Breed Book 3, Part 57

Rox could feel something poking her in the ribs, and remembered the radio she had clipped to her belt. She keyed it, and asked, “General Garrity?”

“Who the hell is this?” he asked, his voice faint, but still angry.

“Someone who wants to talk to Anita. You should oblige me; I might be the only one who can talk her down from mutilating you.”

“Little late,” he said angrily.

“You always did suffer from little man syndrome,” Anita said over the radio. “Now you’re just a slightly littler man- though even with the extent you overcompensate I’m not sure you can get to be a much bigger asshole. And I’d suggest you not try- or I might be inspired to make you considerably less of a man.”

Mai sniffed the air. “Think I have something,” she said, tilting back a small bust of Alexander the great, revealing a keypad. “You want to do the honors?” she asked Rox, stepping aside.

Rox hit a key, and the pad flashed red without accepting any input. “Garrity wanted me to tell you that the panic room locks down automatically for fifteen minutes,” Anita said over the radio. “No one in or out in that timeframe, even if you guess the code.”

Rox tossed Mai the radio. “I’ll keep at this, you keep her talking.”

“Uh,” Mai said, staring at the radio.

“You both lived through this hell,” Rox said. “That shared experience means you, better than probably any other human being on the planet, understands what she’s going through. Tell her that. And listen.”

“Hey,” Mai said.

“Huh,” Anita replied. “Putting the murderous, anti-social stoic on the radio. I did not see that coming. I mean- I wouldn’t have if that weren’t literally how my ability works.”

“Yeah,” Mai said, exhaling in an almost-chuckle. “Your friend out here moves in mysterious ways.”

“I’m curious if it’ll work,” Anita said. “A little part of me hopes it will,” she said, her voice breaking. “I don’t think I like how this ends, otherwise.”

“Oh?” Mai asked.

“Well, dysfunctional as our relationship’s always been, I’ve grown fond of those runaways. Wish I could say they look up to me, but it’s really mostly the reverse. I wish I were them- that I could be them. That we hadn’t lived through what we did. That I could start fresh. New. Unsoiled. Hopeful.”

“You aren’t,” Mai said softly. “Soiled, I mean. Life is hard. None of us make it through without scars. Some of our wounds never seem to scab over, they just fester, and hurt, and ruin anything they come into contact with. But even at my worst- and I’d bet my worst and yours are about neck and neck- I may have felt broken. And hopeless. And lost. Soiled. But I wasn’t. Losing my memory- even temporarily- it meant I got the illusion of being pure, and innocent, for a while. Maybe that made my transition easier- I don’t know. I still haven’t told my friends everything, because I worry, every day, that they’ll see me, the real me, the person you know and hate for a fucking reason-”

“Mai, I don’t-”

“Maybe not. Maybe that’s just projection- the same way I projected a lot of my anger and frustration and disappointment in myself onto you. But the point is, I’m a little worse-for-wear. A little cynical. And I don’t always know which way is up, let alone what’s right. But none of that damage is permanent, or irrevocable. Some of those wounds may never completely heal, and those that do will leave scars, but there is life after what we’ve lived through. And I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m sure as hell not saying it’s fair the weight you and I will always carry, but Anita, you survived what I thought at the time wasn’t survivable. And I know you can get through this, too. And even if I doubted you- I know you have people out here who care about you, who will support you. Who will take up some of that heavy load, if you just stop assuming they’ll hate you too much if you let them know who you really are.”

“I see why she gave you the radio,” Anita said. “She’s cleverer than anyone ever credits; it’s hard to see it, past the dumb luck.” “Got it,” Rox said, stepping back from the bust. The door lock disengaged, and the blast door lowered. “We’re in.”

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