Actions

Work Header

Farewell Transmission

Work Text:

There’s oil on her hands still, deep under her nails and splashed across her knuckles. More than her broken ankle, more than the hairline crack that’s appeared in the dragonfly’s wing, more even than the ache of Pigsy’s absence, the oil is what makes it real.

The escape from Pyramid is a jumble of images, surreal, nightmarish. The flickering walls, the old, old man in his terrible machine. The red glow of the headbands washing into a wave of darkness as the system began to fail. Moans, and then agonized screaming. The horror bubbling up in her throat as her choice started to sink in. Monkey’s hands, careful but implacable, pulling her away from the carnage and hoisting her onto his back, holding her as they fled.

He still hasn’t answered her.

Monkey carried her out into the fading daylight and across the desert, silent the whole time. The dragonfly had ticked off seven miles before she stopped waiting for an answer he didn’t have and let herself cry, face pressed into his neck, hot, silent tears leaking out against his skin.

The stars are out now, and he’s conjured up shelter out of nothing. They’re hunkered down behind a crumbling stretch of mesa, miles from Pyramid and no mechs in sight, isolated enough that Monkey’s willing to risk a fire.

In the flickering light, her hands look mottled, diseased. The oil on them might as well be blood.

“Trip,” Monkey finally says. She’s too tired to startle. His voice is gentler than she expects. Gentler than she deserves. “You should sleep. We’re safe here for now.”

She doesn’t say anything, and then she finds she isn’t too tired to startle after all. His hands are a shock, rough against hers, calluses catching on her skin as he folds her hands up in his.

“Close your eyes, Trip.”

She swallows, then leans forward to rest her forehead against their hands. The movement sends a flare of pain through her ankle, her whole body stiff and aching. Monkey must feel worse; the long, impossible fight with the scorpion, the endless waves of mechs. Everything that came after.

Somehow, he still feels steady, solid and immovable as a mountain. Trip doesn’t know where he finds the strength. Maybe if she stays here long enough, she’ll find some of her own. She feels like the dragonfly’s wing, a delicate machine that’s been handled roughly, cracked open and damaged in some fundamental way.

Did I do the right thing?

She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know, and Monkey won’t say. It wasn’t fair to ask him. She doesn’t know what he saw before she ripped him out of Pyramid’s reality. She doesn’t know the shape of the world she killed, and now she never will.

She wants to apologize. Scream, weep. Blast something, maybe. Anything but sit quietly with her choice.

But Monkey is still crouched before her, patient, like he could wait for her forever.

Close your eyes, Trip, he said, as if it’s that simple. Maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“I don’t want to,” she whispers. She doesn’t need to say why.

He sighs, a long sound like a rush of wind. He doesn’t pull away.

They stay like that for a long time, sitting quietly as the fire dies down to embers. Eventually, she does fall asleep, eyes drifting shut against her will. The last thing she’s aware of is cold air on her palms as he untangles their fingers with an aching, careful slowness.

Did I do the right thing, she wants to ask, but then she’s alone and slipping into sleep.

Her dreams offer no rest.

 

 

 

Things don’t look better in the morning. She wakes up exhausted, and her ankle is a mess of black and blue, swollen and completely useless. She can’t put any weight on it, let alone walk the way they need to.

The mesa was safe enough in the darkness, but now that it’s light they can see a hideous plume of smoke billowing up towards the sky. The Leviathan, wreckage still burning in the desert.

They can’t stay here. Pyramid may be destroyed, but there’s no way to know if that will affect the mechs. Monkey doesn’t say anything, not a word about her ankle or their enemies or the strange solace he offered her last night. He just scuffs out the remains of the fire and gathers up his gear, cloud and staff and gauntlets. She has a brief memory of his hands cradling her head as he coaxed her to lie down.

That tenderness seems foreign now, something she imagined because the world hurt too much to bear alone.

It doesn’t matter, she thinks. There’s no time for tenderness now, not when they need to find food, water, transportation, a clear path through the mechs that lurk, always. She puts it out of her mind.

The dragonfly’s wing is weaker now, but it still flies. Trip sends it up to scout, watches as it flutters up into the sky, a silver speck against a cloudless eternity. When she lets her gaze fall, Monkey is waiting, his face unreadable.

“We’re clear for now,” she says. “No mechs.”

He helps her clamber onto his back, and then he starts walking.

Neither of them looks back.

 

 

 

They head north.

Before the slavers, Trip had never ventured farther than Pigsy’s old factory. Monkey was a wanderer, but Pyramid was as far west as he’d ever been. They’re both in uncharted territory.

Without the headband, the dragonfly’s scanning capabilities are reduced. She can’t mark the mechs, or chart a path for Monkey to follow. She compensates as best she can, projecting the scans through her wrist interface, fuzzy and indistinct. She hasn’t offered to look at the headband; he hasn’t asked. They make do.

There’s nothing for them to the east; the ruins of Pyramid, Pigsy’s empty factory, the silent dead in Trip’s community. There are mechs guarding ruins to the south, and further west. The north seems empty, so that’s where they go.

They stumble across a stretch of blacktop, an old two-lane highway that cuts across the landscape like a scar.

Monkey is still quiet, but she can tell it makes them both uneasy. The scans show no mechs for miles, but they’re exposed and slow.

“This was a mistake,” she finally says after three hours of tense, uneasy walking. “We need to find transportation. We have to move faster. We’re not going to be able to avoid mechs forever, and you can’t carry me in a fight.”

“You want to double back? Hit some of the ruins and see if we can find a ride?”

He asks her like has faith in her answer. Trip will make the decision, he’ll make it happen, and they’ll both be fine. Simple.

She wants to be worthy of that trust.

“No,” she says. “We don’t know what’s left of Pyramid, if there’s anything coming after us. I think we should keep moving forward.”

One of the women in her community, Sunita, had a collection of old maps. Prewar maps, scavenged from ruins, moldering and useless. She papered them across the walls of her room, sketches of a world that had ceased to exist.

“Why do you collect these,” Trip remembers asking, eleven and curious about everything. “There are no cities anymore. No states. Everything’s gone.”

Sunita had said something about knowing where to search for salvage, but some of the maps were for land hundreds, even thousands of miles away, places they could never reach.

“I guess I just feel like it’s important,” Sunita had said. “I don’t think we should forget. There used to be so much more than this. No mechs, no slavers. We shouldn’t let that slip away.”

It’s already gone, she thinks now, but she can picture those maps in her mind, clear as day. If she can find a landmark, she might be able to point them toward something they can scavenge.

“Put me down for a sec,” she tells Monkey. “If I make some adjustments to the dragonfly, I think I can give us a new heading.”

Standing on the pavement makes her ankle throb, but the reconfiguration seems to work. The dragonfly soars upward, and when it returns, she knows exactly where to go

For the first time since she and Monkey left her community behind them, the thought of it isn’t all pain. Monkey helps her back up, and they adjust their course, headed for the ruins of what used to be Weso, Nevada.

 

 

 

Every night is the same dream.

She dreams the Leviathan, the quiet humming of the cells in the darkness of the power core and the slow, swaying motion of its steps on sand.

In the way of dreams, she knows they’re headed not towards Pyramid but back towards her community, she and Monkey and Pigsy. The desert is black and endless outside the megamech, but they’ll be alright.

Monkey sits on the catwalk in front of her, hands open at his side. That’s not the way the scene played out in real life, but it doesn’t matter. The headband is dull and lifeless.

“I need you to turn it back on,” he says. His eyes are clear. She looks down at him, taller than she should be, and he meets her gaze without flinching. “I trust you,” he says.

 

 

 

It takes them three days of hard walking. They have to track northeast over washed out roads and harsh high desert. Monkey is tireless, but Trip makes them stop twice, huddled in the dubious shelter of natural rock formations.

“Rest,” she tells him, and he does. It’s another thing they haven’t talked about, the way he listens to her. In the beginning, it was the headband, but somewhere along the line that changed. After the dog, maybe, or her community. Respect in place of grudging obedience.

Turning off the headband felt like the only right choice after she’d enslaved him, lied to him, dragged him along behind her as she searched for revenge. And then the quiet gravel of his voice in the power core, telling her to turn it back on. Putting himself back in her hands. Trusting her.

It felt like too much then, and it feels like too much now.

There’s an ocean of things unsaid between them, and she doesn’t know how to start talking. She’s tired, hungry, heartsore. She still doesn’t know if she made the right choice. It’s easier to let things stay unsaid.

The nights are freezing, and her sleep is fitful, plagued by dreams. By the time they make it to the ruins, she’s too exhausted to argue when Monkey wants to stash her in a hiding spot while he searches for transportation.

She does a quick scan, but the town is empty, as desolate as the desert they just trekked through. It was small, she thinks, a cluster of buildings that perched on the outskirts of some larger city. She chose it during the long range scan because it didn’t seem like there was anything there worth guarding during the war. Her choice has paid off. There are no mechs; now they just have to hope that it hasn’t been picked clean by other scavengers.

Monkey helps her hide in the crumbling shell of what must have been a municipal building.

“I’ll be back soon, okay?”

“Yeah,” she tells him, even though the last thing she wants to see is the sight of his back as he walks away. He could leave, and not come back. He won’t, she knows that, but the thought still scares her. There’s no headband tethering him to her now, and he can’t possibly think she did the right thing.

But he’s still here, following her lead.

Everything is simple to you, isn’t it?

He’s never lied to her. Never left her. Never let her down. He trusts her, even when she doesn’t trust herself.

It just is what it is.

He’s here. He’ll stay. She can sort out the tangle of her own fear and confusion later.

“I trust you,” she blurts out.

He blinks at her, then something in his face softens for a moment, like he knows what it cost her to say that.

“Good,” he tells her. He shoots a wry glance at her ankle. “Then you’ll stay put this time, yeah? Not sure I feel up to fighting a dog just now.”

That startles a laugh out of her, an unexpected burst of joy.

“Oh come on, Monkey. You’re an old hand at dogs now. You could still take one.”

He laughs with her then, a low rumble she can’t remember hearing before. It’s a gift. She holds the sounds close as he heads out, moving through the ruins like a ghost.

 

 

 

He comes back hours later, hauling a cache of supplies. Water, preserved food, basic medical supplies. The packaging on some of it is ancient, but it all seems serviceable.

“It doesn’t look like anyone’s passed through here since the war.”

“We got lucky. Nice job finding this place.”

Like the sound of his laugh, the words soothe something tense and worried in her chest.

“Come on,” he says, helping her onto his back. “I found a bike I think we can use, but I’m gonna need your help to get it running.

It takes some work, but she manages to resurrect the ancient power cell. The bike is smaller than the one Monkey had, much less powerful, but it’ll take them wherever they need to go.

They head north again, miles of blacktop disappearing under the wheels. The landscape is different, desert instead of fields, distant mountains instead of the towering outline of mech factories, but it feels like they’ve stepped backward in time. The silence between them is a little easier now. They could be on their way to Pigsy’s factory, her community. Somewhere the slavers haven’t touched.

It’s the worst kind of illusion. She knows firsthand that there’s no place like that left in the world. Still, she clings to the idea, lets it chase away the memory of all she’s lost, if only for a little while.

 

 

 

The sky is boiling with low clouds, thick and dark, when they stop for the night. After they’ve torn into their first full meal in days, Monkey pulls out the medical supplies he found and gets to work splinting her ankle.

His hands are sure and gentle, as careful as she remembers them.

No time for tenderness, she thought. Maybe trust isn’t the only thing she’s been afraid of.

“I should have done this sooner,” he says. “Before we left the town.”

“It’s okay,” she tells him. “I just wanted to get moving again.”

“Still,” he murmurs. He finishes securing the wrap around her ankle, more painful now after hours on the bike, and then settles down beside her. He’s warm, as warm as the small fire they have going.

“So what now,” he asks, “do we keep heading north?”

“I guess,” she says. She doesn’t have a plan, not now that they’ve got supplies and transportation. There’s nothing driving them; they’re adrift.

“Alright,” he says. Simple, just like it always is.

They’re quiet after that, but it doesn’t needle her the way it did the last time they sat by a fire. She doesn’t look at her hands. When it starts to die down, Monkey prods the fire back to life and helps her wrap up in a blanket, another one of his finds. He settles down behind her, sheltering her from the wind. It should feel strange, the intimacy of touch without necessity behind it - no desperate escape, no hours on the bike - but it doesn’t. Instead, it’s an extension of the same tenderness she keeps dismissing.

She waits for the rush of guilt that has shadowed her thoughts since they fled into the desert, but it's muted and distant, held at bay by the quiet comfort Monkey is offering her. She wants to turn and press into his warmth; she wants to crawl into his arms and stay there forever. Instead, she bites her lip until it aches, and stays exactly where she is.

The guilt is still there, and distance does not mean safety. Pyramid taught her that lesson.

This is a respite she doesn't deserve. Still, it makes her feel calm, safe in a way she hasn’t been since before the slavers. She closes her eyes and dares to hope for dreamless sleep.

 

 

 

Every night is the same dream.

“I trust you,” he says.

In her gut, she knows that’s a mistake.

She pictures the headband active again, gleaming and cruel at his temple. His body collapsing and seizing when he wanders too far, blood trickling slowly from his nose and ears.

There’s no trace of blood on him now, but everything in her recoils.

“No,” she says. “No, I won’t. I can’t.”

“Please, Trip.” His voice sounds desperate. “I need it.”

“No,” she says again, louder this time. It shatters the hush around them. The hum of the engines turns discordant, a sound like choking. The Leviathan’s steps begin to shudder and slow.

“Please.” Monkey says it again, on his knees now, begging. “Turn it on.”

 

 

 

If she screams or makes noise during the dreams, Monkey never mentions it. But he moves carefully in the morning, helping her get up and moving even as her ankle slowly starts to heal, packing up their small camp as she limps towards the bike and sends the dragonfly into the sky to scan.

They’ve settled into a routine, days stretching into weeks, but the dreams have worn away that brief glimpse of peace. It was only temporary, an hour's worth of solace. Distance is not safety; it is a bitter reminder.

By day they drift, and at night she relives the horror of Pyramid again and again.

She doesn’t have a plan, and it feels like she used up the last bit of her bravery in Weso. The only constant is Monkey, still solid, still sure. It’s the only thing that keeps her going. She’s seventeen - eighteen now, she realizes with a start - and Pyramid is gone. She ripped him apart with her own two hands, and nothing’s changed.

Her community is still a ruin of ash and char. Her father is still dead. She still doesn’t understand the why of it, and chances are she never will. Pyramid couldn’t have been just a memory cache. She heard the announcements in the slaveship, the voice calling out identification numbers and class systems, punishing those who disobeyed.

There was a whole society behind Pyramid, one with an army and an agenda. Maybe that’s why she and Monkey are still running.

She’s too tired to think about it for long. She rests her cheek against Monkey’s back, the only warm, familiar thing left in her world, and lets her thoughts drift away.

 

 

 

Every night is the same dream.

“No,” she says again, but even as the word crosses her lips, she sees her hand reach out to him.

She cups his cheek and he closes his eyes. There is nothing on his face but trust.

The Leviathan is shaking now, steel screaming as the scorpions wrench it to pieces. In the cockpit, she knows Pigsy is dying.

Her hand is still on Monkey’s cheek, as gentle as she can make it. For a moment she thinks it will stop here, that they’ll stay like this, suspended in the moment, skin to skin.

The dream does not stop. The dream never stops.

Monkey opens his eyes. They are a bright and terrible red.

The sight tears a scream from her, a wordless wail of grief. She rips her hand away, but it’s too late. It is always too late.

No, you shouldn’t have trusted me, no, no, no, Monkey, no, please--

The catwalk dissolves beneath her and she falls forever.

 

 

 

She wakes exhausted. It’s a pattern now. She hoped the dreams would settle, but they’ve been moving north for weeks now, out past the borders of those old maps into what she thinks used to be Canada, and they still haven’t gone away.

It shouldn’t torment her like this. She made a choice; it’s over. But the memories are all she can think of now, and the shape of her nightmare is always the same no matter how desperately she tries to change it. She’s traced and retraced their journey a thousand times in her head, trying to see what she could have done differently.

It doesn’t matter; she always ends up with oil on her hands.

There isn’t much to pull her out of her thoughts. There are mechs now, but they’re skeletons, rusted, inactive models they’ve never seen before. Another country’s army.

She’s tired, and every mech they’ve passed has been dead. The war must have been different here, less violent in this vast, empty prairie. There haven’t been many cities to avoid.

It’s made her complacent, lax with the scans, and it nearly gets them both killed.

 

 

 

They’ve stopped in another abandoned settlement, scavenging for more food and supplies, when the turret activates.

It’s some kind of defense system she’s never seen before, the turret sending remote signals to other mechs in the area, and suddenly they’re surrounded, pinned by fire and hemmed in by a slew of combat mechs.

She dives for cover, ankle ablaze with pain, listening to Monkey curse. He’s taken out three of the mechs, but he’s bleeding freely, the turret locked onto him, her EMP distraction useless.

He’ll be fine. This isn’t the worst fight he’s been in, not even close. They’ve seen longer odds, fought tougher enemies.

He’s losing ground.

Please, she finds herself thinking, please, until he loses his staff and terror wipes out coherent thought.

There’s one mech left, one mech and the turret, but he’s bleeding and she can’t-- she can’t sit by and watch this again.

The first bullet grazes her arm, and her ankle is on fire, but she can get to the staff. Distantly, she can hear Monkey screaming her name, voice desperate like it only ever is in dreams.

Another step, another wash of pain, and then she pulls it up to fire, once, twice, three times in quick succession. The recoils boom through her shoulder and she cries out, but the turret falls silent.

Over the roar in her ears, she can hear Monkey dispatch the final mech, and then he’s skidding to a stop in front of her, pulling the staff from her numb fingers.

“Trip, Trip, talk to me, are you okay?” His voice is still so desperate.

“Yeah,” she says. Her throat is so dry. She tries again, “I’m fine, Monkey, I promise. God, I’m so sorry.”

“What the hell are you sorry for, I almost got you killed.”

She wants to laugh, and then, almost without conscious input, she is. His hands are on her shoulders now, carefully chafing warmth back into her skin, her blood running over his fingers. The opposite of how it usually is. Dimly, she recognizes that she’s in shock.

She can’t stop laughing.

“Jesus, Trip, you’re scaring me.”

“I fucked up. I should have paid more attention, done a more thorough scan. You trusted me, and I walked us right into a defense system.” It spills out of her unbidden, all her unspoken fears, her terror that she’s the last person he should ever trust.

His hands stop moving on her arms, cupping her shoulders. He’s just holding her now, eyes fixed on her face.

He’s dirty and bloody, but it feels like a scene from her dream. She’s going to lose him.

“Yeah,” he says. “I trust you.”

Her laughter has subsided into hiccups, edging close to something like a sob.

“Hey,” he tries again, shaking her a little bit. “I trust you. You’re smart, and tough, and determined. Nothing has been easy for you since the slaveship, but you keep going. You’re brave, Trip, and I trust you.”

“I don’t feel brave,” she admits, shaky now, but strangely unafraid. They’re sitting in the dirt, as close to death as they’ve come since Pyramid, and he’s still here. What does she have to lose by telling the truth?

“You escaped from the slavers. You made it back home. Stole their biggest weapon, and took down Pyramid with your bare hands. What about that isn’t bravery?”

“But we didn’t take him down, not really. He had an army. Why would he have an army, slaves, a harvesting system if all he wanted to do was give people a gift? It doesn’t make sense.”

There’s more, but she doesn’t say it. Monkey just waits, endlessly patient, even in the aftermath of a battle.

She bites her lip, fear resurfacing.

He’s still waiting.

“I just don’t know,” she says, her voice a whisper now. She swallows, and leans into his grip. It wasn’t fair to ask him, but she needs an answer. “I didn't understand anything, Monkey, and I killed him anyway. Was it-- was it the right thing to do?”

In the silence before he responds, it feels like the world itself is holding its breath.

“I don’t know either, Trip. The visions, that life, none of it was real. It was all dead. Even Pyramid couldn’t bring it back, not really.”

“But all those people. We just...left them.” Left them to die, maybe. The thought has haunted her for weeks.

“Then we’ll go back, figure it out. If that’s what you need to do.”

She almost laughs again. Just that simple.  

They’re surrounded by dead mechs, the smoking remains of the turret, both of them bleeding but alive. Her dream feels far away, distant and insubstantial as smoke. She wants to trust herself again. 

“Okay, Monkey,” she says. “Okay.”

 

 

 

They don’t go anywhere that day except back to the bike, and then back to shelter. Monkey uses the last of their medical supplies bandaging bullet wounds and rewrapping her ankle, as badly injured now as it was initially, weeks of healing undone in a few frantic seconds. They’ll have to hit another town and restock, but that’s a problem for later.

For now, they curl up together, quiet, tender. She soaks up the gentleness, gives it back in return. Stripped of the burden of her shame and her fear, she lets herself press against him. She's ached to do this, and now she can; there's nothing holding her back. 

I want this, she thinks, letting the fierce joy of it wash through her. I can have this.

It’s another thing they need to talk about, but she doesn't shy away from the thought. So much about their lives is fragile and uncertain, but not this. They'll be okay.

Tomorrow they head south, back to the desert. Back to Pyramid.

Cradled in the warm surety of Monkey's embrace, Trip falls into a deep, easy sleep.

She does not dream.