The civilians in charge of the holding facility were quick to provide TO and DH with a private office to work in. There wasn’t much in it; a table, a few chairs, and some computers with screens inbuilt into the walls. They’d have access to all the files they needed, and could start reviewing the surveillance footage as soon as possible, but there were still more things that DH required before they could start; a proper toolkit, and as many of the downed drones as the civilians could salvage. They needed to see how the insurgents made the drones. Were these drones like the ones they encountered at the port? Would it show a mix of salvaged tech merged by synth and civilian work?
How long could the insurgents keep a synth working for them? How long until the synth gave up, or found a way out?
Of course, that was only the first part of their work. They also wanted to get some DNA samples from the tainted water and check it against the identification of the insurgents. Ideally, they’d get enough DNA to confirm the deaths of most of the insurgents. Of course, the material was so watered down, and had gone through a few cleaning processes at least; not enough to purify the water perfectly, but potentially enough to ruin any potential samples. Paga, who they found out was the holding center’s Sargent, had gone with the lab techs to fetch the material.
At least TO didn’t have to get the material themself. At least they didn’t have to be around that awful, bloody waterfall. Despite how strange red blood looked to them, the knowledge that it was blood was enough to set TO on edge, enough to put the image of a juvenile synth being taken apart organ by organ in their head and set the smell of disinfectant in their nose. Bones cracking. Scalpel through skin.
DH’s voice echoed in TO’s ear, drawing them from their thoughts. When they turned to look, they saw DH had removed their armor already and was speaking to them through their communicator.
“You took off your armor?” Under their helmet, TO felt their ears twitch with worry. “We’re not supposed to-“
“I know, and I’m not trying to worry you.” quickly, their ears down with worry, “I scanned the room for cameras and bugs, and there’s nothing… So, can you take off your armor?”
“Why?” TO asked, but oddly, DH flinched.
“Because the way the helmet translates things, it makes you sound angry all the time, and because I’m worried about you.”
Shame knotted up TO’s stomach. Of course, they would have worried DH with their actions. After seeing us a bit of blood- just the image of blood on a screen- they couldn’t hold their composure around a civilian. Even now, thinking about it made them feel sick, and drew up the sounds and smells that always seemed to haunt their mind when they were around blood.
How long had it been since that day? Shouldn’t they be over this by now? They were fully trained synths. They should not have this reaction to blood! Of course, they shouldn’t have had that reaction to doing the reprocessing in the first place.
“It’s fine.” TO said, but before they could say anything more, DH cut them off,
“It’s not. You’re not. Please?”
They were about to say no, that they were fine, but they couldn’t really bring themself to lie to DH. With a sigh, they pressed at the button on their wrist, letting the armor dissolve back into a simple bracelet. The moment they were free of their armor, DH scooped them into an embrace with arms and wings, gently holding them and scratching the back of their neck.
They shouldn’t do this here, TO thought. Sure, DH checked for cameras and bugs, but what if someone just came in? What if their systems missed something? These thoughts hid deep down inside TO in the moment, because once DH held them all TO wanted was to lean into that embrace; to hold DH and let them make this awful feeling inside them go away. They wanted to hear DH’s gentle chirping and the hum of their heart instead of the quiet, sharp sound of a scalpel slicing through skin.
They only now realized how much they were shaking, how their ears had pinned back and down. They pressed their face into DH’s chest, breathing in the smell of lavender that their mate always wore, holding them as though it might stop their shaking.
“… If either of us has to go to the waterfall, I’m going.” DH said their ears pinning back in a way that said the statement would allow no argument, “If either of us has to look at so much as a drop of blood, I’m doing it.”
“No…” TO said, their voice small and unsure, “I should be better than this. A little of blood shouldn’t bother me-“
“First-“ DH said, “That wasn’t a little blood, that was a waterfall of gore. Second, blood bothers you, regardless of what you think of that. “They held TO tighter, “The production officer should never have made you do that dissection.”
“It was my assignment.” TO said lamely.
“I don’t care.” DH said, “They shouldn’t have made you do that.”
Breathing steadily, TO held onto DH as they calmed down, as the thoughts of blood faded off thanks to DH’s presence. They reluctantly pull away once they felt they had themself together.
“We should get to work.”
“Are you certain?”
They weren’t. All they were certain about was that they wanted in a few more minutes in DH’s arms. They leaned in and kissed their mate gently.
“We have work to do.” They whispered, “Serious work.”
“I know.” DH said. They kissed TO back, and then let them go. Even if they weren’t trying to become retirees, even if they weren’t trying to overachieve, they had a duty to King Decon and duty, ideally, came first.
TO started with video footage of the end of the attack and worked backwards from that. They found the footage from where the insurgents escaped into the tunnels, then followed them back towards the prison, through the hallways and corridors until they saw each of the insurgents in their individual cells. Watching the footage backwards confused them, so once they had all the proper files queued up, they played them in order to watch the escape take place as though it was just another show they were watching with DH.
The attack started. On 23 different screens, TO saw prisoners suddenly looking up as though they heard something in the distance. Some of them approached the bars of the cells as though they might see what it was. That the civilians used bars instead of electric force fields was strange to TO at first, but moments later the power went out and the practicality of using bars made perfect sense; even a momentary blip in the power grid could provide an opportunity for someone to escape.
The bars stayed in place in the brief moments it took for the emergency generators to come back up. Mild distortion overtook the footage as it rushed through a few minutes where nothing happened, but then the escape started. The guards had the insurgents placed in many areas and different levels of security, yet their cells opened up one by one, leaving the others waiting in nearby cells to scream at them, though TO couldn’t hear it on the muted security tapes.
Out of curiosity, TO turned on the sound but heard only static on half the videos, and on the other half there was too much noise from the attack outside to hear anything. Well, there wasn’t much to be done about that.
With more purpose than TO would have expected, the insurgents made their way down the hallways with previously secured doors opening before them like magic. They eventually met one another as they turned corners or fled down corridors, joining up and continuing on their way in small groups. One insurgent who looked a lot like the octopus mother from the Outer Ring pointed the security camera out to another insurgent who looked something like Lendulin, but their tail was shorter, they had much bigger eyes and a far more pronounced snout. They had been making their way about by pushing themself with their arms, but when the two met up, the tentacled insurgent scooped the smaller one up and continued on the way while the smaller one lifted a middle finger at the camera.
Before much longer, the group of 23 met up in a large hallway that was closed off from the unsecured compound by one more gate; this gate needs a physical key to open it; a last defense in case of a compromised network. TO expected one insurgent to have some trick, to break the lock or pick it, but a four legged, two armed, insectoid guard came around the corner, and simply unlocked the door.
Here, TO paused the footage. The system that did the recordings should have picked up on the guard's security information, so TO gestured over the image of the guard to bring up anything they had.
The name that came up had consonants lined up in a way that TO couldn’t pronounce, but next to that in quotations was the nickname, “Vince.” Vince wasn’t just a guard; Vince was the Prison Officer; the highest rank in the prison’s hierarchy. What was he doing helping the insurgents?
TO noted the guard's name and rank and ID number, and started the recording once more.
Vince stepped aside, seemingly willing to let the insurgents pass by, but a very large, very muscular person with a long, snakelike tail grabbed him. There was a momentary struggle, but with the help of the other insurgents, the guard was subdued and pulled along as they left the secure area of the prison. The security footage from outside the facility was harder to get and wasn’t as clear or comprehensive as the rest of the footage, but they could still use it to follow the insurgents as they escaped, using debris and chaos as their cover. Despite the lower quality recording, TO could clearly see all twenty-three insurgents and the one guard slip down the hole and into the tunnels below the street.
They sped up the footage and watched as the battle overhead waned, as the sun came up, as the civilians appeared. Even then, TO kept watching until they saw themself and DH land dramatically on the street like fierce black shadows. They had never noticed before how everyone around them stiffened, and suddenly stood at attention when they landed, and how civilians who had been talking simply stopped what they were doing and watched the two synths, like prey among predators.
Despite everything, they were confused. They understood why Noss was so scared; he had been failing his tasks for King Decon, and any envoy would make him uneasy. It also made sense for civilians in the outer ring, for people like Pearla and Lendulin to be afraid of them given what they had learned about them and local authorities… But why were normal civilians- no, why were high ranking, trusted civilians afraid of them?
They went back in the video, and stopped where the guard was. Using the same process they had used for the insurgents, they tracked the guard to find out where they had been earlier in the night. As they waited for videos to load and render, they pulled up any information on this “Vince” on their helmet.
Not only was this planned, it had been planned with help from within. Judging by the way the insurgents grabbed Vince, and the way he struggled against them, it was clearly forced help.
What did the insurgents do to make Vince work with them? Was it similar to what they did to synths? TO was determined to find out.