Mack paced the cargo hold, trying to relax from the adrenaline rush. One of Rihal’s MedBay’s grabbed Mack by the shoulder and sat them down, scanning them.
“Thank you, MedBay, because I was just going to deck them, to be honest,” Rihal said, drying their hands off with a towel and tossing it on his shoulder.
“Where’s Zahari?” Mack asked, looking at Rihal.
“Passed out. She can’t do shit like we can, Mack.”
Mack nodded, hissing when MedBay stuck a needle in their arm. Their heartbeat slowed immediately, Mack was able to breathe comfortably. Mack was exhausted.
“How did they even find Zahari?” Mack asked, sitting down on the floor.
“I can answer that!” A voice said behind Rihal. Dr. Mishka came into view, sporting a red and gold turban, with lipstick to match.
“I was able to exam her while she is still asleep.”
Zahari woke up hours later, Mack staring at her, hands across their arms.
“Mack?” she whispered groggily.
Mack raised an eyebrow.
“So… you’ve just been faking the funk this entire time?”
Zahari wasn’t used to such an icy tone from Mack. It honestly scared her.
“Stand. Up,” Mack grunted, squinting at Zahari. She panicked.
“Y-You know I ca–”
Zahari took a deep breath, sliding herself to the edge of the bed. She closed her eyes and stood up with no issue. Mack nodded and left the room, locking it behind them.
“WAIT, WHAT’S GOING ON!?” Zahari screamed, running to the door and banging her fist on it. “MACK!? MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!”
“So what else didn’t she tell us?” Rihal asked Dr. Mishka as Mack walked back into Rihal’s office.
“I’m still studying the odd insignia on the chip, but to be quiet honest with you, I think she is a mole.”
“You okay, Mack?” Rihal asked, nodding to an empty chair for them to sit. Mack declined.
“We can’t keep her here, you know. They’ll track down your ship,” Mack said, staring at a picture behind Rihal’s head. It was a picture of a beach somewhere, palm trees and white sands perfectly surrounding the figure in the picture.
“That’s neither here nor there right now. What we need to figure out is how we can use her to our advantage,” Rihal said, standing up from the desk he sat on. “Don’t let her know that we’re on to her, aside from the whole walking scenario.”
Mack huffed a laugh. “The fuck even is that shit? I saw her—” Mack roared, putting their hands behind their head, eyes filling up with tears.
“I saw a fucking I-beam fall onto her fucking waist, how the FUCK–”
Rihal walked over to Mack, placing a hand on their back.
“If you want to talk about it, Mack–”
“I DON’T WANNA FUCKING TALK ABOUT IT,” Mack yelled at Rihal, who took a step back, looking actually afraid. Mack took a deep breath.
“Take me back to my ship… Please,” they added, clutching their fists.
The walk into the ship made Mack even angrier. Zahari walked behind them by a few yards, feeling defeated and ashamed. There was so much that she could have told Mack, should have told Mack, but it didn’t matter now. Mack was beyond pissed and Zahari had seen them pissed.
It was a week before Mack said anything to her.
“Garbage needs to be taken out.”
Zahari was thrilled that Mack spoke to her. She took the garbage to the incinerator, tossing the bags into the small fire and closing the hatch. She turned the flame up, watching all the garbage go up.
“Heh… Fitting,” she whispered to herself.
She sat at her computer hours later, staring a letter several pages long. It was addressed to Mack, detailing the ordeal of what happened at the prison. She jumped when there was a knock on her door. She got up, cracking the door a bit, her face scowling when she saw it was Dr. Mishka.
He smiled at her, having no ill will toward her.
“Is it alright if I speak to you? It’s about the implant in your hip.”
Zahari hesitated, wanting to slam the door in his face. Had he not got involved, Mack wouldn’t be upset. She stood aside, opening the door for him.
“I won’t be long, I promise,” he said, stepping inside. He turned around when she closed the door.
“If you don’t get that out of you soon, you will die,” he started off.
“Yes, I’m well aware of that little tidbit,” Zahari said, crossing her arms, leaning against the door.
Dr. Mishka nodded.
“If I take it out now, you’ll be back in the chair. This chip… is from the same company that was handling Mack, if you aren’t aware.” He smirked a bit when Zahari was silent.
“Not only will it have you back in the chair, but the deterioration it has been doing to your bones will also subside and will allow your body to heal. With a couple years of physical therapy, that I’m sure Mack would love to help you with, you’ll be back to the stage you are at now in regards to walking.”
Zahari stayed quiet.
“The implant is the equivalent of those nanomachines running through Mack’s body. Since you are a ‘normal’ person, it just sits there with nowhere to go and in turn, is eating your body. That’s the pain you have been feeling. I am a doctor, I see it in your face,” he said, smiling at Zahari when she was about to ask how he knew.
“…I was told that if it was taken out, it was going to kill my family. Heh… It’s weird. At the time, my family meant something to me. My actual family. When we left the prison, I pleaded for Mack to take me to them, thinking they might have missed me. …heh… I guess Mack is my family now… I’ve been putting them in jeopardy this entire time with my bullshit.”
Dr. Mishka nodded.
“Rihal has me as this missions personal doctor. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to call me, okay? I want to help you and Mack succeed. Rihal always talks about how you two are his best agents. I’m glad to be working alongside you both.”
He smiled at Zahari and left the room.
It was another 3 days before Zahari was bothered by another person. She was making a cup of coffee, nearly dropping it when Mack was behind her when she turned around.
“Please don’t do that,” Zahari pleaded, trying to catch her breath.
Mack just stared at her.
“I’m not opening that e-mail you sent me. Why did you lie?”
Zahari nodded, taking a long sip of her coffee. She sat down in a chair, pointing at another one for Mack to sit as well.
“Do you remember Stick Stone?” she asked as Mack sat down.
“Yeah, he did during the breakout.”
“Mm, did he though?”
Mack couldn’t stop blinking. Zahari had another sip of her coffee, staring at the bottom of her tall cup.
“Stick Stone has always been around you, Mack. Even when you first started training, they were always around. Different name. Different face. He is really old but he has the stamina of Rihal. Before the breakout, he tasked me to make sure you stayed alive afterward. I had no idea about these other you clone, but he kept saying his “investment” was important to him.”
“If I was so important, why didn’t he find me sooner? Why is he trying to kill me now?”
“Him not finding you sooner could have been my fault. After we “caught” up with my family, he ended up sending me a message, saying he’d kill them if I didn’t stay put. That implant in my hip… I could feel it sometimes and I guess… I had hit it weird and it just shut off. He sent a message a week later. My family was dead.”
“Zahari, I didn’t–”
Zahari held up her hand.
“I knew what I did. I have no regrets. I should have told you sooner to keep you safe. I thought we had left that life behind because it had been so many years. You are my family and I have failed you in so many ways. You may never forgive me, I have accepted that fact. I will work hard to earn your trust back. No amount of apologizing can make what I did right.”
Zahari smiled at Mack and finished her coffee, washing the cup and leaving the kitchen.
Mack sat in silence.
The stint in prison changed Mack, sure, but they never bothered to check in with Zahari. Mack didn’t even check in after Zahari had a screaming match with her politician parents. Zahari had mentioned something about getting a lump sum payment a few months later, after being sure that she had been written out the will. Why didn’t Mack put two and two together at the time?
Mack walked into the room, calling Rihal on the vidphone.
“We have to go back to the prison.”