Omoi’s internal alarm lit up my head, vibrating through my bones. A tiny electrical shock, gradually increasing in order to make sure I stayed up.
Consciousness was still just barely there, and she chirped out that I needed to wake up, leading to another electrical shock. A few half remembered things flittered through my head. Progress reports on anomalous radiation; theoretical frameworks involving cognition, coercion, and suppositions on contextualizing analysis within a greater place.
A dinner date with a colleague to get me out of my house.
My parent’s anniversary was coming up and I needed…
Omoi flittered through the alarm steps as I swam to turn it off;
I completed a series of math problems, coming to my senses, and then my eyes fluttered open. Stark dirty walls. A mosaic comprised of a gleaming crow, beak wide, perched atop a set of USEC procedural handbooks. The eyes were shining glass, onyx, reflecting a thin beam of sunlight dripping past the dirty curtains.
Neck ached. Arms ached. Thighs ached. Everything ached.
Where was I again? I…
Dragged myself awake. Slowly inverted myself.
Omoi flashed a modified map of the area.
I was still… in the future.
Stuck there. Landed there. Thoroughly entrenched. The crow looked sinister for a second, with a talon outstretched across anomaly handling books.
But I couldn’t stop and stare at it, I needed…
Helpfully, Omoi brought up a list of everything I could possibly want to do, given the previous day. Way too many entries. Harnessed them down into a few pieces. I swiped them away and stood up. Blanket dropped from my body. Cryo suit still in place. Another reject of the old world, here to cause trouble.
A crow head poked in and clicked at me. “She’s up and moving.”
“Fifteen hours is a bit of a long time,” Jay said, flicking his head over. “You alright?”
“I…” first things first, I had a bill to pay. “Are you up for going back into the city today?”
“Oh?” Jay asked, stepping in. My hands ran down the jumpsuit to get it settled, uncomfortably settled across my joints. Not really meant to be moved around in. Not really. “Where’d you like to go?”
My mind flashed back to Isaac. That ass. Making me do this. “Just… want to tour the old facility.”
Might be able to save someone still.
Might have to kill someone, still.
Jay’s face went a bit dark, beak clicking together. I was starting to get used to the way emotions played against the Crows’ faces. In the eyes. In the feathers.
It was odd, to get used to that.
“Well,” Jay said. “If we’re careful, we can go, just the two of us.”
“Just us?” I asked.
“Nobody that plans on communicating their memories can go near that facility.” Jay said, smoothly. “Too much of a risk of cognitive contamination. Often times, individual birds are sent in when they have to be, or people are designated as not being able to pass on their pieces.”
“That’s harsh,” I said.
“From what we’ve read, you were subject to similar restrictions,” Jay said, offering me a hand.
I paused, thinking about it, then took it. “I’m fairly banned from talking about most of the things I witnessed there. Not that there’s an organization that will punish me, and the worst of the symbolic dangers are hard to communicate.” At the thought, they buzzed in my head, numbers without form and whirring vibrant equations trapped inside of fleshy prisons instead of loosed upon the world.
I could see their point.
“Symbolic dangers,” Jay whispered, tasting the word again. “They’re called Thought Plagues now.”
“So they shut you off, so you couldn’t communicate them?” I clicked my tongue.
“That’s about right,” Jay said.
There were still holes in the story, but there was no point is trying to ask now.
“How long will it take, you think, to take care of this?”
I thought of the rows of cryopods, occupants long dead, skeletons bleached from years of exposure. “I’ll need that crowbar I had when we met… and not long, I think.”
Jay carefully tugged me out of the room. I winced as my pained muscles twinged. Too much movement from someone who’d spent years in a tube, let along years at a desk squinting at numbers.
In a way, Jay was simply the natural evolution of the USEC agent. Exposed to too many toxic things to share them with the world. Resoundingly familiar for the decade I’d spent being unable to talk about the curiously beautiful nature of the universe, and the hours I spent a day trying to comprehend it.
Tane was sitting in the main room, not dispersed, waiting for me. A strange expression across her beak. “Careful out there. If the fey could move on our outpost…”
“We’ll be careful. In and out, very easy.” Jay laughed.
Tane’s eyes narrowed. “You’re on my good list for now, Outcast.”
“Jay, come on, let’s go.”
“You take a name from the Warden, and eschew your original?” Tane asked.
“My original name is dead, Tane,” Jay clarified.
“So you say. Yet you’re still standing here. Contaminated. Reeking the world.” Tane looked away. “Go on. Be careful Warden, exactly who you put your trust into.” She stood up, walked over to the window, and scattered, dispersing into a collection of smaller crows.
“Scouting again,” Jay sighed.
“Don’t listen to her,” I said. “She’s being a bit of a bully.”
“She’s not wrong,” Jay said. “I’m a vector for infection.”
“So am I,” I said. “And she’s not picking on me.”
Jay clicked his beak shut, which ended the conversation.
And started my path back to USEC.