Setting the cab on its way back to Taf's, Aria sent a message ahead of it to let him know it was coming and that everything else had gone as planned. She needed to actually talk to him about it all, but she wasn't in the headspace for it yet.
She and Ruby got to the bullet lift in JD's building and Ruby gasped and grabbed Aria's arm.
Ruby let go and slowly, reverently, closed the space between herself and the glass wall. Even though there was still plenty of built-up world above them, they were high enough for a wide view. "It's beautiful. It's really beautiful. I thought I remembered, but I didn't."
"Take as long as you need." She was right. It was beautiful. It was still before sunrise, but the sky had started to lighten and a cold, sourceless glow melted around the endless twinkle of windows. When Aria got out of rehab, the first time she really saw the city again, it was too much to take in, too much of everything all in one place. All that beingness everywhere. All that feeling. All the height and depth and light and reflection of it.
Ruby raised a hand to the wall and touched it softly as if reality might shatter under her fingertips, nothing more than a mirage waiting to dissolve into splinters if she looked at it for too long. "I didn't really notice it out the window last night, on the way here. I didn't see it. How did I not remember it from before?"
"It's the cleanse, probably. It's only supposed to wipe away the time you spent in rehab, or cover over the parts they don't want you to remember, but it can kind of dull a lot of your other memories too."
Ruby pressed both palms to the glass, testing, trusting, then rested her forehead against it. "Remember I said something went wrong with my integration cleanse and I had that kind of flashback?"
"Yeah." Aria joined her at the wall, both of them looking straight ahead, staring into the physical structures of society as if they were made of magic, which maybe they were, in a way.
"Something else about it went wrong too."
"What do you mean?"
"You remember rehab?"
Aria's heart sank to her stomach and she turned to face Ruby. "All of it?"
Ruby turned to face Aria, but she was looking at the floor. "All of it."
There was no wondering now what the right thing was to say, no questioning how to offer comfort. It was too much, too real, and something Aria had buried deep in the darkest parts of what was left of her soul cracked open. There were no words, but it didn't matter. She never knew how to cry about that, about anything, but Ruby did. Aria put her arms around her and held on almost tightly enough to stop the tide, but it was too late.
Ruby buried her face in Aria's shoulder and her tears broke into torrents.
After a minute or two or ten, the storm slowed and finally stopped. Aria smoothed Ruby's hair back from her face. She looked so young. She was so young. "I never told anyone before." Some things just said themselves, whether they were allowed to or not.
Ruby rubbed her eyes. "You never told anyone what?"
"That I remember."
"Wait. You remember? The way I remember?"
Finally. After everything. After all this time. And it wasn't saying itself. Aria was saying it. "Yeah. And I never really let myself think about it afterwards, what it was like. I know people who've been rehabbed and they mostly got over it. They didn't go back into the system, but they ended up doing all right. And I knew one other person who remembered, but he's...he's not around now."
Ruby turned to the wall and touched the glass again. "The system?"
"All that." Aria gestured broadly. "Society, the city, the law. The don't ask, don't know, don't care, look the other way. The everything will be fine and shiny as long as you shoot all your questions in the back before they escape. That system. I mean, plenty of people get out of rehab and go right back to being cogs in the machine, but the ones I knew didn't."
"What did they do?"
"What I did. What you just did. Left it behind and came to the Other Side."
"How do you get over it though? How do you go back to just...being, after all that?"
"I don't know, but you don't let it break you any more than it already has." Aria hit the call button for the lift. "Come on. Let's go."
Ruby said, "It's OK. It's going to be OK," and maybe she was telling herself that more than she was telling Aria.
Aria got it though. She'd done a lot of telling herself things. It was better than waiting around for someone else to find the words she needed to hear, because that rarely happened, at least not when she needed it most.
The truth, the silence, followed them into the lift, glass-walled like the building, and they sank through the morning.
They walked, hardly speaking, just being, and got back around seven o'clock. The cells from Yak and Viande were waiting with a three-thirty time stamp. There was an extra package with two sets of freqs in it. The first set was marked blunt force trauma and terminal velocity and the second was laudanum and sunrise. Couldn't beat people who were true to their word. Aria popped the screen on her wrist wrap and transferred the rest of their pay.
She was about to collapse, even with JD's coffee. "I need to sleep. I've got a spare bedroom you can have and I'll give you the grand tour before I crash out, but are you OK being left on your own for a few hours after that?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. I'm kind of wiped out too. I could do with some food and then bed. I just want to lie down, even if I can't sleep."
The reliable order of Aria's own carefully arranged environment soothed her on a level nothing else could reach. Everything was where it should be. Everything was where she chose to put it. She showed Ruby the kitchen, the bathroom, and the spare bedroom, then gave her some clothes to sleep in and some to change into when she got up. They were about the same size, or they would be once Ruby started eating like a real person again.
Ruby held the clothes like she was waiting to give them back. "Are you sure about these? I'm fine with what I'm wearing."
"Absolutely. And you aren't. It doesn't fit you at all. We'll order you some new stuff later, but take mine until then."
She gathered the bundle of fabric against her chest and looked at the floor when she spoke. "I don't have any money to order anything. I didn't get any of the reintegration funds and I can't access anything I had before."
"I have money."
"You can't buy me clothes."
"I can. And if it makes you feel any better, any money I have came from completely illegitimate sources, so spending it is basically your contribution to fucking that system we both hate."
Ruby smiled. An actual smile. It looked like it took a bit of effort, but she managed it. "I owe you, for all this. I don't know how I'm going to pay you back, but I will."
"You don't owe me. There's no contract here and none of this is conditional. It might work like that out there, but it doesn't in here, with us. OK?"
"OK." She looked relieved. Exhausted and relieved.
"So get changed. Make whatever you want to eat. Don't worry about taking the last of anything. There's chocolate in the fridge. Go for it. Then sleep for as long as you need, if you can. It's safe here. You're safe."
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Heavy Frequency [updates Tue + Fri]Science Fiction
A black-market trader in a futuristic metropolis confronts her own past to discover a mysterious fugitive's true identity. When Aria Day is tasked with rescuing an enigmatic outlaw, she is drawn into a conspiracy that weaves through the criminal und...