of their rooms, tangled beneath the sheets, limbs overlapping and smiling goofily at each other, like that’s the only thing in the world that matters.
Tex doesn’t know that Connie’s a traitor.
Tex also doesn’t know that she’s not human.
Connie goes through her newly obtained files quietly, tucked away as she is in one of the rare corners of the base where FILSS can’t see her.
There’s something quiet and forbidding, about the way that the text looks on the page. There are photographs, of a woman named Allison, of a robot body, slowly becoming more and more human as the photos move closer to the present, until it’s Tex, who looks just like this Allison, only somehow… more. More defined, more beautiful, more real, somehow.
She’s seen Alpha’s files before. She goes through them again anyways, and now, that she knows, she can find the gaps, the parts of the story where Tex should be, where she’s being talked around.
She’ll need to find the uncensored version of that report, the analytical part of her, the spy, knows.
There are interviews and evaluations of Tex, and she skips them. The thought of reading through them sits sour in her stomach, even though she knows she should. She’s supposed to be ripping apart Freelancer from the inside out in the name of the law and righteousness, not respecting her girlfriend’s privacy. Her handler would be furious with her, if he knew.
She’ll go back to them later, she promises him mentally, even though she’s not sure if she’s telling the truth.
Tex and Connie’s first kiss had been in the showers. Connie had followed her in, giddy with sparring and curious to see what Tex would do, how she would respond to the proposition.
The response had been a bruising kiss, pinned against the slick walls of the shower, the spray of the shower soaking through their clothes, drowning them until they were forced apart. Clothes had fallen to the floor and then Tex had pounced on her again.
“You’re a mystery,” Connie had told her.
“That’s you,” had been Tex’s response.
Connie hadn’t meant to get attached, she thinks now, staring down at the neat, clinical language that describes a Shadow AI. She had just been looking for a little fun, a little relief, a little… release. Texas had been a mystery, but everyone was a mystery when they joined Freelancer. Most of them made a point of it. They were all running from something, and Connie had ferreted it out for all of them.
All of them except Texas.
Texas isn’t human.
She wonders if she should have seen this coming; Tex has always been too strong, too heavy, too perfect. Connie’s worried, before, about how much the Director fusses over her. She’s wondered, possibly, about something weird and insidious going on—Connie’s no fool, she knows that Freelancer experiments on them, not just the AI. She knows that South and North are being pulled apart, knows that the Leaderboard is driving wedges between all of them, and she thought that the interest in Tex was just a part of that. Creating an air of favoritism, driving Carolina to new heights.
But it’s worse than that.
Because she’s found the name of this Allison.
No wonder Carolina has never seen Tex’s face—pretty much none of them have except Connie, she’s pretty sure about that.
Tex is a mystery that’s not of her own design. She’s steel and fiberglass and copper wire, ceramics and plastics and machine oil. Her hair is some sort of high tech polymer that would make wig makers weep. The budget for that body could probably fund Connie’s college tuition twelve times over.
Connie has to tell her, she realizes, staring down at all of this.
This isn’t breaking the military law, or psych experiments laid out in the open that no one else wants to see. This is who Tex is, being lied to, being played with, as part of some sick man’s twisted form of grief.
Connie should have stayed away after that first night. Tex had swept her up in her tide, and a kiss had turned into one thing which had turned to another, which had lead to Connie finding bruises all over her body and having to pretend she was screwing a sanitation worker to get South off her back. It should have been a one-off thing.
But she was intrigued, and maybe addicted, and after the third, fourth, fifth time of them breathing heavily, drenched in sweat, still kissing each other with a desperation even though the act itself was done, chests aching with laughter, maybe she was just a little bit in love.
Oh God, she’s in love with a woman who isn’t human.
Connie had noted Tex’s lack of scars, but Tex had made a few off handed comments about a bad bombing incident which had lead to reconstructive surgery. She can find a faked report of that incident in this file, made up to sound real, placing Tex in the midst of a real squad, all of whom had died, making Tex a sole survivor of a group, with her own name now classified so that no one can tell that there’s a hole.
Explanations and excuses, and it’s all so transparent now that Connie knows where to look.
She’d let reconstructive surgery explain the almost inhuman beauty. She’d let armor mods and stims explain the ridiculous strength, and Tex’s jibes push aside the questions about her past, a past that, Connie knows now, Tex doesn’t remember.
Because it doesn’t exist.
Connie feels like she’s in a stupor, like she’s drowning.
She goes to Tex’s room, where Tex is working out, lifting weights that don’t do anything for her, because there’s no muscle to build, just steel.
“Did you seriously just come here like that? What if someone saw you?” Tex stops when she sees her face. “What’s wrong?”
They hide what they have; they have to. It’s against all protocols, threaten their standings, get them thrown out of the project. God knows what Connie’s handler would do to her if he knew she was sleeping with the enemy, and even worse would be what the Director would do to both of them if he knew what they got up to.
“Tex,” she whispers. Dread has blossomed in her stomach like weeds, and she feels choked by it. “I’ve done something horrible.”
“What?” Tex asks, looking bewildered. “Okay, come lie down, seriously, you look sick or something—”
“You’re not human,” Connie says.
Something changes in Tex’s face, and the entire world shifts.
“What?” Tex says, her voice soft and dangerous. The calm before a storm.
Texas is fiercely loyal to Project Freelancer. She is programmed to obey the Director, to defend him and the Alpha. Connie had seen the code herself, the objectives, has seen failsafes upon failsafes built into Tex’s very being.
Connie wonders if she’s made a terrible mistake.
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The Hero’s Journey
RVB, 2800 words, York, Delta, Tex
Tex is chasing a shadow. York and delta can relate.
Notes: Can be read as Dorkalina and TexCT if you're in to that. CW for a mention of self harm and implied drug abuse.
York and Delta see Tex for the first time in two months while York's in line to order coffee. It'll be his sixth coffee since the sun came up, low and yellow through the chemical smog and driving the ice of the long night away with its relentless dull heat. The caffeine is a dependence at this point-- he's been sleeping well enough, tucked up in one of the abandoned warehouses down on the east side of the sprawling mechanical wasteland that is the only city on the colony.
Most of the planet is water-- at least something that contains water in amongst the chemical soup of the runoff pollutants from the industrial giants. There's no colonial government, just UNSC bureaucrats who got on somebody's bad side and a variety of corporate representatives who appear only through vidchat or on early morning shuttles that depart by lunchtime. Suits that look expensive from far away and, in some cases, air filtration masks over their mouths and noses-- stylish enough to avoid the ridiculous but incongruous enough to bring the weight of their disdain to bare on all interactions.
York had slept a long time. The warehouse stands unguarded and unmanned, victim of a merger stalled in red tape and the crash of the outer rim economy. With more and more colonies getting glassed and fewer and fewer UNSC aid missions, the demand for weapons has been crushed under the demand for food and medicine and pre-fab shelters. Crates of armour plating and firing mechanisms line the shelves in perfect rows and stacks, soldiers caught ready for action in financial limbo. York's been sleeping in his armour, still, and solid layers of physical protection afforded by the crates and the familiar mechanical skin combined with occasional assists from the healing unit mean he can sleep soundly for stretches of five or six hours. A luxury.
York's been coming to this coffee shop for the last few days-- it's a dangerous habit, but it's the only place he's found that runs the water through enough purifiers to keep the heavy metal poisoning levels within Delta's acceptable parameters. York's been stealing enough money that he can pay for coffee. He sure as hell doesn't have enough to pay for medical care. The healing unit does what it can, but the name is a misnomer, really, the functionality being designed only with the goal of keeping the body inside the armour capable of combat by any means necessary.
The last time York saw Tex she was running guns for an outer rim group of "Conservative Insurrectionists", half out of her mind as Omega tore, deliberately thoughtless, through her mental barriers, dancing coded violence and rage down neural pathways, corrupting emotion and programming indiscriminately. She'd been dissociating a lot, put a fist through a wall and came close to shooting the guard who came to investigate the noise, spent hours on end refusing to look at York because of the gruesome associations Omega projected into her field of vision. York had been pretty fucked up on painkillers and metaphysical subjectivism, and the three days they spent together in a shitty motel room trying to rebuild a rusted old mountain bike have become somehow framed in his mind as an extended workplace safety video, complete with serious voice over and amateur filming. Never sign up for secret military projects, kids, you might wind up on the floor of the bathroom counting the tiles franticly while your human-appearing-android partner in crime is busy smashing every reflective surface in the hotel room with her fists and laughing more and more hysterically each time she doesn't see bone under the skin of her shredded knuckles. They never did fix the bike. Later, Delta points out that it had no wheels, so York's not actually sure what the fuck they thought they were doing.
He's not expecting her to show up here, of all places. York doesn't even want to be here. And yet there she is, popping up on the city's local network in a flurry of activity as York inches forward in the long coffee line. D's tracking transaction signals constantly, hunting down poor encryption in the larger accounts and skimming fractional amounts of each of the thousands of small transactions going on across the planet. Everything's electronic here, money moving in precisely calculated sums from computer to computer, every expenditure and wage recorded and balanced against off-world accounts and programs which in turn spit out numbers for productivity and production value, cost/benefit analysis that hold the livelihood of each worker on the planet in their dispassionate charts. Eventually the numbers trickle back to the government in invoices and taxes alike, and after that reach even further, dropping weapons or armour or computers into the public's hands and stocks into their portfolios. York can't get a single credit through honest work, not without filling out his soul's weight in paperwork, but he can steal enough money to get by easily enough.
Delta recognizes her immediately. There's something there. Of course there is. Some extra dimension of awareness between them (and Omega, too) that means there are times when York knows things about Tex without consciously realizing it. Impressions, flashes of memory that appear in his head without warning. He's never asked if she's gotten anything from him and D, but it's more out of a sense of denial.
D scrolls information down the left side of his field of vision. It's not good for anything else-- D can stimulate the proper nerves leading to his brain to simulate vision, but the physical mechanisms of the eye itself are far beyond saving, leaving the ever-present blank spot in their awareness whenever they're out of armour. York watches Tex's activity. She's moving fast enough that she's got to be jacked in directly somehow, and the work is both cleaner and sloppier than he'd expect of Omega, so she's obviously connecting directly. D thinks it's interesting she retains the human mannerisms of data access, slow and incomplete like any biological mind trying to cope with the flood of electronic information. York thinks it's interesting that she's connected at all. She knows he networks for hacking purposes, knows he and D are integrated enough that even when York isn't actively working in code he's a passive passenger to Delta's maneuvering and connections. But Tex keeps Omega off the networks as much as she can, though with his wireless transfer capacity being what it is she can't do much. And Tex herself hadn't liked linking up directly. York thinks it has something to do with what happened back during that final fight on the MoI, but he's not gonna ask.
She's pulling security camera footage, mostly. Some personnel records. She's looking for someone, York thinks. Delta is already searching out a common denominator.
We need to talk scrolls down the left side of his vision, overlaying the info D's been displaying with an aggressive black font, and York almost pulls a gun on the pastry case in reaction. Twitchy, he scolds himself. Logical, Delta counters. York frowns. He's not really sure how to reply to her, so he winds up grabbing a map of the city off the free downloadable welcome packet he'd gotten at the shuttle port and tagging a run-down bar. He includes a time in the metadata of the pin, a couple hours before sunset. They get the confirmation of receipt from her end, and then she disappears from the network. York orders the largest coffee on the menu.
The coffee makes him twitchy, but D can compensate enough to bring them closer to alert. York takes a table near the back of the bar-- out of view from the door but not so isolated as to broadcast his desire for privacy. Tex joins him fast enough that she had to have been watching. She looks better than the last time he saw her, which isn't saying much. Her leather jacket is frayed and torn, a soft chocolate brown, and she's wearing coloured contacts that shade her gaze a murky green. The effect softens her enough that even with her cocky, graceful swagger and the frankly embarrassing way she's failing to hide that she's carrying at least two guns she still manages to blend in.
"Can we talk here?" she asks as soon as she's sat down. York wonders if she's planning to pay for his drink.
"Yes," delta says. "Likelihood of surveillance is only 4.32 percent."
Tex pulls a pack of cigarettes out of her jacket. She smokes North's preferred brand, which York could have happily gone his entire life without knowing.
"Can you not?" he says. "This place already makes me feel like I'm taking days off my life every time I breathe."
"Sorry," she says. "Nervous habit."
"Sure," says York flatly.
"Connecticut's alive," Tex says. York takes a measured sip of his drink, sets the glass down deliberately.
"Do you have proof?"
"Bits and pieces. I've seen her in video footage. In the background of recorded video calls."
"You sure it's her?"
"You know we never recovered the armour."
"Yeah," says York. "I remember."
Tex's hand clenches into a fist on the table. "I've seen her."
"You've seen her armour."
"It's pretty fucking unique."
"But not unique enough to base a solid ID on. Besides, even if it is her armour, it doesn't mean it's her inside."
"She's been working for Charon Industries. That's where I've seen her, in their files."
"Which explains why you're here," York says. Delta is trying to get into Charon's production history to see if they've ever manufactured the sort of armpur used in Freelancer. York has always assumed it was ONI3 experimental tech, but Charon was a major arms supplier for the UNSC in the last years of the war (and he makes a note to track the quiet disappearance of the other large contractors around 2540) and knowing The Director's relationship with Charon he wouldn't be entirely surprised to find out they'd been using stolen tech.
Tex nods. "Charon owns 75% of the factories on this planet. And you know what the biggest development coming out of Charon in the last three years has been?"
"Cryogenics," says Delta, because they are in fact capable of using a search engine. York makes the connection immediately.
"Oh no," he says. "Tex."
"Get that fucking look off your face. You can't tell me it doesn't make sense."
"You stabbed Agent Connecticut in the chest," Delta says, aiming for gentle and missing it by a mile.
"She still had her armour. Believe me, Carolina and I got a two hour dressing down because of it. And that asshole dragged her onto his shuttle. His Charon shuttle, right around the time they would've been putting their cryo projects into beta. And then someone in her armour shows up in the background of Charon communications? Seems pretty straight forward."
"So why do you need us, if it's so obvious? Go get her."
Tex glares. "Fishing for compliments isn't attractive. I need to get deeper into Charon, maybe even physically. You've got an applicable set of talents."
"We're flattered. What does Wy think of all this?"
York knows she sees Wyoming more than she sees him. More than he ever imagined a single person could stand him and his knock knock jokes, honestly. Life is a tapestry. He suspects Tex likes being around someone less fucked up than she is, and he's self-aware enough to know that he and delta don't fall anywhere near that category. Also, he's pretty sure Tex and Wyoming are sleeping together. And killing people for money. He is very good about not thinking about either of these facts.
"Wyoming thinks I'm crazy. He also thinks Florida is going to kill us all in our sleep one day, so his opinion is suspect."
York snorts. "Nah, man, that was a pretty common assumption even back in the program. Jesus, you don't actually think they're assigning Florida to recovery, do you?"
"No," says Tex. "I think they assigned him somewhere a little more important."
York doesn't ask. Tex pulls out her datapad. "I've got everything I've found on CT here. I'm keeping it on local only in case somebody notices what I've been doing."
York groans. Reading hard copy still gives him migraines. "Great."
She huffs out a frustrated breath. "You can't tell me you're just gonna abandon your team."
York stares straight ahead, eye focusing on the wall over Tex's shoulder. Somebody's nailed up an old analogue clock, but the hands are still at three-fifteen and the layer of dust suggests they've been that way for a while.
"Carolina," he says. "She went over the cliff, but she had a grappling hook in her kit, standard issue. Maine ripped the AI out of her head, but she could keep going through the worst injuries, more than any of us. And without the AI her ability to focus would've improved at least 22%."
Tex is watching him steadily, flicking an unlit cigarette back and forth in her fingers. Her nails are bitten down short and blunt, and he wonders if they regrow.
York breathes in, breathes out. Does it again. "She would've figured she'd been declared KIA at some point. Realized nobody was coming for her. Easier to let the snow finish what the fall started, save a bullet." York is going to throw up.
Delta cuts in and York is glad to surrender his voice for a minute. "Did you ever read Dr. Church's personnel record? Do you know anything about his family?"
Tex crushes the cigarette in her fist. "No. I think I fucking already know more than I ever wanted to."
York finishes his drink. "Good call. Don't ever, um, do that. Yeah. don't do that, Tex."
"You got a point?"
"My point is I spent the first year after everything waiting to hear that Carolina was alive. I listened to the Freelancer channels, hacked ONI, tracked her bank accounts and the storage unit where she kept her stuff, went to her favourite bar. It almost killed us, the work and the hope both. And all of it predicated on the sort of impossible scenario you see in an action vid."
"This is different, York. I've got proof. I'm not just casting my net out in some sort of survivor's guilt obsession."
"I tried to get her to leave with us," he says. "Fucked it up, and she kicked my ass, but I tried. And every day I think about ways I could've done things differently. I should've showed her proof. Should've gone with a logic-based strategy instead of emotion, shouldn't have called her AI "things" even though we'd calculated good odds that she would be feeling hostility towards them."
Tex is watching him. "You and D are pretty integrated, huh?" she says, and there's something guarded in her eyes that wasn't there before.
"We weren't, back then."
Tex drops the crushed remains of the cigarette. "Church knew what he was doing when he paired you guys."
York shrugs. "You mean Price. And I don't' see what this has to do with Carolina. Or cT."
Tex sits back. "Look, York. It's a really touching story you've got, I'm sure you cry yourself to sleep at night. I'm sorry Carolina's dead, I really fucking am. I saw it happen. We've talked about this. But this is different."
"I'm not guilty, for one. She was a traitor, and I'm not convinced Charon was any better than Freelancer. I did what any good soldier should've done with the information I had. And let's not forget she was the one who told those bastards we'd be at the junkyard when they blew it up. If our positions were reversed CT would've shoved that knife into my chest just as fast."
York winces. "Ok, fine. So you don't have a guilt complex. Say I believe you. You're still chasing shadows."
Tex goes inhumanly still. York slides his chair back a few inches. "Prove it," she says after a minute. "Help me find the info I need. Get me deeper into Charon's network, find its subsidiaries and it's undocumented projects and it's connections with ONI. Find me solid proof that there's nothing to find."
York slides down in his chair, rubs his hands over his face. D is leery. Omega's still implanted, then. He makes her dangerous. Unpredictable. But he knows she won't rest until she can be sure. Is intimately familiar with the gnawing hope, tainted and squirming under his rib cage.
"Ok," he says. "We'll help."
Tex tips her chin, a nod of thanks. She doesn't smile. Out of the corner of his eye York catches a brief glimpse of flame red hair. He doesn't turn to look.
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