I lift my fist to knock on Blue's door, hesitating, holding back, despite knowing de Pommier's avatar is waiting in the dining room, a cup of coffee in front of her. Blue has only had one day to recover. It's not enough. Exhaustion seeps from her, even when she's sleeping. She needs rest, not this. Not whatever de Pommier has planned, which I sense from the general's tense demeanour isn't going to be nice. But what can I do to stop the wheels of Global Command? I'm vitally aware of my vulnerability, of what can be done to me. Akron was clear enough how easy it would be to remove my free will, and de Pommier made sure I understood she can shut me down with a single command.
I let out a heavy breath, and rap the door, light.
'Come in,' Blue answers, her voice muffled through the thick wood of the door.
I find her sitting on the bed, staring at the wall screen, dark, no longer offering a vista of a world which no longer exists. She's still dressed in Henrik's old pyjamas, her thin frame lost in its billows of excess cotton. She looks lost and vulnerable. I endure a primal urge to gather her in my arms, to shelter her from herself.
She tilts her head at the screen. 'So it wasn't real, after all.'
'It was, once. A long time ago. Before us.'
She presses down the folds of material bunched over her legs. Disappointment bleeds from her. 'I knew it was too good to be true.'
I take a step back and glance at the open door. 'I need you to come with me,' I say, fighting to keep my expression neutral, to hide my misgivings, worrying I'm leading her out of the frying pan into the fire. 'There is someone here to see you.'
Blue quirks an eyebrow, unimpressed. 'Let me guess. My new jailor?'
'You aren't a prisoner. You are being protected,' I say, and mean it, thinking of the half-dozen Elites added to the floor's security since her arrival. Blue looks up at me, dubious.
'She's the one who sent me to get you,' I say, pushing aside the memory of the berating I received for having disobeyed the general's orders; my future fate outlined in unequivocal, brutal detail: Do that again and I'll wipe your memory.
'Your rescue cost over a million dollars,' I offer when Blue remains silent.
'Hm,' Blue says, noncommittal. She gets to her feet, slow, swaying a little. I cross the distance between us, reaching out to catch her elbow. She pulls back, defensive. 'I would be flattered if it were me you went to all this effort for,' she says, tight, 'but you didn't, did you?'
I back up, giving her space. Her bitterness slams into me. Cold, hard waves.
She points to her head. 'You want what's in here,' she whispers, though her words are sharp, scathing. 'I just happen to be stuck with it.'
'Not me,' I say, low, as she slips past, careful not to touch me even though I am taking up most of the space.
'Maybe,' she says, her back to me, 'but what can you do? What can any of us do? They have all the power. We are things to them, tools. Nothing more.' She leaves me to stew in my futility. I smother a curse and catch up to her as she approaches the dining table, her eyes on de Pommier's avatar—ignoring the spectacular view of a Nordic coastline, overshadowed by storm clouds hulking over a roiling, black sea.
'Cassandra Vallis,' the general's avatar says, gesturing for Blue to take a seat. She glances up at me, and tilts her head for me to fall back to the kitchen's island. In front of it, I stand at ease, feigning disinterest—but I'm listening, using every aural enhancement they have granted me.
de Pommier's avatar takes a sip of coffee. She sets it down with a quiet thump.
'I owe you an apology,' she begins, quiet. 'Long overdue.'
Blue says nothing. She sits, rigid, in her chair, her hands in her lap, twisting her fingers together, her trepidation hidden from de Pommier's eyes, but not mine.
'I am the avatar of General de Pommier.' The general smiles and gestures to herself. 'Impressive, no? I wish I looked like this, but I do not.' Blue doesn't move. Distrust radiates from her, dense, palpable.
'You are in Alpha VII,' the avatar continues, brisk, discarding the friendly tack, 'in a secure location, protected by a team I trust with my life. I am . . . elsewhere. When you were a child,' the avatar says, soft, her French accent deepening, tainted with regret, 'I was not able to stop what was done to you. I tried. I fought every way I could, even to the temporary detriment of my career.'
Blue's fingers still.
'The man who ordered your 'tests' was and still is our Prime Minister.' The avatar takes a sip of coffee. Her dark eyes go straight to Blue's, direct, forthright. 'He does not know you are here. I have put my life on the line resuscitating Genesis I.' She turns the cup and trails her fingers over its handle. 'It is treason. But we are out of time, and he is doing nothing, except gathering his favourites around him, and furnishing an expensive hole for them to hide in while the rest of us must face our annihilation.' She scoffs. 'It is 2030 all over again, no?'
'What is?' Blue asks into the silence.
'Ah,' de Pommier's avatar says, 'of course. You were taken away at nine, well before the lessons regarding our history.' She picks up her coffee and goes to the wall screen, gazing at the snow squalls buffeting the towering pines. 'The restriction zone was meant to be a second chance for humanity, paid for by those who had devastated the planet for profit. But it seems we are a determined species, driven by our basest desires: Greed. Power. Selfishness.' She sips her coffee again. A quiet smile fleets across her lips, softening her profile. 'And then you came along, with your gift—a gift powerful men exploited and used for their own purposes, and at a terrible cost to you.'
Blue's hands leave her lap and slide up to the edge of the table. She clings to it, her knuckles white, as though she might float away if she lets go. 'You aren't going to hurt me,' she whispers, incredulous.
de Pommier's avatar cuts a look at Blue. 'The last thing I want to do is hurt you,' she retorts, dry. 'If the human race is going to survive, it needs you alive and well. Genesis I was started once we realised what you could do. It exists because of you.'
'What's Genesis I?' Blue asks, before continuing, dismissive, 'Anyway, what could I possibly do? I only see future catastrophes.'
The avatar leaves her spot before the wall screen and returns to the table. She catches me watching her. A faint look of satisfaction shimmers over her features, accompanied by a glimmer of something else. Triumph. My instincts prickle, wary. I look away, uneasy.
'No. There are other things you can do,' she says, putting her cup down and pushing it away.
Silence falls between them. de Pommier's avatar remains standing by the table. She folds her arms over her breasts and looks down at her half-empty coffee cup. Blue waits, still holding onto the table, tense, her chest rising and falling, her shallow breaths loud in the thickening quiet.
'Do you remember being given injections?' the avatar asks, her gaze moving over the table's wooden surface, pale in the wan, Nordic winter light.
Blue flinches. 'Yes,' she answers, low, suspicious.
'The injections,' the avatar says, terse, '—most of them—did nothing except make you suffer, but under the influence of a certain combination your abilities became . . . enhanced.'
'Enhanced,' Blue repeats, numb. She looks down at her hands, and lets go of the table. 'So you want—'
de Pommier's avatar cuts her off, 'Do you recall being asked to imagine, for example, a category five hurricane?'
Blue nods, her jaw tight.
'What you could do,' de Pommier's avatar says, quiet, 'no one has been able to explain, but while under the influence of certain psychotropic substances . . . whatever you imagined, happened.'
Horror gathers around Blue, enveloping her, bleeding from her. It spreads through the apartment and saturates me, visceral, unbearable. She looks up at the avatar, broken, anguished. 'For years I was asked to imagine such things.' She lunges from her chair. 'You made me kill people. Thousands of them. And animals, too. Innocent creatures,' she pants, frantic, 'forced to suffer horrible deaths. No. I can't—' she lets out a long, thin wail, her torment filling the room, clawing into my soul.
I move closer. The avatar shoots me a hard look. I stop but hold my ground, glaring at her, willing de Pommier to keep her mouth shut and not to tell Blue about the thousands of lives lost by Global Command during the years Blue was forced to serve the UFF. The avatar's attention slides back to Blue, who lifts a trembling hand to the back of the chair and stares, unseeing, at the stormy sea, at the waves breaking against the rocky coastline.
'I did not make you kill anything,' the avatar says, tight, 'I tried to stop it. Now, after all these years, I am finally in a position to stand against the one who did. Work with me and you will have the chance to avenge yourself.'
'No,' Blue moans, shaking her head. She staggers and bumps into me, blind, locked in misery. 'No more killing,' she pleads, low. 'Please. I don't want to.'
'Perhaps we should finish the story,' de Pommier's avatar continues, relentless, over Blue's suffering. 'One day, a technician made a mistake. Just one small change to the combination of your drug regime and instead of creating hurricanes, you brought rain. Good rain, healing rain. You generated life. It is a miracle, no?'
Blue quiets. She looks up, hollow, fragile. A caged animal. Her eyes shimmer, brilliant with tears. She sniffs and my heart clenches. More than anything I want to gather her up against me, to shield her from herself, from what she is, from what others have turned her into. Instead, I keep my hands at my sides and force myself to let her be, to suffer with her in silence.
'So,' the avatar says, soft, 'not only can you destroy, but you can regenerate. You are a wonder. A gift sent on the brink of our extinction, who has somehow managed to survive the brutality of powerful men on both sides of the wall.' She flashes an enigmatic look at me. 'Who is being given a second chance because of the love of Capitaine Maddox, who had to die, so we could find you again. It is beautiful, no? Tragic, but beautiful.'
Blue catches her breath at my name. de Pommier sits and folds her hands together, exuding patience. I eye her. She's clever, slipping in the reason Blue is here and not dying a slow death at The Jackpot.
Ten minutes slide past as Blue processes the enormity of what she's been told. She's only a hair's breath away from me, close enough for me to feel her tremors. She stares at the wall screen, her eyes following the rise and fall of the trees' boughs as they shudder in the wind, trapped in their silent dance, lost to another time.
'It's because of Ryan I'm here?' she finally asks, faint, without taking her eyes from the view.
'It is,' de Pommier's avatar replies, soft. 'His memories led us to you.'
A shiver ripples through Blue. Her gaze drops to the swell and crash of the dark sea slamming itself into the rocks.
'When are you going to tell me what Genesis I is?' she asks.
de Pommier looks up. 'It is a project I started in 2070, to give one thousand people a new life on Mars until Earth heals. When you vanished in 2073, everyone assumed you were dead. However, I managed to keep G-I going until the Prime Minister shut it down in favour of Genesis II in 2078.' The corners of the avatar's mouth turn downward, dismissive. 'He dug a hole 2.4km in the ground, and filled it with cryogenic pods made to last a thousand years, reserved for him and his cronies on Alpha VII, sold for exorbitant prices, all of it going into his pockets.' She eyes the storm, unseeing, disgust seeping from her. 'The arrogant fool believes the world will have recovered in a mere thousand years. But the scientists know better. They estimate it will take at least four thousand years before Earth will be habitable again. Genesis II will do nothing except delay the inevitable.'
'Mars,' Blue repeats, dull, after a pregnant silence. 'And you need me to—?'
'Terraform it,' the avatar answers, blunt.
Blue blinks. She scoffs. 'You're crazy.'
'Clearly not the entire planet,' de Pommier admits, dry. 'The descent shuttles will be repurposed into habitats. Printers will create the parts needed to construct a dome one kilometre in circumference. Once the dome is erected, molecular scrubbers will work to rebalance the atmospheric gases from carbon dioxide to nitrogen and oxygen, and then you're up. The terraforming will unfold in controlled stages until the dome's ecology becomes self-sustaining. Then we do it all again, piece by piece, dome by dome until—'
'No,' Blue says, flat. 'Not interested.'
'Hm,' de Pommier says. She drums her fingers on the table. 'And if I had the power to return Capitaine Maddox to you?'
I stiffen, defensive. So that's what it was—her look of triumph. I'm her trump card. I shake my head at her, desperate, willing her to stop. She ignores me.
She's got Blue's full attention now. 'I thought he was dead,' Blue whispers. Hope slams through her, awakening her—a flower opening its petals to the light, after a long, dark night.
'He's right behind you,' de Pommier murmurs.
Blue turns, desperation shearing through her. She looks past me, her eyes bright, raking over the empty apartment, searching the kitchen and living room.
Blue looks back, confused. 'I don't—'
de Pommier's avatar nods at me. 'He's looking right at you.'
Blue blinks. She looks up at me, raw, frightened. 'Ryan?' she breathes, her expression screaming denial, willing it not to be so.
I nod, my heart aching. 'What's left of me.'
Her face crumples. The light in her eyes dies. 'What do you mean,' she finally manages, stricken, 'what's left of you?' Her eyes move over my ugly face, searching for me, finding nothing. A tear slides free. I resist the urge to brush it away.
'He's a cybernetic organism,' de Pommier's avatar answers, coming to join us. 'Half-man, half-machine. The first of his kind. His body was too damaged to save, but we were able to transfer his consciousness. We brought him back, at great expense. However, if necessary, we have the power to make him forget you—' she claps her hands together, startling Blue, 'in a heartbeat.'
I shoot the avatar a baleful look, hating de Pommier so much I can taste it. It takes every shred of my will not to lunge at her avatar and tear it apart with my bare hands. She can say what she wants about the Prime Minister but in my eyes, she's just the same. A fucking egomaniacal despot.
Blue nods. 'I see,' she says, quiet, defeated. She leaves us, her steps unsteady. By the mirrored wall, she pauses, her reflection in it bleak, empty. 'When do we leave?'
de Pommier smiles, satisfaction oozing from her. 'Mars nears its minimum in just under twelve months. In the meantime, we need to experiment with your dosages, to see if there is any way we can maximise your abilities.'
Blue doesn't answer. She walks away, the quiet click of her bedroom door coming to, shutting me out, tears me apart.
I turn to confront de Pommier, but the droid's eyes are blank. The general is already gone, though her smile lingers on.