Log:Love is the Back End of a Black Hole

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Love is the Back End of a Black Hole
Characters  •   The Crusader  •  The Visionary  •
Location  •  Anywhere Room, as Twin Star Observatory, on the Noc
Date  •  2018-12-18
Summary  •  "So if I learned how to love, I think it was from a robot," she says, still choking on the words, trying not to sob or laugh as though she can't decide which is more appropriate. "And I don't think that's the way it's supposed to work, really."

She has no idea what to expect on the other side of that door. It could be a broom closet or a drop off the edge of a cliff, and she doesn't seem to care which as she bolts right through.

What it actually is takes her by less surprise than it might. Definitely less than it should. The room on the other side is nothing short of magical, and, if she didn't know any better, would lead her to believe they're back on the station all of a sudden, and the entire Facility is in the midst of the blackness of space.

"The hell... " she whispers as she steps through, and sees something that is impossible. It has to be. "...this is the Noc. The Eclipse, the... casino where I-" She turns in a slow circle, looking at the empty, silent space of, specifically, the bar at the very top of the casino, with a truly spectacular view of the known universe.


The Crusader follows with a big, big bowl of cinnamon toast crunch with chocolate milk, maple syrup, and whipped cream. He's wearing a shirt that's way too tight for his physique and a pair of white cotton pants that are billowy and just a little see through, their waist band is rather worn out. This shows the tattoo of Van Gogh's starry night on his right forearm and some lines of Rumi's poetry on his adonis line as well as the bottom part of a paragraph of text on his right side starting at his ribs, presumably, and going down past his hip bone that reads of a long poem about islands and flags and kisses and lips.

He doesn't quite bolt right through but he keeps up with his pal as she rushes in. "Holy crap, this is incredible! I've spent so much of my life, or you know, eh whatever, looking up at the stars and making wishes that never came true... and now here it all is... all the beauty of dreams deferred and superheated gases."


She doesn't dare let her eyes linger on the tattoos for some reason. Though she cants her head, suddenly chuckling to herself, with a whisper of, "Of course." Her curls stir to life, and she walks toward the bar, still barefoot, padding along in this exquisitely fancy, solemnly empty place, to lean right over and fish around in a drawer for something she must already know is there, by heart. It's a little bag of several pre-rolled joints, likely prepared by the bartender to disperse amongst the crowd that isn't there, on the side. "Gonna fucking need this, I think." She tucks the bag into the hand already holding her pack of clove cigarettes, and the two boxes of matches.

"I didn't have a proper appreciation for this stuff when I worked here." Worked here? Huh? Her eyes stray upward, and she points to a clear maintenance platform, highly placed above the tables and the bar, right at the center of the dome. "Afraid of heights?"


Heck's mouth is too full to speak as he realizes what Cass digs up, but his free arm goes up excitedly and his eyes get super big and he hums something along the lines of Fuck Yes! He hands on over and says, "Got any extras? I want cloves too..." All of that on top of the bowl of pure, unadultered corn syrup seems to be something way out of left field for the former Sheriff. "Fuck heights." He states in challenge to his guide. "So this is the set for the space cowboy stuff you guys did?"


"Got plenty. In fact... " Another lean over the bar snatches up a bottle of rum -- that she'll actually be able to taste, this time. "I used to climb up there," says the girl who bears no resemblance whatsoever to the sort of spider monkey that could manage such a feat. Instead, she presses a button behind the bar, and after the brief grinding of hidden gears, the platform begins to descend. It's not too different from the sort of rig that might be used by window washers -- which is precisely what it's for -- with the primary difference being that the majority of the rig itself is transparent.

"Sadly, no cowboys, but... this was my favorite place here, until it wasn't." She offers a tiny smile, crooked and rueful. It has an impact on her, for some reason, this place. More of one that she might have imagined initially. As the platform finally gets near the ground, it stops, and she steps over the dangerously low railing onto the platform, which is roughly a dozen feet across, and round.

"Hop on board. Ever wonder what it's like to almost fly?" Her brows loft in unison, and in spite of her unease and whatever tension is lingering there, she smiles with all the cheer of a girl much younger.


"You really are an angel." Heck whispers as he watches Cass come up with everything, almost, good in the world?, almost. He blinks up and states, "I mean, maybe the dispenser has a grappling hook and climbing harness and such..." He loks back to her wit a faint grin. "I see this was important to you..." Then heems quite confused but gets on the platform with rum, weed, and cereal in tow. "Well, if I die, I guess I come back tomorrow."


"Just stay away from the edges," Cass murmurs with a soft laugh. "And... no angel. Not really. Pretty unlikely we'll fall, but." She swallows a breath. "There is that. Had the benefit of not really being able to die real easily when I was here last, and-" She cants her head toward the scaffolding that supports the glass on the dome. "Would climb those. There's rungs, and we could go that way, but." Pause. "Fuck that."

Once they're both standing on the clear floor of the platform, she leans down to press a small button on the railing. It begins to ascend, the whirr of the gears oddly quiet. It definitely inspires a distinct sense of vertigo as the floor is simply... not there beneath them, at least visibly, while it rises.

She's at peace with this, for whatever reason, and sits down, planting the bottle beside her and an ashtray snatched at the last moment from one of the high tables near at hand.


"Come on ya wimp..." Heck states with a playful grin as he eyes the horribly dangerous path Cass just dictated. When she sits he sits, though. "How are you holding up? I think I'm just floating through the crazy with a teaspoon of my own crazy. The thought I can eat whatever I want without putting on weight is a dream... and I don't have to work out at all to keep up these cut pecs." He then brings his arms a bit forward and flexes each pec in beat with the stripper music he's beat boxing.


The platform continues to rise until it's a fair forty feet or so from the floor, and close enough to the very top of the dome that, were they to stand, they might just be able to reach most of it. It's probably cleaned with some sort of mop, but there aren't any on the platform itself.

The whirring stops, and Cass just unfolds backward, laying flat and looking up through the glass, close enough that none of the braces or scaffolding obscures the view. Looking down, there's just air below. So it's not flying -- not really -- but it's damned close.

"You are in charge of the rum. I-" She plucks a clove from the pack, and offers the pack over. "-am going to light this. Because I fucking missed this place. It's... " Peaceful. Remarkable. Just that slight change in perspective makes it seem like the stars flow all the way around them, and they're floating, somehow, impossibly in space. "...I would come here to think. Contemplate the universe. It's a spectacular spot for navel-gazing, even for a robot."


Heck keeps sitting for the sake of cereal, but after a point he sets it off to the side, not that there's much left, and lays back with Angeline, rubbing his tummy. "Rum and choco milk. Match made in Heck." He swings the rum and passes it over as he accepts the pack, taking a joint out and perching it in his lips. He seems remarkably well trained with the process. "Even for a rowhatnow?" He states and turns his gaze from the incredible view to the stars themselves as if there might be a robot out there. He sparks the matches to life and squints as he gets the joint going, looking for all the world like an incredibly cut and clean Heck DeWitt lighting a cigarillo.


"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she asks, thoughtful. She's certainly amused, and as she tilts her head in his direction, Cass arches a single brow, half-obscured by a cluster of curls pressed flat against the clear platform. "When I was here, I wasn't even human." There is a pause. "Not, like... human with weird oracular powers that meant I couldn't-" He knows that story all too well already. "I mean I was actually a robot. Synthetic, is what they called us."

"My name was Pandora, then. I was more than a little bit broken, I think, but-" She swallows a breath. "Broken for the better, somehow. I don't know how else to put it. Happy accident?" She draws the clove to her lips for an initial drag, and breathes out a blue-tinged cloud to scatter across the starry sky. "Old model. They called us 'idiosyncratic' as a euphemism for 'think too much for ourselves', and-" that would be another thing familiar enough, from Angeline. "-we were property."

"Which was awkward. We could go indie, but you always ran the risk of someone bringing you in for a bounty, or salvage. Because you were just like a really expensive... thing."


"That's insane. Do you think any of the demons are like us then?" Heck asks Cass as he turns his head to look at her. His eyes are already a little bloodshot. "So, slaves. Like black folk had been back home, how that used to be." His eyes watch the clove, where it passes her lips and where her mouth closes around it. All the while taking a long draw on the joint. "That's fucked up. I would've freed all the synths and the rowbuts."


There's a soft laugh from Cass, and she glances over to him again. "S'what I was going to do, believe it or not. When I left here." She takes another long drag from the clove, and says, "The man we knew as Colorado Colton, back in Prosperity? He worked for the company that made me. Entered in the codes so we could examine my programming to deal with a different problem without any proprietary interrupts, or hidden data caches, and-" A single shoulder rises and falls in what would be a shrug were she not laying flat. "-it was a few days before I realized I could hack my own brain."

"Things sort of exploded, from there. Literally and figuratively," she notes through a blown plume of smoke in the air. "This place... it shouldn't even exist any more. It all blew. Know where I had that brand, as Angeline?" she asks, lightly tapping at her collarbones with the clove-bearing hand; it adds a whiff of smoke to the motion, painting a spiral in the air with it only to have it dissolving a moment later. "Look at the pattern of my freckles, then look up there." And if he does, he'll find the pattern is identical. Sure, it wavers in the way it moves over flesh and bone, but it's the same star map, echoed in skin. "Was designed to be here, there, wherever the hell this is. Nobody ever said why. There wasn't even a here to be, when the designs were laid out, if you can believe it."


Heck raises his brows at Cass and laughs as he holds the joint over for her to smoke, his fingertips brushing her lips if she accepts. "Yeah..." In some past or version of a past. He smiles to Cass without looking his up, his eyes bloodshot and watery. Probably from the weed. "I can believe anything at this point... trust me... I've tried."


She draws a long drag from the joint, holding in the smoke, and letting her eyes close. Maybe she knows those stars all too well. Maybe she just needs it to steel herself about what she aims to say next. "Don't laugh," she mumbles, still holding the smoke in her lungs, "even though I guess some part of it is funny." The smoke streams out with a tiny cough following, though it's chased with a pull from her clove -- as if that's going to help. "I was... completely in love with someone, when I was here. And Pandora loved everyone. Everyone. Synthetics simply did, but it was more than that. She was designed for it. To love all humanity, cherish culture, preserve it and-"

Her eyes close, and her brow furrows. "We made it out. I had to knock him out and drag him to the shuttle, bribe the Captain -- Maya, then, but I'm telling you, it was Senni. It's the first time I met her. As Maya, Captain of the Hephaestus." Her eyes open again, and she's strangely calm. "He was going to grow old and die and I was going to wait it out and then go... change the whole fucking universe, convinced it was all, somehow, fate."

"A robot believing in fate." She snorts delicately. "How funny is that? Thought it was all a breadcrumb trail left behind by the man who designed us. The rest of me, it was all maps, too. I just figured out where I was when I learned about it, and started following the map. There was no why, no promise of some hidden revelation. I just... followed directions."

"Faith, I guess."


Heck takes in a killer long draw as he slow nods to Cass. He seems prepped to try not to laugh but never has the struggle. He shrugs a shoulder and shakes his head, "There's nothing funny about that... that's life... where there's will there's hope and that can't be stolen and folk like you..." He smiles briefly. "Like me, like those we kept as close as we could... aren't the sort to give up hope. No matter what. I guess... even as free as any of us are... we're all just rowbutts made to be a certain way... folowing a path only we can see but never notice... till we end up where we were headed all along." He takes another toke and offers the joint to Cass idly before drinking /deeply/ from the rum. He studies the stars, tears crawling past his temples and into his hair as he smiles faintly. "I see why you like it... the freckles up here are beautiful."

"...and they don't make promises..."


Once the bottle is opened, it's like she remembers how much she needs it. Cass takes a long pull from the joint, holding it in as she offers it back, other arm crossing over her, reaching for the bottle. There's more to this story, it would seem. Something, somehow, worse. She sits up just enough to take a long swig from the bottle without choking, then sets it back down between them, before looking over to him. "It was going to be magnificent and horrible and I didn't care. All of it. It was going to be worth it, and I got, I think? Six months. Six months he was in cryosleep, on the Hephaestus. Synthetics didn't sleep. Don't." Her brow furrows. "Fuck, I don't even know if they're really even a thing, just. We didn't sleep. Not ever. Unless we were shut down, which had only happened twice in... almost seventy years?" She swallows a breath, and squeezes back tears of her own.

"But I slept. And then I woke the fuck up. I woke the fuck up in that fucking room, and I just-" The words stop; she's nearly choking on them. "He wasn't there. I couldn't even think. My brain was still trying to run too fast. I woke up screaming and the voice of the man who owned me was in my head and I just punched the fucking wall until my knuckles were red and I saw that the blood was red, really red, human being red, and not white, and I-" She slumps back to the glass, and stares up, her eyes just as glassy for a moment more. "The most horrible death is nothing. It's fucking nothing compared to the loss of a beautiful life." Turning her head, she looks at him, tears flowing freely. "So while I'm keeping my shit together for everybody down there, best I can?"

"I fucking hate this place, Heck." As she said: she's so grateful, and at once so sorry, he's here.


Heck smiles softly, his own tears still falling quietly and serenely as he watches hers. He nods quietly and states, "You were built to love..." He seems to say that as if it's the simplest answer to all the questions her story brews up for him. He lets her keep the joint now, taking up the rum and drinking it back like it were sweet tea. Then he takes up a clove and lights his, head his head bent down. If he had a brim it'd be pulled low. But he doesn't. So for once the pain in his brows, the crow's feat teasing at the corners of his eyes are all visible and he takes a long draw with those eyes closed. "But you were blood and bone, and your beau?"


"I-" she begins, but she stops herself. "I didn't know what love was like. Not really. Not the first time. Not on the island, but you could say that? I had dedicated my life to charity, was installing solar panels to fund a relief eff-" Her head shakes suddenly, and she sucks in a breath that comes with a light sniffle. "Pandora wasn't really even supposed to be able to, but she felt it. She didn't have the language to describe it, though; there was no translation, and she saw it in this elaborate mathematical formula that explained what explodes out the other side of a black hole and in that instant, she saw it, and it was -- is -- the most beautiful thing you could imagine. This impossible eruption of light and color and stars and stardust and light and life and creation itself all growing and pulsing and evolving, and once she saw it, every fucking time she saw him after that, it was like he was standing in the middle of it. And then he was just... gone. Thought I saw him, once. In that fucking dispensary, right where you were standing. Not even kidding, I thought I was just-" Her eyes squeeze shut. "-hallucinating again."

"So if I learned how to love, I think it was from a robot," Cass says, still choking on the words, trying not to sob or laugh as though she can't decide which is more appropriate. "And I don't think that's the way it's supposed to work, really." Understatement!

"Angeline was." Her lips wrinkle, and she takes the last drag from her clove before flicking the remains off and over the edge of the platform to scatter orange sparks dozens of feet below them on the shiny marble floor. "She was like that. And she meant it. She meant every fucking word, I swear to you she did."

"I just don't know how any of this works."


Heck just watches Cassie speaking of love, his eyes watering all the more. Emotion flushing his neck and chest and face. His muscles flexing a little. He nods a bit and swallows hard. "Pretty smart rowbutt," he murmurs, using the old school pronunciation of Robot. When she mentions Angeline his eyes flick away towards teh stars, and the dome and the scaffolding there. His lips parting in a moment's distress before he takes a long draw on his clove. He steps up, coughing out the harsh smoke as he does and brushing off his hips. Then he starts to climb, reciting as he makes his high and drunken way into the scaffolding with all the lithe power of an olympic athlete. "I want you to know one thing." He grunts and lurches up into the scaffolds, the clove still expertly perched in his lips. "You know how this is: if I look at the crystal moon, at the red branch of the slow autumn at my window, if I touch near the fire the impalpable ash or the wrinkled body of the log, everything carries me to you, as if everything that exists, aromas, light, metals, were little boats that sail toward those isles of yours that wait for me." He pauses to smoke more of the clove, letting the dark smoke tickle and sting his eyes as he keeps going towards what might be an exit, or a hatch, a door, a window to the freckles outside. The Visionary can see the words on his ribs now, his body glistening with the sweat of his effort, it's the words of the poem he's reciting.

"Well, now, if little by little you stop loving me I shall stop loving you little by little. If suddenly you forget me do not look for me, for I shall already have forgotten you. If you think it long and mad, the wind of banners that passes through my life, and you decide to leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots, remember that on that day, at that hour, I shall lift my arms and my roots will set off to seek another land." It might be distracting, as he kicks at the hatch handle, heedless of what it might mean. He pauses again to smoke, then leaves the clove in his lips. There's a passion to his tone and he pauses to say, as the hatch starts to crack open with a low whistling of escaping air. "Nobody knows how this works, Cass... not just us... not the living or the rowbuts... not the dead or the demons. Not god. Not angels." He looks from her and her freckles to the sky outside, echoing her beauty and body. "Well. Maybe one rowbut. And maybe her freckles." He shrugs and as he lurches back, his powerful body bending, she can read the rest of his tattoo.

"But if each day, each hour, you feel that you are destined for me with implacable sweetness, if each day a flower climbs up to your lips to seek me, ah my love, ah my own, in me all that fire is repeated, in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten, my love feeds on your love, beloved, and as long as you live it will be in your arms without leaving mine."

Then there is the gasp of a structure, the crack of a hinge, perhaps an alarm, as the small window or hatch is kicked open. As Heck flicks his clove into the abyss of windless stars. As he steps out to be cast amongst them.

The effort of the wind of atmosphere isn't enough to overcome the gravity of the station as he stays there near the dome. His skin starting to freeze over, a gasp of clove smoke escaping his emptied lungs. He endures it, it won't take too long but it equally isn't an instant death. Six minutes, maybe... compared to six days.


"Smart in ways that are... are fucking incomprehensi-" She sits up, and her eyes begin to narrow. "Heck... what are you doing?" There's something distinctly guarded in her voice, something more dangerously on edge than he'd ever heard from Angeline, no matter how dark her fury or how terrified she might be. Straggling to her feet, and swaying suddenly with the vertigo, she shakes her head. The words of the poem tumble around her senses like so many falling leaves as she looks up at him, visibly shaking. "Don't... " she warns, seemingly knowing the words are of little use. "Please don't."

Her eyes are bright and wet, reflecting the stars beyond. She reaches for him, scrambling, visibly desperate, until she stops herself.

She remembers this. Parts of it are mere snapshots, but she remembers this. She remembers that feeling of the cold slowly penetrating her senses, freezing her eyes open to catch the blurring light of twin dying stars. Far too keenly, she remembers standing stock still, a thing made of carbon fiber and synthetic muscle and titanium, bracing a man in place against the wall as the very same sirens began to sound, identical klaxons blaring wildly the instant the seal is breached.

Pandora was not going to let someone she knew die. Not like that. Cass is no more inclined to let Heck die -- no matter how temporary or transient that death -- that way, either.

She's not strong, like Pandora. She's not so quick, either, but just enough of the muscle memory comes back to grasp the his ankle and hold on tight. Her hair whips around her features as though she's caught in a tornado, and she pulls, curving the whole of her body against the glass, where it lands with a dull thump. She can't breathe, and this version of her has to. She can't just turn it off. The cold is intense enough to be painful, and her eyes feel as though they want to explode; she forces the air from her lungs, and she yanks back as hard as she's able to drag him back inside.

The moment it's clear, the hatch snaps closed with a hiss, leaving the room cold, ashes scattered all over the rocking platform, and the tables below in utter disarray.

But there is air. There's air, and he's inside.

Alive? That remains to be seen.

"Don't you fucking do it," she insists the moment she has enough thin air in her lungs to speak. "Don't you fucking... "


Heck lays still, half frozen, eyes open for that reason. They flick, though, over to the Visionary and he gasps a breath in and out and in. He half smiles and half grimaces as he watches her above him. Over him. "I take it, it ain't bed time yet..." His voice that of Hector DeWitt. He blinks slowly and lays back with his eyes shut tight. "Why'd you come out and get hurt yourself?" He asks before his blue eyes open again, looking better. "Why would you do that to yourself?" Nevermind why would he do that to himself.


The tears are frozen on her cheeks like cracks of crystal as she looks at him, shaking. As he starts to revive, fresh ones fall over them, dripping down along the channels of icicles to fall one by one to his shirt. So she's mad at him, and glad he's alive. At once. There's another quiet sniffle, and her face is a strange shade of red. It's still a moment before she says, "We've got suits for that, you idiot." Only Cass could call someone an idiot and make it sound like a term of endearment, which is precisely what she does.

"That is an especially shitty way to die," she says insistently, having seen entirely too many people do precisely that. A hand comes up to rub at her face, and instinctively she reaches around for the bottle of rum, only to see it floating, frozen, past them in the void.

Her hands frame his cheeks, and she looks down at him, her eyes still bright red. "And if you want to do something crazy like die a new way every day instead of go to sleep just to see what it's like, well, fucking dammit, tell someone so everyone can get in on the party game." They must get spectacularly bored here, as she doesn't sound like she's completely kidding about that.

Again with the poking. "I may not know what the fuck to do about it right now, and maybe there isn't anything I can, but-" She crumples down, her forehead resting on his shoulder. "-please don't do that? I can't watch you die."

"Doesn't matter that dying doesn't matter here, OK?" She's still crying, struggling to catch her breath.


Heck just smiles up at her, listening and watching her. He pets her hair finaly and he says quietly, "That's not what I meant..." He inhales deeply and says softly, "I mean why do you keep loving me... it only hurts you." Still he holds her, tightly and warmly as she cries. Stroking her back gently.


"I just do, OK?" she whispers into his shirt. There's no effort to move. Whatever strength she had is expended. She is not a synthetic, and that took more out of her than she expected. "Fuck, I still love Cole, you know? And he wasn't even real." Exhausted, she slumps in against his side, crumpling into the space next to him. "Doesn't hurt me to do."

"It's that I end up hurting people and-" She hates it. A long sigh tumbles out of her. A single eye opens, and she looks toward the button to lower the platform: still blinking red and freezing them up here for the time being. Without booze, no less. Or anything to smoke. Well, fuck.

"-I'm still following the map, I guess." It's a glum little admission. "Even as a fucking robot, I believed in -- well, the robot equivalent of, I guess -- signs and omens and fate and things happening for a reason."

"Doesn't mean I always translate it right. The 'universe to Cass' translation matrix is, well." She huffs a frazzled curl away from her nose. "It's crap."

"People think I know what I'm doing, and they're just... wishful thinking."


"Well." Heck states softly and turns to her. "The problem with loving and being loved is that you don't always get to actually do the loving... the action gets stolen out of the verb. I don't... feel shame or fear or jealousy with my love... it just is. I just do. It doesn't hurt me either." He smirks at her words and he says, "You know what's funny? When I woke up with no idea what was up, all I had was that little devil's stone from your bag. Held tight in my hand. Nobody knows what they're doing.... least of all us. So let it go... don't cry for me Argentina... I might die a dozen ways this way till sunday till we get stuck in our next adventure of not-life but I can't be hurt. Not just because they, whoever 'they' is, won't let me... but because my love doesn't always come with pain. If loving one another is only pain then we should probably be doing something different."


There's a quiet oof of noise, and Cass sinks into the notch where she's taken up residence as though she aims to burrow in and vanish. "It's not that I... " The words get more and more quiet until she sighs, and rolls over the other way, curled in on herself. She apparently can't actually look at him and say it, whatever her reasons. "You need to be less perfect, you... jerk." There's something almost adorably grumpy about the way she mutters that out.

"Believe me when I say that out of all the things I never got a chance to ride like a rodeo champion, you're tied neck and neck with that pony I'm sure some incarnation or another of me asked Santa for when I was five." So very grumpy. And she winces, just a little, as though she can't believe those words came out of her mouth. They're definitely not anything Angeline would have said, but the level of blunt honesty is surely familiar.

She is quiet for a long moment. With a long exhale, some of the stiffness drains from her shoulders. "Do you remember when I died, Heck? What I said I saw?"


Heck laughs and coughs harshly, "Oh man, space is the worst." He gets up to close the hatch, making sure it's shut tightly before he lays back out. With nothing to drink or smoke he big spoons the curle up, stiff figure. He's just as exhausted from his near death experience as she is and he lays his head on her arm with a heavy weight. "I remember you talke about numbers and lights and such." He admits, his arm going under her head if she allows it.

He then starts to sing softly, "If I lay here..." He's a damn, damn good singer. "If I just lay here... would you lay with me." Then he whispers to her hair, "Would you lie with me... and just forget the world?"


"Told you," Cass mumbles in her best 'I told you so' voice, about space being the absolute worst. There's another sniffle. And then, warmth, even if they're both shivering. It's strange, too, that as he slips his arm under her head, there is the feeling of her lashes brushing skin as her eyes open, and a soft laugh. "That." The tip of her nose bumps against his arm, at the tattoo.

"That is what I saw."

Her eyes close again, and a tiny laugh rattles through her. "It's all over my ceiling. Ish."

Breathing out slowly, she eases. "Like this, yes," she whispers. One eye cracks open by a sliver. The platform release button continues to flash an irritated red. "Like this? Any time you like."


After a long beat, Heck whispers, "You know I want more than this. You know you do. You know you won't." He kisses her head and smiles again, letting go and laying back. His arm with its art slipping from under her head and scratching his back. He looks up at the stars and sighs softly. Then starts singing again. The man has rock start talents here, it's not clear he even knows it. "I need your grace to remind me to find my own, if I lay here, if I just lay here, will you lie with me and just forget the world? Forget what we're told before we get too old. Show me a garden that's burstin' with life..."


"Yeah," she agrees, no matter how awkwardly, or reluctantly. "It's fucked up, I know," Cass confesses without hesitation. "But."

"Maybe it's stupid, and maybe you won't believe me, but. Wouldn't give this up. This, right now, is exactly where I want to be."

"In precisely this company." To this, she nods once, her eyes still closed.

"I just opened the door and-" There is a pause, quiet and thoughtful as she listens, a smile starting at the corners of her lips. "-it led here. Place knows things. Just does."

And with that, she turns again, rolling over to leave the pair of them forehead to forehead, her curls making a mess of things. "Maybe some day, I'll be lucky enough to be a star. Just shine the same on everyone."


Heck chuckles a bit and he smiles wide, "Me neither... of course.. and you shouldn't and don't..." He looks into her eyes and he grins and whispers, "It's a mighty nice way to live... and I like seeing my reflection on you." He bumps his head against hers, leans in to rest his nose to her nose and shares that breath of life with her, again.


"Just gotta be sure it's not going to hurt someone else, that's all," she murmurs quietly. Something about this, even with the hard platform below and the chill in the air, is a comfort. The exhaustion, too, is hitting her, and hard. "Used to sleep with Fleur like-" There, she stops. No, she didn't. Not really. Or, at least, not so long as she remembers having done. "This place really is a head trip."

Drawing in a deeper breath, she whispers, "It's like Chance wrote on the door, though. It can't all be for nothing, right?" Her eyes open, and she looks at him steadily. "The stone, huh?" Expression softening, she breathes out a slow and quiet sigh of wonderment. "Had to wonder about that one more than once after that night came and went. Sure, was just right for the situation we were all in, but also means a temptation about to come 'round." The smile is a self-effacing one. "So there I was, trying to explain a thing to you, and missing the glowing sign nine miles high with my name on it, whilst stuck reading off the fine print."


Heck chuckles quietly and strokes Vis' hair quietly and he tells her, "I don't want to hurt anyone either... and I don't want to hurt you... before we went to New Orleans I knew I had a lot of love... that I didn't judge it and I wasn't ashamed of it... that yes... I loved my spirit wife the most. Yet, yes.... I loved others too in similar ways." His smile fades a little, "I loved your sisters. Sennie... too bad she's not one of those that has a door... different, very differently. I'm not sure she was a 'partner'... but I never got to find out. You were... are... always a leader. Always self-effacing and self-sacrificing while never giving an inch for a reason you dislike."


"Me leading anyone anywhere is a definite case of the blind leading the blind," Cass whispers quietly, too honest, even if there's a subtle chuckle threaded through the words. "And she's here. I'm sure she is. Maya was. I'll have to find her, soon. She's... " The smile softens, warming. "Told you the Moreaus always end up keeping their name. Even if it's funny how it all works out." To this, she sighs quietly, and the tension bleeds from her face. Though it's certainly not a happy ending she's speaking of, in this moment, she's relatively at peace, be it through the surreal environment, present company, or sheer exhaustion and ache. It's likely all of the above. "Just because we don't find the reason today doesn't mean we won't tomorrow," she says, somehow managing to find a shred of optimism in all the strangeness. "I think that's all it is, in the end. I'm not a leader, Heck."

"I'm not somebody who knows more than... anybody else. Never was."

Silence settles for a long moment, and she simply breathes in, her eyes still closed. "I just believe that with all I've got."

Her lips tug toward a smile at one corner as she says, "Sometimes that realization hits with a whallop of some epic irony, sure, but. Hey." Her nose bumps his lightly before she eases again. "Sometimes you get a real revelation," is spoken with the sort of quiet that accompanies only true reverence.


"You never married the El Sable?!" Heck states in a scolding tone to Cass with a half laugh. He leans in half all of a sudden and kisses her forehead again, leaning back as if it was nothing. "I believe differently... you led us through to the bitter end... and it was a bitter end..." He says sincerely, watching her. "Knowing really ain't half the battle, darlin'... it's just... gumption. Moxy. Determination. Knowing enough to have a goal and walking the cruel fucking path we end up on... maybe the one we can't see but was made for us... I think you getting to be a robot in love gave you more insight than any of us unlucky living bastards will ever have."


"Would have gotten around to it, eventually, I suppose, but-" But there wasn't any rush, no timetable to race toward. For all they all knew, that was life, and it was the life that would go on for more than a handful of abstract snapshots in time, passing through memory like a flip-book missing more and more of its pages as it went along. "It was almost Christmas."

"We should all have Christmas. Just fucking... because." That petulant ornery streak starts turning up in her voice again; it's something that never quite showed in Angeline, but here, it's evident. At least in secret places, like this, where she isn't expected to have all the answers.

"Love is the back-end of a black hole," she says with a slow and certain nod. "Doesn't sound so romantic, but it's beautiful. Suppose everyone will just have to take my word for it, until I can paint it again. Stupid room keeps eating all my sketches, too." Her nose wrinkles, and it's clear enough she's starting to drift toward sleep.

"It was," she whispers, "a bitter end." Her eyes open, even if it's just by the barest sliver. "But even if things aren't perfect?"

"They're better than they've been in a really long time." Her eyes close, then, and, well, dammit, she does seem inclined to just sleep here, it would seem, as the button continues to flash an angry red. "Desert log pillow was more comfy," she grumbles, regardless.

"I missed this."


Heck smiles wryly as he listens to Vis. Chuckling finally he reaches over and holds the former miss Moreau again, holding her close, allowing his strong arm to be her desert log. Except this time he keeps on his back, no spooning. His own eyes closing and he whispers, "I think I will start that party game... dying every day... it wouldn't be a day in the life of this guy if it didn't come to close on a bitter end."


"Can't stop you," she whispers, her voice heavily laden with oncoming sleep. "But."

Her shoulders rise and fall with a deep breath; she hasn't the energy to open her eyes again, at least not just yet. "Please don't?" That voice is so tiny it seems too small for her by half.

"Meant what I said." She doesn't clarify about what, precisely, insufferable creature that she is.

"Watch the stars for me?" Her lips shift into the ghost of a smile. "Make sure they don't go anywhere."


Heck the Crusader starts singing again. With nothing to crusade against but life itself. The bitter end it is with every new beginning. The fact that the freckles in the sky are closer to him than those on the body of the woman he lays against. "I hurt myself today..." Badly. "To see if I still feel. I focus on the pain. The only thing that's real... The needle tears a hole. The old familiar sting." His voice has a tired quality to it, that rusty one from before. "Try to kill it all away. But I remember everything..." His eyes are on the freckles on Vis, watering still from weed and smoke and space. "What have I become, my sweetest friend?" It's clear he's singing to her.

Tears fall again as he tries not to laugh, not a funny laugh. "Everyone I know goes away in the end. And you could have it all..." His hand finds her, his left ring finger grazing over hers. "My empire of dirt."

He lets go, letting the song come out like rocks in mud, like gravel on fire. "I will let you down... I will make you hurt..."

His lullaby takes a quieter turn. "You are someone else... and I am still right here..." He does watch the stars for her. Whispering the song now. "What have I become, my sweetest friend?" His hand finding hers again without his thinking of it.

Tears falling down his temples. "If I could start again..." His jaws flexing. "...a million miles away..." His voice going hoarse. "...I will keep myself..." Then he barely whispers, "I would find a way."

Then he quietly checks to see if Cassie the synth, the deputy, the visionary is sleeping yet.


It's somehow eerie, the sound of that voice in the observatory. The acoustics here are magnificent, if made a bit strange by their proximity to the ceiling. No, she isn't asleep, but it isn't that she says a word at all; she doesn't even open her eyes. It's the warmth of those tears, as they start to fall. The way her breath hitches in her chest instead of slowing, that tells the truth.

"Dammit," she hisses out quietly. Just the one word, broken up by a choke in the middle.

Love is the back-end of a black hole. She wipes at one of the tears with the back of her hand and an awkward sweep of knuckles across her cheek. It isn't graceful, and it isn't elegant, but she struggles up to prop herself up on an elbow, looking at him seriously, her eyes bloodshot from the smoke, the liquor, the tears, and the very literal void of space. She looks like hell. There's a scoot of her silk-wrapped hip against the platform as she shifts up, closer, to peer at him with an expression that's damn near unreadable. There are more questions in those eyes of hers than there are stars in the sky, and there are so many, many stars.


Heck just watches Vis's tears, her eyes, her freckles and mouth. Her brows and temples and cheeks and chin. His hand rests on her shifting hip and he closes his eyes. Swarmed by her presence, her warmth her scent. The sound of her breathing. He seems to be allowing himself to transport elsewher, another time, another place... most certainly not to another person. Persay. His breathing is slow and steady, his body hot after its abuses. Small expressions offer evidence of the emotions he tempers. He turns his head to look at Cass as if his eyes were open. Searching the features of her in his memories.


Her eyes stray toward the scaffolding. She's climbed it enough times to lead the way down, but she knows she wouldn't be able to make it. Unlikely either of them could. She takes in the damage on the floor below, and draws a deep breath. Everything below is abject chaos, but if she looks up? Only stars, only sky, in every direction.

And there they are, literally frozen between the two extremes: no touching heaven, and no setting foot in hell.

She looks at him, as he is now. They are all, somehow, more naked here, no matter what clothes they wear. The place knows them too well for it to be otherwise. Fingertips still a fraction too cold drift over the lines of the tattoo she can see between the crumpled hem of the shirt and the waistband of his pants, but they don't linger long. She dares not, even if she is simply marveling over the words, with no salacious intent.

"I was less human when I got back," she whispers. Her lower lip is trembling, but not quite enough to distort her words. "Less than I was when I was a robot." Maybe she would have laughed, some other time, and the instinct is there, but she can't manage it. "My head hurt. I couldn't... write. It all came out as... ones and zeroes." She swallows a breath, and lets it out slowly. "Every morning, I hit the wall until I would start to bleed."

"I would hear that voice in my head." Kolvek is another story, for another day. "And there had been so much death, so much horrible, ugly, death." She has to steel herself to continue at all. "And he was gone."

"Nothing more than a ghost, and it was the-" The pause aches. "-second time that had happened."

"There were two more." Pause. "Like me. Looked just like me, anyway." Her eyes close. "There was nothing like me. There never had been. And I guess there wasn't after, either." There is a particular tone to her voice, the sort of grief reserved only for dreams that seem so real, snatched away just before they come true.

"Rafe." Another long, slow breath. "Isaac. He... and one of my twins." And for all the pain she's spoken of up to now, this wound is somehow the deepest of all. "We had met on the island, briefly. Can't fault him for thinking she was me, after that." The tears fall without more than the occasional hitch in her voice to mark their passing. "I will never fucking forget the look on his face when I broke his heart, and told him that it wasn't me."

She's so close to breaking it would be hard to look at her at all. "I've never seen anything like that and I pray I never do again." Like she may be about to do, herself; she has shreds enough of self-awareness to at least attempt to hold it back. "I've never cried like I did that night."

"Neither of us had, I don't think." There's something detached in her voice, as if she had to distance it from herself to even dare a look at the memory. "I don't think we were made to make sounds like that. Nobody is."

"I'm not afraid of hell, Heck, because I've been there. That night."


Heck gently caresses Vis's hair as she recounts her tale. His soft eyes and soft smile are both empathetic and supportive. He sighs softly at that and whispers, "There's nothing more human than love and pain. Nothing." His smile grows just faintly and he takes Cass up in his arms in a tight, possessive, protective embrace. Just holding her, his head by hers, his body against hers. Arms around her. There may be heaven above and hell below but here there is warmth and maybe that's enough.


She offers no resistance, crumpling down against him and burrowing in close. It's simple, basic, and utterly human. "I still miss Cole. Meant to take him here, but." A sigh spills out of her. "He was on his way up to the observatory, and the reactor blew. Venting. Blasted out a sector of the ring, out there-" she says, able to point in that direction with a half-limp hand, without looking. It's intact, now, flawless. Just as the place is echoingly empty. "Hard to enjoy the stars when there are people you know floating by the windows." Little wonder she wasn't about to let it happen again.

Her eyes close, and she breathes out, idly running her fingertips through the hair at one of his temples when her hand makes its way back. "Rafe and I found each other in hell, Heck."

"Pulled each other out of it, somehow." She's seen miracles. Been responsible for more than one, herself. And even so, the quiet in her voice when she speaks of this is beyond them all. It's not something she imagined at all possible, and that much is clear enough. "Meant what I said," she insists again, but this time, she explains herself: "I am so grateful, and so sorry, that you're here."

Because, at least right now, warmth is precisely what she needs. And the look on her face is, beneath all of the perplexing circumstances and tragedy, humble, and grateful beyond measure. "I would never wish this on you. On anyone."

"Not ever."

He can likely feel the hard swallow more than see it. "But if I have to be here? I know there's someone else I can believe in with me." A fraction of her tension dissipates, and she whispers, "In here, that matters."


After listening quietly, Heck closes his eyes, "I can't imagine the pain of being you, beloved." The old term. Not used for a year, or was it that long? Or was it at all? He smiles and sighs, rolling her atop him like a lady blanket as he relaxes with a tired swallow. "We need a bath, babe..."


"It gets easier," she murmurs against his neck, her eyes closed as she resettles herself in a sprawl, her back to the sky. She's already starting to drift again, and a deep breath ends in an exhausted yawn. "And we do," she mumbles, the yawn catching the tail end of the words and upping them by an octave along the way.

"Find a bathing suit in the closet when you wake up. Look for the door with the lady and the stars. With one foot already in the water, and her eyes on the sky." The smile is a soft thing, fading along with her. "My tub is epic."

"My bikini, not so much." Her nose wrinkles. "Worse than Fleur's dress." There's another tiny yawn. "I wonder if she'll turn up here, with so many other people appearing this time. Maybe." Maybe not. She's too tired to think about it too much, just yet, and too comfortable and content just where she is.

"Good that I am not scrubbing Zeb off you." To this, there is another nod, smaller now. "But it gets easier."

"Promise." She barely gets the word out before she's slipping off toward sleep.


Finally, when Heck is sure Cass has fallen good and asleep, he lifts her up, figuring out the button to lower the platform. He carries her in his arms, the woman who he would have had for his wife. To her room with the stars and the one foot already in the water. He carries her in the style honeymooners do, though they never had theirs. He lays her on her bed and watches her a moment before turning and walking away. Closing the starry door behind him.

Then closing the door into the station behind him. He finds the joints and lights one, a bottle of rum in hand, as the platform carries him back up. He looks up at the damning stars... the black absences of the hypergravity masses sucking in all that gets near enough... doing something... beautiful and horrific to it and ejecting it out in a stream of pure energy. He drinks. He smokes.

The sirens sound.

He floats.