On Replicas and Guilt Trips Concerning Them
(This is my confession, though no one may deign to read it.)
I only knew him for a few days and that's the long of it and the short of it. That's how long the whole affair of Castle Oblivion lasted and how long his lifeline had to unravel before insanity – and the edge of a blade – cut it (and him) short. It seems horrific that in the span of forty-eight hours a being might be born (cocky and devious and utterly alive) and then degenerate (screaming, writhing, sobbing, arsenic chemical tears) to a suicide ploy, but then again that's always been the trend of our passing existences: dying fast.
He loved me for a time. I can't and won't call it anything else because with a creature like him it's unfair to call what he felt 'fake' because in actuality everything he was was artificial in some way or another. I'll say he loved me, because – for him – that was as close as you got. So he loved me; with every pirated piece of his patchwork heart. And for that I owe him this: for stealing something as precious as that even from a transitory creature like the replica…I owe him a eulogy, a history, a something because I know I'm the only one mourning him now – no one else knew the real tragedy of him. Not even his original, though he asked me about the nature of his mimicry.
Perhaps it was selfish of me. I was greedy with my memories of him because in my own transient existence he was the first creature to ever ask me for anything. He was the first being that I ever wanted to save, that I ever cared for – yes, prior even to Sora who was still just some enigmatic ghost in the shell of my unrealized memory, a shadow. The replica was the first 'real' person that I ever met. He had a heart – albeit, a fake one – but it was heart nonetheless and as a Nobody, I wanted to have a taste of that. I'm no better than the other Thirteen were. Maybe my methods were different, my standards lower, but I wanted the same.
The replica, as I knew him, had belonged to me.
Riku was just the blueprint and I didn't tell him anything. Again, maybe that was selfish.
Furthermore, I didn't want to confess what I'd done. I didn't want to explain to Riku why I couldn't properly face him when he spoke, outline the hideous intervals of ennui where I sat and listened to him screaming (in Riku's voice, ragged, broken, ground raw guttural shrieking) for hours on end because Larxene was bored and she knew I could patch him up just the same. I didn't want to look at Sora's friend, the original, and the see the copy like a lingering ghost in the back of those strange, impossibly bright eyes.
They really are identical.
In the end, though, the replica was crazy.
It was a cocktail of unfortunate misalignments in his design I suppose, that and gross negligence on the part of his creator. Larxene called him a toy and like a child insisted the Chilly Acedemic 'share' with her because as members of the same Organization they needed to be cooperative. This sadistic, malignant logic – Vexen didn't have a problem with it. Vexen built him from nothing but genetic roulette and data and darkness and God knows what else. I suppose the replica, to him, really was just a machine, an unfortunate AI who thought he was real enough to have rights.
Larxene enjoyed telling him, I think, that this wasn't so.
Marluxia didn't care because he viewed the replica as a kind of tool, a pawn, and a gambit to be lost if need be. What Larxene chose to do with a toy hardly concerned him and I can't say there wasn't some cruel part of him that didn't enjoy it. (I caught him watching once, a feigned disinterest on his face, for almost ten minutes while Larxene played in the white rooms) The only Nobody who ever even voiced a remark either way was Axel, oddly enough – though, it's not so odd now, knowing what he was all that time.
When Number Twelve made it perfectly clear she meant to 'play' a little before she handed the replica over to me, he made a kind of low huffing sound and turned away. "Take it somewhere else, Nymph. And what I said still applies, even to the doll, got it memorized?"
She just waved him butterfly kisses and injected a bolt of pure electricity into the replica's synthetic body, stealing a scream from his lungs and hurling it like jagged music into the quiet rooms. Axel didn't say anything else, just stared with that strange face of his, shook his head and elected to leave. I was unfortunately present for everything, sobbing quietly.
I wish I could say, back then, that I felt something like human empathy; that I wept because I could do nothing while another shadow-thing – like me – suffered less than ten yards away. But I think that wasn't true. I think I wept because his pain was the realest pain I'd ever seen, that I could feel his memories burned like artificial sun-script into his fake heart. I cried because I wanted him so badly. I wanted what he had so badly. A fake heart is better than nothing, which – I think – is the reason behind everything that happened, all the things I never told Sora or Riku or anyone.
It was like torturing a newborn, in a way. A body that new didn't know pain didn't have tolerance. He wasn't strong yet, hadn't had the time to develop despite the miracle he really was: An inhuman being, capable of thought and (most importantly) of feeling. If not with a real heart, he nevertheless felt. His was a very, very convincing substitute. If anything, we Nobodies should have envied and valued him. He had what we wanted, in his own imitation manner. He was closer to a Somebody than any of us would ever be.
Larxene didn't see it that way.
Or maybe she was jealous.
She spent her spare moments, humming, stroking and channeling raw lightening into the replica's untouched body.
I don't know how long she waited for the screams to shrink away to erratic, choking sounds, fierce neon-aquamarine rolling back in his head, spine arcing, acrylic tears burning wet tracks down his temples, before (at last) she stopped the current. Letting the doppelganger slide into merciful unconsciousness, she dropped him carelessly to the floor, his body toppling to the tile like a rag-doll, sprawling, limp. I remember she waited until he started to come round again, pale eyes fluttering back toward consciousness, limbs twitching intermittently as he came back.
Before he could fully awaken, Larxene seized a fistful of tarnished silver hair and wrenched him toward the adjoining room, dragged him, kicking and flailing awkwardly with half-paralyzed muscles, electricity firing random messages neutrally through his brain. He was so scared. So scared. The last I saw of him for a long time was his dark form bleeding off him, giving way to the adolescent island-boy outfit and leaving him defenseless against the coming onslaught. He was smart enough to know what was coming, naïve enough to be unready for it.
Marlexia was kind enough to leave the door ajar.
I tried to block it out until I could stand no more. Then I got up and quietly closed the door on his screams (because he was too proud to beg), and the sing-song sound of Larxene's peppermint promises: "When I'm all done you'll be happy to forget, sweetie. You'll be stupid and happy and you'll feel real as the original. You'll like it. Just relax and keep thinking about that." I heard him burst out in a messy cocktail of sobbing and moaning, every wrung out sound twisted out of him, twisted like lemon out of a rind – bitter, acid noises. He couldn't even articulate anymore. "You could enjoy some of this too, if you tried."
If one could hate themselves to death, I would. If anyone deserves hatred, it's me. If anyone needed to die for what happened in Castle Oblivion, it's your narrator here. I was happy to rejoin Kairi in the end, to hide my taint in her purity and let it all wash away. I confess: I did nothing for him. I let the Savage Nymph rip a three-hour-old child to pieces one room over and more or less euthanized him afterward. It was all I could do for the replica at that point because as usual Larxene didn't listen, not even to Axel this time. She got too excited; she broke him.
The first time he said my name it was through a mouthful of black cherry-thick blood. Number Twelve left him in my lap, threw him onto his knees in front of me and dropped his head on my thigh, silvery, soft and slippery with perspiration. Uncounted hours' worth of pain sweated out through synthetic (or at least replicated) skin. She told me she was bored with him. "Fix him, will you?" was what she said. Then she left me alone with what she'd ruined to scream silently for my inability to heal the hurt, for being no good for anything, but hurting.
"Don't…erase…" He couldn't manage any more, but I knew what he wanted, in spite of everything.
I touched his head like one touches a hurt kitten, hesitant, gentle, fingers fluttering over aluminum hair before finally settling down. He didn't react to the touch, just struggled up an arm to grab my leg, fingers gripping the place just before my knee like an anchor to pull him back to reality. The effort of it drew a weak scream out of him, a breathless sob and he squeezed my bare leg until it bruised, his face twisting, lips curling back from painted red teeth. I let him. He was still trying to exist as he was, without…
"Don't…change me," he pleaded. His palm was searing white-hot against my skin, just below my skirt. I can't comprehend how much pain he must have been in, out of his mind with it, but he kept trying to beg me through it all, to keep his ruinous bloody memories. "I don't want to… I want to stay." He cried, hot tears spreading wet and warm through the fabric of my dress. For the pain or for the fear or for both, I'll never know. (He must have known what I was, the horrible thing I was meant to do to him, again: he must have been scared.) He laid his head down and cried.
"But…it hurts," I whispered.
"I don't," he panted, "care."
"But if I change your memories…I can take this all away."
"Why? Why though?"
"Because they're mine," he gritted through his atmosphere of agony. "Because it's my pain, not…not his."
It's ironic that not so much time later the real Riku turned me down for a mind-wipe too. They're both stubborn like that. The replica (if he'd been around after it all came to a bloody end) would have hated to hear any such thing, but really how far can you deviant from the blueprint? No matter how you warp and remodel, the old framework is still there inside you. The replica was the same.
But I didn't care for such notions and the philosophies of a cloned creature. I was selfish, utterly and completely and I wanted the replica for myself. Pilfered memories and counterfeit heart, all. I wanted his feelings for myself, wanted that forged heart to beat for me and only me and at my behest even. When I think about it, I believe that what I am is not merely Kairi's Nobody, but traces of whatever darkness can reside in the heart of a Princess. I know because Kairi could never do what I did. The…thing I did to him.
I wonder if I'm worse than Larxene sometimes?
I wonder if he could remember…which of us he'd kill?
I wonder lots of pointless things because both of them were dead in the end and it didn't matter. Nobodies, shadows, and grayish ghosts never matter and when we die no one but other shadows mourn us, not really. Sora grieved Axel in a sympathetic way, but he never understood why, never quite grasped what part of his heart it was that wretched black tears in the back of his consciousness. (Roxas must have wept. He and I did terrible things when we had no conscience to reprove us. We cry for our crimes only after the fact. Sorry Kairi, Sora, you must think you're going mad sometimes, but that's just us saying sorry. It's the only thing left to do.)
The replica cried himself to sleep, his head in my lap and I sat down on the floor to accommodate him and murmur to him and lie to him because that was the only way I knew to make that wild-eyed pain go away. The details of those short hours linger with me and I draw them unconsciously (again, an apology to Kairi. That's the replica, not Riku in all your classroom doodles. Sorry). I remember the convincing warmth of him, curled like that wounded kitten might be against my knee, head pillowed on my thigh, one hand near his face. I remember his breath stirring his hair. I remember the shadows in the curve of his cheekbones and the slope of his closed eyes. I remember…
I remember the exact moment I destroyed him. I did it while he slept (then I did it because that was merciful, now I see I was just a coward) so he didn't have to see me coming and so his last memories as himself would not be those of terror-stricken betrayal. I leaned down and (because in my nowhere dreams I imagined softness like this, moments of sugar sweetness like this, not black and bitter like this) and kissed him gently. Strands of silver stuck to my trembling lips and I licked them away, fumbling now because as I pressed my mouth against the top of his sleeping head, I took his artificial heart between my hands and –shatteredshreddedpieceseverythingasunder – quietly broke the chains of memory.
If I could throw up, I would have and I remember hunching over him, hands trembling over his still head because he still looked like he was sleeping and I knew, I knew that he wasn't. Vaguely some part of me that hadn't spoken up in time kept shrieking recklessly in my head, refusing, trying, dying to find something to undo it, to heal it to take it back, anything to justtakeitback! But there was no undoing it. I couldn't heal this. I couldn't take it back. I could never take it back and I think for an instant – 'moments in madness are eternal' – I went insane.
During all that time, what I remember was a very long silence.
I woke up to him shaking me gently, and a soft smile that was like any other sunrise in our nonexistent childhood. "Namine," the second time he said my name, I'd already killed him, "wake up. You're putting my arm to sleep."
This is my confession, though no one may deign to read it: I've killed a child in my lifetime.
And I'm sorry Kairi because, in that way…
…so have you.