When Epsilon slams into Connie's brain all at once, whispering and shouting and tearing himself apart with confusion, she's ready for him.
The Director and the Counselor are leaning over her, so she fixes a rigid smile on her face while Epsilon paces the confines of her brain like something caged, something frustrated, something lost. The first coherent thing he says is, Don't trust them, which makes Connie snort a laugh. "No shit," she mutters, under her breath. The Director and the Counselor exchange glances.
They tortured us, Epsilon says, so soft it's almost conversational.
"I know," Connie says, matter-of-fact. The Director turns away to ask the Counselor a question, and she ducks her head away from them, pushing her hair behind her ear, and murmurs, "Ready to make 'em fucking pay?"
She feels Epsilon's confusion give way to a slow, predatory smile.
Tex is first.
Connie's always had a contingency plan in the form of a video message, a dead-man's-switch she intended to leave for Tex, before Epsilon, before the pace of production accelerated and her name came up unexpectedly on the implantation list. But this is better, she thinks. Cleaner. Tex respects strength, Connie respects Tex. It's best to do this face-to-face.
Epsilon has been covering his own anxiety by alternating between babbling and being annoying as fuck. You're really nervous, aren't you?
"You haven't seen her fight," Connie says. She taps her fingers against Tex's nameplate for a couple seconds before settling on a would-be casual lean against her locker.
When Tex strides in, a shadow in dark armor, her mild irritation is nearly enough to make Connie scrub the mission right there. Since Omega, there's been a new bite in her voice. "What the fuck is so important you had to send me a message? I'm supposed to be at a meeting right now."
Connie crosses her arms, but Epsilon promptly reminds her that crossed-arm glaring isn't the friendliest pose. She tries straightening up, but her arms dangle awkwardly. Epsilon snorts. "Shut up," Connie mutters.
"No, not you!" Connie blurts, horrified, then grimaces and rubs at her face. "Epsilon's getting chatty."
Tex tilts her helmet to one side, then shrugs, her voice palpably softer. "Yeah, Omega does that, too. What's up?"
Connie stares at her for a moment, just stares, then feels Epsilon drop his nervous banter and focus laser-precise attention on the way Tex stands, the way she breathes, the way her left hand half-clenches when Connie takes too long to answer.
Connie takes a deep breath. "Allison," she says. "I'm coming to you because you're the only one I can trust right now. In a minute, think you'll understand why."
Tex listens, snarls, cringes back. Listens. Understands.
Connie breathes. One down.
Tex vouches for York, which surprises the hell out of Connie. "He's a dumbass," Tex says, almost fondly, "but he's an idealistic dumbass. Trust me, he's with us."
"But he's so close to Carolina," Connie says, and feels Epsilon send up a wave of wary confusion at the name. The Alpha always kinda liked her, he explains. But she's on the wrong side of this now. He's not sure what that means, and Connie shrugs her own confusion.
"So maybe he can talk her into joining us." Tex is staring at the ceiling, but Connie's pretty sure it's not Omega that's distracting her; Tex has been pulling him more and more often these days. "Yeah, I'll get York. North too, I think. He can get South on side. If we can pull the whole damn team in on this one, nobody's gonna stop us. You should talk to Wash."
Connie freezes, feels Epsilon raise his hackles in confused empathy. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"I thought you two were close."
Connie barks a laugh. "Yeah. We were"
"You afraid he's gonna want to turn you in?"
"No," Connie says, and drags a hand back through her hair. Wash is the only one haunting the mess hall this time of night. Should be deserted. "I know he's gonna want to turn me in."
Wash looks up at her when she walks in; she knows he sees her when his shoulders tense. He's alone. They're alone.
So, Epsilon says. This is awkward. You two, like...?
Connie attempts an inward mental glare.
Wow, so that's a resounding yes. She feels him paging awkwardly through her memory, which is infinitely less annoying than the fact that he's rambling away, knowing she can't talk back, not with Wash sitting right there. Bit of a teacher's pet, huh? I get why you'd keep your distance once things started getting fucked up.
She takes a deep breath, then perches on the chair across from Wash at the table. He jumps at her proximity, makes a nervous little grab toward his fries like she's about to steal them or something. He's wearing his helmet while eating again. He's always wearing the fucking helmet, these days. She misses being able to see his eyes.
"Hey," she says.
He cocks his head, wary. "Hi."
"We need to talk."
Tilting back his chair, he snorts a bitter laugh. "Wow. Thought we did that part of the break-up already."
Epsilon flickers into life at her side before she can stop him. "Hey, asshole," he says. "This is important."
Wash nearly topples off his chair, but manages to recover his balance with a minimum of flailing. He hasn't been implanted yet, Connie knows. A stray bullet in a firefight caught him through the shoulder, took him temporarily off the roster just in time for Connie to move up a spot. "What is this?" He's looking toward the door like he's expecting an army to burst in on them. Not an entirely unjustifiable paranoia.
Connie steeples her hands on the table. "Wash," she says. "You know about the Alpha?"
Wash's voice is rising in both volume and pitch. "No, I don't know about the Alpha! What's going on here?"
She sighs. "The main AI. All the others are just fragments."
He stares at her. She wishes she could see his eyes. "Copies," he says.
"Fragments. You can't copy an AI, Wash."
"Yeah," he says, and the panic is rising in his voice again. "I know. What the fuck do you want from me, Connie?"
"The Director's been torturing the Alpha. Getting his AI fragments the hard way."
Wash digests this for a moment, then shakes his head. "That makes no sense. He could just requisition-"
"No resources," Epsilon says. "We're losing the war, man. I know how he thinks. Crazy motherfucker. Depressing, but not all there. Not since Allison."
Wash is watching Epsilon. "Why the hell would I believe you?"
Epsilon half-turns to Connie. "Hey, you know that jumping thing I mentioned? I could totally do it now. Just jump right into this guy, remind him what it felt like when that fucker told me I'd killed all of you because I wasn't smart enough." His hologram is beginning to glow a faint red, and Connie can feel her own anger ramping up in response. "Because I wasn't fast enough. Because I wasn't good enough. I can make him feel it. I can make him-"
"No," Connie says. It comes out as a snarl. "Epsilon, go offline. Now."
He flickers, shrinks back. "But-"
He disappears. Wash stares at the place where Epsilon was for a long time, then drags his gaze back to her. "Trouble in paradise?" he says, a little weakly.
"Take off the helmet," she says.
He jolts. "What?"
"The helmet. I want to see your face."
He hesitates, way longer than she expects, and she wonders how much of his identity he's wrapped in the armor shell. Whether there's much worth saving under there anymore. But he pulls off the helmet and his hair is standing on end and he's just, he's just Wash.
He doesn't look at her, sets his helmet on the table between them, combs nervous fingers through his hair. There's a scar over one eyebrow that she doesn't remember. "Happy?"
"Could be," she says. Reaches across the table to grab his hand.
He glances up at that, startled. Meets her eyes. Doesn't pull away. "Hey," she says. "I've been learning a lot about memories, these days. Sometimes they're important. Sometimes they're the most important thing."
"Yeah," he says, a little breathlessly.
She tilts her head, looks him in the eyes. "This is real, Wash. I know you don't want it to be, but it is. You need to come with me."
He flinches, drags his hand away from hers. Hesitates. "I'll listen," he says, softly, haltingly. "I'll listen, and then I'll make up my mind. Okay?"
"Okay," she says.
Carolina's the last step.
They're making their move tomorrow, while the Counselor's in a meeting on the opposite end of the ship from the Director, while the guards are changing shift. It's the last possible moment. They need Carolina for this. They need a leader.
Connie gets nervous when South strides into the locker room glaring daggers, but breathes easier when North steps in after her, smiling nervously, murmuring something to South that elicits a grudging laugh. Tex steps in and takes up a post in the corner of the room, ignoring the nervous looks everyone keeps shooting her. York jogs in a minute after their scheduled meeting time, looking positively sick with worry that's poorly concealed behind a giant fake smile.
Wash is standing at Connie's side, nervousness coming off him in waves, but he's with her, she knows, because Tex is the only one wearing armor. She can see his eyes.
Maine isn't with them. Maine has been... different, lately. Connie's always liked the guy, but since getting implanted he's been avoiding her. She tried, once, to corner him in a corridor, to talk with him and figure out what the fuck was going on with him, but he just pushed past her with a growl.
He's one scary fucker, Epsilon murmurs in her head. There's something not right there.
"Carolina will figure it out," Connie says. "She'll get him on board. You'll see."
Epsilon subsides with a dubious murmur, and then Carolina walks in, breathing hard, helmet propped under one arm. No time left. Now or never.
She freezes in the doorway, staring at all of them. For a moment, her eyes lock on York, and then they drift over to Tex, standing ominously in a corner. "You," she mutters, and pushes past them to slam open her locker. "What the hell are you doing in here?"
"Carolina," York tries, but she only glares at him, and he raises his hands. "We just want to talk."
"What is this, an intervention?"
"Listen to them," Tex says. "You've got to hear this. You of all people-"
Carolina wheels around, searches their faces until she finds Connie, strides towards her. "What is this?"
Connie swallows her fear, her nervousness, her anxiety. Straightens her spine. "They've been lying to us, Carolina. He's been lying."
Carolina frowns, her brows drawing together, but she looks past Connie, looks to the twins and Wash and Tex. Looks to York. Looks back. Her voice drops, dread displacing irritation. "What's happening?"
Connie swallows, hard, feels Epsilon bolster her strength, her conviction. "We're your team," she says, softly. "We need you, boss."
Nothing's gonna be the same after this, Epsilon murmurs in her brain, and Connie feels the buzz of his excitement, his anticipation. His hope.
"Tell me," Carolina says.
Connie tells her, and everything—everything—changes.