Chaos Theory I
rating: +10+x

So, my actions had unforeseen consequences.

Of course, this was not a new concept to me; I wasn’t a child, and therefore had already grasped the idea that I couldn’t just do whatever I wanted. But at the same time, I hadn’t expected to have such a… reputation.

When 7cb7 had initially told me to keep my head down, I thought it was meant as a turn of phrase– as in, don’t go wandering up to people and saying hi. That was a standard social convention on Kepler– but I realised as soon as I stepped into the wide corridor that would bring me to my assigned room, I realised it was literal. Very literal.

The Doctor, despite being assigned to a different section of the station entirely, insisted on escorting me; to this I had no complaints, and 7cb7 was too tired with bureaucracy to argue, waving a hand at the door upon his request– and thank god he did.

I had barely stepped into the hallway’s artificial light when the first head turned. I glanced at the person, a One with nothing remarkable about its appearance, sitting on one of the many benches lining the halls for accessibility. It was holding a tablet, but seemed totally uninterested in whatever it was doing once it saw us. First, it looked at the Doctor; it started to look back down, before its eyes snapped to me. Then it didn’t look away, not even once I’d passed it.

A Two was talking to someone facing away from me; its eyes widened when they landed on me, but it quickly suppressed its reaction, simply nodding and turning back to the other. Unfortunately, its conversational partner’s reaction wasn’t so modest– it turned, a One that looked to have a… was that a waste line at the base of its throat? When it saw me, it looked absolutely astonished, stepping out into my path.

The Doctor put his hand on my back, pulling me towards him slightly while he increased the speed of his strides. I nodded at the pair, but looked down at my feet as we passed; the One jerked back after what was probably eye contact with the Doctor, apparently deciding not to bother me.

That was, until another person looked at us, then to them. It slid over to join them, talking in low voices behind us. I swallowed, eyes scanning all the faces that were suddenly turned to me– it felt like a nightmare. Dread gripped me, and it was as if the corridor stretched on forever.

“I don’t know why they’re looking at me,” I whispered to the Doctor, trying not to visibly panic.

“Just keep walking,” he whispered back. “They are not going to harm you.”

I forced my face to be blank, to not express my anxiety. I had done this before, I had practice– but it didn’t make it any less terrifying. I wanted to hold the Doctor’s hand, but I couldn’t, not in front of all of them. That would just make them stare more; despite my short stature, I was obviously a Two, from partial albinism to almond eyes and lean build.

Twos were not supposed to show affection. Period. Someone could be your whole world, have shown you light in a void of darkness, saved your life either directly or not countless times, made you choose to live when you’d wanted to die your whole life, gone on an intergalactic mission with you, made your hearts do all sorts of weird things when he– it didn’t matter, you weren’t supposed to. It was considered weird, even taboo, and I didn’t have any wiggle room under the constraints of all eyes on me.

So instead I just made myself breathe, which may have more or less worked if it weren’t for the person who then reached out to grab me.

It was only my arm, but I still flinched, recoiling from both them and the Doctor. He quickly moved to my side, giving them quite the scornful look. It was another One, cannula under its nose running to a portable oxygen concentrator. It looked surprised, but so did everyone else– unlike the others, though, it opened its fanged mouth to speak.

“5a82? That’s you, isn’t it?”

Against my better judgement, I gave a small nod.

It stepped towards me, and the Doctor appeared quite tense, looking between us like he was gauging the threat it posed.

“I never thought… I mean, we all were praying, but it’s really you…” One of its hands went to the breathing cannula, the other extending out to me like it wanted to check whether or not I was real. Unsure what to do, I just stood there, letting its fingertips brush my shoulder and tamping down the discomfort that came from that. “Because of you, this is as far as the virus got with me… otherwise, I’d be dead, long dead.”

That’s why everyone’s staring? I thought, extremely surprised that it wasn’t from a place of horror or loathing. That felt equally strange, though; the notion that anyone would tolerate my return, much less care, much less be glad for it? It shocked me, to say the least.

The Doctor looked like he wanted to step in, hand hovering beside me; I tapped my chest, then made a circle with my fingers, followed by a closed fist with the middle finger straight out and index finger pointing up– ‘I’m okay’. He shifted his weight back onto his heels, but still showed apprehension.

I smiled politely at the One, bowing my head in a show of respect. “I am glad you survived.”

“I- I barely know what you say, you’re… you’re a hero.” I bristled at its awed words, not knowing what reaction I was supposed to have, not knowing what I was supposed to feel. The only emotion I could discern from the things swirling in my head was conflict. I bowed my head lower, looking down at the compact concentrator slung over its torso, then to my hands that were folded in a conciliatory manner in front of me.

Picking up on my discomfort, my companion spoke up. “The hero must get to his room.” He placed his hand between my shoulder blades, nudging me to turn back to the direction we were walking.

After a long moment, the One withdrew its hand, stepping back. I allowed myself a millisecond of relief before I forced my face to neutral again, fixing my posture to appear like I knew what I was doing– trying to appear placid, unmoved, like I’d actually expected this all along.

“Are you its… his… bodyguard?” It asked the Doctor, looking up at him with a hint of confusion in its gaze.

I faltered, lips parting but larynx remaining soundless. Luckily, the man with much greater experience– in snap-judgement situations, in everything– filled in for me. “I am ensuring that he is able to get where he needs to go safely. Not exactly a bodyguard, but one could apply that title in this circumstance.”

“Oh, I see… alright…” Its eyes went to me, then back to him; it repeated this action a couple of times, then pressed its lips together and deeply bowed its head to me. “I owe you my life.”

The skin between my eyebrows creased, something inside me being slightly uncomfortable at the statement. “Then please use it to continue living,” I responded quietly.

“Of course,” it breathed, almost as if it had received some kind of blessing.

“Let’s go,” the Doctor whispered, fingertips gently pressing into my scapulae. I resisted the urge to get closer to him; oh how I wanted to tuck my narrow shoulders under his strong arm, steal a little bit of heat from his endothermic body. But I simply nodded and started walking again, staring straight ahead to the door at the end of the hallway.

As I started turning over the interaction in my brain, trying to process the data and what it meant, I grew anxious. How much had I missed? How much was I unaware of?

What were the others’ mental images of me, and why? What had they heard? Was it the truth? What even was the truth? That, I had no idea of. My memory felt like an igneous rock, melted, melded and hidden, then erupted and reformed into something subject to foundational holes; it would crumble if I held it too long, weak and brittle.

I clenched my jaw, trying to make myself focus on the feeling of my feet contacting the floor, the warm air on my skin. I forced my thoughts to go down a more pleasant route, appreciating the comfortable temperature; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a suitably heated terrestrial room, my cell at the Foundation always having been kept almost painfully cold to keep me on the brink of cold stupor… then they’d wondered why I’d been losing weight, almost like my cells couldn’t properly distribute the nutrients they gave me. I was too sluggish to fight back against anything they forced upon me, sure, but I was also too sluggish to live.

Ah, fuck, these aren’t positive thoughts. Think about… I don’t know, think about flowers… actually, no, I don’t want my eyes to get itchy. Fucking allergies. Actually, I wonder if I’m still allergic, after the experiment

I pinched the bridge of my nose, letting the Doctor hold open the ‘Staff Only’ door as I ducked under his arm into the much smaller hallway. Once the door closed behind us, concealing us from the curious onlookers on the other side, he turned to face me; his hands rested on my shoulders as he leaned down to place the side of his face against mine, like initiating bise or a kunik.1 He sighed, sounding a little tired– anyone would be, the days on Kepler being much longer than those of Earth. It required some time, as well as lost sleep here and there, until full adjustment was achieved.

I put my arms around his midsection, hoping that maybe I could make up for some of the trouble I’d caused by indicating how grateful I was for his help. Words felt hard, but he was warm and soft in the torso; I wanted to sink into him like an old sofa.

“We’ll get through it together,” he said finally.

“How are we going to be able to do anything together in this social climate?” My head fell past his, onto his chest. “How is this going to work, when we can’t even walk too close, in a hallway of those who are literally in opposition to the government? Those who are already fundamentally different from what is considered normal, if we’re too different for even them– How will we belong anywhere? How will we survive?”

“We survived the SCP Foundation,” the Doctor reminded me.

“And all we got was gayer,” I sighed.

“That would be a lovely t-shirt, wouldn’t it?” He chuckled. “Oh, but truly, it is only a perceived deviance, a difference. You mean worlds to them, that much is evident. They may be more flexible in their thinking, if you already have such a positive connotation.”

“But they don’t even know me.”

He stood up straighter, a hand moving to my cheek. I let him tilt my face up to look at him, but my eyes stayed focused on his chest, that something-or-the-other in my brain keeping me from looking him in the eyes.

“They know enough about you to love you, or at the very least have a sense of deep appreciation.”

“But… why?”

“Because you are lovable, so lovable.” His hand moved up, fingers running through the hair framing my face. “I’ll repeat it as many times as is needed for you to believe it.”

“Of course you would… of course you would…” I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to de-frazzle my nerves; it was quite late in the day, and I sort of just wanted to ragdoll into unconsciousness on the floor. “You know, I would always do the same for you. I feel like I don’t say that enough, because I do like you, I do lo…” Oh…. oh. Uh oh. “…love to be around you, I mean, I enjoy being around you, I… appreciate you…”

He tucked a longer strand of hair behind my ear, like I was a girl in one of those slice-of-life romance movies. “Is there something you want to say?”

I opened my eyes, catching a glimpse of playfulness in his expression before I looked off to the side. “N-No, I already said it.”

“Are you sure?” His fingertips lightly traced the side of my face. “Nothing else..?”

“Yes, I- I’m sure, I’m- I’m definitely sure,” I stammered, blinking rapidly.

“Alright… well, in that case, I love to be around you, as well.”

I desperately wished I could control the flow of blood to the capillaries in my face. My patch for that bug was to cover the blue flush across my cheeks with my hand, turning away from him as to not simply expire from such slight teasing.

I was so weak when it came to him– not even just weak, but utterly inept, unable to control my reactions to his words, his voice, his touch… I needed to learn self-discipline, needed to learn how to tamp down that feeling in my chest… but did I want to?

It was all I’d ever been told, been made to believe; that this was wrong, that I couldn’t have this, that I shouldn’t want this. But as his fingers touched my shoulders, sliding down to take my hands in his, pulling me back to him… I lamented over the idea that I’d ever have to move, that we’d ever have to be separated.

We eventually walked to my room together, my fingers fumbling across the keypad until the door opened and we entered. I made sure to lock it behind us, knowing that an override key likely existed, but I couldn’t imagine anyone would need me until tomorrow. Plus, I didn’t want someone random waking me up, especially not if the Doctor was there.

The bed was thankfully already made, which was the first time– outside of hospital settings– that someone had ever made my bed for me. It felt like a strange privilege that I didn’t know if I deserved, but I was too tired to think about it and sat down on the bed anyways. The Doctor followed, placing his arm around me; I in turn pressed into his side, head drooping with fatigue. My eyes hurt, wanting nothing more than to close.

“Sleepy little alien, aren’t you?” He took off my jacket for me, which was helpful, as my arms were much too similar to wet noodles at that moment for me to do it myself.

“Teeechnically, you’re an alien if you think about it…” I mumbled as I slumped further against his warm-blooded body. Oh, worldly comforts that I would never be above.

“Do you prefer the term extraterrestrial? I could be an… extra-kepler-ian. But that doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?”

“My favourite extrakeplerian…”

“Oh, come here. You’re about to fall asleep sitting up.” The Doctor picked up my drowsy body, moving me so that I was horizontally oriented in the correct direction to actually sleep in the bed. He undid my shoes and took them off, setting them beside the bed.

He started to shift away, but my hands instinctively moved to his cowl, feebly grasping at him like I could physically do anything to make him stay. He could have easily shoved me aside, roughly pried my fingers off of him and left, as I’d seen him do to countless others when he was fed up with their nonsense. He could, and I wouldn’t have stopped him, couldn’t have, his strength greatly outmatching mine and body much, much more rugged.

But instead he grasped my wrists so gently, placing my hands on my chest as he shifted his weight back down onto the mattress beside me. “Do you want me to stay?”

“I know I shouldn’t…” The light in the room was dim, so that it wouldn’t interfere with sleep, but I could still see the silhouette of his body; it was almost a void against the mostly blank room, and the deep hue of his hand contrasted so abruptly against the paper-white skin of mine. We were strikingly other, different, in ways that were obvious to anyone who looked. It was so forbidden, even taboo– but that didn’t stop my heartbeats from speeding up as his hand trailed down to my waist.

“But do you want to?”

“Of course I do,” I breathed, shutting my eyes as if I was scared to see my own confession in the air, visible from how heavy it felt in the midnight air.

“Then who says we shouldn’t?” He lowered his body, laying down beside me; his other hand went under my arm, reaching to the back of my head as he nestled me closer to himself.

“The Foundation. The government. The rules upheld by this society…” They felt so insurmountable, but the crushing feeling in my chest was coaxed out with every breath by his warm arms softly cradling my body.

“Which do you trust more; them or me?”

“You, of course you. Always you. Forever you.”

“Then trust me when I say that this is okay,” he whispered against my forehead. “There is nothing wrong with your desires.”

“There isn’t anything wrong with yours, either.”

“But could you take it?” he asked, so quietly that I could barely make out his words; I didn’t think I was supposed to.

Struggling to find my own words in my fatigue, I instead tilted my head up, nuzzling into the pool of warmth in between the hood of his cowl and his neck. I pressed my lips just against the digastric muscle, a small show of affection on his strong jaw; it wasn’t quite a kiss, but it was all I could muster up the courage to do right then.

He exhaled appreciatively, fingers playing with the longer hairs at the nape of my neck. Despite all the stress of the day, despite all my worries… he was so comforting. The warmth enveloped me, lulling me to sleep, and I decided to let it.

I woke with a start to voices just outside the door. I didn’t feel quite rested, but forced myself awake at the realisation the Doctor and I had fallen asleep together. If anyone walked in on us…

While my body was still coming online, my brain was grabbing onto the sentence fragments that I could make out; schedule, meeting, aides… what? Why weren’t they moving? It sounded like they were just standing in the hallway– were they waiting for something?

Then there was a sharp knock at the door.

I shoved myself up into a sitting position, but the Doctor’s arms pulled me back down. He mumbled something and rubbed the side of his face against my neck, holding me closer instead of letting me get up. I realised he was still asleep, cursing loudly in my head as I pathetically tried to wipe the flush off of my face.

Another knock. “Unit 5a82?”

“Uh- yes! I-I’m awake!” I called back.

“Can we come in?”

Panicking, I ran my hands over the hood of the Doctor’s cowl, not knowing how I was supposed to wake him. Could I just slip away and let him sleep..? But his arms were thick enough to snap me like a twig, and he seemed adamant on keeping snuggled against me.

“Um, n-no, not right now!”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes!” I stroked the side of his face, increasingly unsure of how I was going to get out of this. “Hey, it would be really helpful if you could wake up, sleepy guy, pretty please,” I whispered rapidly to him, trying to push myself back up and out of his comfortable grasp.

“The sun has been up for a while… we’re here to help you start your day,” someone responded.

Why would I need help? “That’s quite alright, I-I can manage by myself!”

My hearts were just about beating out of my chest at the thought that people who were, what, assigned to me?– At the very least, supposed to help me in some capacity– were going to see this large, birdlike man, cradling my body so unabashedly. Here, if you were going to be different, other, different, you at the very least had to do it with your tail between your legs…

Thankfully, he stirred, yawning as he came into consciousness. I had the strange reflex to do the same, even though I was pretty sure that said reflex was an evolutionary mechanism that only evolved in hominids… I couldn’t remember why they did that,2 but it was of little importance. Right then, I needed to catch him up on the situation, so that he could think up one of his genius solutions as he always did.

“Hey, hi- hi there, good morning,” I whispered to him, smoothing my hands over his shoulders.

“Hello… hm, how are you?” he murmured against my neck, whose sensitivity was so incredibly unfortunate right then. “Do you need something?”

“Um- I- I-” Fuck, fuck me, that’s not helping. “There’s, um, a little problem,” I stammered quietly, trying not to squirm; his hot breaths made my skin feel all weird, and it was a very inconvenient time for that.

“Problem..?” His hand trailed down my side, fingertips lightly caressing until his palm came to rest against the back of my thigh. “Can I help with it?” Oh, he was just doing that on purpose at that point– his fingers started curling around to the inside, almost lazily, like it wasn’t making my entire brain go completely blank in a moment that I had to think rationally.

There was another sharp knock at the door. “Is someone in there with you?”

The Doctor turned his head to look at the source of the noise, and then back to me, but didn’t make any move to get up.

“N-No! Just getting dressed, and, uh- and talking to myself!”

“Oh, well, we actually have some clothes for you, if you wouldn’t mind getting undressed again so that you can change.”

“I volunteer to help,” he cooed, and it took everything I had not to dissolve into a puddle on the bed.

“I’ll- hold on, I’ll come to the door to get it, just give me a moment…”

Fortunately, he actually let me get up, sitting up so that I could get over him and get off of the bed. “Don’t say anything,” I whispered to him. “They can’t know you’re here. I won’t let them in, so as long as you stay out of the view of the door, everything will be fine.”

He nodded back, miming zipping his lips and locking them.

I inhaled, then undid the lock on the door and opened it, trying not to squint from the light that flooded in from the hallway.

There were two people, whose faces I couldn’t quite make out withdue to my bleary eyes; they were both tall, and a bit intimidating with their wide, filled out frames. One of them held out a packet of clothes to me, but it was different from the ones I’d seen during my time working for the government. It was in a fabric shell instead of flimsy plastic, and looked important, unlike the copy-paste, copy-paste identical things I’d always worn before.

“Please get changed into this, and then come out into the hallway when you are ready.”

“Thank you very much,” I responded politely, reaching out to take the packet.

The person nodded, and I closed the door, then had a moment of panic when I glanced to the side and didn’t see the Doctor on the bed.

Warm hands slid down my back, a large body very close behind me. “Can you tell them to go away..?” he asked in a low voice, that one he used when he was obviously trying to do something.

“What is your problem?” I whisper-shouted, whipping around. “Why are you all– you know– this morning? It’s- it’s-”

“It’s what?” He stepped closer, and I took a step backwards, my back hitting the wall– Shit. “A man isn’t allowed to have a little bit of fun with his pet?”

“Um… well… I-I was just wondering… I… um…” I swallowed, mind absolutely fucking blank of anything that wouldn’t give him even more material to tease me on.

“Hmm..?” His head tilted to the side, yellow eyes looking down at me with amusement and intrigue. “Cat got your tongue?”

My mouth opened, and closed, and opened; it took me an embarrassingly long time to finally shove away the unacceptable thoughts racing through my head.

“Would you… maybe, um… l-let me get changed?”

“It will go faster if I assist you.” His eyes mused over my body, and my hand fidgeted with the hem of my shirt, pulling it down with a sudden sharp attention to what I was trying to hide.

“B-But… I think… I think your assistance would take substantially longer,” I quietly stammered out, my other hand hugging the clothing packet to my chest as if it would keep my hearts from doing all the strange things that they were.

He hummed, as if mocking thoughtfulness. “Well, we can easily find out, can’t we?” he asked as he stepped closer still, hands coming to rest on my hips; his fingers slipped under the hem of my shirt, drifting just a touch upwards–

“It would be preferable if we could go in about five minutes,” someone said from the other side of the door, making me almost jump out of my skin.

The Doctor exhaled sharply, a huff of indignance as he stepped back; I bit the inside of my cheek, looking up at him as I tried to figure out what he was thinking. In all honesty, I’d do whatever he wanted me to do, and I’d do it right then and do it without question– but that wasn’t exactly in my best interest in this situation, and both of us knew that.

After a long moment of silent deliberation, he finally pointed to the packet of clothes I was holding. “You should probably work on getting changed.”

I nodded, then turned and set it down on the bed. Though feeling a bit… strange, and unfulfilled, I thought that would be the end of it. But then he placed his hands on my shoulders, leaning in to whisper. “We’ll continue this later, alright? I want to have plenty of time to…” he paused, then clucked his tongue and let go, making a little noise of amusement.

I pressed my lips together, fighting with myself on whether or not I wanted him to continue that thought as I unzipped the packet. Before I could make up my mind, though, the clothes I pulled out made my eyes widen, mind going as blank as the pearly fabric in my hands.

“What is it?”

“It’s… it…” I took it the rest of the way out, the garments looking plainly unreal in my hands. Was I really supposed to wear this? Was I even allowed to hold this? “It’s… white.”

“Yes, it is..?”

“I-I-I’m a, I’m just a, I don’t- we’re not allowed– I’ve never worn white before,” I stammered, shifting the way I was holding it to make sure my skin wasn’t staining it through mere contact.

“It’ll suit you well,” the Doctor reassured me.

“I…” Fuck, I didn’t have time to argue; if it was a mistake, who knows how much trouble I’d get in, but as I held the shirt up to my body, it looked to fit almost perfectly. I’d never seen someone of my size, and even if they were, it’d be a One– but even an extremely small One would be broader than I was, all over but especially in the shoulders, and the garment didn’t reflect that.

So I made the Doctor face away from me as I very, very carefully got changed into the culturally charged outfit.

Unfortunately for me, I wouldn’t have any time to rest. Once I’d stepped out, the people in the hall introduced themselves to me as my aides for the foreseeable future; they would organise my schedule and brief me on it every morning, get me where I needed to go each day, and help me with everyday activities.

This, of course, brought up so many questions for me; schedule? Activities? And why had they wanted me to wear that outfit? But before I could open my mouth to ask, one of them handed me a rather important-looking folder.

“You’ll need to read these before your meeting.”

“If it’s easier, you can use this feed interface,” the other added, handing me something that looked like part of a glasses frame.

“It goes on your ear,” the first one finished, and I nodded, setting it on the outer shell. A little projection flickered to life in front of my eye, not obscuring my vision but instead adding to it; it gave me the time, date, and had a file symbol with a little “2” next to it. I assumed that was what I needed to read.

“You can read them on the way there– you control the device just like a field visor, but with less vocal inputs, so it should be pretty intuitive for you,” the second one added again.

It was already a little eerie how they did that; getting a better look at their faces, I realised they didn’t just look similar, they were identical. Medium, greyish skin, buzzed, dark hair, and deep blue eyes.

They were spitting images of a Two with their low-profile armoured vests and tactical pants, looking honestly kind of… cool. Looking like I’d wanted to when I was a bit younger– and still wanted to a bit– they stood out among Ones just a little bit, which actually made them blend in even more. Someone’s eyes could be scanning, see them, register them as someone you didn’t want to fuck with, and then keep scanning. No more than that, no less.

I internally lamented as we started walking; as soon as I stepped through the door that was held open for me, my metaphorical stomach dropped at the number of people milling about on the grounds outside.

“Is… is there another way for us to get there?” I asked, starkly aware of how much I’d stand out in the crowd as the only accompanied person there, in addition to my small size and other appearance-related factors.

“We’re just going into that place over there.” The one holding the door indicated a sleek-looking building, about a two minute walk away– close enough, if there weren’t hundreds of pairs of eyes that all possessed the ability to stare at me as I did so.

“But I’ll be seen, looking like this,” I gestured at the nice shirt I was wearing, as white as the solar panel-covered roofs that populated the area.

“Let them see you.”


“They need to.”

I looked at the ground, wanting to protest, but I realised I didn’t really know the reasoning behind all of this. Hoping I’d find it in the documents they wanted me to read, I hovered over the icon with my eyes. Text opened on the screen, and I started reading as I nodded, stepping out so that the aide behind me could follow.

I tried to distract myself with the document as we started walking, but it was honestly nothing interesting; it rambled on about advancements and setbacks that the resistance had experienced in its constant uphill battle with the government, but I couldn’t figure out how any of that had to do with me.

Plus, large certain sections were missing, parts that I assumed contained classified internal information– I didn’t really want to see them, as the number one rule in any kind of resistance was to have the information divvied up, and I didn’t want to get murdered for knowing things that I couldn’t even do anything about. But, still– those were the parts that would have contained what I actually needed to know.

Before I could open the second file, the aide that had fallen into step on my left side leaned in to speak to me. “Try your best to stand up straight. I know it might be more difficult, as you’re still adjusting to the gravity, but we can get you a brace if you need it. It’s important to look confident in front of them.”

I didn’t realise it, but I’d been doing that thing again, that thing where I shrunk down and tried to appear invisible. Shoulders tense, I pulled myself more upright, forcing my facial muscles to relax as much as they could and move to a more neutral position. I kept my head up, looking at the horizon instead of my feet– but that made another problem.

I saw the people looking at me, even staring. People facing opposite directions were tapped on the shoulder, signalled, or whispered to, so even they turned to look as well. It was like in the hallway, but so much worse.

I missed the covert uniform I’d worn before for so long; its chunky boots that boosted my height, dark clothes that covered my pale skin, and visor that covered my soft facial features and too-light hair. I started to wonder if it was intentional, if they dressed me like this specifically for the attention, because there was no way they hadn’t taken that into account.

Luckily, nobody stepped into my path this time. I imagined it was a combination of the calm but serious looking aides, and the fact that– and I couldn’t stop repeating this in my head– my clothes made me look incredibly important, to an extent that I thought was entirely too much. Still, for whatever reason it was, I was glad I could get to my destination without incident.

Mostly without incident.

As one of the aides inputted identification to enter the building, someone behind me spoke.



“Asu,” someone else echoed. And then another, until it was a quiet murmur spreading through the crowd of stalled individuals.

I touched my forehead, like I’d find the mark of an asu there– it was as smooth as always, but I still felt a growing nervousness inside myself. Did they really see me that way? Did they really know who I was, know what I’d done?

A Keplerian asu wasn’t exactly the same as an Earthen angel, at least the monotheistic ones; an asu didn’t work for a capital-G-god, or carry out divine orders that were spoken to them. But they were… sacred. Their actions were efficacious in helping the sick, the injured, the desperate. They were not without fault, but even with their mistakes, inspired deep reverence…

Was that why they chose these clothes for me? Because they wanted to portray that image of me? I was extremely flattered, but conflicted; there was no way anyone seriously thought of me that way. The Doctor had called me ‘angel’ from time to time, sure, and of course I liked it, but I thought that was just a pet name. I was so… stained. I was beaten and bloody. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a shameful subordinate who deserved nothing but to suffer.

As I followed the aide at the door inside, the one trailing turned to the people behind us.

“Your asu is home. There is hope.”

Well, I thought as the door closed on the whispering crowd, I’ll do my best to keep them hoping.

The meeting felt like trying to shove a bunch of large, misshapen objects into one small cubby. Even after re-reading both of the documents, I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around all of… everything.

By the fourth or fifth “does that make sense?” I was rubbing my eyes, trying to avoid the AR screen in front of the left one.

“I know it all makes sense to you, but I think I’m missing a lot of the people-oriented ideas on this.”

“Okay. Okay,” 6fb2– the something-or-the-other director– sighed, rubbing its eyes. “Apologies. I imagine it’s a lot to be hit with, so soon after your return. You’ve been gone for such a long time, after all.”

“Yeah…” I looked down at my hands, folded awkwardly in my lap. I was slouched back in the chair, as sitting up for long periods of time was starting to really hurt everything from my neck to my upper thighs. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but that whole gravity thing made a lot of sense.

Somewhat magically, just as I was wondering how bad it would be if I removed my spine completely, one of my aides spoke up. “The brace I mentioned earlier, would you like us to look into getting you one? It’s important for you to be at least somewhat comfortable.”

I’d seen gravitational readjustment braces before; they were big, and clunky, and usually used for people who’d been in zero- or micro-gravity for long periods of time. It was such a visible marker of physical struggle, and the notion that I’d have to wear something like that for who-knows-how-long weighed on me considerably. “I don’t know…”

“We can get one that’s tailored to you specifically. They can be quite covert, and fit under clothes well, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”

“They fit under clothes?” I asked, turning to the one that I was pretty sure was 3f33.

“Of course! More people wear them than you’d realise, especially Twos. When you grow suspended in a vat of fluid, sometimes your bones aren’t quite able to hold you up against the pull of the planet.”

“Huh…” That was quite surprising to me, as I’d been under the impression that Twos were supposed to struggle with those kinds of things the least. Maybe I wasn’t so different, after all.

“How about we do that?” 3f32 suggested, turning to 6fb2. “We’ll go through the rest of the documents with 5a82, and meet you here at your next availability. I think this one just needs to get re-situated after that long of an absence.”

Oh, thank god. I won’t die here, after all.

The director eventually nodded, doing some fancy hand gestures on the tablet it was holding. I got a notification that I’d received new files– just fantastic– and a scheduling request that I confirmed sending to my aides. I tried not to give myself an existential crisis at the thought of more meetings, waving off 3f32’s hand that it offered as a support as I stood up.

My legs tingled with pins and needles, and I almost tripped over myself when I tried to walk; both of my aides were immediately at either side, borderline encroaching on my personal space.

“Are you alright?” one of them asked, sounding rather concerned.

My vision was still returning from the greying out that happened each time I stood up, but I managed to muster up an answer; “Yeah, my legs just fell asleep a little bit.”

“We will also get you compression stockings, then, to make circulation easier on your hearts.”

“You really don’t have to,” I protested as they led me towards the exit. There was no need to go through all that difficulty just for me; I’d been able to manage this far. I just needed to figure out how to deal with the discomfort like I’d always more or less been able to.

“The movement is not merely about disliking the government. It’s also about equity; that includes helping those with illnesses and/or disabilities maintain a good quality of life.”

“Yes… yes, you’re right. Thank you, I appreciate that.”

“It’s a basic kepler right.”

As it turned out, medical assistive devices actually did what they were intended to, and made my body feel way more comfortable– not just that, but actually livable for once, even functional.

The stockings were incredibly hard to put on, as I had repeatedly refused help; they went all the way to the top of my legs, and I didn’t really want to have these strangers– very kind strangers, but strangers nonetheless– to be touching my thighs. They were very tight on my legs, and rigid, and it took a long time to get them all the way from my toes to my upper thigh. But once I did, it was like I had new legs.

They were open at the toes, and after only a little while I could see all eight phalanges turn a more bluish colour, instead of that clear, almost translucent colouration that Keplers exhibited when our blood was devoid of oxygen.

Putting the brace on was a little confusing; it was a sleek mesh of different materials, from foam and velcro to shiny, silvery metal. The top of it extended like a spider, wrapping around my ribcage and holding it securely. The bottom rested at the sacroiliac joint, fitting surprisingly well against the sacral dimples in my lower back. A section wrapped around to the iliac crest, with padding on the hipbones that I was very grateful for because of my propensity to collect bruises there due to how they protruded.

There were additional braces that went all the way down my legs, but despite their size they were much easier to attach to my body. I stood up and bounced on my feet a little bit, testing out the resistance of the mechanical joints; it felt fluid, normal, and honestly rather nice.

My reflection caught my eye, and I walked over to the mirror in the corner of my room. My normally silent footsteps were accompanied by a barely audible whir, a slight clicking of the orthopaedic joints that should have made me feel like I had something on my body, and I knew I did, but I felt… light.

I felt more like me, I realised as I looked at myself in the full-length mirror. I bounced on my feet again, but this time it wasn’t to test the braces; the stockings and sleek metal almost didn’t register to me– no, they did, but they were part of me. They weren’t as low-profile as I’d have liked, the straps around my thighs a little clunky looking, but I… could get used to that.

I tried crouching, standing back up, balancing on one leg– quote-unquote ‘normal’ things that I’d been expected to do since coming out of the vat of growth fluid that’d birthed me, quote-unquote ‘normal’ things that I’d immediately failed at.

My jaw clenched as I remembered it. The lab techs were confused, even surprised. At me, at what I’d looked like. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t walk, didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to just stand next to them. I didn’t, either, but it wasn’t like I was trying to… fail.

Because that’s what it was, that’s what they thought of it as. A failure. That’s what they thought of me as, a failed experiment. I didn’t live up to their golden standard, just a waste of materials when there could be someone else, someone better, someone who could stand, who could walk without having to go through months, years of physical therapy.

‘It’s as simple as walking!’, people on Earth would say to indicate the low intensity of an activity. They weren’t there for every time I collapsed against the parallel bars, every time my bruisable body collided with the floor.

I looked at my thighs in the mirror, looked right through the space between them to the bed behind me. That space that had always been there, despite how much work I’d put into building that mass up– a quick glance at the rest of my body was enough to make it clear that it was the only place I’d built any mass up.

I would never look like a standard Two, never function like a standard Two. It was a truth I’d struggled with since day one, since I’d seen my own emaciated body in the reflection of spilled growth fluid. I would never be what was considered normal, I would never be able to do the same things that others could.

But that didn’t make me broken.

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