[fic] Digital Devil Saga, "Iphigenia in an Eggshell" Iphigenia in an Eggshell Digital Devil Saga Heat, Serph, Sera Safe for work. Major DDS2 spoilers.
"I'm sorry," she tells him. "I'm sorry."
He reaches out as if to touch her, then sighs, leans back against nothing, lets the fluid buffer his hair around his face. "It's not your fault," he says.
She closes her eyes and smiles; the expression is self-deprecating and pained. He wants to go over and embrace her but fears misunderstanding; more, he fears that even in here he's not real enough any more. In this place, data is all there is; but he is old data, overwritten data, data that long since has needed to be purged and has managed to cling only to the cracks of something left to do to stay here.
Back then, he'd never thought much of heaven or hell, or how it would feel to go to neither; still, he knows that this is, itself, hell: Hell is a cage with a young hurt child in it, crying to herself for years and trying not to feel too much, because when she feels too much she hurts others. Every desire, every want, every tiny selfish need forced down because someone else might die. And nothing he can do about it; his voice doesn't even get through to her. He thinks she thinks he's her conscience.
He covers his face, but he can neither laugh nor cry at the irony.
"It looks like it's going to be another late night," Serph says.
Heat, who had seen the wrong side of dawn three days running -- but, to be fair, hadn't been up after that until it was already dark -- sighs. "It's your turn to order take-out."
Serph wheels his chair around, gives him a small smile that narrows his eyes; the expression is more coy than cheerful, but Heat rolls his shoulders to work the stress out and tries to ignore it. "Sure," Serph says. "What do you want?"
"I don't know. We probably shouldn't have pizza again," Heat says. He's not actually hungry; he's been going through the old candidate files, the ones that had been through the facility before his own rushed degree had finished and he'd been brought onto the project.
"Just get vegetables on your pizza," Serph says. "I'll have them put some on," he adds and goes to order.
Heat rubs his forehead. Serph was strange; too-familiar, like in this few weeks he'd already learned everything there was to know about Heat, and grown complacent in his expectations.
He looks up as his other self draws near. Sera's eyes open almost blindly, her mouth parting, a flush crossing her cheeks.
"Sera," he hears; the voice is distant, from the outside of the EGG.
Sera freezes for a moment, and then says, "Heat's alive! Then the others might--" and she's forcing herself towards the door, signals spreading out from her to unlock it; it's that easy to let herself out where she'll die. But before it can start to open, the other Heat is framed in the doorway, holding the door and closing it again.
"You can't, Sera," he mutters. "You'll die--"
"That's not -- it isn't--"
"I'm sorry," he says, and starts to close it.
"Wait!" her fingers curl around the door, prevent it from closing further unless he wants to hurt her. He hesitates. "Serph -- Serph and the others, are they--"
The other Heat shakes his head. "I don't know," he says roughly. "I haven't seen anyone else. These guys picked me up and they haven't mentioned finding anyone else. I might have been the only one to make it."
"Don't worry so much," he says. "I'll protect you."
Her fingers slip from the doorway and she drifts back down into the fluid, the cables weighing her down, her arms crossed across her body to hide her exposed breasts, hips turned to partially hide the curls at her groin. The other Heat watches after her, expression pained and angry. Heat hears roaring in his head, can feel Agni thrashing about in response to the other Heat's partly-hidden rage. He's destroying himself from the inside out, Heat thinks; he probably thinks it's the right decision. Anything that happens to him is tolerable, as long as...
"You damn fool," he says aloud, and he's tired; it comes out exhausted rather than angry. The other Heat knows, he thinks, about what happened, and can't separate it from the present. No help for that, not with past and present coming together like this, but it's not fair, it's not right, and this is how, he thinks, history repeats itself.
Argilla leans in the door. Her expression is cool and professional; it's different than he'd expected, different from the coy and interested looks she used to give him when he'd started working here. "All the systems are reading normal, Doctor Heat," she says. "There's no need for all of us to be here right now. Might I go?"
"Feel free," Heat says. She's right, after all, and at this point his body's too used to late nights for him to go sleep just yet.
She glances at Serph, tilts her head.
"Ah, I'll go later," he says. "I've got a few things to finish up here."
"Oh," Argilla says, sounding aggravated; still, she turns and goes, the door clicking shut behind her.
Heat lifts his brows. Well, that would explain a few things. Whatever; it cuts down the flirting she'd been doing. Still, he hopes it doesn't end up getting messy when they break up -- it could interfere with their work, and it's hard enough just working with Serph, let alone if his personal life ended up in there. "You've got something to finish up?" he asks neutrally, because last he saw Serph was doodling pictures of Sera on his notebook, faceless sketches with cables running from them.
Serph turns with a smile. The notebook is gone now, and the screen in front of him is on. "More or less. I'm just finding it too fascinating to leave."
"This," he says, and points.
Heat comes over and looks; it's Sera's AI world again. Fascinating, yes -- the technology for this just doesn't exist, but her skills as Cyber Shaman are beyond that of the world's technology, much as that's a contradiction. But sad, also. Much as he hates how Serph treats the kid -- all smiles and light to her face while treating her as just a test subject when back at his desk, pushing her too hard all the time -- at least Serph's shown no signs of wanting to take it away from her. A kid shouldn't be forced to grow up like this, he thinks. At her age, she shouldn't be this grown up at all. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't be the young adult he's getting to know. Even he can't think of her that way, presented with her body's growth and her abilities and her thought patterns attempting to keep up with her brain's hurriedly advanced development.
"It's a good thing she doesn't know the truth about you, hm?" Serph asks, lightly.
That catches his wandering attention, fast. "What do you mean?"
"Look at this," Serph says, and traces a finger just above the screen. "Her AI of you is in love with her, but she doesn't love him. Instead, she loves mine." A tap of the screen, where Sera's arms are draped around the white-on-white figure of the gently smiling Serph. "It's such a teenage fantasy. Her dreams would be ruined if she had to come up with another reason that you don't like me, hm?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Heat says, shortly. He tries to change the subject, points. "Who's that? I can tell where she got the models for the others, but I haven't seen that one around anywhere."
A brief glance back. "Oh, him? Number 15. That was back when the candidates were interacting. Sera looked a bit younger then, and that one treated her a bit like a little sister to protect. Ironic, isn't it? He died a month or so before you joined up."
There was a sour taste in Heat's mouth. "Ah."
"That was a nice subject change," Serph says, and chuckles. His hand drifts over, rests on top of Heat's. "Did you think I wouldn't notice?"
Heat snatches his hand back. "Shut up," he says, temper frayed; it's not the point, it's entirely not the point, and the fact that Serph thinks it is feels like just another frustration in a long list. The point is a little girl who's growing up too fast, who's just another test subject for something important, but he thinks maybe it's simpler than the big world-changing shit; maybe if they just took care of who they could, that might be something. It might not stop the Cuvier Syndrome and it might not fix whatever-the-fuck was wrong with God, but letting some poor kid suffer to do this isn't right, can't be right, it just shouldn't work like that.
"Oh dear," Serph says, and laughs as he rests his chin on the back of his hand. "Touchy." A glance back at the screen and a smirk. "Looks like you've been successfully turned away, no doubt to your deep disappointment. Ah, but what's this? A private room? My goodness, Sera, you're growing up fast."
"Excuse me," Heat says, mouth dry. He shouldn't leave Serph alone here, but there's nothing he can do and he can't stand to watch, so he does.
"What do you pray for?" he asks her.
For a moment, he thinks she might see him -- him as an individual, not him as the past that can't be shaken -- but then her gaze drifts to the side, guilty and sad. "I pray for peace," she says."
The song of peace, of course, to stop the world from going mad and devouring itself at a conniving old lady's plans; Sera as the girl who will be sacrificed on the altar again and again for the sake of mankind, Iphigenia in an eggshell. "Your own?" he asks, and she closes her eyes.
He's so tired. He wants to leave; wants to drift off to be reborn and face his karma for good or ill, not stay here in inaction. He can't yet; Serph is still here, raging and stuck in time and hungry. He's let Serph get away with too much to move on yet.
Nearby he can feel Heat, raging and hurt, stuck with grief and he thinks, betrayal is a terrible thing, and he thinks: you have not been betrayed. But perhaps he has; if not by the Serph he knows by the one he hasn't.
Time must start again, he thinks. He reaches out, tries to put a hand on Sera's shoulder, passes right through her.
He hasn't told her; Heat hasn't told Sera that Serph and the others are alive. He hadn't known last time she'd asked, but now he does and he can't tell her. Instead he avoids it, avoids coming down to see her directly, watches over her from the viewing room where it all happened five years ago.
Heat feels a stabbing pain and clutches at his side, grits his teeth. Hunger, probably; not his first thought, though, and he smashes a panel with a fist, tries to ignore the twinge of guilt he feels at doing so. Tries to force himself to calm down, sinks into a seat.
The truth is he fucking hates that old bitch and the facts she's told him; he'd rather never have known. Maybe that's weak, he thinks, maybe it's cruel, but things were fine as they were. He can't shake it now, not when he thinks about it, not when he looks at Serph's face. Serph's always been hard to read and always gets what he wants -- he can't be sure that he's not still the same master manipulator. It all might have been that, all along. The gentle touches to redirect his rage, the thoughtful looks, the places where he'd step back and let Heat take charge -- all kept Heat following him, and that'd be what Serph'd want, right? He can't know.
He clenches his hands on the seat's armrests.
It had seemed so simple before, he thinks; he thinks he preferred the Junkyard, where it was kill or be killed and eat or be eaten. Tribes made it easier; sure, you had some traitors like Bat, but you were with whatever tribe you meant to be with. It wasn't this vast sprawling mess of humanity making their own choices and picking sides as they felt like, it was just you and your tribe. He was Embryon then; he wears the colours now but half the time they piss him off. He wants to go back, step backwards, but he knows how fake it is; how fake he is, how fake they all are. Now that he knows, he can play with it; move his data, replay data before his eyes without the need of any sort of recorder like they'd used before -- he's fake and can prove his falsity.
He'd always thought his rage was a pretty simple thing then, and his love too; Serph was his leader, like it or not, and the one he'd tie his fate to, live for or die for. Now he can't be sure any of that was real, if it all was planned out from the start. It tumbles around inside him to the beat of his heart and the pounding waves of his need and the name: Serph, Serph, Serph; he wants Serph before him, wants his hands around Serph's throat, wants to kill or be killed, wants to make it all stop, wants to stop regretting everything he'd done back then because it might have been a lie, and wants not to regret what he's going to do because it might be based off the wrong thing. If he can just take Serph out of the way it'll be simple again; without Serph there's just -- this, just the now, no two pasts trying to mix, and--
The door below opens and his heart seems to falter for a moment. He's shaking. The Embryon're running up; they're going to let Sera out. The old bitch's words echo in his mind; if she leaves the fluid, she'll age and die. She's just a child, she's only seven years old now, but she's lived too much to survive without it. Her body's clock will start again, too fast.
They're going to kill Sera, they're going to just let her body's stresses kill her. That's the second time now Serph's tried that, he thinks feverishly.
He leaves at a run.
Sera's eyes open and she looks at him. "I'm sorry I've made you suffer," she says.
Heat thinks about protesting; he'd made himself suffer, nobody else. But then the door is opening and she's tumbling out. He watches her go, senses sudden rage, hears Agni's war-cry echo through his own head, closes his eyes.
He knows the feeling of death; senses it begin again. If it's different from the last time, it's that it's stronger; or perhaps he was simply weaker then, too distracted with his own death to notice others'.
A feeling of peace descends a moment before the other Heat's grief does; the two splash down together and Heat thinks,
This can't go on like this. Someone needs to change it. If it doesn't change, things will keep going round and round, cycling through the events until the entire world dies of it, if it's not already done so. Love and hate, creation and destruction; they only have significance in balance.
Serph Sheffield screams, clutches at his head and denies the death he's feeling around them; at that moment, Heat doesn't feel the repulsion he's used to, or the hatred.
"You poor bastard," he says, softly. "Let yourself have a second chance."
Heat screams; God's data bleeds into him and he thinks no
no not like this
Serph, it's the pulsing inside him, Serph, Serph and he hears Serph's voice, and another Serph's feelings: gentleness, acceptance, I am God in a rageful selfish tone and he thrashes, moans, yells and he wants to die; he wants to live; he wants somebody to love him, to feel sorry for him, to take him down so it can just stop already. Can anyone else live up to killing him? Serph's the only one who's killed him before, the only one who can do it again; can that change?
He thinks about the look in Serph's eyes as Heat killed him and the fact that he was wrong and he screams again.
And as Heat helps the fake Serph -- or, he supposes, the Serph who is real now -- to cut the ties, he feels relieved.
"Perhaps you can do it," he says.
Serph turns to him with wide eyes. He isn't an innocent, Heat thinks, but he isn't an innocent in the way that Sera isn't a child. Heat says, "Bring him home," and then he turns, takes the arm of the wailing remains of his own Serph, that sly cruel walking god-complex.
"C'mon, you bastard," he says, almost fondly; it's not exactly love, but it's not hate either, and that's not new, much as he'd always hated to admit it. "Let's go see what we can make of ourselves."
"I'm here for you," Heat says, and even that seems to choke him up. He's embarrassed and happy and feels awkward about that; what does he have to be happy about, this proof that Sera and Serph are meant for each other? They've melded perfectly, one looking out of each eye, their forms mingled, and it's such a weird feeling, to feel right, like he's been waiting for something that's finally happened.
Seraph smiles, shy and relieved; like they'd been expecting him to still be angry. Heat, who loves them both, feels his tongue tie, and thinks -- well, he doesn't have to say it yet, he has time, there'll be other chances, right?
"Don't fall," he hears Fred shout behind him, and he ignores it with the pride of the young; jeez, he's just running, he's not going to hurt himself trying to keep up with Serph and Sera.
He does catch up to them, hand in hand, soon, and he puts both hands on his knees and breathes hard. "What're you running so fast for?" he demands of them. "Slow down! You think everyone can keep up with your pace?"
Serph turns to face him, head tilted, and Sera glances over her shoulder at the motion. "Why not?" Sera says, covering her mouth as she smiles.
And Serph reaches out, touches two fingers to Heat's shoulder. "C'mon," he says. "Let's go somewhere, and do something."
"What?" Heat asks.
"It doesn't matter," Serph says, flippantly. "Anything! Let's just have fun." Sera laughs again, and her hand squeezes Serph's.
Heat feels his cheeks flush at the sight, but though he half turns away, kicks a stone as if he's thinking it over, as if he's still annoyed with their run -- well, put like that, what's there to argue with?