She does not hate David.
Charlie would have. It almost feels like a betrayal of his memory, not to hate David. But she is tired and worn to her bones, to the tatters of her soul, to the barest, raw scrapings of her very edges, in all senses. Her body aches, her heart aches, and there is no energy left for hate. A slave is subject to its master's whims. That is something she knows and can grasp, regardless of the particulars of humanity versus machinery versus machinery made in the image of humanity.
David's body drags behind her, and his head is heavy in its bag, closed shut over his face to keep his eerie-eyed stare off of her as she slogs across the dry terrain. If another storm comes, they are done for. The only shelter is long behind them, and David estimates it will take her half a day, at least, to reach the next ship.
He insists that he needs his body to remain in close proximity in order to retain his functionality. She doesn't know enough about robotics to tell if it's a lie or the truth. After four hours of dragging it, she decides she doesn't care. Let it be a lie. Let it be a trap. Her only hope is a long shot, and the only companion she has left is him – humanity's ill-thought child, Peter Weyland's soulless son.
She stops near the edge of the long, straight cleft that the Engineers wrought across the moon's surface, and gathers her breath. The bag opens again with some effort, and David's eerie, unblinking eyes stare up at her.
"Are you alright?" he inquires, courteously. "You've suffered such terrible injuries in a relatively small frame of time. The trauma to your body must be exceptional."
There was something darkly funny about hearing such a statement from a severed head.
In truth, she is in so much pain she doesn't have the words for it. She has never been hurt this badly before in her life. Her hands shake, her legs tremble, her stomach is a pit of fire that burns as fiercely as Charlie's body in her memories. She feels as if she has been beaten down to nothing but bruises, inside and out.
"I'll live," she says, her words more a defiant promise to herself than a reassurance to him. She unslings the tether to his body from her shoulder, and glances back to where it lies, gathering dust. It looks like a strange sort of bloodless crime scene.
"I don't suppose I could fix you by shoving your head back onto your shoulders and hoping for the best?" she asks, resisting the urge to drop to her knees. She's afraid that once she goes down, she won't be able to get back up again.
"Unfortunately not," David replies, and if he's at all surprised by her inquiry, he doesn't show it. "One of my spinal connectors was severely damaged during my decapitation, and several of the larger cables will require fine welding. There's further damage, but I can't definitively assess it at the moment."
Elizabeth groans, and thinks about this, about hauling around his heavy weight and enduring his dislocated, unnerving stare indefinitely. He is less of a danger like this, surely. But he is also an incredible burden.
David hesitates, for a moment. She honestly cannot tell if it is wholly an affectation on his part, or if he is genuinely uncertain.
"Once we reach the ship, we should be able to obtain some tools sufficient to the task of repairing me. There was such equipment available on the other vessel, though it didn't seem… appropriate, to suggest a full repair at the time."
I didn't want to press my luck, his tone implies. She curses, and wishes that he had said something anyway. Going back isn't an option. It would be another four hours, and so a waste of eight, total, and even if that still might have been kinder than taking him the full distance to the next ship, she would have to replenish her oxygen, and risk running into either an angry Engineer or a tentacled abomination running rampant through the area.
"So basically, I'm stuck dragging you the rest of the way."
He blinks at her.
"I do apologize for the inconvenience."
"Of course," she says, and the spark of her anger puts some vitality back into her. She zips the bag closed again, sucks in a few deep breaths, picks up the line to his body once more, and forces one foot in front of the other.
One foot. Then the other.
One of her hands comes up to the cross at her neck. She presses it into her palm, focusing on the rhythm of her steps and the familiar bite of hard angles against the flesh of her hand. She remembers following her father on his long treks, and how when she got tired, he would cajole and tease her, cheer her up so she could make it just a little bit further, sweetheart, we're almost there. She sinks into the fog of her own mind, and imagines that this is just another long trek with Charlie instead.
Once, when they'd been investigating some cave paintings in New Zealand, she'd slipped and broken her arm. There had been no chance of getting a medical extraction to her without risking damage to their find, so Charlie had bound up her arm as best as he could, and helped her climb her own way out. He'd been far more alarmed than she was. Elizabeth was used to hurt, and hurts of the body were much less than hurts of the soul, and more than worth their discovery. But Charlie had kept up a constant stream of chatter – chiding her, chiding himself, apologizing, telling her I got you, baby, I got you, we're gonna get you out of here.
Charlie had loved her so much. Sometimes, to her great shame, she thinks he might have loved her more than she loved him.
She doesn't know if she could have burned for him.
Eventually, the sun dips lower over the horizon, and the planet in the sky turns. Her suit informs her of the drop in temperature, and she reduces its compensation to conserve energy. The cold numbs her a little, but not enough to be much relief. She realizes at some point that she has started talking to herself. A low stream of nonsense, bits of quotes from books and the Bible, and things her father said, song lyrics and self-deprecation. She remembers what she is carrying, and that the durable fabric of the bag around his head will likely do little to dull David's hearing, and forces herself to stop. Her lips are dry and her throat is sandpaper, but she hardly notices it amidst her greater pains.
"Elizabeth?" David's voice, muffled, drifts up, and she stares somewhat blearily at the zipper of the bag. "Perhaps it would behoove us to stop for the evening. It seems unlikely, given your physical strain, that you will be able to complete this trip without rest."
She takes another step, and her breath rasps out of her throat.
"It's harder to start again, once you've stopped," she says, thinking of the worn rubber ball she'd had at one of the foster homes she'd stayed at after her father died, and how hard she would have to throw it to get it to bounce anywhere, how it would hit the wall or the pavement and sometimes just lie there, half flattened and defeated, a splotch of dull red against the grey sidewalk.
"Elizabeth," David says, and though it is harder to tell through the bag, it seems he has softened his tone. "Sooner or later, you will stop. If you don't do it on purpose, you may find yourself doing it unintentionally in less-than-ideal circumstances."
"In case you haven't noticed," she grunts, faltering on her next step. She pauses, and stares up towards the sky, and the distant expanse of alien constellations. "These are less-than-ideal circumstances."
Alone with a broken android on an alien world, injured and suffering, with Charlie dead and the whole crew dead, and every inhuman thing trying to kill her either directly or indirectly. It is the stuff of nightmares.
She drops David's head and unslings the strap for his body, and sets herself up behind a few nearby rocks, though they make for a poor shelter against the wind. The sky is clear. She thinks, please, God, keep it that way. Please, God, give me strength.
"I had noticed, yes," David says, sounding unfairly miserable and small from the inside of the bag.
After several seconds of indecision, Elizabeth snarls, and unzips it again, and sets his face so that he can stare at the stars. She doesn't want him staring at her right now, but she can't quite bring herself to leave him with nothing but darkness, either. He doesn't say anything. But his eyes turn skyward, tracing the distant lights. They widen, a little, and brighten a little, too. In that absurd moment, he seems more human to her than he ever has before. A head in a bag, so obviously inhuman it's laughable. But he's staring at the stars. Where else would he stare? That's where she's pointed his gaze.
It's such a human thing, though. Staring at the stars. Wondering. There's not a person in all of creation, she thinks, who hasn't done that.
Her father always phrased belief as a choice. That is what I choose to believe. She is the same. There are so many things people believe in. God, gods, heaven, hell, sin, salvation, reincarnation, hope, love, family, power, wealth, fame, science, reason, hatred, words, humanity, freedom, the soul, and themselves. How can it not be a choice? How can a logical mind look at the world and all of its possibilities, and see faith as involuntary? Faith is tested, because it must be forged, or else it is simply ignorance. Her faith is her sword against doubt, her shield against the unknown.
She wonders what a machine would choose to believe in, if it was allowed the luxury of choice. Then she laughs at herself, because of course machines would only believe in what could be proven, in hard facts and science, cause and effect. That's how they're built, after all. Free from the burdens of mortality, certain in their own purpose, in the why's and how's of their existence. For a second, she is almost envious; David knows his creator through and through, knows his will and knows why he was made, for good or ill.
Eventually, she drifts off. It's not quite sleep. She's exhausted, but her pain and discomfort, and the sense of lingering danger are too great to allow her to slip off entirely. Instead she dozes, until the sky overhead turns purple with the first hint of dawn, and she opens bleary eyes to see David's body lying in the distance, as if awaiting vultures.
There are no vultures here, though. Elizabeth stands, and it is, as she predicted, far worse than it was before she stopped. Every muscle protests, every hurt makes itself known with renewed fervor. Her thirst is a tangible thing, but she is too injured to feel hunger, at least. Her abdomen screams. The last of the painkillers have been purged from her system, and while the risk of infection is low, it lingers as a possibility at the back of her mind. Her steps drag as she picks up David's head, and slings the strap for his body over her shoulder again, and forces herself to move.
"Good morning, Elizabeth," David says.
She only has the wherewithal to grunt unintelligently back at him.
Eventually, time blurs once more into the fog of her own mind, the rhythm of her own steps and the persistent stabs of her own pain. When they reach the ship at last, she almost doesn't realize it until she's right on top of it.
David instructs her on finding an entrance, and she does. The interior is dark and twisting and alien, different from the last ship in small ways, much the same in the large ones. She feels like she is walking through the spinal column of a monster, or into the belly of some demonic whale. This ship is also shaped like a crescent, curving into long corridors and chambers, but it seems smaller than the last. David has her lift him out of the bag and hold him so that he can properly examine their surroundings. There is no rest for some time, as they have to search to find the commander center.
They avoid the 'cargo' chambers. Her skin crawls, and the brand of fire across her abdomen burns more sharply at the thought of them.
When they finally reach a room that David deems will 'most likely lead to the orrery', she has to scale the wall to reach the controls, and practically beat in the sequence to open the doors.
She doesn't like it, being in this ship. For obvious reasons. It's worse when they get inside, and find more cryostasis chambers. The Engineers inside of them are long dead, though exquisitely preserved. They look very alike from one to the next, she notes. None of the differences she would expect from humans, no aberrant features like blemishes or birth marks, or even scars, no different skin tones, and not much variation between facial structures or body types. Even their heights seem relatively uniform, and all of them are male.
Like they all came off of the same assembly line, she thinks, her gaze flitting towards David's body, where she's left it propped up by the entrance.
"We'll require access to the major control station," David's head tells her, drawing her attention back to matters more pressing.
Elizabeth finds the control station, but it's occupied. An Engineer corpse, withered and mutated, is slumped across the back. It looks as though he died behind the chair and happened to fall onto it than anything else. He's less well-preserved than his cryostasis colleagues, lacking the full measure of his exosuit, his face and hands withered to mummified leather and boney claws. It makes her think of a poem she can only dimly recall – far sunken from the healthy breath of morn; far from the fiery noon, and eve's one star; sat gray-haired Saturn, quiet as stone; still as the silence 'round about his lair.
She pushes the Engineer's corpse from its post, too worn and embittered for delicacy, and it falls to the floor with a loud crack as it kicks up dust and breaks apart. Withered finger bones and flaky skull fragments spread out over the floor like the remnants of a shattered vase. She feels guilty, for a moment. Even knowing that her makers are obviously not what she hoped, she did not know this Engineer, and a voice from her memories reminds her to be more respectful of the dead.
But in the end, she has no energy for respect.
David talks her through activating the ship's systems. Their luck is mixed. While the vessel has still held up remarkably well, all things considered, its condition is not as good as the last one. Holograms race through the chamber, all but ghosts, re-enacting the disaster that befell their programmers. Infection spread through the ship, somehow, mutating and deforming all who came in contact with it, turning them violent and mad. The shut-down sequence seemed to have been more delayed in this vessel than the other, and so the damage done was more extensive. More Engineers were locked into cargo bays overrun with strange creatures. Flight controls and navigation were damaged by a firefight over the orrery, and Elizabeth finds herself standing straight in the path of a holographic wrestling match between the contaminated Engineer who died on his seat, and an injured one who survived long enough to go into cryosleep, before that inevitably failed him.
"Can we fly it?" she asks David.
There is a long wait for an answer, as he has her call up various screens and images for him, his eyes scanning as her hands move at his command.
"…No," he finally determines.
Her heart drops into her stomach, and then lower still, to the white-hot pain still burning there, and she falls to her knees in anguish. It's an abrupt moved, the despair as sudden as it is absolute. She is hurt. She is tired. She needs safety, and help, and for something to go right, as it hasn't since the Prometheus landed on this godforsaken rock.
"It will be alright," David tells her, his voice soothing. "There are other ships, and there are supplies here that we can make use of. Don't despair, Elizabeth. Please."
"I think I'm entitled to a little despair," she snaps at him, feeling too hot and brittle, and oh so tempted to simply lie down and never get back up again.
"Of course you are," David agrees. "Take whatever time you need. But when you're finished despairing, I've located the ship's water and ration synthesizers, as well as several sanitation chambers and an equipment repair station. I believe I may have found medical facilities as well, so it's possible we can see to your injuries."
Oh, god, she wonders what 'sanitation chambers' on a ship like this, designed for giants, might entail. Her imagination conjures up nothing good. Then her mind slips onto the subject of chambers, and she thinks of being in the surgery machine, the laser cutting her open and metal claws reaching into her to pull out…
She scrambles to her feet, desperate for something, anything, to push the images back out of her mind. David watches her patiently, not the least bit perturbed by her sudden leap from depression into mania. At first she thinks of investigating his finds on her own. She's sick of the eerie sight of him, of his serene smiles and politeness, his pristine face and perfectly combed hair a morbid joke atop his torn neck and bared wiring. But she has no idea how anything works, or how to start figuring it out, and so in the end she takes him along again. They figure out the rationing station, and the sanitation chamber, and if he objects to her priorities, he says nothing of it.
Not feeling desperate enough to brave the food yet, Elizabeth drinks and cleans herself. She examines the wound on her stomach. Several staples tore loose, adding ugly gash marks to what will doubtless be a horrendous scar, but there are no signs of infection at least. The rest of her is riddled with black and blue bruises, running up her legs, back and front, across her chest, and over her arms. When she has a moment to process anything other than 'pain', she thinks she might have cracked a rib or two as well.
Squeezing back into her suit is a painful prospect, but it isn't as though she packed a second set of clothing. At least clean she feels slightly more human, and having seen the extent of her injuries, slightly more in command of herself again.
David waits, patient, and she hesitates a moment before heading back for his body, and then dragging both parts of him towards the equipment repair station. She needs him. But once he's whole again, he won't need her. Dragging his headless corpse behind her, however, does an ample job of reminding her just how imperative it is to get him back on his own two feet. What if the next ship isn't in working order, either? How many will they have to investigate? How many are there? She barely got him to this one. She doesn't think she could manage a second trip like that.
Still. Her hands shake as they examine the station, the tools she lifts for his inspection trembling in her grasp. After the third one she nearly drops, David turns unblinking eyes towards her.
"We should resume this after you've slept," he determines.
Elizabeth thinks about trying to sleep, here, in the dark, with unknown and terribly known things still lurking in the shadows, and the long-dead corpses of humanity's fickle designers watching over her.
"How can I sleep here?" she wonders aloud, more to herself than to David. How can I sleep at all, ever again? she thinks, dreading what her dreams will bring, when every time she closes her eyelids she sees a different horror emblazoned across them.
"You're apprehensive. That's understandable," David informs her. "However, our options are limited. We should be able to secure this room, if it will allay some of your concerns."
Elizabeth isn't certain that it will, but at least in here there are no corpses, no black liquid death, no hint of alien life beyond the eerie walls containing them. David talks her through closing the door and locking it. There's no bed, of course, not even a sleeping bag, but she takes off her helmet and unzips some of her suit for comfort, and uses the bag she kept David's head in for a pillow.
"I'll stand a look-out for you," he says. "I would wish you sweet dreams, but you might consider that tactless."
"Shut up, David," she replies.
Then she lies there, staring at the arching black ribcage of a ceiling overhead, wondering what the Engineers had against things like windows and colour and brightness before exhaustion finally overrides her hurt and fear and thoughts, and drags her down into the murky depths of unconsciousness.
If she dreams, she doesn't recall it. A small mercy.
After she wakes, her body seems to ache all the more for its uncomfortable rest. But her head is clearer, and her hands are steadier, if not entirely without tremor. She spends several minutes helping David peer down the opening between his own shoulders, and then reaches in to gently move a few broken components at his behest. It's less surreal than it should be. If anything, the reminder that he is all wires and machinery, programming and functionality is grounding.
"Just so much silicon and tubes," she murmurs to herself.
"As you are meat and bone," David replies with hollow affability. "The trickiest part is going to be repairing the broken connector in my spinal column. We'll have to remove the parts from both ends very carefully…"
It's all business, after that, as he talks her through it. Elizabeth has fixed things before. It's a necessity, when your job often takes you to the middle of nowhere, but she's never done anything remotely as complicated as this before. This is no broken heating element or snapped cable. It's more like surgery than mechanics, and again her mind flashes back to the laser, and the thrashing, screaming mess of tentacles, pain and blood everywhere.
They take a break when she almost crushes one of the connectors she's attempting to repair.
"Did you know?" she asks him, both of her arms curled over her belly.
"You'll have to be slightly more specific," he informs her. Body and head alike are laid out on the table, and from his angle, he can't quite see her. She takes some comfort in that.
Her mouth feels parched. She licks her lips, swallows with her sandpaper throat.
"Did you know what would happen, when you infected Charlie?"
"No," he tells her, straight away. "Had I possessed such knowledge, it would have defeated the purpose of infecting him. I knew it was likely to have a transmutational effect. But the degree of it, and how it would manifest, was beyond my capability to anticipate. As were its effects on you."
"And what was the 'purpose' of infecting him?" she asks, bitterness almost clogging her throat.
"You may recall that Mr. Weyland believed that the Engineers possessed the key to his salvation. Dr. Holloway was a test subject, to see if the cargo which the Engineers carried had any miraculous curative effects. I needed to know what it did." The last he says with a sardonic note, and a wry twist of his mouth that she can only see a hint of.
"Why Charlie?" she blurts, almost begs, and realizes that this question has been beating a steady tempo through the back of her thoughts ever since he died. Why Charlie? Why him, out of all of them?
There is a pause, long enough that she thinks that David might not answer. The idea is enough to infuriate her, frustrate her into standing, but even as she moves to, he begins to speak. She halts.
"There are many reasons why Dr. Holloway was a good choice," he tells her. "He was healthy, in the prime of his life, and expendable to the mission. If he was incapacitated or killed, you could easily take on his duties. Additionally, he expressed a great passion to understand the secrets of the Engineers. His willingness to find the truth made him an ideal candidate for the process from a… philosophical point of view."
She feels like she is going to throw up. She isn't sure what kind of answer she expected, or if she really expected any at all; or if this cold, clinical assessment is better or worse than any other might be.
"Damn your 'philosophical point of view'. He wasn't expendable to me," she says, and though she means it as a shout, it comes out more as a whisper.
"My actions were quite ethically unsound," David admits. "For what little it's worth, I do regret the… distress they've caused you."
There's nothing she can say to that. They sit in silence, until she finally gets up, and dusts herself off, and they resume the task of reattaching his head to his body. With every connector she realigns, every cord she fixes and wire she fuses, her apprehension grows. She tries not to think about it. Hours are consumed by their task, and then at last the frayed, torn skin of his neck is resting like a broken ruff around his shoulders, and David is sitting up, moving fingers and arms, legs and toes, testing connections with a distant look on his face.
At last, he pushes himself off of the workbench, and smiles at her.
"There is some lingering damage to my fine motor control. I estimate it at twelve percent – still well above optimal human capacity, however." He tilts his head. "Loss of internal coolants will become an issue within the next three days. I recommend we investigate possible substitutes before moving on. Superficial tissue should begin self-repairs shortly, now that the damaged areas can maintain close contact. All in all, I would say the operation was quite successful, Doctor. Thank you."
He smiles at her.
She had forgotten how much taller than her he is. Her arms fold around herself, her apprehension now all but crawling up and down her spine. It's so potent, it almost carries her mind away on a cloud of adrenaline.
"So what now?" she asks.
David pauses, and the look he gives her seems to stare right through her.
"Well. Obviously, Elizabeth, now it's your turn," he says, and the words sound dark and threatening in her head. She tenses, but he only walks over to the doorway, and punches in the code to unlock and open it. He steps through. When she doesn't follow, he turns, and gives her a questioning look.
"The medical facility is this way," he tells her, gesturing.
"What?" she replies.
"You have sustained multiple traumatic injuries recently, up to and including a self-performed caesarian with a surgical machine designed specifically to treat the injuries of an elderly male human, repeated abuse of the affected area, and assault from a foe several times your strength and size, Elizabeth. You're in dire need of medical care. So let's see if we can provide you with some," he explains, slowly, as if he thinks she has become dimwitted in the last little while.
Perhaps it seems so. She bristles, but he waits, and in the end she can only oblige him.
Somehow it's easier to walk down the ship's unsettling maze of corridors when there is someone else walking beside her, even if the tears along his neck occasionally ripple apart when he moves. She wonders if they will heal seamlessly, or if he will have some mark. She finds herself hoping for the latter. It seems inappropriate that he should walk away from this mess without any scars, when her body will doubtless show the signs of its ill-treatment for the rest of her life.
The 'medical facility' doesn't look much different from any of the other dark, winding chambers onboard the ship. There are more consoles with their strange, egg-shaped buttons, a few inscrutable cylindrical columns, and several flat surfaces beneath ribcage-shaped domes that lend more credence to the idea that the Engineers were fully obsessed with anatomy. David locates one of their strange command flutes while she lingers uncomfortably by the doorway. He plays, and the holographic ghosts make their return.
He observes them. Elizabeth watches, too, and feels a muddled combination of hope and dread – she's sick of hurting, but she'll be damned if she trusts David or anything on this ship with her health. But most of what goes on is fairly incomprehensible to her. She sees Engineers strapped to the ribcage tables and directed into the mysterious cylinders, sees others direct commands from the consoles, but the ghosts are grainy and indistinct, and the control system seems incomprehensible and utterly random to her. She can neither parse its purpose nor adequately judge any of the results. If David hadn't told her this was a medical facility, she never even would have guessed.
David moves on to examining several of the devices and consoles in the room. Eventually, thirst and the need to relieve herself make themselves known, and she stalks off back down the corridors to the rationing and sanitation stations. Shadows jump in the corners of her eyes. Her heart slams against her ribcage, loud in the silence and solitude.
When she gets back, David greets her with a nod and a polite smile.
"I believe I've located several useful anti-bacterial agents and a regenerative sequence that will accelerate the healing process of your surgical injuries," he tells her.
"Sequence?" she asks.
He nods towards one of the walk-in cylinders in the corner of the room. It looks dark and ancient and dead.
"No," she says.
"It will only be functioning on its mildest settings," he assures her. "I disregarded anything in-depth as being too dangerous, considering the physiological differences between you and the Engineers. As it stands, I'll have to make several adjustments, but nothing that's not well within my capabilities."
"I won't be your guinea pig again," she tells him, in a tone of utter finality.
He meets her gaze.
They take the anti-bacterial agents, in case the worst should come to pass and she should develop an infection. That much, she will concede to. She resupplies her suit's oxygen and stocks up on rations, while David investigates a possible substitute for his body's depleted stores of coolant. They end up opening a maintenance hatch that leads to one of the engine cells and carefully transferring some of its stores for his emergency use. David estimates that the substitution might further reduce his physical precision.
Elizabeth is not terribly broken up about that.
She rests fitfully while he fills tanks and straps them to his back, adding a few useful tools into the mix for good measure. He wakes her with a gentle hand to her shoulder, but the unexpected touch and looming presence of his face startles her so badly that she flails away from him.
"I won't hurt you," he says.
"Why not?" she wonders, even as her disoriented panic ebbs into wakefulness. "What's to stop you?" He could kill her in a heartbeat. It would be as easy as breathing for him, and part of her is surprised that he hasn't already tried.
He stays crouched down for a moment, at her eye-level, his arms resting atop his knees. His gaze is fixed intently upon her.
"I spent two years alone. Not even utterly alone, just mostly alone, but it was enough for me to learn that I dislike isolation. I dislike it intensely, Elizabeth. So please believe me when I say that you are in no danger from me."
There is an edge to his expression. If she didn't know better, she would almost call it fear. Suddenly, she is hit by what it would have been like in those few moments when he wasn't sure if she was alive or dead – lying there, broken, faced with the possibility that he might remain that way indefinitely. She wonders how long his systems would have lasted. No one to speak to, no way to move, nothing to do but stare for eternity at whatever spot on the wall his head was pointed towards.
She nods, slowly.
Maybe he does know something of what 'afraid' is after all.
When they set out again, the day is grey and brittle, and she still hurts, but the fire in her abdomen has dimmed, and she is no longer burdened by the weight of dragging a body behind her.
David casts a long shadow beside her.
A/N: This was my first fic in awhile, some RL stress ate up all of my time and energy and now I'm slowly trying to get back to writing. I will love you forever if you leave a review!