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The one that got away

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I love you. I love you. I love you.

Donovan’s voice echoes in his ear, melting into static or ripped away by the howling wind, he’s not sure.

The endless wall of windows unfolding to his left reflects the city lights, bright blue and neon red, glittering as if the stars, chased from the sky, had settled among humans instead. It’s beautiful. He feels a little like a falling star himself, what with the fiery glow of his cigarette and the wind grasping at his clothes.

It’s odd. Brandeis never expected to be the kind to accept death like that. Guess there’s something about the inevitability of your own end, once you’re face to face with it, that makes it hard to say no. What’s the point in being angry about it? It’s not as if there were anything he could do to stop it from happening.

He has regrets, of course. Who doesn’t? There are so many paths to life, but only one you can walk on your way to the void. He wishes he had taken that call, in the office; his curiosity has always been his main drive, and not satisfying it one last time feels like a missed opportunity. But he’d listened to Donovan, as he often does — encouraged, most of all, by the fear in his voice. Hah. If he’d known his death was inevitable, he wouldn’t have bothered. Donovan would have understood.

Leaving him behind is pretty high on his list of regrets, too. Damn near the top, because it’s not as if he could have avoided it without missing a hell of a lot more opportunities. That’s the risk with living life like he does — or rather like he did, seeing as the ground is getting nearer and nearer each second. He’s been courting death for so long, it’s about time he popped the question, right?

Still, he worries about Donovan. A guy like him never deal well with loss — he feels too much, it will hurt like a bitch. But he’ll manage. He always does.

He might get into less troubles, now that Brandeis isn’t there to drag him into it anymore. Then again, it’s not as if trouble won’t find him all on its own. The Red Strings Club has never been a quiet place, after all. But he doesn’t worry about that: Donovan is a hard man to kill, after all.

It’s not that hard to make peace with one’s fate, after all. Brandeis has always taken it all in stride, guess it’s only fair this applied to his death, too.

At least it will look cool in tomorrow’s obituaries.

He should be nearing the end, by now. The wind around him quietens. Odd, but then again, he’s never died before.

The wind dies down.

Brandeis looks around himself, vaguely surprised. He thought he would at least feel the impact, but—

He hasn’t even hit the ground yet.

In fact, he doesn’t appear to be falling anymore, which sounds like it goes against everything he’s ever learned about physics, gravity, and the way the universe works, but oh well — after today’s events he’s ready to accept whatever comes to him next. At this point it may as well happen, right?

Slowly, cautious of the very real possibility that this is temporary and he will resume plummeting to his death at any time now, Brandeis looks on each side, looking for an explanation to the present situation.

There is nothing on his right excepted for the sprawling city. And on his left —

There is a window, and behind this window, there is a man — or at least he suspects it is a man. The only thing he can discern in the dark is a vague silhouette, the glint of metal spikes on his shoulders and a skull mask, grinning mockingly at him.

The air feels a lot heavier suddenly, darker but in a way Brandeis can guess but not see. It feels like the second before a thunderstorm, the silence a tangible weight on his chest.

“Well. You’ve gotten yourself in quite the bad situation, haven’t you, Brandeis?”

The stranger’s voice comes perfectly clearly despite the pan of glass between them. Brandeis huffs a laugh.

“Yeah, you could say that. Although I have to say it mostly isn’t my fault.” A pause. “You know my name — care to share yours?”

“Hm. They call me Gost.”

Wait a fucking second.

“Wait a fucking second,” Brandeis says, blinking hard. Death he can accept. This is a little harder. “Gost as in, the smuggler?”

“Is that what I am?” The skull tilts slightly to the side, thinking. “I guess I am.”

“What are you doing here?” Wrong question. “Wait, no, don’t answer. Are you the reason I’m not presently one big puddle of blood and biomatter on the pavement?”


He doesn’t dare ask how. He’s sure the answer to that question is not one he wants to hear, or even one Gost would give him. “Why?

“Consider this a favor to our — mutual friend, so to say.”

“Our mutual fr— wait. Are you talking about Donovan?”

Gost shrugs. “Who else?”

Damn, the man really doesn’t need him to get into trouble if he goes around befriending Gost of all people.

He can’t help but be a little worried. “What has he done for you to warrant such a favor?”

“He made me a cocktail.”

“That’s all?”

“It was a really good one.”

“Fair enough.” A pause. He glances around. Gost is still there when he looks back through the window. “So… Are you going to let me hang there indefinitely, or—?”

“Oh, yes, that.”

Brandeis has the sudden and rather uncomfortable feeling of being put back into gravity’s grasp — like he went from weightless to his usual state in less than a second. It’s a bit disorienting. But he isn’t actually falling anymore as much as he is gently floating down, until his feet come to rest on solid ground once more.

He looks up, and up, and up— and back down before he gets vertigo. He catches the glimpse of a broken window and the thought that he was all the way up there a moment ago twists his stomach like he’s about to throw up.

Gost is there when he looks down.

He almost has a heart attack at the sight, which would be a terrible waste of time and effort keeping him alive. “Fuck! How did you do that?”

He can’t actually see Gost’s face through the mask, but he conveys the impression of a very deadpan look just fine despite this.

“Alright, stupid question, I get it.”

There’s no way he should be able to get distracted while in the presence of such a person, but Brandeis suddenly realizes — he’s alive. It’s apparently not a thing that is about to change in the next minute.

Donovan is not aware of that.

“Shit,” He says eloquently. As an explanation (to whom? Clearly not Gost, he doesn’t put it past the guy to be able to read mind), he adds, “Donovan!”

He’s already reaching for his earpiece before he’s fully aware of it. There is a brief burst of static — Gost shifts a little, his face turning ever so slightly toward the source of the noise — and then, a muffled sob on the other end of the line.

He says again, “Donovan!”

There’s a gasp, the sound of someone scrambling around, followed by a breathless, “Brandeis?”

“I’m not dead!”


“I don’t know!”

They are, maybe, a bit hysterical by now, but he thinks they’re entitled to a level of relieved panic after all that’s happened.

Gost leans in until he’s close enough to the earpiece to be heard and says, “I thought he might need a hand.”

“What the— Gost? What are you doing here?”

“That’s what I asked too!”

Gost shrugs, which is completely useless to Donovan’s reading of the discussion but perfectly conveys the sheer carelessness of the man to Brandeis. “I was in the area.”

“You—” A sigh. “Alright. Fuck, Brandeis, I—”

“Akara is a god-like AI who’s been influencing the world since before we were born. Also, they kind of caused my almost death.”


Poor Donovan has been having a confusing day. He’s a little sorry about that. He hears him sigh — can imagine him rubbing the bridge of his nose, the way he does when Brandeis is getting into another dangerous situation with no safety net.

Then, “Come back here. Please.”

“Of course, pumpkin. Want me to bring Gost along?” He looks around as he says it. “Nevermind, he’s gone. Didn't even get to thank him.”

“He does that. Just— get your ass to the bar. I want to kiss you. Also maybe punch you for the scare you gave me.”

He hangs up without waiting for a reply.

Brandeis smiles, bright and wide. Against all odds, he’s alive, and so is Donovan. Who cares if there’s a rogue AI running around meddling with humanity? As long as they live, there’s hope for the future.

He couldn’t ask for a better chance.