The Morgan Yu that Alex grew up with was a girl of the type that a lot of men liked to call a cold bitch.
It didn’t bother her. Not much ever bothered Morgan back then. She had things to do, places to be, like cooped up at home playing video games or reading books that the other kids derided as nerd stuff - Alex would know. He’d read them first, but Morgan read them faster.
By the time Morgan was thirteen years old, she’d won first place at a robotics championship and broken a classmate’s nose for calling her an ugly bitch in the same month. She was strong, fearless even, ferociously smart, calculating, a child who their parents could be proud of in a more distant way than Alex. He was the older son who would go into the family business and do their legacy proud; Morgan was the younger firebrand who would forge ahead on her own. She would make history.
In a way, it was comforting to Alex when Morgan instead chose to come into the TranStar fold. They needn’t be rivals anymore - if Morgan had ever thought of him as her rival - they could work together. Achieve great things together. He enjoyed working with her a lot more than he expected to, and the occasional bratty jibe gave his work an edge that might not have been there without the competition.
Sometimes, Morgan scared him. He would hesitate before pushing a button; before giving an order to do something risky. He would let that small thing, his conscience, whisper in his ear. Alex didn’t even think Morgan had a conscience. An absence inherited from their parents, no doubt. Everyone always said he took after his grandfather.
Morgan was the kind of woman who would order a man begging for his life killed and absorbed by an alien creature without a tremor to her voice, and then have the results transmitted to her office to pore over for hours - the kind of woman who would rather human life be lost than her own research. Put lightly, she wasn’t a good person. He says wasn’t, not isn’t , because things have changed.
Alex dislikes change.
“Personality drift,” Morgan says. She doesn’t sound at all concerned, not this first time. “I mean - do I seem any different to you?”
Bellamy takes a huge gulp of coffee, and snorts. Alex wonders the stuff doesn’t get up his nose. “Not at all. You’re the same Morgan I’ve spoken to a hundred times since you got here.”
His sister eyes the good Doctor skeptically. “Try ten, Bellamy. Were you planning on getting some of that to share with the class? I really need a pick-me-up after all that counselling bullshit. I swear if I have to go through that wringer every time this happens, I’d rather my memories were wiped for good.”
“You don’t mean that, Morgan.”
“Of course I don’t.” Morgan doesn’t look like she needs any kind of pick-me-up. Her mouth twitches at the seams, a sure sign that she’s grinding her teeth again, and her knee bounces a mile a minute under the table. Sedative wear-off, undoubtedly. The kind used in the Talos-1 sickbay often produces hyperactivity instead of drowsiness in conjunction with fresh neuromod removal, never mind that Morgan’s neuromods were removed yesterday morning.
They’re new neuromods, anyway. “Do you remember anything about the testing?” Alex asks.
“Of course I don’t,” repeated with a grin. “You guys took video, I hope?”
“It wasn’t very impressive, I’m sorry to say,” says Bellamy, returning from the kitchen with a cup of black coffee for Morgan. “It’s too hot, don’t drink it yet- You did demonstrate some telekinetic abilities, which is more than we’ve ever gotten before from the special neuromods, but they amounted to barely lifting a pencil a foot off the table.”
Morgan looks at him. Alex does, too.
“I’m joking, obviously. Even that kind of small feat is frankly astonishing.” Bellamy drains his mug; his eyes are twinkling. “I can’t wait to go through the data.”
“Me first,” Morgan says. “I have that right, you know. Director of Research.” She raises her cup to the two of them and takes a long draught of coffee, and then chokes. She doesn’t spit it out, per se, but at least one speck of dark brown makes it onto the tabletop. “ What - holy hell, what’d you put in this, Sylvain? It’s disgusting.”
Bellamy frowns. He reaches over and sniffs Morgan’s coffee. “It’s just coffee. I made it how you always take it.”
“With two sugars and cream? That is so damn bitter, it’s like dirt.”
Bellamy looks confused. Alex, more than confused, remembering their mother brewing two cups of black coffee every morning for herself and Morgan since she was ten, stiffens.
“What?” Morgan looks at them looking at her. “What’s wrong?”
Her neurological results were perfect when Alex saw them this morning. No changes, none of the drift in neurons that had been charted during repeated neuromod application and removal. The procedures to reverse her amnesia had seemed to work perfectly, and yet- “Nothing,” Alex says. He forces a smile onto his face. “Nothing at all.”
A changed coffee order is nothing, to Morgan. Alex inks a reminder on his hand and thinks not much more of it, because in all other respects his sister seems the same. She is brusque to their new chief systems engineer, a woman named Ilyushin, chatty with him, business-like to the rest of the staff. Her analysis of the data that they got from their first special neuromod test is extremely promising; it consumes their conversation whenever they meet. Morgan is excited.
Alex is also excited, but more subdued. After all, Morgan has continued to insist that she be the subject for these tests, despite multiple other prime subjects being available and willing. He even volunteered to go back to Earth and oversee the recruitment himself.
“We need someone we can trust absolutely,” Morgan said to him. An empty cup of coffee sat beside her terminal, sugar spoon still inside. “Someone who won’t wreck this station if they happen to gain extraordinary powers. Someone who will report their feelings and reactions with complete certainty while the experiment is underway. A trained eye like mine is perfect for the job, you know.”
Alex tapped his foot. “And what if something goes wrong, Morgan? If your amnesia can’t be reversed. Or if personality drift-”
“Personality drift my ass! I’m fine, and I’m going to be fine. You worry way too much.”
Personally, he’s of the opinion that he doesn’t worry enough nowadays. Six months ago his first reaction in the event of an emergency containment breach would be evacuation, then destruction - a total wipe of the entire station. They can build another Talos-1, but not another human race. Our work is more important than that , Morgan told him, our work is the human race. Their future , and she went and designed a device that would take down all the Typhon organisms without harming the station. Theoretically.
Morgan is too convincing. Too much like their parents, while he stands as a shadow of their older forebears, watching his sister race towards a future that he is almost starting to believe will come.
They run the tests a second time. Morgan flings a pencil across the room with her mind and laughs, and after her post-removal counselling is completed she drinks a cup of black coffee without any complaints.
In April, Morgan ups the tests to twice a month. “I can take it,” she assures them all at the higher-ups meeting in the Neuromod Division, the one Alex has heard Danielle Cho huffily call ‘that secret squirrelly meeting’. She shut up very fast when he rounded the corner and revealed himself, but he hasn’t been able to get the image out of his head. A party of squirrels clustered around a table, and he the chief of them.
CEO of TranStar is a very powerful position, although not as lucrative as many of the staff might assume; William and Catherine Yu are still the company’s majority shareholders and pay their son and daughter’s salaries with the same keen eye to cost efficiency as the rest of the crew of Talos-1. The scientific operating budget effectively functions as Morgan’s salary, anyway.
She hasn’t been as talkative recently, Alex realises. She lost some memories with her last mod removal that she hasn’t been able to get back, she told him. “These tests take time,” he points out. “You’re our Director of Research. You have work to do.”
“This is my work. Using this-” she points at her head. “To move our research along by leaps and bounds. We already have a neuromod that can give a human being telekinetic abilities, Alex, and I’m looking into a set of connectomes that I think might be able to generate electricity. With my mind. So we’re upping the tests to twice a month, alright?”
“Anyone else have objections?”
Alex can see Bellamy and Varma shutting their mouths up tight, and feels a wrench of anger. It isn’t their sister subjecting herself to repeated mental wipes. They wouldn’t give a shit if Morgan’s entire personality shifted sideways overnight.
“Alright,” Morgan says.
It hasn’t, though. Morgan’s always been like this. Willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of advancing her work. It’s enough to make him wish she would change, just a little, so she would stop putting herself in harm’s way. The cognitive dissonance makes his neck ache.
He catches his sister when everybody else leaves and asks her if she’s remembered what she was missing. She rubs her shoulder under her suit and admits that she hasn’t, that there’s a little black block somewhere in her childhood that she can’t access for anything. “I don’t remember finishing TIS-100,” she says. “You know, that old game…? Not like it really matters. It’s just weird.”
“It does matter,” Alex says firmly. “You know that as well as I do. If you can lose unimportant memories, then you can lose important ones, too, vital things. You could change, Morgan. If we don’t space out these tests enough and ensure you run through the protocols properly every time you could end up not recognising yourself in the mirror.”
She laughs at him.
“This is serious, Morgan. You could end up in a mental loop of the first day you applied neuromods. It’s been documented before-”
“Alex. I know the risks. And I also know you wouldn’t let anything like that happen to me.”
Something prickles at the back of his neck.
“If you’re going to worry that much about it, I’ll make some recordings on my TranScribe for myself. Emergency procedures and what I’m like now and all that jazz. That way if I really do change, I’ll have a reminder. A little wake-up call.” Morgan smiles. “Actually, how about we do a Looking Glass recording too?”
“We already made one of those,” Alex says. His lips are dry, and as soon as he says it, the smile is wiped from Morgan’s face like equations disappearing from a whiteboard. “You don’t remember.”
“I - I do, I was just - we should make another one, a back-up of a back-up, you know-” His sister puts up her hands at him opening his mouth again. “I do remember, Alex. It just slipped my mind for a second, that’s all. If I forget stuff that important I’ll tell you. I promise.”
Morgan comes up with the idea for the ordered recordings to placate him, initially. She makes a TranScribe every time her fresh neuromods are applied, taking special care to say the date at the beginning, and then makes another TranScribe after her neuromods are removed. She won’t let him listen to them, of course, says they’re private, but the idea of them is a measure of comfort.
It’s late May. The experiments are progressing well - they have a solid prototype for the telekinetic neuromod, and the electrical generation mod is also moving along well. Morgan wants to try applying them both at once, perhaps alongside yet another mod that she speculates would allow pyrokinesis. Like a modern day Prometheus, she says. Not at the same time, Alex says. It’s too dangerous.
The rest of the team agree. Morgan tests the new mods one at a time, and undergoes the proper protocols to retrieve her memories after every session; Alex ensures she has fresh TranScribes available anytime she needs them.
None of the Talos-1 crew are inclined to share information of a more personal nature with their CEO, Alex quickly discovers on his rounds through the crew deck. He has never thought of himself as an unapproachable person; he knows his name and position can intimidate, but he has always been the less sharp sibling, the quieter and solider man behind the vicious-tongued Morgan. He didn’t think the staff were that loyal to her.
They aren’t, as it turns out. “I didn’t want to say anything because of Ilyushin,” Emma Beatty confesses. “She’s new, I suppose not that new, but I didn’t want to get her in trouble or anything.”
“Why would she be in trouble?”
Emma has no answer for him.
She needn’t have worried; he doesn’t want to speak to Mikhaila herself about this at all. He just wanted his suspicions confirmed before he went to Morgan, and he does almost immediately. His sister is examining a neural connectome at her terminal, although she minimises it as soon as he enters her office.
“Alex,” she says. Quietly. Too quietly, too introverted, too passive. His stomach lurches a little at the sight of her TranScribes, stood sandwiched between volumes of neuroengineering and of Asimov.
He tries not to sound accusatory and fails. “You’re seeing our chief systems engineer.”
“Oh. Yeah. Took you long enough to find out.”
“I thought... “ This is going to sound stupid any way he says it. “You didn’t like her.”
Morgan’s lips twitch. “What gave you that idea?”
I’ve seen the way you were around women you liked when you were younger, he wants to tell her. You were so bad at hiding your crushes. Even Dad knew, even the dog would’ve known from the way you swooned around. “You were acting rather cold towards her. Ever since she came onboard, I... thought I was going to have to reassign her.”
“You ever hear of playing hard-to-get, Alex?” She leans forward, looking for a moment exactly the Morgan Alex grew up with, before the experiments, before the suspicions he has that her neural charts are no longer completely accurate. “I’ll admit I didn’t think Mikhaila was my type, but hey. We got to know each other. She’s sweet.”
Sweet has never been Morgan’s type.
“You think this has something to do with my personality, don’t you?” Smart is Morgan’s type, quick, like she is. “You think I’ve changed . That’s why I’m dating Mikhaila all of a sudden. Something had to get fucked around in my brain before I could get a girlfriend.”
His sister’s eyes are two dark suns. “You know what, Alex? Sometimes people just change. Not because of fucking experiments. I’m sick and tired of you always up my ass asking me about my memories, or, or how I was as a kid, just - shove the caring big brother act. Shove it and leave me alone.”
He has nothing else to do but retreat. He can’t talk to Morgan when she gets like this, which she hasn’t in a long time, but it has happened before. Maybe-
Maybe she’s right. People do change naturally. Personalities do shift. Maybe he’s paranoid.
The TranScribes stare at him from his desk. Each one is labelled with the date it was recorded when he ghosts his thumb over their screens. 16/05/2034 - 18/05/2034 - 03/06/2034 and so on, and so on, until the TranScribe Morgan made yesterday.
Alex presses play.
Morgan’s neural charts finally begin to show the drift in August, two weeks after Alex listens to her TranScribes. By then, some of the other staff have begun to notice her trend towards introvertedness, how she has her meals brought to her quarters, how she communicates more and more often through email rather than face to face visits. He makes an announcement that she is busy with important work.
I can’t remember being seven. I mean, I can, I remember my seventh birthday, but nothing after that until my eighth birthday. It’s like everything that happened between those two dates got sucked into a black hole and vanished. And that doesn’t bother me.
Alex doesn’t know how to tell her. He shouldn’t need to; she knows exactly what’s been happening to her over the past few months. She’s the one who hasn’t said anything to him - it’s as if she isn’t even listening to her own recordings anymore, shutting her eyes to her own truth.
I don’t even know what I was thinking when I made my last recording. Doesn’t bother me? Losing a whole year of my life doesn’t bother me? I can’t remember being nine! That’s something important! Your childhood is the foundation on which your adult mind is built. Mom told me that. Or was it Dad?
It’s a very Morgan thing to do, really. Powering through despite slowly losing herself.
I was told I’m experiencing personality drift. I don’t think that’s true. Even if it is, so what? I can still do my work. I mean, it would be a problem if I started actually forgetting things that I’ve done - besides the neuromod experiments themselves, I can’t remember those - which is why I’m making these recordings. And something else, too. I have a plan.
The problem is, he can’t do anything about it. Their neuromod experiments are highly classified; the doctors onboard are either in the dark as to what exactly they’re doing down in this division or they’re no help at all. Psychological assessment can barely trace the damage that the experiments are doing to Morgan’s psyche, not do anything to fix it. What else could he do? Stop the experiments?
Morgan would never let him. Her authority supersedes his on this matter because she is Morgan Yu , and their parents aren’t here. They can’t see her every day to understand how she’s changing. They’ll agree that her work is too important to give way to his worries.
Their work. It’s their work.
September rolls on slowly. He has a staff member, sworn to secrecy, check Morgan’s computer and discovers an electronically shredded file that seems to be a connectome scan of an unregistered person. The metadata can’t tell him if it was done on Talos-1 or on Earth, piped through their satellite connection, but it worries him. Morgan herself has talked about connectomes to him recently. He must be missing something.
Morgan, meanwhile, claims to have recovered all her lost memories. “No blocks,” she says proudly. “No flies on me,” and she certainly answers all his questions correctly enough, if distractedly. “Alex, I want to try combining the electrical and pyrokinetic neuromods this time. If you’ll let me. I mean, I think this proves I’m pretty much up to scratch again.”
She is sat on her bed in the simulation room - built originally as an interchangeable hub in the neuromod division to help put at ease staff coming out of long memory wipes, but now almost exclusively used by Morgan. They turned it into a recreation of her suite last month, fabricated all the furniture. She still thinks it’s funny. “What do you say, Alex?”
“I still say it’s too dangerous.” Morgan doesn’t sit the way she used to. She hunches back.
“Well, too bad.” She rocks forward, pulls her feet up together and clasps her ankles like a yoga pose. “I’ve already run through the procedures with Bellamy. It’ll be the first of October, so we’re skipping the next regular test. I put that through for your sake. Being careful.” Alex can hear the air quotes around that last word. Or so he thinks at first, because then Morgan says quite seriously, “I don’t want anything about me to change.”
Too late, Alex thinks bleakly. “I’ll take you through the memory retrieval procedures myself,” he promises. “And even if - you do change. I’m sure personality drift can be corrected, eventually. You just have to remember where you came from.” He might’ve patted her hand, if they had that sort of sibling relationship.
To his utter surprise, his sister reaches out and touches his shoulder. “Thank you, Alex. I mean it,” Morgan says. Her irises are a little too dilated.
“Sunday, October 1 st , 2034, 1400. We are in the Special Isolation Laboratory in the Neuromod Division. Test subject is Morgan Yu, Director of Research. She has just applied her neuromods. Experiment beginning when you’re ready, Doctor Yu.”
“Thank you, Doctor Chin.” Behind the glass, Morgan huffs, a sharp inhale-exhale that Alex recognises as excitement, and conjures a small ball of fire in the palm of her right hand. She grins. The fire streams out to mimic the shape of her full hand, flames licking along her fingers like molten plasma until she has a second skeleton of fire all the way down her wrist. “Might need a new suit,” she calls.
Under the flames, Morgan’s red suit is indeed warping slightly. The thermometers will be picking up the temperature – it must be absurdly high. These suits are designed to protect against vacuum, and they are fully grounded as well, which helps when Morgan brings to life a sphere of sparks in her other hand.
“Is it taxing?” Bellamy asks her. “Maintaining both neuromod abilities at the same time. You’re in good health, but last time-“
Morgan swirls the electricity around her palm. “It feels wonderful,” she declares. “Maybe even less exhausting than using a single mod. We should look into that. Maybe the organism’s neural pathways are designed to be more efficient when multi-tasking.”
“I’ll make a note,” Chin says. There are two other scientists here observing today’s proceedings alongside Bellamy and Alex. Each of them have witnessed one of these experiments before; neither remember it and regardless have signed strict contracts that would prevent them from revealing the fact that Morgan routinely injects alien-sourced neurons into her brain.
Alex drums his fingers against the arm of the metal chair he is not sitting on. They are taking Morgan through the last of the standard tests now, having her make the elemental spheres wink out of existence and reappear, throw them at the walls - making thick black scorch marks - and at the glass, and then the experiment is over and Morgan grins and laughs on her way out to have her memory of the past two years erased again. Something turns over in his stomach.
He was supposed to take Morgan through the retrieval process personally, but there is a hand hovering over his arm. “Doctor Yu? Sarah Elazar wants to speak to you. I routed the call to one of the monitors in the other room.”
“Thank you,” Alex says. He watches Morgan go with building anxiety. The way she walks is so like the way she walked as a teenager, so like herself , arms swinging by her side. Her fists bunch and uncurl almost unconsciously; she looks straight ahead to the future, uncompromising. He has the urge to run after her as she disappears - isn’t that all he’s doing these days, perpetually chasing his sister’s silhouette?
Sarah Elazar apologises for interrupting him. “It’s just that we discovered that the fabrication plans for a standard Operator were illegally downloaded from the database. I’d like permission to do a sweep of certain people’s belongings, which I don’t suppose you’ll give me.” She purses her lips. “An unlicensed Operator roaming the station is a massive security risk, Doctor Yu.”
“I’m aware.” Alex adjusts his glasses and sighs. “Send me a list of which people you’re talking about and I’ll see what I can do. Don’t,” he warns Elazar, “do anything without my approval. Or Morgan’s.”
“Actually, Doctor Yu would be one of the people on that list.”
He nearly shuts off the call. “If Morgan - I will deal with her myself, understood? You aren’t to go near her suite. Send me the list.”
Elazar nods. Alex turns on his heel and passes through the lab with its burn marks and warped glass, taking a stair at a time down to the simulation room. He will have missed the initial memory wipe, he knows that, where the brain is scanned and prepped and reset back to a prior stage, like formatting a hard drive.
Ordinarily, the subject is given a monologue of sorts by the attending physicians afterwards and sent directly to memory retrieval, but Morgan is different. Morgan will be sedated; Morgan will be here, in the room that he pauses long and hard before entering.
She isn’t sedated. She is sitting on her bookcase, staring out the faux-window at the faux-blue faux-sky beyond the glass. The heels of her feet tap idly against the bookcase, swinging like a child’s.
“Morgan,” he calls to her. “How are you feeling?”
This must be disorienting, I know , are the next words he is supposed to say. His voice catches in his throat. “Alex,” Morgan says dreamily.
She doesn’t move. Perhaps she is sedated; perhaps she’s sleepwalking in some fashion. It isn’t undocumented - for Morgan it is, but Morgan’s neural pathways are so muddled around by now that it wouldn’t surprise Alex to have her spontaneously develop somnambulism. “Morgan,” he repeats cautiously.
“I’ve been reading.” She giggles . “Refreshing my memory on all this shit. Thinking is good, isn’t it? When you don’t have anything else to do. Have you ever considered if the human brain is actually the source of consciousness, Alex?”
“Have I what?”
“It’s like a computer. If someone who didn’t know what a computer was saw a terminal for the first time, they might assume that the entire computer was contained within the monitor, when in fact all the processes responsible for the computer’s interface and database are housed in the central hub at the heart of Talos-1. How do we know that-” Morgan twirls her fingers around her temple. “We aren’t like that, too? Consciousness… Us… It all comes from somewhere out there. A central server.”
Alex can’t think of anything to say. He hasn’t heard Morgan talk this much in weeks.
His sister presses her hand against the window. Her fingers look so thin. “It would have to run on something. Gravitational power. Fields generated by an undiscovered element. Or that thing that they had on television like two decades ago. The Omega particle.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “Such a shame they couldn’t get it to stabilise.”
“That wasn’t real,” Alex says, finding his voice.
“Such a shame,” Morgan sing-songs. “It’s a cool name. Omega. Like, the end. I am the Alpha and the Omega, said God, the beginning and the end-”
“ Morgan .”
His sister slams her fist against the window, and if it were regular glass that would yield to only a fist, Alex can imagine it shattering, the shards parting like the Red Sea to reveal the stunned technicians on the other side. Morgan would laugh, and look at him with a half-pitying twinkle in her eyes and say Got you, didn’t I? and she would be back to normal again.
“I heard them talking when they thought I was asleep,” Morgan says. She sounds as if she might cry. “I know it isn’t 2032. I had some neuromods removed. That’s why I can’t remember why I’m here. But it doesn’t explain why everything’s so fucked up , Alex. I think about what I did yesterday and I don’t know why I did that. I don’t know why I ate what I ate for breakfast this morning. That wasn’t - I would never - why did I-”
“Morgan,” Alex says, for the fourth time, and he feels like he could keep saying it until he ran out of breath, as many times as there are stars in the sky. “I’m going to fix this, okay? I’m going to make it alright. I’m going to make you - you again. Trust me.”
She looks at him, finally. He barely recognises her, the way she sits and the way she stares at him, and it occurs to him that he wasn’t really talking to Morgan just now. This Morgan. He was talking to the Morgan whose birth he remembers, just barely, drinking room-temperature tapwater in a hospital waiting room while his father paced, the Morgan who he spent two weeks not speaking to after she formatted his phone for an experiment, the Morgan he has come to enjoy working with over the past years and is not willing to give up on just yet.
“I’m going to fix this,” he says again, to that Morgan. This one blinks.
He talks to Mathias Kohl.
Kohl’s manner has never been comforting to Alex; quite the opposite, in fact. He sits back in his leather chair behind his terminal and looks at you with his huge grey eyes, nods comfortingly in the way all counselors seem to be taught, and when he speaks his voice is low and authoritative. Here is an expert, a man who understands your problems, a man who can help you.
Kohl cannot help Alex. He says quite simply that nobody can. “Personality drift like that your sister is experiencing is irreversible. The neuromods alter the brain in ways that go beyond what some might call damage - they change the flow of your thinking. Activate, re-activate and strengthen neurons that might never be called on in the course of ordinary life. The ones you’re working with down there even add foreign structures to the brain and then rip them out. It’s not something you can just fix.”
“I know that,” Alex says. The TranScribes are spread out on the desk between them, all lit up with their names and dates. Like volumes of a half-monthly periodical. “Surgery isn’t going to be able to do anything for Morgan. But do you think there’s any chance that her personality could - drift back the other way? Or that she could revert to previous behaviour patterns? I’m asking you about her as a person, not as a test subject.”
Kohl’s mildly patronising therapist demeanour cracks up a notch further, as if Alex has given him permission to drop any formalities between them as CEO and employee. “I suppose. It’s not entirely impossible, with enough neuromod applications and removals, though of course it has never been tested.”
Nobody would be absurd enough , he’s saying. Nobody would ever think of cycling their neuromods a hundred, a thousand times until they resemble again the person they were originally. Every case of personality drift amongst modded subjects is dealt with by abstention from neuromod application and then - not dealt with. Lived with. Accidentally becoming a slightly different person is an occupational hazard when you wipe your own memories on the reg.
“The amount of debriefing time alone would be immense,” Kohl continues. “The disorientation that comes with memory loss would have to be ameliorated by immersion in a familiar environment, then a personality test would have to be administered and if the desired results are not achieved, a neuromod applied and the procedure restarted.”
“You’re saying it would take a lot of resources.”
“Yes, of course.” Those wet, grey eyes size him up. “Doctor Yu, let me be frank. As long as your sister’s condition remains stable enough for her to do her job, there isn’t anything I can do for her unless she approaches me herself in my capacity as counsellor. I appreciate your worry-”
Alex says, “You don’t have family, do you, Mathias?”
One of the TranScribes on the desk blinks off, then the rest of them, one by one entering hibernation to conserve power. Kohl sits perfectly still. “I don’t,” he says at last. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand your care for your sister. I truly wish I could help you.”
He has already - there is a plan hatching in Alex’s head, an ugly red-raw thing uncurling from its egg and shaking off shards of white shell, clawing desperately for purchase - but he doesn’t want to give Kohl the satisfaction of saying so. He forces a thin smile onto his lips and gathers up the TranScribes. Morgan barely notices him taking them anymore.
The simulation room is already there. It already looks identical to Morgan’s apartment on Earth, and they have the materials and room to expand further. Alex racks his memory for Morgan’s first day at TranStar, the details of the helicopter route - the model of the helicopter - the layout of the testing floor at his old offices on Earth, the sounds and Looking Glass data they’ll need to replicate it all exactly. He writes it all down and approves it himself through back-channels, when Morgan isn’t looking.
One good thing about being the CEO - nobody asks you what you’re doing when you send back to Earth for recordings of bird calls.
For once, Talos-1 has a full crew complement on New Year’s Eve. Nobody has taken advanced vacation time to go and visit their family down on Earth; nobody has done a bunk in an escape pod to do the same either, like 2031 when Ricardo Vasa was nearly killed entering atmo due to a faulty stabiliser and tried to sue, never mind that he’d stolen the pod in the first place. That one gave Alex a headache he couldn’t shake for days.
A large monitor has been set up in the upper level of library, garlanded with tinsel and a ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’ banner missing its last ‘R’, and a number of crew are camped out around it, watching the countdown to the ball dropping in Times Square with wide eyes and lopsided grins. There is a steady trickle of people between the library and the bar, the crew quarters and the cinema, most clutching drinks as tight as family heirlooms. Alex sips pink lemonade; he goes teetotal at events he’d rather not attend. Better than making a fool of yourself out of desperate boredom.
He’s been to Times Square, once, for the dropping of the ball. He was ten and Morgan somewhere near six, both of them already too tired and sugar-crashed to be as enraptured by the glittering ball like all of the adults. The countdown finishing; the ball meeting the earth; the dispersing of the crowd; it all blurs together in Alex’s memory. His mother took them home and remarked in her native tongue how silly all this fuss was for the start of yet another year like all the rest - he never liked it when she spoke in German. She always sounded better in Mandarin, sweeter and more melodious.
He wonders if Morgan remembers any of that. She should be here, somewhere. Perhaps with Mikhaila - except there is Mikhaila herself perched on a chair, sparrow-like, with an empty cocktail glass accompanying her instead of Morgan. She places it delicately on the arm of the chair at his approach.
“Doctor Yu.” Prim and proper. “Are you liking the party?”
“Alex, please. And no,” Alex says bluntly. “This kind of celebration isn’t for me. Have you seen Morgan?”
A thunderstorm begins to brew in the set of Mikhaila’s mouth and brow. “I believe she’s in the bar. I don’t have a particular reason to keep tabs on her anymore, you see.”
Morgan broke up with her. Or maybe Mikhaila broke up with her , after one too many forgotten dates, too many shifts in demeanour. Mikhaila would be well-placed to bear witness to the way Morgan’s personality is degrading like a phrase passed on in a fucked-up mod-induced game of Telephone. “I’m… sorry to hear that,” Alex offers.
“You know what?” The storm passes in a flash; Mikhaila now looks simply resigned. “I am, too, Alex. I don’t even understand what happened between us - she said - it was for my own good. Holding me too close would only hurt me.” She shakes her head, and her cocktail glass tinkles as the sleeve of her suit brushes it. “I’m sorry. You don’t have to listen to my troubles. What’s done is done.”
Alex bids her a silent farewell. Caring about people has never been Morgan’s strong suit; caring about things , about her research is what she does best. A snap of the fingers, a twist of braincells, and she suddenly harbours so much care for another human being she is willing to hurt to protect them. He follows the babbling brook of crew flowing along towards the bar, which is lit up and buzzing with the kind of noise less cultured people call music, thinking on how much less they would’ve been able to accomplish if the real Morgan weren’t hard enough to push the metaphorical red button. Alex certainly wouldn’t have been able to.
Morgan is sat alone, in the darkest, quietest booth. He slides in opposite her and pushes across a glass of pink lemonade, twin to his own, that he picked up at the bar. The shadows highlight how pinched her face has gotten lately.
“I want to talk about the failsafe protocol,” she says, without greeting or preamble.
“You mean the device you created? What about?” He doesn’t have to lower his voice for security here, only let it be lost amid the music and the chattering.
Morgan takes the glass and sips. “I don’t think we should use it,” she says. “I think it’s too great a risk if the Typhon breaks containment. It’s all theoretical, after all. If one of them got back to Earth, the whole planet might be lost.”
“What would you suggest we do instead?” Alex asks.
“File self-destruct protocols,” Morgan says, and d éjà va nips at his neck. They’ve had this exact conversation before, he can recall it in perfect detail, only Morgan was on this side of the table and he on the other, until she convinced him to see it her way.
Alex’s gut churns. The universe is a cruel, cruel thing. Morgan is turning into him , and it kills him. “You were the one who proposed-”
“Yes, and now I think it’s a bad idea.” If there were space in the booth for Morgan to have her legs curled up to her chin, she likely would. She is huddling into herself, not meeting his eyes. “Alright? That’s all there is to it. We have to change the protocols, and - there’s more, but I’ll save it for another time. Everyone’s busy having fun.”
She leaves him alone in the booth as cheers echo through from the library, the ending of the countdown to January of the new year. Alex drains Morgan’s glass. He is decided.
It could be real.
The early morning sun shining through the window, bouncing off the water far below; the faint noises of cars, of birds. The books are copies requisitioned from Earth - secondhand to ensure the right amount of wear. The food and wine in the fridge is real. The paper packet from Lunar New Year Alex made himself. They aren’t anticipating Morgan touching it, so they’ll be able to reuse it however many times they need.
“Ready to go,” Bellamy says to Alex. “The sedative’s already worn off, so she’s sleeping naturally now. Just waiting on your word to begin the simulation.”
Alex nods. The first button is pressed.
“Good morning, Morgan,” the alarm beeps. “Today is Monday, March 15th, 2032.”