"Get out here!" Sarge growled. Wash could hear his voice muffled behind the barricade.
Grif's voice muttered behind his CO's. "Come on, this is boring!"
Wash was certain that the entirety of Red Team was arrayed outside his hiding place. He had stacked a metal plate in front of one of the entrances of Blue Base, the edges scraping against the copper handrail. He felt flush and frightened.
He had been so sure. Delta had told him - he was within acceptable parameters. He had stopped seeing things. Fighting Tex, even letting Carolina fight the Director (if he flattered himself by saying that he had permitted it), coming to know Epsilon as a person - they had all been cathartic. He had been so sure that he was sane.
Now he wished he had Delta back, wished something could run diagnostics to tell him how far outside the parameters he was. The Blues would send someone in here soon. He would have to figure this out.
Wash gave a harsh sigh just as Sarge yelled again. "Hey Blue! She's asking for you!"
"No!" Wash yelled, and realized he was starting to sound crazier already. A scrabbling sound frightened him and he stalked toward the back of the Blue base, rifle in hand despite his own heavily enforced rules about no live fire inside the base -
Ironically enough the perpetrator was Caboose, the one who necessitated the live-fire rule and who appeared to be trying to reach a high shelf. Wash felt a rush of relief. Here was someone whose perceptions he could...mostly...trust. "Caboose."
"Follow me. I need you to tell me something."
"Something about cookies?"
"Are you sure?"
"Okay!" Caboose trotted along at his side like a heavily armored dog. Wash took him to the barricade. Grif was yelling on the other side. "This is your job! You're our Freelancer! You've been delegated!"
"I know this is strange-" said another voice, and Wash spoke over whatever biting words followed.
"Caboose. Did you hear that?"
"What..who did it sound like?"
"Anyone else? Did you meet her in the desert?"
"I didn't meet any ladies in the desert. Maybe Tucker did that."
"Are you sure?"
"I mean, about what it sounds like."
Wash sighed. He felt something like hope, a frightened, worming hope that confused more than pleased him. Gradually he thawed.
"I'm coming out," he said, and heard the Reds sigh.
He slid the makeshift barrier aside into the hallway as Caboose moved back from it, and looked at the little group of soldiers in front of him. Reds, one Blue, and brown. The way Tucker was keeping an eye on her and Sarge had his shotgun pointed at her were solid proofs that she existed.
He kept his rifle in hand. "Take off your helmet." His voice went flat, flatter than it had in a long time. Maybe he'd spoken to Doc like this. Do you see the floating head now? "I need to make sure."
She reached across the ugly flanges of her helmet and lifted it off.
Part of him said that this was no greater reason to believe.
"Okay," he said, breathing it out, and slowly, fearfully told himself that he could trust his eyes. "Okay."
CT created a camp equidistant from the Red base and the Blue base, dragging crates together and unfolding tarps. He followed her as she examined tiny room after tiny room, eyeballing claustrophobic spaces and wondering whether a bullet or a wild animal could fit through. The only thing she said to him was "They were doing this all the time the project was going on?"When she spoke of the teams it was confused and pitying but distant, like she was not in the same space as them. She still wore her brown armor, still wore her hair in a sweep across one cheek, although the back had gown longer and ragged, like she cut it herself occasionally just to fit inside her helmet.
He said, "Not exactly."
"How did you get here?" she asked.
"That's... a long story."
He was hesitant to talk to her about the Alpha but did not know why. Perhaps because she never told him where she came from. He didn't ask. Others did.
The Reds and Blues gossiped and conjectured. Tucker wheedled, Sarge made battle plans. "Tell us about her," both of them said, asking Wash to explain. They gave CT a wide berth. They treated her like Tex.
"You're sure you're seeing this?" Wash said, and when Tucker grew irritated, "She's not like Tex. She's...quieter. Less dangerous."
The guys kept talking, though.
Why she was there didn't matter to Wash, though. He needed it to feel real first.
She's not the Director's, Wash thought. Of all the rest of them she was the least owned by him. Besides, the Director was dead.
Wash never saw the body. He never Recovered that.
But Epsilon, who was gone and whom Wash had, to the extent that one can forgive a machine, forgiven, would not ever have shown him CT.
He remembered the papers that he signed and the fingerprint scans needed to certify that he was sane.
"Are you scared of her, Agent Washington?" Caboose asked once. They stood in the halls of the Blue base, just before the lookout. both of them caught not going anywhere in particular, although, Wash would have insisted, in different directions.
Wash said, "No."
He could have replied. 'because she built a fort in the middle of the canyon' or 'because she doesn't approach me with any more kindness than she does any of you.' He did not.
Caboose said, "You haven't seen him in a long time."
"You haven't seen her in a long time."
Wash said, "Yes."
"I haven't seen Church in a long time. If he came back, I would be so happy - I'd have a welcome party, and, a, a second party! And be happy."
"CT and I didn't...part on the best terms."
"Neither did me and Church! We shoot at each other. That's our way."
Wash thought about that.
He said, "Maybe it doesn't matter."
Maybe she wasn't really there.
The was no use worrying about something that would not happen.
On a day that was sunny (like most of them) and lukewarm (like most of them) CT emerged from her small unclosed rooms and asked Wash where she could get water. He told her. He brought her a heavy can and when he came back to where he had left her she was gone. He looked around blinking, checked the walls to see that they were still standing. She had been here.
She emerged from behind a corner with a packet of dehydrated food in her hand, and tipped her head at him when he breathed out in relief.
After, he told her the rumors that were going around. "The guys are nervous. They think Freelancers are just coming out of the woodwork. They think you're going to drag us into something."
She looked up from the handles of the can clenched in her armored fists and said she wasn't.
"Why are you here?" He tried the question out.
"I don't have anywhere else to be. The war is over. The Director is dead: I found his body in one of the storage bases."
"Yeah. We...knew about that."
She tipped her head. "How much do you know?"
His first thought was, You already know. If you're an Epsilon-creation, something in you knows.
He said, "I don't want to talk about that."
"So you're still secretive."
"At least I'm not still bitter."
"Sounds like you are."
And he realized that he was. She was bringing the bitterness back to him, the flinch away from real life. He was unhealthy. She would reverse the healing he had already done, because she made him remember the Mother of Invention, the delusions and how he had cared for her all tangled together. He wanted to snap at her, to tell her that he had been doing good here.
He sounded like Church, he thought. Without any mechanical implantation, without any faulty AI, he simply remembered Epsilon-now-Church like he would a friend and heard that angry voice in the back of his head, telling CT to just leave him alone, just like Church had with Caboose. "I missed you!" "I knew you did!"
Wash didn't want to snipe with a ghost.
He turned and, giving CT a taste of her own medicine, left.
He didn't get far, though, as he thought about about how frightened he had been when she arrived. Insistently but without anger he told himself that he could trust his own senses now. He shouldn't have felt such a backlash.
He had ways to tell whether things were real now.
The careful, meticulous, ominous training of the counselor and his flunkies had taught Wash how to tell an Epsilon memory from reality and ease out of it. Falsehoods had a telltale buzz and pain, a certain tone different from what reality sang. He didn't feel that here. He could pick apart what he perceived as much as he liked, and CT was still there.
Agent Washington sighed and looked up at the foliage dropping shadows onto the wheel-torn dirt.
With a clatter of scrap metal and armor CT emerged out of her fort and Wash turned around to see her. In the spring shadows her armor almost blended into the base behind her. "Take this," she said, throwing him an empty can. "It's my exchange for the water."
"Thanks," he said jokingly, and for a moment both of them sounded purely happy.
She's a desert thing, he thought, a shimmer on the horizon that turns out to be the reflection of the sky.
"I'm sorry about York," she said. "And the others. I kept track, sometimes."
For a moment she was not a mirage. Just a Freelancer, mourning (like most of them.)
Wash said, "Thank you."
She didn't leave. Tucker cajoled for her attention, standing outside her base and offering to help build things. Wash listened with the vague idea of protecting her, but she never answered. Never responded, never opened the door. Tucker left with slumped shoulders, angrily sighing, "Women."
Caboose tried an earnest variant on the same tactic, bringing CT a can of beans he held in both hands as if it were fragile. He stood outside her door for, if he had indeed been doing it continuously between every time Wash walked by, hours, saying the same thing. "Agent CT. Food. Agent CT. Food. Agent CT..."
She never opened the door, never left.
Wash saw her putting an antenna up, leaning it against the side of the corrugated metal walls, and he went to investigate.
"I'm building a radio," she said. "I'll be able to hear out of this canyon."
"What are you listening for?"
He examined what she had already made, the coils and dials of salvaged sound equipment. He worried that when she received a signal she might float away, just flying, following the sound. Occasionally he dropped facts like bread crumbs that he knew she would want to follow.
"Carolina might come back."
"What? She's alive?"
He wasn't sure why he didn't tell her before. He thought she knew. Or liked to think she knew, maybe: Wash liked the image of CT as an all-seeing eye so much that he acted as if it were reality. He liked to assume that she knew, that he and she could talk in coded half-sentences and understand what one another was saying without ever agreeing on code words.
"She hid out."
"That's not what the reports I picked up said."
"I know. She doesn't like to talk about it."
"So she'll come back."
"She should. She went away with Epsilon. They're soul-searching."
CT looked around, as if afraid Carolina would be watching and policing her. But then she relaxed, looking over her parts and tools with fond ownership. Wash felt a momentary dizzy confusion. He had never expected to be reassuring CT of Carolina's survival instead of hang-dogging Carolina for news of CT's.
"We're all doing a little of that," she said, and looked down.
I don't, he wanted to say. I don't have time for that. Something true and deep that made him sound like he was in control. Instead, he nodded, trusting her to read in the headbob and the slide of reflections and light the expression on his masked face.
He nodded, and returned to the sunny chaos of the canyon. Downed trees, improvised bridges. He walked carefully, although he knew the paths too well to mind his footing. Behind him he heard the sound start up of CT hammering a nail.
After CT died (so he believed, so he knew, so he mourned) he had followed Carolina around the Mother of Invention in an attempt at interrogation. What happened in there, what did Texas do, who was CT with. But he soon found that Carolina was mourning too, and doing it by closing herself even more off from her team: she became snappish and lofty, and soon it was no more use to talk to her than it would have been to talk to Tex. CT was dead. KIA. Her small state was removed from the map, and Wash never did see what happened when a top agent was removed from the board.
She couldn't be here now. Her state could not float back like an Atlantis and attach to the scattered, archipelago Union.
But she had, and without any buzz in his head.
Epsilon had never hallucinated her.
She was as familiar to Wash as the dips and ruts in the ground, though. He was not imagining her. She was a product of not only his senses, but not of anyone else's either. She was real, and for the first time in a long time, without Allison or a mission on his mind, he was wholly hers.
She didn't leave. And after assuring himself that she was real, he was so sure that she was going to.
She couldn't stick around again. Something this good - a friend, alive, and not torn up like he and Carolina - felt too good to last.
So he prepared himself for her leaving, thinking through reasons why she would go. A new boss, a new cause, irritation, boredom, Tucker.
He liked to be aware that betrayal was coming. He liked to get familiar with it, so that he could figure out its rules. He could decide how to react to it before it happens. He got comfortable with the idea of her leaving.
And then, she stayed, and the comfort passed into assumption. The fear faded, stopped making his shoulders tense and old wounds ache.
And then, she left.
At first, he didn't notice. He did his usual, useless patrol, walking the edges of the canyon and up the gentlest slopes, digging his feet into familiar scree and rocks and making sure everything was as he had left it. Staying sharp, watching for Carolina and Epsilon to come home. When he did notice he kept going as he had been, telling himself that just because there was no sound coming from the middle of the canyon didn't mean CT was not there. Maybe she was sleeping, he thought, although it was late. Maybe she never had been there. Wash laid his cheek against his rifle to sight up into the tangle of fallen trees and green growth at the canyon rim. He walked through paths worn brown by his feet. He very carefully tried not to listen for the crackle of the radio. If he asked someone and they said they didn't know what he's talking about, he would-
What would he do?
(It could be a prank, he thought. The idea of humor wrestled up inside his brain, although it never had much of a foothold. The teams could have arranged it to antagonize him.
He imagined smacking the butt of his rifle across Tucker's faceplate.)
What would he do?
He slowly, carefully completed his rounds, and when he came back the sun was fully up and the radio should have been on. CT should have been working.
The tarps were still there, the metal walls standing straight up against the pillars sunk into the ground, and when he got to her door he knocked.
She opened the door. A moment later she returned to her workbench but she let him in, gestured at a patch of floor. She had made the workbench out of a shelf, removing the ones above it and neatly lining up her few tools.
"I didn't think you were here," he said.
"I hoped that I'd get back before you came around. It didn't work. I thought...you wouldn't like if you found the place empty."
"Thanks for the consideration."
He said it sarcastically, hurtfully, so she turned her back and put the thing she was carrying down on a workbench.
He tried again. "I mean it, CT. I was worried. I appreciate you...trying."
She glanced down, and now at this angle he could see what she had found on the workbench. Head-sized, familiar, it was a silver ball of machinery.
"What is that?"
"I found it."
With a sudden, terrible clarity he recognized the little machine that had shot at him in Valhalla when he was working with the Meta and let the Reds escape. Gray now where it had glowed blue, the sphere looked larger than he remembered it. He asked, "Where?"
"In an old foundry."
"You're too late. That thing did what it was meant to do. Caboose told me all about it. Epsilon was in there, but Tex...got him out. The he got himself out."
"Yeah. That Texas."
CT cursed. "She always did get to things first."
"Yeah. Got. She's dead for good now." He meant it as comforting but CT kept her gaze down, seeming to retreat. She shook her head. Wash considered comforting her in some other way but was out of practice; equalizing their information comforted him and encouraged him that human error, not differing realities, kept them from communicating their worries directly. "The Meta got her," he said, looking at a yellow patch of light. He realized that he was finally done with mourning the grace and terror Tex had been, and through her Allison, and began thinking of her as a nuisance that was bound to come back, like the Reds and Blues did. Oddly enough it was through them that Epsilon's delusions of her return had come true through Alpha.
Wash tried to regain CT's attention. A long time ago he would have lifted her chin. Instead he tipped his own head to the side and lowered his gaze like he had when he sighted through the rifle scope, and worked to meet her helmet's two yellow eyes. He said, "For a little while I thought the Meta had gotten you too."
She kept looking down, but responded. "So Maine's AI finally did that? Metastasized."
"It's over. He died with Texas."
"Maine, or Sigma?"
"Both of them."
CT did not look up but she angled her gaze to match his. "So I've really missed everything."
Wash wasn't sure what to say.
"Good." She looked up for a moment before turning around and going back to her shelf-workbench. "I learned things about the aliens while you were...doing that. They have a prophecy, about the end of the world. I'm not sure if it was fulfilled at the end of the war or not."
"I've got someone you might want to talk to about that."
"They've calmed down."
"So why did you come here?" The question was an ambush for both him and her: it just emerged, powered by how much he had wanted to know.
She turned back to him, with her arms straight at her sides. For all her expressions of inferiority she had never been a fidgeter. "I never thought of the Mother of Invention as paradise like you did, but I wanted to see people I knew. I couldn't save them all."
"I didn't see it as a paradise." Conscious now of his movements in the small space, he would have gestured if he hadn't wanted to keep his hands on his gun. "I just...liked it there."
"You were...a little less durable then. It was sweet."
He wasn't sure what to say to that; while flattering and pleasant, if he stripped away his post- Epsilon years he remembered more embarrassment than he cared to. He was tougher now that he'd joined with the Blues and Reds and gone through his harrowing work on the Recovery team, more like what a soldier ought to be. "I'm not quite like that any more."
"I like the new you too."
How forward she was being, after their romance and their friendship had ended almost in the same moment, even before he had been certain that she was betraying Project Freelancer. But there were memories and then there were truths: he liked to trust the latter. He leaned against her tiny solid table made from a block of wood and a hubcap. "I missed you too."
She picked up a nail by either end, chose a spot in the wall for it and then set it down in a rusty tin.
He cast around for something to say and immediately regretted his choice. "Carolina outlived Tex. She would have been proud of that, once. She's got to come back sometime."
"She and Epsilon act like siblings."
He saw her struggling not to resume the defeated attitude she'd had at the mention of Tex. Carolina had, in CT's eyes, won again, getting both victory and catharsis. But CT won out over herself this time. "I'll see her when she gets back then."
He nodded slowly, feeling ungraceful.
CT dismissed him then, but it was with a smile in her voice. "I've got to get back to work. This thing might still have secrets."
After a long time of becoming sure CT existed, Wash could become comfortable with her again. He could sit against his own sanity and lean hard on it, and it would not break.
During this time the Reds strung the Warthog up by a winch and simply left it there, despite Sarge's protestations, awaiting some future repair or armament.
The Reds had endless squabbles and confusions about the Warthog. Sarge strutted and made demands, and if he demanded six new wheels Grif would find him a single bolt. In this way, the Reds' project progressed very slowly.
Wash went to the Red base without a great sense of having crossed lines, although Tucker made noises suggesting that Wash should come up with an excuse, such as a reconnaissance, while he was over there or else Tucker would yell at him for a traitor. Sarge took kindly to Wash's presence and afforded him enough respect that it crossed even self-made team lines. The Reds and Blues all knew their fight was pretense now: after fighting together against the Director's perhaps unintentional bodyguard battalion of Tex-mechs they made for a decent squad together.
Which all came down to the fact that Wash was 'permitted' to walk around the Red camp without suspicion.
Grif and Simmons largely ignored him as they stood at the base of the canyon wall.
"Does this mean no vehicles will come from command, ever?" Grif mused.
"We just put a bullet in command's head," Simmons replied irritably. "But you know what, I bet that doesn't do crap for us. It's just gonna be 'ooh, who's got a tank now', just like it was before. Sarge still giving orders..."
"Just like he likes it."
When Wash found Sarge it didn't look like the Red was doing anything more than standing around either, but he got straight to the point. "So. Another Freelancer. What are we gonna do with this one."
Wash turned to face the same way Sarge was looking, into the tangle of barricades CT had erected. "Nothing. Leave her alone."
"I hear her missing with the radios. She's up to something."
"She's always up to something."
"Can we trust her?"
Wash paused a little too long.
"Ain't my fault if she keeps building a radio and brings something down on us. Seems like them radios have caused a lot of our trouble."
"The Meta and Omega are dead," Wash said.
"There could be more. Str-ang-er things."
He wondered what CT had found between now and when she had left the Freelancers, back when the project had been young and complete. She didn't even know what had happened to him and Epsilon. Had she been wondering? He was almost sure she had left before his implantation. He said, "She thinks she's safe. Look - she's left parts of her building open. She doesn't think anything, or anyone, is going to come after her, and what greater suspicion do we have that she doesn't?"
"It could be anything. Chupacabra. Killer bees! Freelancers do not plan for killer bees."
"I trust her judgement. It's all we have right now, anyway."
Sarge nodded at him. A skeptical, addled admission of trust like Wash's own when CT had first announced herself. "Okay."
The noises emanated from her increasingly sprawling and fortified base: a crackle of static, a mechanical whine as the radio signal turned in on itself and died. A few more tries like a busted engine, quick inhalations of static that produced no coherent signal. CT's radio project had been a failure. Wash still did not know who she was trying to contact. Tucker asked him and he realized he had been assuming that it was the other way around; that she was trying to pick up stray signals, to scan whoever was around them just in case she knew them. The idea that she might be trying to call someone outside of the canyon, and not asking Wash for help, had not occurred to him now that they were on more even footing. She did not flirt or make small talk but they went out of their way to visit one another, to ask without motive or wheedling what the other was spending their time on.
The Reds briefly but spectacularly attempted to steal her radio, jumping the Warthog off the nearest half man-made hill and overshooting entirely. Wash became involved when he heard high-pitched, percussive shots and ran out of Blue base to find CT standing in her doorway with a pistol while the Warthog, weighted down with a new, long cannon with Simmons at the controls, kicked up dirt three meters away.
Wash marched into the ground between them and demanded that they stop.
"You're not a cop," Grif grumbled, but for once Sarge was more taken aback than his teammate.
"She's something like a Blue!" Sarge shouted, sounding desperate to come up with a reason to test his new weapon on her. CT skulked out of her base - it was more of a home now, with four walls - and glared out from under her armor's heavy brown brows.
The Reds revved it. Wash jumped toward CT just as she was smoothly, calmly moving out of the way. The Warthog's tires bit dirt that showered onto the two Freelancers but Sarge had never intended to run into the building: from the ground next to CT Wash saw the Warthog's tires spin past as the Reds jumped a hill next to the house and skidded around on the opposite side. CT pushed herself to her knees and raised her pistol. Funny he had never seen her use any weapon bigger, like she was attached to the same guns she'd had for years. Maybe. He had time to think because the Reds were accelerating away, with catcalls and jeers that Tucker and Caboose picked up a moment later. Distracted, the Reds went to cause mischief somewhere else, and Wash got to his feet. He held out a hand for CT and she gripped his forearm and let him pull her weight.
"They'll come back around," she said.
"Maybe." He waited a minute, and just when he was certain that he was right and the Reds were gone, the Warthog roared up again. CT caught his arm again and pulled him with her, to where he didn't know. He thought she might be confused by the terrain but she was surefooted and prepared, and must have done more scouting than he thought; she lead him to a slope, not out of sight but at a distance. The Reds circled and shouted, some pleas for Wash to take their side, and CT kept her pistol pointed at the open cockpit.
Wash thought of ways he could get Sarge to go away, but no one believed in the innate superiority of Freelancers any more and any mention of Blues would make an attack only more likely. Pretend barriers worked on Sarge, though, so Wash yelled. "Stop attacking us! This is...a negotiation zone!"
"We're just testing it out!" Simmons yelled, and after a hushed negotiation with Sarge the Reds drove away. Tucker shouted in the distance. Wash sat down, suddenly tired.
CT said, "So this is what life is like here."
"It grows on you."
"I don't know if I could want this. I'm not...I'm not done. Not finished with my work. I don't know why I expected more from you."
He looked up at her, at the dapple shadows. "I never told you what happened to me after you left."
She sat down next to him, then lay there next to a tire track. "No, you didn't."
"It doesn't matter any more."
"You think it's tragic."
That disarmed him, and he realized that it was true: he had kept Epsilon from her because Epsilon had a mystique. It had surfaced now because they were in danger: petty danger, but still all machinery and guns. Maybe because he wanted to tell her something that would make her save him and keep her from leaving.
He might as well use that now.
"Maybe I do." A small laugh.
"What happened to you?"
"I got an AI consumed by memory. It..." Now that he had to put his story into words they seemed trite and thin. He could explain it so quickly when it had taken so long? "It couldn't sustain itself inside a human brain. It...unraveled."
"I heard, Wash. Rumors filter down even to me."
"Then you know."
"Why did Epsilon do what it did?"
"What was that like?"
"You're tragic. You're damaged, Agent Washington." He heard a teasing, truthful smile in her voice. "And I want to fix you."
"I'm done with all of that now."
"You're still alive, though. And Carolina's still alive." CT looked, positive and pioneering, toward the rim of the canyon. "Not everyone is gone."
"I don't even understand how you're here," he said, gesturing toward her, urged suddenly to answer the question both of them had been avoiding. Maybe if she answered it, he thought, she would go away. She would pop like a bubble if her story lacked logic. If there was any suggestion that she was making herself up.
"I hid out in Sandtrap," she said. "I had medicine the aliens left, to help me heal."
"But the Meta found your helmet with your neutral link inside. He wouldn't have...found it wrong!"
"It was...unpleasant, Agent Washington. But I came through. I guess that artifact didn't try hard enough to kill me."
Wash remembered Epsilon's voice shouting out of the floating sphere, roughened by rage but unmistakeable. Her story was improbable, but he believed it. If she was lying, he would find out, and he did not think she had a reason to lie. More importantly, he didn't think he had any reason to lie to himself.
He said, "Me neither."
This was not Valhalla, where the dead warriors go. Instead, the two Freelancers learned the ways around Exile canyon and the strategies of it. Wash and CT explored side by side sometimes, hiking usually in silence. They found a vantage point on a molding tree trunk where Church had carelessly left his tarnishing sniper rifle and Wash stopped, turning his toes in the vines to get steady footing on the massive tree trunk. "This is how they got out," Wash said. "Carolina and Church."
"This is how I got in."
"I...hadn't thought about that," he said with some surprise. Of course she had to get in somehow.
"I had to get in somehow," she laughed, and he laughed nervously too.
"There's my old Wash." CT said.
"I try to get him to go away but he just won't leave."
She laughed briefly and looked out, along the leaf-strewn cliffs and down to the roads. "I just retraced Carolina's steps. I don't want to see her again, Wash. I'll...it won't be nice."
"I'm sure it'll be fine." Connie, the name he had first known her by, waited in the back of his throat. It was still the one he thought of when he thought of her, but he never spoke it.
"No, it won't. Even though they're finished with their missions, Texas and Carolina still got to things first. I'm never going to win, Wash."
"I know, CT. But part of what I've learned here is that that doesn't matter any more. There really aren't ranks now."
"Carolina learned it. It's okay to be average here. Somehow, we...get along."
She looked at the ground for a long time. "You're still consoling me."
"That doesn't make you any less."
"Of course it doesn't. I rigged a radio and dug up alien artifacts to get here. But, I know what you mean. Thank you."
He nodded. He thought, try to be cool.
She said,"I still want you to call me CT."
"It means I care what you think. It means we're on the same team."
He started to speak again.
"And maybe one day I'll tell you my real name."
After a long time of becoming comfortable with her, he could start to love her again.
They were working on the barricade together when he told her. She handed him one end of a pipe and he placed it against his shoulder, couching it between his neck and the armor so it didn't shift. She had the other one held in the same way. At some angles it looked like the pipe was skewering her.
"When you got here," he said, "I wasn't even sure you were real. I thought you were a memory."
She cursed the Director and Epsilon in quick, bursting sentences.
"I'm not angry at them, CT. It's over."
"Then get angry. Why aren't you mad at them, Wash?"
"Because...years ago I would have said it was because they were just doing their jobs. I was just doing my job. Then I realized - with all he's done to me, to Carolina, to my friends, he deserved to die. But I forgave him. And I was never angry at Epsilon." He felt calm now, like he had been for the past many days. He had settled inside himself and hardly even noticed it. As one last tragedy, health drew less attention to itself than pain.
"You gave your chance away when Carolina killed the Director."
"She didn't kill him. She just left him alone with the pistol and himself."
CT quieted. She said, "I didn't see that coming," and there was no self-pity in her voice. This wasn't another case where she had dropped the ball. This was a hunter, and some other hunter had gotten her quarry.
"I'm glad you survived," she said, and pulled the pipe forward and behind the barricade. They propped it up together, dragging the end into the dirt and packing it in with the tines of their boots. On the top of the pipe they took a metal bar that had maybe come off another Warthog and wove it behind one plate of corrugated metal, over the pipe, and behind the next wall, and found then that they had nothing with which to drive nails in.
CT let the metal piece fall as it would between the wall and the pipe, and stepped back to look at her handiwork. "We don't have any enemies anyway," she said, and he realized that they had stopped being their own.