Integration changes the way people age. Doesn’t stop it- technically. Biologically sure, all hail the invention of eternal youth! But it’s just not a mere snapshot, to be alive people need to be able to change however slight. Might as well have stored them unconscious otherwise. So Integrated do learn, and grow, and devolve, just slowly. In different ways.
Romer is certain he’s the oldest of their group, he’s one of the first uploads chronologically. Some probably got slapped in the tin can when they were older- in the sense they spent longer as flesh and blood.
He knows he was born human in the year furthest back, he’s been in this body before anyone else here got their first one. He thinks, if they all met the same age they where bottled up regardless of actual year he wouldn’t be the oldest. The markers he uses to judge timeline aren’t the same as it’d be for a natural.
Coqui for example, he talks like a kid.
They do age, technically. At least technically they’re meant to age mentally afterwards but, when you’re integrated if on some level you’re not an old man then you won’t become an old man either. If you’re just a young punk, you’ll stay one, it’s only the cynicism and skill that accumulates.
He talked about getting integrated because of him and Romer has heard it so many times over the years he doesn’t wince anymore. Doesn’t feel pride either. He marks the decades where his fame was most useful to Sang-Froid, then the spaces right after them. They mean he’s older than Rezek.
Rezek is a father, he’s the youngest of them all. Natural humans don’t live long and his daughters are alive, his wife might have been too. Forced integration was last in vogue twenty, fifteen years ago. Romer guesses by the way he flinched from his own speech, that he’s on the later end of the spectrum.
Anges talks about the world before, she tells them she owned a salon people went to primarily before integration, and well that means she’d have been human to see Romer’s second run of advertisements for Sang-Froid. Much more successful than the first batch, with at least fifty years between the two. She’d probably got in the can at about the same age as he had, give or take some small years. If you pulled down a calendar of the centuries she’d be before Coqui, before Rezek, still after him. He measures his time in decades not days.
Doyle was police, after Agnes. Before Coqui. Rezek the youngest still. Was it sold to him as a reward or punishment? The larger armatures are long after his time. When combat applications began to out rule potential dysphoria. Not everyone takes to being mechanical well, learning a whole new way to move can strain your mind. Can, not certainty. Enter Séguin. She’s harder to place, she’s the kind of person who could have been born to a can.
The chipped paint she sports so proudly though. A human skull stencilled out, and bright pink pigments on careful primer; all marks of individuality which scream of the fashion when Rayonne begun to subsume identities. She never plans to go for a natural body. She’s not the right sort of wistful to have seen anything outside of a hundred years. Another older than Rezek. Younger than Agnes. Different but similar eras to Coqui, Doyle. Younger than Black Shuck. Still, just mayflies to him.
He wants to call Waggoner kid out of spite so he swaps it out with sir. He findings Tala baffling and she throws him stumbling off balance. He looks at the shine of Ox-Eye and wants to cry at how young soldiers are now. It’s obvious- even though he handles himself far more gracefully than Rezek did, at home in his iron skin. He looks at Six O’Two, the first time the second all after with terror and sorrow. The thrumming question if this is the form he wants, or just to keep him safe. He can’t ask that of him and doesn’t have a tongue to bite anymore.
Shuck had been born well after he’d been integrated. Romer doesn’t know what he had looked like as a human. Shuck probably knows, he’d been famous then too and he was the creepy sort of bastard who’d dig up old runs of his first races and shows. Romer isn’t sure he’s got the right to judge that though. He’s the sort of creepy bastard who sure remembers what his first body had been like clear as day. And all the ones he took of after, each a different sort of sharp, looking for the end of the world, ground down to nothing but edge. Romer has always risen and fallen in and out of fame, lurching from favour and disgrace with enthusiasm for both. Pushing everything, anything, from people to delicate machinery and anti-g technology, into kissing their limitations is old nature.
He was ridding out the tail end of an early nobody stretch, on the up and up again when a nameless someone slid in by him with bright eyes. He’d taken him for a fan of the show a first, then in that underground bar where no one drank. Back then he’d slid a pretty, hot rod striped arm round his waist asking a hundred inane questions. Inquires about architects. About sea walls. About the creep of the first Frost. The past and his dreams of the future. Romer doesn’t have an excuse for how quickly he was taken in.
No one there drank. A million more questions for his every answer. He couldn’t get drunk. He was high on being seen. On being remembered, not a new fancy.
Romer is older than the husk they shelter in, so if he was to try and explain how much of his life has been spent, as proto-Rayonne, at Shuck’s side they’d surely see it wrong. He’s lucky Waggoner is a lifelong natural, that he’s so young. That Agnes was sheltered.
He’s had an identical form from the start, and he’s lucky enough, avoided enough damage to be relatively seamless. Unluckily that means he’s more easily spotted by past acquaintances. His time among Rayonne, though present and dangerous to others, was ultimately insignificant in scale to him.
If he wasn’t older than the street they’d met on so long ago he’d call it youthful indiscretion. Romer knows exactly who he’d invited into his life though. Seen enough he feels no surprise when an old memory turns up again, howling for attention.
He’s always moved on from past dalliances easily enough. He’s been around too long to hang on, and he’s seen how people drift away. Something that was always riling up Shuck’s temper, even back in their friendlier days. He’d have come hunting him even if they hadn’t interfered with his plans.
Romer can’t quite figure out how to parse it. That even though he can still see a glossy sheen of ideals (warped as they are are) plain as daylight on him. Even though he’s is not the thing that made him, not going to be what kills him. Even though Shuck has never been anything save a temporary distraction, a blink in his eye. He’s found something of a solid identity in being hunted. Romer knows he’ll outlive them all but for now, for this small bit of forever he can act as bait-prize.