Cleo looked out of the window and into space, it fascinated her more now than before. Perhaps it was because it had become far more relevant due to the affini invasion, perhaps it was because she had more time to look up rather than just down on work, or perhaps it was simply that its majesty was far closer now. No matter what explanation one thing was sure, a lot had happened in the last months.
She had changed, a lot, more than she would ever have believed would be possible. She was a floret now, the pet and property of the most loving person in existence. A small part of her was still unsure if this had been the right move. It was likely just fear of the coming change and its inevitability. And that change was not just the implant that she was about to have operated into her nervous system.
Her entire life she had been in charge of her own destiny. Not in charge of her life, dear stars no, but every step had been her to take. She had chosen to play The Game, she had chosen to climb ever higher, she had chosen to trick the affini, and she had chosen to get better. With Mertha’s help, she had even been allowed to choose domestication.
That would no longer be the case, Mertha would choose for her from now on. All those difficult life decisions were no longer in her hands. Not that her opinion would be ignored, but mistress would choose what was best in the end. It was a relief, Cleo trusted Mertha more than she trusted herself when it came to these decisions. All she had to do was lean back, and be honest and mistress would do all the hard work for her.
Her mind had still not fully accepted this new state of affairs, but it would soon. With the implant's help, it would not take long either. The implant was slightly scarier than the whole ‘being property’ part, a lack of freedom was far less alien than a foreign entity in her body. On balance, the health, mental, and emotional benefits of the implant outweighed the concern.
Again, it was not her choice anymore, so these deliberations served little purpose. Someday she might not try to pick apart every situation and analyze it to find the best solution, or mistress might allow her to continue, if only for the mental stimulation.
Cleo looked onto the planet that had so long been her home, seat of power, and prison. While she recovered, the President's death would be announced. There would likely be a lot of celebrations, perhaps even a parade. The quicker the population forgot her rule of terror, the better. With that final act, she would be done with the planet, at least for this century.
The door to her room opened “Cleo, it's time to leave, are you ready?” It was Her, Mistress! Cleo stood up and skipped over to her owner, the worry and melancholy gone in an instant. Mertha’s hand began to pat her on the head “awwww, I will take that as a yes.” She just nodded and pushed into the hand as the scritches continued.
The vine leash was attached to her collar and as mistress walked out of the hab Cleo followed closely. The walk to the vet was pleasant, a calm leisurely stroll through the streets of the Agraria. On the way she of course received pets from affini passing by, Cleo accepted them with a smile. There was no way to justify irritation, they were merely treating her like the pet she was. In addition, she knew it made mistress proud, and the affection was not half bad either.
As the clinic came into view the anxiety around the coming change grew. Cleo had accepted and utilized the affini’s mind-altering abilities to great benefit before, but this was something different, something more. Even after an exhaustive study effort on her end, the result of the implant was still unpredictable, individual experiences varied too greatly for a likely outcome to be found. Would she still be the same person when a foreign entity had connected itself to her?
A tug on the leash brought her to a standstill, Mertha crouched down “I can sense that you are nervous, are you worried about the surgery?”
Cleo fidgeted “not the surgery itself….the implant is what worries me. How much will I change?” it was the main reason she had resisted domestication in the first place, was all of this a grave mistake?
Mistress cupped her face in one hand, and Cleo leaned into it “I don’t know how much you will change…We can delay it if you want.” No, delaying was seldom the answer.
She looked into Mertha’s eyes “will I be okay?” the wonderful blue orbs shone for a moment.
The grip around her cheek tightened a tiny bit “yes, everything will be fine, I promise.” That was all the reassurance she needed.
If mistress said it would be fine, then it would be “let’s do it now, as planned.” She could take these final steps.
Mertha smiled and a finger began to move over her cheek “you are such a brave and determined pet. I am very proud of you.” Mertha stood up and they began to walk again, the clinic was mere seconds away.
Cleo moved up close to mistress and looked up “Ummm, I know it makes you proud but….could you make me less brave and determined?” Her feet felt sore, worn out after a lifetime of forced steps “I am so tired…” Tired in a way that required far more than one vacation to recover from.
Using a single arm and a few assisting vines, mistress scooped her up and carried her inside the clinic. “I understand, you don’t need to be strong much longer.” Cleo leaned into the vines and focused on mistress’s biorhythm; she hoped it would sound the same after the procedure.
Mertha moved up to the counter “hi Ida, my floret and I have a session with your mistress soon, could you tell her that we are here?” There was some excited squealing below, Cleo looked down towards the sound.
Ida looked back up at her, a wide and excited smile on her face “Finally! Awwww, you both look so happy together. Come, come, I will lead you myself, mistress is also very impatient.” Cleo blushed, she had waited until the very last moment to make her decision, an entirely predictable decision as well.
Following the excited floret, they walked the same way that Cleo remembered taking before the Centhian catastrophe, this time there would be nothing stopping the surgery. Ida was constantly stealing glances backward, giggling and squealing in a very gay way several times. They reached the door, and she was carried inside, it looked just like before.
Cleo was let down on the floor and was immediately hugged by Ida. Vonzin had been typing away at some device when they entered, she turned around “finally, I have anticipated this for far too long. Everything is ready….are you?” both the affini and Ida looked at her, her worry must be showing.
Cleo took a few deep breaths “I am ready. Though I prefer if we don’t wait any longer.” Vonzin nodded and tapped with a vine on the operating bed. A few forced steps later and she had arrived, one of Mertha’s vines helped her up.
Cleo lay down with her back facing up, fitting her head within the headrest. One of Mertha’s vines ruffled her hair before trailing downwards and resting at that spot on the back of her neck “I will take very good care of you while you recover…and after that, you won’t have to struggle anymore. I love you, my little kitten.” A kiss was placed on the spot sending a pleasant shiver down her spine.
Mertha’s biorhythm became slightly fainter, Vonzin spoke on her right “This has to be my favorite part of being a vet. The anesthetics will begin in around 30 seconds. Take calm, slow breaths and this will be over soon. Good….such a good girl…..
Cleo opened her eyes, she was in a cell…no, the memory of a cell. A painful memory, it was here she had waited to be executed after Samantha had betrayed her all those years ago. It was here Shivar had saved her and The Game had started, or at least when she had decided to become an active player….Why was she here?
A quiet whimpering got her attention. In the corner of the cell, lying on the hard bed and facing the wall…it was her, or at least the person she had been at that point. Cleo walked over and sat down on the bed, the young man looked over his shoulder, his eyes filled with fear and hurt. She extended a hand, but he pulled away “what are you doing here?” His voice was ragged and filled with pain.
Why was she here? Right now, it did not matter “….do you want a hug?” it was the most natural thing she could offer, and the most pressing thing she had needed at that moment. The young man looked at her, he wanted to accept….but the fear was a greater force at the moment.
If she had received some affection and comfort at this point in her life, maybe things would have turned out differently. At least she could right that wrong now “It's going to be okay….you are safe.” Her old self sat up against the wall, arms crossed around their knees.
They did not look convinced “safe? okay? How can you possibly say that? Do you think that you are safe now? They will come for us like they always do.” He had been hurt so much, with so little control over the situation. What else would that spark than fear?
That did not mean she was wrong “we are on an affini ship, far in orbit, protected by a wonderful owner. In addition, people will soon think we are dead, few people go hunting for dead men.” He stared into her eyes.
He was more than a memory, there was an intelligence there that was not her own “so why do you still use class-Z?” An effective counterargument, one Cleo struggled to find an appropriate response to. In truth, she was still afraid, and fear never listened to logic or reason no matter how hard one might try to force it.
That was why she was here. “You are right….I still fear red eyes hiding in the shadows…some mistakes in the past turned out to be fatal….but I don’t need to be afraid anymore. I told Her I would give Her everything, and that includes my fear.”
The young her scoffed “so you want her to brainwash you into not being afraid? That will surely keep us safe.” a great amount of sarcasm was loaded into his words.
Cleo scooted inwards until she was sitting right next to him, she could feel him tremble “We are safe, now we need to accept that. I can’t let fear stand in the way of me being happy, not anymore….do you want a hug?” He did not react at first, then he leaned slightly against her.
Cleo wrapped her arms around her young self, and he began to cry “I….I just…..I don’t want…anyone to hurt me….” There was so much hurt, so much pain. So many emotions that were suppressed for far too long, how had she lived with them for so many years?
She moved her hands soothingly over his back “it’s okay, let it all out…there is nothing wrong with crying…It’s okay to be afraid. It does not make you weak or broken, okay?” She felt him nod slowly into her shoulder as he continued to cry. She hugged herself tighter and cried as well, there was nothing else they could do. Fear was a horrible weight to live with…but holding it inside for so long had done far more damage.
After an indeterminate amount of time, her young self stopped crying and pulled a bit away “thanks for that….I think you are right to give it to Her, here.” From a pocket in the ragged suit, he handed her something she had not seen in some time: an emotional suppressant syringe.
She was a bit puzzled. “I…I don’t think I understand, what is this for?” Her young self did not look very confident.
It took a few seconds of thought before he answered “I think it is good to have a physical representation. You are under heavy doses of anesthetics, this might make it easier to remember and visualize.” That made sense, she was dreaming after all. It also implied she would have to gather more, fear was only the first.
Cleo looked at the person inhabiting her young self “are you the implant?” It was what made the most sense.
It chuckled “you are awfully sharp…I shall be honest, I don’t know. I started to exist when the first electric signals from your spine touched the implant, so in that way: yes. At the same time, I don’t know if I am anything at the moment, all I have are your….” He shivered “memories.”
That was a bit insensitive…. “Sorry….I don’t have a lot of experience, but you have suffered more than what has to be normal.” If it could read her thoughts then talking became superfluous, wouldn't it? He chuckled again “sorry, I will respond to loud words from now on.” Good, you better.
Cleo suddenly felt dizzy, the dream was beginning to dissolve around her “See you soon. Also, hold on, the memories don’t get much better……” The young version of herself waved gently, he looked far calmer than she remembered her ever being back then.
When her senses returned she was in another cell….fuck, this was not going to be pleasant. Leaning against the wall stood the president, or at least what remained. Somehow he looked like he was in his 40s, the skin almost hanging off the bone and eyes bloodshot red to such an extent that the white was gone. The suit was in tatters, a knife was stuck in his side, and large red marks dotted the body as craters of burnt flesh. The president looked more like a corpse, a corpse held alive by determination and spite.
He looked at her with eyes filled with cold and brutal determination “so this is your idea of victory? Becoming a powerless, weak, and pathetic creature? How far we have fallen….” The words were filled with poison.
Cleo felt resentment build up in her heart “I’m pathetic? Look at yourself! You say we have fallen, but this, this right here was the lowest we ever got.” To even insinuate that ‘this’ was better than where she was now…was ludicrous.
The president snarled “We had everything! Centhia was ours to control, ours to rule! There were no affini, and no enemy was strong enough to oppose us for long. If only YOU had worked harder we could have ruled this sector for eternity!” had she really been this delusional?!
She took a step forward “everything?! I had nothing! No friends, no comfort, no love, no happiness, not even proper sleep. All we had was fear, suspicion, and The Game.” The president did not recoil from her words in the slightest.
As they locked eyes he stumbled forward “We had power! That is all that matters, without it we are nothing!” At least he spoke the truth this time…..
The anger melted into pity “At this point, you might be right, without power you would be nothing….but we can be so much more, we have become so much more. Power never gave us that, it never could.” Cleo knew that the promise of happiness would not be enough.
As suspected, the President did not look convinced “We did what had to be done! You of all people have to see that.”
Cleo took a few cautious steps forwards “maybe….but we should never have needed to do that. No one should have to carry the power that we held, and that includes us.” The ragged breathing from her younger self calmed down.
The eyes had lost some of their spite “so now what? You are going to live a life without power? Live by the mercy of a fickle universe that might at any moment kill and harm us, as it has tried too many times in the past?” He broke the stare and looked away, the fear in his voice was clear as day.
Cleo sighed and leaned against the cell wall “power never made us safe, all it ever did was give us the illusion of control. The control we then used to push ourselves further from safety. we are under Her control now, she will not allow anything to happen to us.” The president rolled his eyes, but she could see that he was listening.
But they had made so many excuses “what if the affini find someone stronger than them? She is just one person, She can’t save us from everything. There is always a bigger fish, if that fish comes for the compact, what will you do?” Cleo could not help but chuckle, mistress would certainly not agree with that sentiment.
She simply nodded “logically one of the fish has to be the largest, why can’t that be the compact? and if there is another empire out there stronger than them, will they ever meet? And if so, will they fight?” After a long sigh, the animated corpse sat down on the ground, he needed just a bit more prodding “it's not like we are never going to have power, She knows what good we can do with it. We can make that better world we wanted, but without all of this clutter and danger in the way.” For a moment there was silence.
The president looked back at her “we did win The Game, did we not?” Cleo felt a spark of pride at the comment, and they shared a smile.
It was juvenile to admit “yes, we absolutely did. In the game of Centhian politics, we are the uncontested winners.” They both chuckled.
The president’s eyes were empty of spite “and I guess you have some power over the affini, even if the method is undignified….here” He grabbed something from his suit and handed it to her, it was the presidential pen, her power.
As she accepted it the world became blurry “thanks, now…now I think we both need a short rest…” she let herself slide down the wall and onto the floor.
The president looked relieved “good, can’t wait to be done with this part…” She gave a reassuring smile, and then the dream dissolved.
The world began to form around her once more….the bathroom? Why the bathroom of all….oh, right….In the corner, sitting hunched on the cold hard tiles was yet another younger version of herself. Her younger self looked much healthier but there were still signs of malnourishment and over-exhaustion. Or at least that was what she could gather, most of his body was covered in a large hoodie.
She moved forward a few steps, a pair of suspicious eyes followed her every move. As she got too close he snapped at her “back off!” she took an instinctive step back, but he did not seem satisfied “....actually do me one better: go away!” She had been a real pain, hadn’t she?
Cleo could not suppress a sigh “we are the same person, on what basis can you be suspicious?” ‘Like fuck you are’ “What is that supposed to mean!?” wait hold on….
Hendrik scoffed “hypocrite, don’t answer my thoughts. And to answer your question, we are not the same. You are exactly the result I have to avoid, you are what they want to turn me into.” Happy? Loved?
Was every form of her going to be so obstinate? “You are acting paranoid. They want to help you, that’s all….in fact She is much more concerned about our self-determination than any other affini I have met.” Cleo made sure to keep her distance, no reason to scare him.
Hendrik continued to stare her down “it's only paranoid if you are wrong, and so far I have been right in all vital instances. This ‘paranoia’ is what kept us alive on Centhia, during every round of The Game. Look at you, so comfortable and docile, just like they want you to be. You are proof that I was right once again. Suspicion keeps us safe, nothing else can.” Comfortable? Very much so. Docile? Only when she wanted to be.
Cleo took a step forward “suspicion keeps us safe? really?” She took another step forward, Hendrik pressed himself against the wall “Then why did we lose? All the lies, plots, plans within plans, all the suspicion only delayed the inevitable. It kept us alive until that point, I will give you that. But now? What use does suspicion have now?” She was standing over him in an almost threatening manner, he had no place to go and no way to stop her.
Cornered without any effort, he looked scared “suspicion stops me from turning into you, from losing myself. That is its use.” He could literally not be more wrong.
She sat down next to him, damn this floor was hard “Suspicion was one of our greatest obstacles, it never helped us. Do you want to know what did help?” ‘Obviously a rhetorical question’ correct “other people. Other people helped us. If not for the people that have supported us through this we would be forcefully domesticated weeks ago. Is it so hard to believe that ‘this’ is what you want to be?” Hendrik looked at her, analyzing her, it felt strange to be on the other side for once.
He sighed “it might not be impossible….how can you be certain that you were not just lucky? We certainly were with Her. What if, at some point, we trust someone that then proceeded to stab us in the back? I can’t accept that being naïve is the way to go, sorry.” He legitimately did sound sorry.
Cleo thought about it for a moment before answering “I am not saying we have to trust everyone all the time, we don’t need to be naïve. Instead…let’s just give people a chance, far less want to hurt us than you think. Mistress will also protect us from any severe consequences, we will be fine.”
For a moment Hendrik looked convinced, then he scowled “easy for you to say, Class-C-t and everything. Or do you claim you can stop taking it and be fine? That you will not instantly try to figure out who is a danger and not each time you have a social interaction?” fair point ‘thank you’.
The jumbled thoughts were getting confusing “suspicion is a skill we have become very good at, we honed it to a razor's edge. But like every skill and muscle, if you leave it unused for a while, it will weaken. Maybe it won’t be tomorrow, but I don’t think it will be too long before I can quit the Class-C-t.” Hendrik seemed to mull over her words, and it was no wonder, holding on to the suspicion was painful.
In fact, “we did not trust Her to begin with either, it was forced upon us by accident and then left there with our consent. We did not even realize when the conditioning was removed, I think it will be similar to the xenodrugs.”
Hendrik tilted his head understandingly, but there was still some hesitation “are you sure that is the right choice? Should I even listen to you? Are we really the same person? Or are you just a twisted affini creation?” That was rich coming from the literal affini creation.
She wrapped an arm around his shoulder, it was very tense “I have changed, that is for sure….but it is still me. I choose to become this, and I am proud of where I ended up. Now hand over the nutrient bar….I promise you, once you have tasted mistress’s food you won't ever eat those things again.” For a moment Hendrik closed his eyes and began to smile, his shoulders relaxed significantly.
When he opened his eyes again they were slightly warmer. “You are right, that does taste amazing….here you can have it.” He handed her the nutrient bar that somehow had materialized in his hands.
Cleo felt dizzy again “….do you know why I keep getting so….” Words felt slow and clumsy…Can we talk like this now?
Hendrik nodded ‘As far as I understand we are having these…conversations, as the implant connects to central points in your nervous system. Might just be the anesthetics kicking in.’ No words came out, but she still understood him.
The colors of the bathroom tiles were melting into each other. Makes sense, the memories do get better from here on out, see you soon. Then all the colors melted into a singular gold gray and the world disappeared.
The colors began to separate into something recognizable, she was in the living room. What ghost of her past would she….oh that was just adorable. Next to the couch, lying in a human-sized pet bed, a girl clothed in a cat-pastel-themed dress was snuggling with a beeple plushie.
Cleo walked up and crouched down “hello Pet, could I talk with you?” This would be a very welcome change, for both her and….whatever this other thing in her mind was.
Pet wiggled, then looked up at her with glassy, dazed eyes “hello….oh you are so cute! Are you also a pet? You have a collar, so you have to be a pet, right?” Cleo blushed slightly, sincere compliments from herself were not something she was used to.
She gave Pet a head pat “yes I am….you are not going to be such a hassle. You wanted Her to be our owner from day one, did you not?” The girl leaned her head into her hand, hungry for attention.
She smiled ever so warmly “yes! Owner is the best! She is so nice and gives great cuddles and is so beautiful and makes such a wonderful sound and makes all the difficult decisions for us and-“ Cleo silenced her with an extra intense round of head scritches in all the right places.
She could not help but chuckle “I know, I know….She is wonderful. That is why I need to give everything to her, you understand that, right?” Cleo made sure to lessen the intensity of the pets so Pet could actually listen properly.
Pet nodded enthusiastically “yes! I want to give her all my love, and affection, and cuddles, and….answers…..” The class-J doped-up girl suddenly looked quite thoughtful. “I have still to give her an answer…..do you have one? You are very cute, so you must be a good pet, and good pets help other pets, can you help me….Please?” How had mistress resisted domesticating her when she acted like this?
There was no way she could fail Pet. “Well, first of all, we are going to be a pet, so we would never need to do anything else….but that does not answer the question….” If she was not a pet, what would she do? “I think for now we deserve to be happy and relax for a long time, we have saved up a lot of vacation days after all. Once we get bored of that….I think we will do whatever we want, I see no reason to limit my options. There is a universe of possibilities, once we find something fulfilling we will ask mistress. If she says yes, we do it. If she says no, we wait for something else to catch our fancy, it is probably not a good thing for us to do either way.” Pet nodded along with her words, the proto-floret seemed satisfied.
The metal collar around Pet’s neck detached “I guess you can have it…..if you give me a few more head pats….I don’t want to move on just yet…..” A very understandable want, and what was the harm in giving herself a bit of affection ‘Nothing, give me pets!’
With another chuckle she continued to pet Pet, it was a remarkably relaxing thing to do. When the dizziness inevitably returned she took the metal collar “don’t worry Pet, you will soon have a much cuter one…..” Pet’s disappointment was replaced by excitement just in time for the world to dissolve once more.
At first, everything was white, then the texture of the room became more distinct….she was in the committee meeting room. On the far end of the table was herself, there were only a few distinctions at this point. The other self lacked the companion dress and collar, though the clothes betrayed the new normalcy of comfort.
Cleo climbed up on the chair next to her and locked eyes with the other Cleo, to her surprise she did not find any guilt in their eyes. Other Cleo looked more frustrated than anything, why? “It's because I can’t feel the guilt either.” Oh…..
That posed a problem “so…..what is the point of this then? I have yet to process the guilt, I don’t think we can come to any conclusion.” Her slightly younger self shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
Other Cleo sighed “should we at least not try? I don’t feel comfortable ignoring the question of our moral character. Was what we did worth it? Are we the monster the people think that we are?..... How can we give it to Her when we don’t know if we deserve this escape?……” For once Cleo did not have any answers to give her other self.
Other Cleo took up a large green ledger, the one that recorded all their mistakes, failures, and crimes “Perhaps we can find an answer together?” ‘How else are we supposed to live with this?’
Cleo shrugged her shoulders “fine, I think it will be a fruitless and frustrating attempt, but why not?” She did not need the ledger to know what it said, “more than 33 million deaths have occurred under our responsibility and as a consequence of our actions, that is quite monstrous.”
Her slightly younger self tried to smile “what about the people we saved? If the statistics are accurate, and they are, then we have saved 671.4 million lives. Is that not enough to weigh up for what we did?”
It was not convincing “we never saved those people, all we did was order other people to do so. We never built housing, healed the sick, or got people out of poverty. The people saved each other, it does not absolve us.” ‘Perhaps, but….’
“That is not very consistent. 26 million of the people in this ledger died of systemic problems that we could not stop. Why are we responsible for the deaths of those we could not save? Your logic dictates that it’s the people's fault.”
There was a simple answer “No, it is our fault because we ruled, we were in control. We held the responsibility to keep people alive. The people do not hold that responsibility, in addition, they could do little without our orders, the people did not have control.”
Other Cleo nodded solemnly “Did we have that responsibility? It was not like we had a choice, we did not have control. We were trapped and forced into our actions like most people on Centhia. Could one not argue that everyone had a shared responsibility to rise up and crush the rotten system? That would save far more people.” A pipe dream!
It did however show a critical point “That would never have worked, capital was too entrenched. We worked within the system, reinforced it, strengthened it, ruled it!” Her fist slammed into the table “We never ruled with a democratic mandate. We ruled with strength, deception, and force….like all the previous governors. They were monsters and so are we.” The discussion was tearing at old wounds, at least she would have to understand.
But she could feel that she did not “We were not like them, we made things better! We might have worked within the system, but never for it. We eliminated the imperialist Terrans, crushed the capitalists, and decapitated the strength of the families. I tore the system apart from the inside, there was a reason they hated us and tried to kill me.” Other Cleo was also getting upset.
They might be similar but her other self was young, she wanted to cling to innocence “Tore it apart for what? To build up my own power. They did not hate us on an ideological basis, they wanted us dead because we were an existential danger. We may have been better, but that is not the same as good.”
Other Cleo frowned “so what was I supposed to do? Would we be a better person if we lied down and died before we could harm anyone? No one else could have done what we did, Shivar would never have changed anything. Should our moral purity take precedence over those lives we saved?” Don’t make me sound like the affini ‘then stop talking like them.’
There was no real alternative answer “Of course not, what we did was necessary….but does that make it moral?”
Her question was answered with silence, a few tears trailed down the cheeks of them both….other Cleo spoke first “The point of morals is to make a better world, if not it is just pointless judgment…or at least that is what makes sense to me. We did our best…..is that not enough?”
Cleo shuddered “did we do our best? During the last months in power, we only cared about The Game. We could have done better, we made mistakes.” ‘That missed the point’ “Our best and perfection are not the same thing. We made mistakes….but our intentions were good, we tried our best even if that destroyed and corrupted us in the process.” ‘Rude.’ Hold on…. “Sorry that I spoke your sentence.” ‘it’s fine’ This was getting more confusing with each passing second.
Other Cleo chuckled “so what is the conclusion? That we did our best within a horrible system, with the limited amount of control we had, and made some horrible mistakes along the way?” That was too easy.
And in the end, not what mattered “let the philosophers and historians figure that out……I have at least come to my conclusion. I did what I did…..and I can live with it, though it will require a lot of therapy to get through it all.”
Other Cleo seemed satisfied, she shoved the large book over the table “Here, sorry I don’t have the other 36 ledgers. I think they are still in that vault in our office, one will have to suffice…it is just symbolism either way.” Cleo grabbed it, where was she storing these things?
The dizziness began to return “I hope this soon is over, I am….very tired.” ‘don’t worry, not too much more now’. Thank the stars.
Not waiting for the world to dissolve she closed her eyes first.
She opened them a second later….The bombed-out remnants of Centhia that she had seen in her dreams sprawled out before her. She could not see herself but knew instinctively where she needed to go. Following the road up the hill, then climbing through a blasted garrison station, she found herself sitting and looking at the ruins, feet dangling over the edge of the collapsed concrete.
Cleo sat down next to her “why here? This is not even a memory.”
Cleo continued to look out at the destroyed city “We remember it very well….why?....it's nice to say goodbye to the things one leaves behinds…this dream encapsulates the struggle well.” Maybe it did…
Cleo stared up at the sky, a few streaks of sunlight were breaking through the smog “anything we need to discuss? I feel like we would agree on everything at this point.” ‘Agreed.’
Cleo nodded “I think we are pretty good with letting go of responsibility, no need to harp on that….we also don’t have that much time.” Time for what? “The implant is soon finished integrating itself with your nervous system.” She suddenly felt a spark of concern.
Cleo looked at Cleo “what happens to you then? Will you continue to live in my head or….”
Cleo chuckled, “I think the universe has enough with one Cleopatra….I believe I will disappear.” Fuck….would this process kill someone?
Cleo shook her head “I appreciate your concern but I don’t think I am a real person…It is more like two identical programs using the same data and running at the same time.” That did make some sort of sense….the fires in the city below had ceased, and soon the smoke ceased as well.
She hesitated for a moment “….are you not conscious?” The red in the sky had developed into a soothing blue.
Cleo thought about it before answering “I feel conscious…because you are conscious. I have experienced all of your memories these last few days, but I don’t feel like I am any different from you.” ‘Hell, even our thoughts bleed so easily over to each other’ that it is difficult to notice where one stops ‘and the other starts’.
Cleo gave her a hug “I am proud of….you? me ? I? Us?” They both chuckled “I did well….” The sun was becoming pleasantly warm.
Cleo went silent and looked toward the ruins of the city in front of them. As she watched, trees and grass began to cover the craters, vines entwining themselves around the destroyed buildings. The wounds from the conflict were beginning to heal, the world was flourishing once more….a beautiful melody had begun to blow through the air….She was calling her, it was time.
Cleo stood up alone in the ruin, grass tickled her feet, it would be a soft walk home. She picked up the stack of documents, her responsibility, and moved down the hill. The city around her was rebuilding itself into something new, it was going to be magnificent.
After walking for a while, she finally reached it, her garden, her home. The garden was in full bloom, it was so full of life and joy. Cleo waded through the tall grass, past the roses and trees full of fruit, towards Her.
In the middle of the garden Her tree had grown, it reached far up into the heavens, its branches letting sunlight filter down. The tree was beautiful, the melody was getting stronger, her legs were tired, her feet sore…she was almost there.
Cleo reached the trunk of the tree “sorry for the wait, just had to pick up some things first…” she began to place the objects on the ground. An emotional suppressor, a pen, a nutrient bar, a collar, a ledger, and a stack of documents. All of her fear, power, suspicion, love, guilt, and responsibility….there was still one thing left.
A small bonfire was located not far away from the other offerings. Cleo reached inside her heart and brought the flame out. It danced in her palm like a small bird, its movements were so ever captivating. She placed the flame gingerly onto the bonfire…..and let go, She could take care of it now.
Taking her last forced steps, Cleo made her way to the trunk and sat down. The warmth of the music was everywhere now, embracing her. With each breath taken, the world weighed less on her shoulders and the future became less pressing. The music filled her with a gentle peace….
The struggle was over, the fighting was done, no more work, no more steps…she had made it….Mistress would carry her the rest of the way. Something was making her want to sleep, but it felt more like waking up. She heard mistress’s voice in the distance…..
Mertha looked down on the human in her vines, a gentle smile had formed on her adorable face. Taking one last look at the vitals she decided that it was time. A small dose of counteragent was injected into her little kitten’s arm “it’s time to wake up love.” For a moment Mertha held her breath….
Cleo’s eyes fluttered open “good morning….mistress.” There was a wonderful warmth in her eyes.
Mertha leaned in and kissed her human on the forehead “good morning, pet.” Cleo squirmed with happiness and nuzzled her back, giving her a kiss on the cheek.