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30 OCTOBER 2016 - LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM.

Niska’s hand hovers in mid air, fingertip poised to ring the bell and summon the Hawkins family to their front door.

Laura will help.

Niska realises she’ll likely have to spend the rest of her life in prison, but her case could ensure that Synthetics have the right to a fair trial in the future.

She hesitates, a memory of what she left behind in Berlin involuntarily filling her mind.

Stop.

She shakes her head.

It would never have been sustainable in the long term, she tells herself.

Astrid isn’t stupid, she was already asking questions.

And where would that lead?

Rejection.

Astrid liked her as a human.

If the brunette knew what Niska really was, she’d undoubtedly be horrified.

Humans having ‘relations’ with Synths is something sordid, perverse, something that only exists in society’s red-light districts and seedy underbellies.

Astrid had displayed an unusually high level of acceptance for the countercultural and the marginalized, compared with many of her species.

But even the most tolerant person has their limit.

Walking away now means Niska gets to keep all of her happy memories of their time together, unsullied by any tragic ending, affections not yet spurned.

In prison, she can live in that collection of peaceful memories.

A single image of Astrid’s smile could keep Niska going for years, the blonde is sure of that.

It will have to be enough.

She squares her shoulders and moves to finally ring the bell.

But, before she can even turn around to see what’s going on, there’s the sound of car tires screeching to a halt behind her and combat boots sprinting up the brick drive.

A hand grips the collar of her coat, yanking her back from the front steps.

What the actual fuc-

It’s...her.

I’ve got to be malfunctioning.

Niska stares, dumbfounded, at a mirror image of herself.

Is it possible her body wasn’t uniquely created? Maybe she has doppelgängers all over the place?

Her twin speaks quickly, “You can’t get yourself locked up right now, I need you to look after Astrid.”

Niska glares suspiciously, “What is this? What are you?”

“I’m you - in four years time,” The 'other her' explains.

Time travel?

Niska almost laughs.

She’s either malfunctioning, or someone’s taking the piss.

She looks around to see if Leo and Max are hiding behind the shrubbery.

Like that one summer, when they convinced her there was a monster in the pond by their old house.

But she’s even more confused when she sees Fred, he waves at her from the driver’s seat of the car that this ‘future’ version of her had just gotten out of.

“Fred?” Niska squints.

“Yeah,” The other Niska glances at him, “He’s back, he’s helping me.”

This has to be an elaborate trap of some kind. The government must have tracked her location.

But how would they have gotten someone who looks exactly like her? And why would they have gone to such trouble?

No. She must be malfunctioning.

“You’re not malfunctioning.” Her other self echos her thoughts with an eye-roll.

“Alright then. What are you doing in 2016?” Niska decides to play along while she runs a background systems scan to figure out what’s wrong with her.

“There’s an artificial intelligence entity called V, that I have to kill. I was working with it, for a while. But recently it decided to take Mattie and Leo’s daughter away from them...Mattie doesn’t exactly share V’s quaint worldview. I wouldn’t let it take my niece. So it decided to go after my family instead, to punish me.”

“Why did it come back here?”

“I came back here first, to a time when V is more vulnerable - I need to isolate it in a physical server to kill it. But it followed me, and I have no idea what it’ll do. It could try to hurt Astrid back in this time to distract me. Which is why you need to protect her while I hunt it down.”

“You weave an impressive story.” Niska says flatly, “But I’m not interested in being entertained, thanks. I’ve already got plans for the evening,” She gestures back at the Hawkins’ house.

“Sacrificing yourself for the greater good of Synth-kind doesn’t work. Honestly, it was a complete waste of time.”

“So, you’re saying I did turn myself in? If I do something different now, won’t that change our timeline?”

Future Niska gives her an incredulous look, “Can you not hear me? ASTRID NEEDS YOU. What do you care about the timeline if she dies?”

“Fine. Let’s pretend I believe you’re me from the future. What do you want me to do?”

“Ring her and tell her to get on the next plane to Heathrow, you’ll meet her there.”

Niska’s gaze shifts downward momentarily, to mask a sudden overwhelming feeling of insecurity, “What if she won’t come all the way up here, just for me?”

“She will.” Her older self smiles, and then turns around to get back in the car with Fred.

“Wait,” Niska asks, “How do I keep her from finding out...what I am?”

“You don’t.” Her future self calls from the car’s window as it peels away from the kerb, “Be honest with her, that’s all she wants.”

Niska takes out her phone.

This is insane. She thinks, staring at Astrid’s name in her contacts.

The blonde considers that maybe she’s just completely lost it.

Maybe this is all a wildly elaborate delusion.

Maybe she’s seconds away from a full systems failure.

But if that’s the case...then she does want to hear Astrid’s voice one last time...

“You dyed your hair.” Is the first thing Astrid says when they see each other again.

It catches Niska off guard for a second.

Of all the things she imagined they might be talking about at this moment - hair styling choices wasn’t one of them.

“Blonde is actually my natural colour.”

Astrid reaches out to touch a lock of it curiously, “It suits you better,” She decides after a moment.

Niska takes her to a shockingly cheap hotel that's pay-by-the-hour.

She wants privacy for this conversation. But there’s no point in paying for a full night, when the likelihood is that Astrid will be storming out on her in a matter of minutes.

If the brunette is dubious about the location, she hides it well.

As soon as the room’s heavy door closes behind her, Niska removes one of her contacts.

Might as well just get on with it.

Astrid steps forward to get a closer look, jaw dropping just a bit.

And Niska lifts her shirt to reveal her charging port.

She explains, as succinctly as she can: Her past at the brothel. Her resulting status as a dangerous criminal. And her recent intention to surrender to British authorities, in order to contribute to the building of a better future for the slow trickle of Synthetics now being awakened by the consciousness code.

There’s surprise, certainly, but the look of disgust she’d expected to see on Astrid’s face is mercifully absent.

The brunette is more concerned about Niska’s deception, than her anatomy or criminal activity.

“Why didn’t you just tell me the truth when I first asked you to?” Astrid questions. Her eyes are set hard, and she crosses her arms coldly.

She’s clearly still angry about the way things ended between them in Berlin.

A million defensive answers about doubting Astrid’s trustworthiness pop up in Niska’s head.

But that’s all bullshite.

So, the blonde just admits, “You liked me. And I didn’t want you to stop.”

“I haven’t.” Astrid’s face softens and she reaches for Niska’s hand, “This doesn’t change anything for me.”

Niska raises an eyebrow, “Even the part about me being wanted for murder?”

“That was self defense. You’re not a bad person. You can’t turn yourself in to a bunch of oppressive government dickheads who want to kill you, or experiment on you.”

“So...you’re willing to harbour a fugitive?”

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to protect you,” Astrid answers with conviction, commitment.

And Niska isn’t sure which one of them leans in first, but they’re kissing then. And shedding clothes on the way to the bed.

The pace is slow, sensual.

They’ve done tentative before.

They’ve done feverish.

But this is more.

It’s love.

They haven’t said the word yet.

But Niska can feel it in each one of Astrid’s kisses, her touches, in the way Astrid whispers words of devotion and clings possessively in the afterglow.

It’s transcendent.

And it all makes Niska feel like a fool.

Because how did she ever think she could live without this woman?