Soundtrack for this post is here.
Her first year in Bravo there had been a baby. A child who was not supposed to exist. Bewitched child of star-crossed lovers. A child who had been stolen.
‘The Aggies are crazy.” How many times had she heard that uttered? She had never expected to find herself here.
But it was Plankton’s Year, and here they had gathered, surrounded by maroon madness. still tracking the ashes of their smoldering town.
Bravo had gathered to… what? Teach? Swap cultural ideals? Be experimented on?
Aggieland was controlled chaos. Scheduled ventings, lockdowns, assimilation. They were a people of Tradition. Life and Death, carefully scheduled. Carefully planned.
Now there were no more babies in Bravo. The Aggies saw to that.
And yet, life went on.
The assassins had been clever. She’d seen, even anticipated, the two that swarmed her, but hadn’t expected the second pair that emerged in the midst of her rescuers.
It was a floating sort of realization as she depressed the plunger, Salvation warming her bones and moving her limbs dreamily.
“This is from Marlon McCree.”
For every action there was an equal and opposite reaction. Her action had been to catch the eye of the enemies of Bravo.
There was hand on her shoulder, a man pressing his weight into the hilt of the knife in her back. A flash of powder blinded her eyes, projectiles slamming into her already tattered armor. She was tripping, stumbling away from his embrace. Trying to find her way through the trees and cactus.
“Rajah? Are you ok?” the voice was familiar but her eyes weren’t focusing properly in the dark. Someone was steadying her. Too close, too close.
“Get me out of here.” Blood was dripping in her eyes, she could feel it running in rivulets down her hips and thighs from the wounds in her back. They were carrying her now. Doc Good’s cauterizing knife searing her flesh.
Life went on.
She watched Cesium’s hands twitch as he completed their trade. She watched the Warpath raiders swarm past the windows, gesticulating wildly. She placed her engagement gift in Logan’s hands and watched him gasp for air as effectively as if she’d stabbed him. She watched Astor obediently queue up for the Reveille. He said a few depressing things about their failed marriage, then apologized. They laughed.
Life went on.
But not for Plankton. She would be assimilated at midnight. Her brain to be removed and integrated into a neural network – a tiny controlled Gravemind. Rajah’s eyes skimmed the line where the R.U.S.H. finalists waited. Would they interface with that very network to choose Aggieland’s next leader? For the first time that day, she found herself wondering what was behind the heavy blast doors.
The doors swung open, revealing a man standing masked and pristine in the red lights.
“Who’s here?” he intoned.
One by one, the finalists called out their names, until only she was left. The Imposter.
She flashed her most winning smile, played her trump card. Once, she’d bartered her Luck to Death himself.
“I’m Rajah de Lux, I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”
Inside, there was a body on the flagstones, hooked up to a series of tubes and wires. Off to the side, a screen glowed softly. The nine had entered quietly and now they gathered around the pulsing words. Booth, Outside, Patchup, Shiner, Sunkiss, Hogan, Astor, Butters… and one who was not supposed to be there.
//Are you sentient?//
“Yes.” Rajah typed in reply.
//How do you know?//
“We are self-aware.”
Slowly, they worked their way through the questions, but their minds kept wandering. Their eyes twitching to the body on the floor.
“Who were they?” someone wondered out loud.
//They were one of our past leaders. They were assimilated.//
The door closed behind them as they stepped into the night. Each somber and subdued.
Could they live with their decision?
There had been no threats to enforce their secrecy. They all knew the consequences of their choices.
Rajah sat with her crew at the semi-circle of benches around the fire, as the Braves stomped and chanted with the Aggies. Listened as Plankton said her thanks and farewells.
She stared hard at the person standing behind the Aggie leader. Thought about how fast she would have to move to take them out. To convince the Braves to whisk Plankton away…
But she could not budge. The body in the room kept swimming before her eyes. Generation after generation of Aggie traditions. Could she jeopardize it all? For one person?
“Thank you, Plankton.” She’d caught her on the path. Wanted to say so much, and able to say so little. “I think this has truly been the best year Aggieland has ever had, and it was thanks to you.”
She watched the woman smile, that smile that lit up a settlement. A smile that had brought hundreds of Braves all this way.
Now she watched mute and numb as Plankton said her farewells. Bravo clapped and cheered as the person behind her knocked her unconscious. A small maroon body thrown onto the massive bonfire. Her crew sat in stunned silence.
‘No!” Chum gasped. But Rajah did not gasp. It was Tradition.
She had been too cowardly to act, and now she was too cowardly to stay. She fled the scene, vomited into the long grass at the side of the road, listening to the cheers behind her. The air was heavy with smoke and the sizzle of one small, determined body.
The best leader Aggieland had ever known. Who had paid for the future of her people with her sacrifice.
Life went on.
How calmly they waited at the Morgue. How efficiently they bound her limbs and evaded her snapping jaws and opaque stare.
How quickly they rushed her down the path to her purpose. To push her behind those doors and trust the Aggies and their tradition to do the rest.
What did they think was happening when she shrieked and drew back at the sight of that building? When the Plankton-that-was saw what waited for her?
Did she know, then? Rajah wondered. Did she sense what would become of her now?
“I want to murder some Aggies.” Chum growled. He didn’t have to know the details to know this was wrong. Her sweet, sensitive crewmate.
“I will help you.” She agreed readily.
Ynk stared at them both, confused, worried at their vehemence.
In the end they did none of those things. She kept her secrets, and they kept their weapons sheathed.
They sat and drank filth milk and crawled into their bed. She sobbed quietly into Ynk’s chest and apologized because she couldn’t tell him why.
Life went on.