There she was.
Eyes closed, still in her box.
Not a regular box - not the boxes Ava had seen in the warehouse when she'd gone with Hank to 2213 to get her, boxes emblazoned with 'Assertive' and 'Kind' and - the one that was going to haunt her nightmares - 'Sexy.'
This Ava was custom built. Same base as the others: a mix of leadership ability, stubbornness, ruthlessness and skilled in everything from martial arts to filing. This one had a few things altered at Hank's request - greater obedience, greater efficiency, no false memories that would lead her to develop feelings or opinions or attachments.
Ava Thirteen - pink and perfect. Unscarred, physically and emotionally; Ava was almost jealous.
Her eyes flickered under her eyelids as Ava uploaded the technical specifications, all the information about the Bureau and magical creatures. Hank had created the information packet, not trusting her to be impartial.
It had been a day. She'd broken up with Sara, been yelled at by Hank, where he fired her, then took her to 2213 to buy her replacement. She was given one week to help Ava Thirteen acclimatize, then she was out, into a world she was in no way prepared for.
The Ava blinked, and Ava was a little unnerved to see her own eyes staring back at her.
"I'm an AVA." She said, in a slightly robotic tone, eyes blinking and mouth twitching.
"Director of the Time Bureau."
"Who are you?"
That wasn't in the script that the AVA Corp had given her, and Ava looked up. Ava Thirteen was staring at her, eyebrow cocked. "I'm sorry?"
"You're an AVA, like me." The clone said quietly.
"Yes. Purpose?" Ava said, tired now. All she wanted to do was curl up in bed and cry her eyes out, finally end the day. It had been the worst day of her life, and she'd been alive 8 months and 13 days exactly, so she could be pretty sure of that.
Ava Thirteen blinked again, licking her lips slightly as she scoured the freshly downloaded information in her brain. "Serve the Time Bureau. Loyalty to the Government and Hank Heywood. Adhere to the rules, above everything."
"Good. What will non-compliance result in?" Ava asked, carefully and quietly.
"Deactivation." She said, detached, and Ava blanched. Hank wouldn't even let this one live if she disobeyed.
"You need to rest." Ava said quietly. "I set up the spare bedroom."
The clone followed her obediently, a little unsteady on her feet, as they climbed the stairs. She was dressed in a white cotton shirt and pants, and Ava figured that counted as pyjamas. She directed Ava Thirteen to sleep, and she did, blinking three times before she was out like a light.
Ava Thirteen was still there when she woke. It hadn't been some horrible dream.
Sara was gone, she was unemployed, her doppelganger was sat at the kitchen table, carefully eating two pieces of dry toast. Ava set a coffee down and was met with a raised eyebrow.
"I can't have that."
"This contains caffeine. Ava's can't engage in recreational stimulants."
"Suit yourself." Ava muttered, taking a sip. At least she knew her liquor cabinet was safe.
The clone came with an instruction manual, big bold letters across the front – Getting started with your AVA!
All the chapter titles were like that, strangely peppy, yet they did nothing to temper the unnerving content within. Ava read it, because being a clone consumed her waking thoughts now she had nothing else in her life to distract her, and all that energy needed to be directed somewhere.
She flicked through to a chapter entitled Ava and Baby. It mostly covered the ‘surrogate Ava’, a model purchased by couples to carry their child then act as a nanny.
As unnerving as that was, the paragraph at the end was the most awful part.
Due to requests from customers and in the interests of ease and efficiency, all AVAs apart from ‘surrogate AVA’ have had reproductive capabilities removed.
Ava had never been particularly maternal – the summer camp episode had proved that – but she couldn’t pretend she hadn’t had daydreams about her and Sara in a park, two blonde haired children running around.
She took a deep breath and kept reading, pushing down emotions she wasn’t meant to have, and reminding herself that, as the average lifespan of an AVA at the Bureau was six months, she was already living on borrowed time.
New suits came.
Ava Thirteen looked good in them, more confident, back a little straighter, as she examined herself in the mirror, twisting to admire it from every angle.
Ava remembered how it made her feel, strong and secure, like she was in charge.
"I like it." Ava Thirteen muttered, straightening the shirt and jacket almost instinctively.
"I can teach you how to do a bun – it’s the regulation hairstyle." Ava said quietly as she went into the bathroom to fetch her hair ties and pins. The clone raised her eyebrows.
"Then why do you wear your hair down?"
Because Sara finds it hot, she wanted to answer, but that wasn't true anymore. "If we both wore it up no one would be able to tell us apart." She said, matter-of-factly. The clone nodded.
"I met the Captain of the Waverider today." The clone said. If she could feel emotion, it would seem she was being nonchalant to try and hide her curiosity, but Ava knew better. Ava's couldn't feel. "She thought I was you. She was upset when I wasn't."
"Was she okay?" The question tumbled out before Ava could stop it. She'd seen all the texts and missed calls, even some from the other Legends, but she couldn't face answering any of them.
The clone shrugged. "She was sad. She looked like she wanted to cry. I was told that was normal at funerals though."
It felt like a punch in the gut. Ava could count the number of times she'd seen Sara cry in one hand, normally only in the night when she'd had a nightmare or after a particularly stressful mission. She could only let out a shaky breath. "Oh. Okay."
Hank’s funeral had been today, and she hadn’t gone, mostly because Hank had fired her but now wasn’t around to implement it, and Ava wasn’t entirely sure where she stood. Her bag was packed, but she wouldn’t leave unless she had to.
Ava Thirteen had gone instead, shouldering the responsibility of Director well. She would start officially within the week.
In a rare display of kindness, the clone gave Ava a position as a field agent, which let her feel involved. It felt strange being 'Agent Sharpe' again, especially when a woman wearing her face was called 'Director', but Ava wasn't going to complain. The job stopped her from sitting at home all day, looking at someone who reminded her of everything she hated about herself and trying desperately not to go crawling back to Sara and beg her for forgiveness. It gave her purpose and structure, and she followed the rules to the letter, but it didn't make her feel anywhere near as good as it used to.
The new Director was good at her job. Better than she'd been, Ava thought ruefully. She didn't go gallivanting off to have adventures with a bunch of freelance time-travellers, she didn't slack off early to play happy families with her girlfriend, and she certainly didn't have visitors dressed in lingerie to distract her.
There was a box on her desk when she got back from her first mission. In it was a little note -
This is what was in your desk. I do not want these things. Ava (13)
It wasn’t much. A picture of her parents, as fake as her plant - Gary had bought it for her after she'd killed her last three. A bottle of her second favourite whiskey, a little strip of photos of her and Sara. They'd gone to the fair in the 70s, under some vague pretence of scouting for magical creatures, but in reality, they'd gone to eat trash food and ride the waltzer so many times Sara threw up, then ride the ferris wheel and only kiss when it got to the very top. There had been a photo booth, and they'd taken pictures, silly and light.
Everything went back in the box, and the box went under her desk.
Ava groaned as Ava Thirteen took the remote. "I was watching that!"
"Ava's can't consume content that doesn't improve our mental capabilities." She said, as if it was obvious. Ava snorted, then an idea popped into her head.
"What is the biggest weakness that prevents you from fulfilling your role?"
Ava Thirteen scrunched up her nose, considering the question. "Human relationships. I struggle to connect with others, impeding effective team management."
"So watching a show about human relationships would be beneficial?"
The clone shrugged. "I suppose."
Ava took the remote back and turned it back to the Bachelor.
"Is that why you watch it?" Ava Thirteen asked, taking a handful of popcorn from the bowl.
Ava didn't know how to answer that. Maybe it was why she watched it - maybe something in her needed to understand. Or maybe something in her manufactured personality found a guilty pleasure in watching trashy reality TV, with gorgeous women and silly drama. It was something Sara always teased her about, but they still watched it together, curled upon the couch.
She looked over to see Ava Thirteen wrinkling her nose.
"Isn't he very ... average? Aesthetically? I'm not sure why any of these women would choose him for a partner."
It was something Ava had thought about, whether her sexuality was really part of her or some twisted fantasy by her creator. Maybe liking women was innate in all of them.
She just shrugged. "He's okay."
Ava Thirteen just nodded thoughtfully, and they watched in silence, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.
Sara portalled into the kitchen, because of course she did, barrelling in like always with no respect for boundaries and personal space -
"What the hell are you doing here?" Ava asked, voice hard.
Sara looked tired, her eyes downcast as she ran a hand through her hair.
"Hey, Aves." She said quietly.
Ava just glared at her.
"Gary said - he said you got hurt. I wanted to make sure you're okay."
Ava wasn't okay. She was distracted and skittish, and she hadn't been paying attention on a mission, not until an angry goblin had thrown a brick at her. Now her stomach was a kaleidoscope of black and blue, and it made standing up unbelievably painful, but she stood anyway, arms folded.
There was a pause, and it looked like Sara wanted to keep talking, but the words wouldn't come out.
"Aves -" She started but stopped and turned towards the stairs. Ava turned too to see Ava Thirteen coming down, still dressed in her Bureau suit. "What's she doing here?"
"I live here." The clone said, indignantly. "More importantly, what are you doing here, Miss Lance? The Bureau may not be actively chasing you, but that doesn't mean you're welcome in my house -"
"It's mine too!" Sara said angrily, hands balling up into fists, but it only lasted a second. "I mean - it was. Was going to be. Fuck -"
"What do you -" The clone started, but Ava lifted her finger.
"Shut up, both of you!"
They went silent.
"Ava, I'll explain - could you just give us a minute? I promise she's not staying."
Ava Thirteen didn't look completely sure, but she nodded anyway, and made her way back up the stairs. When she was gone, Ava turned.
"She's living here?" Sara asked.
"Mr Heywood thought it would be best." Ava said, focused on keeping her voice level.
"I'm going to kill him." Sara muttered under her breath, and Ava could only laugh - a hollow sound.
"Yes, because violence is the only way you know how to solve problems, isn't it?"
When Sara looked up, she looked so defeated, and it was all Ava could do to keep her legs from giving out underneath her.
"I didn't come for a fight, Aves." She said quietly. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I am." Ava said quietly, and Sara just nodded, fiddling with her courier.
"I'll go. See you around." She muttered before opening the portal and stepping through. She turned, and their eyes met. Blue eyes, glistening with tears, was the last thing Ava saw before the image fizzled out.
"What did she mean by that?"
Ava Thirteen was back at the bottom of the stairs, brow furrowed.
"Captain Lance - Sara - she -" Ava couldn't bring herself to say it. She took a deep breath. "She's my ex-girlfriend. We were going to move in together."
"Oh." The clone seemed surprised. "I thought you said clones couldn't have relationships?"
"They shouldn't." Ava said quietly as she slowly made her way towards the staircase. "I'm going to bed."
"You should ice your bruise." The clone said, but Ava ignored her.
Little happened of note after that. Ava’s bruise healed, but it still hurt every time she went for a run, which was slightly more often now. She found it easier just to stay out of the way of her roommate, as they somehow found ways to become annoyed by each-other, with Ava Thirteen complaining every time she took an extra-long shower or ate chocolate.
Something was changing though – something the instruction manual hadn’t prepared her for. Tiny pieces of individuality poking through. Ava Thirteen used strawberry body wash and preferred nature documentaries over historical ones, she always drank from a pink mug, and she wasn't just using Ava’s blonde hair grips. One was blue, a little pale line that held her hair in place.
Also, Hank came back from the dead. Ava wasn’t even phased. She was more upset by the persistent desire to call Sara to talk about it, talk about all the crazy that was their lives and laugh about it, but she didn’t. It was too late.
She filled her time by running and searching the manual for answers that weren't there.
Ava watched as Ava Thirteen commanded her first mission - she was brilliant, calm and precise, but able to deviate when the plan was disrupted. In the end, they had three very pissed-off griffins in Bureau custody and the worst injury sustained was a ripped shirt sleeve.
The clone smiled for the rest of the day, a small, hidden thing, but she beamed a little brighter every time someone commended her.
"You did well today." Ava said, strangely proud, as they sat at the kitchen counter, Ava Thirteen working on her laptop. She smiled properly then.
"We should celebrate - I thought I'd make snicker-doodles. They're the only thing I know how to bake."
Ava Thirteen began to nod, then her smile fell, just a little. "Are they cookies? I can't have cookies. It's not nutritionally relevant."
Ava shrugged. "Suit yourself. I'm making them anyway."
She did, and she noticed how the clone watched her every move, as she mixed the ingredients, formed the dough and pressed out little circles onto the baking sheet. Hot out of the oven, she nearly burnt her tongue tasting one, but when she offered it to her, Ava Thirteen just shook her head.
Later that night, as Ava was heading up the stairs to bed, she noticed a single light on in the kitchen.
Ava Thirteen was illuminated against it. Her hands were flat on the counter as she looked at the Tupperware tub of cookies, not blinking. Then, very slowly, she lifted her hand, lifted the lid, and lifted the cookie to her lips, taking the tiniest bite. Ava had to stile her laughter when she pushed the rest of the cookie into her mouth, finishing it in one huge bite that made her cheeks bulge. She reached for another, and Ava turned away, and went to her room, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth.
Sara was the last person she expected to see in the Time Bureau med-bay, especially standing over her clone in a hospital bed.
"What happened?" Ava said, slightly breathlessly, because someone on the creature containment team had said the Director had been hurt on a mission, and Ava had run up two flights of stairs to check if she was okay. She seemed okay - a little pale, a plaster on her head and her arm in bandages but otherwise fine. Above her, Sara was looking distinctly guilty.
"She came to yell at us. There were ghosts in Jane Austen's house and we may have accidentally made everything much worse, but when she came through the portal it really freaked out Jane's grandmother and she beat her with a fire poker." Sara said, smiling a little. Ava supposed it was pretty funny. "We fixed everything though, don't worry."
"I know." Ava said quietly. "You normally get things fixed eventually."
"Thanks, I guess."
Sara smiled, and Ava smiled back, but the moment was broken when Ava Thirteen groaned loudly.
"The doctors say she can go home - a night in her own bed, she'll be back to normal by tomorrow." Sara clarified, and Ava just nodded. Ava Thirteen sat up slowly, still groaning and muttering.
"Come on, Director, lets go home." Ava muttered, moving her arm around her shoulders, but Ava Thirteen was weighed down by sleep and refused to move. "Can you -"
Sara didn't need to be asked. She ducked round to the other side and helped pull Ava Thirteen up and off the bed.
"Am I this heavy?" Ava said as she tried to balance the sleepy woman on her arm and operate her time courier.
"I mean, I wasn't going to say anything -"
Through the portal, they pushed Ava Thirteen onto the couch, where she slumped down, face first, and immediately started to snore.
"Wow, they really gave her the good stuff." Ava muttered, then turned to her - girlfriend? ex-girlfriend? co-worker? - who was smiling gently. "Did I used to snore like that?"
"Yeah. I thought it was cute." Sara said softly. Ava looked up to see she was blushing. “I – ah – I should go.” Sara muttered.
“You could stay for a drink?” The question came out before Ava had a chance to think it through, but Sara nodded, and went straight for where she knew Ava kept her liquor.
It was awkward, as they stood and sipped scotch.
“What have the Legends been up to?” Ava said. It was a poor attempt at conversation – she knew what the Legends were up to, she read all of Ava Thirteen’s reports on their missions, but Sara smiled.
“We kidnapped Nixon.” She said, slightly shyly, and Ava was surprised by that. She’d never seen Sara so nervous before. “There was a truth telling bug. Charlie was pissed though, we accidentally left her behind. Ray’s doing her chores for three months to make up for it.”
Ava snorted. “He loves chores! I’m sure he doesn’t mind.”
“Not at the moment – he’s going through his rebellious phase. He’s been talking about getting another tattoo.”
“Oh, tell him not to. Nora is still weirded out by that corgi with the mohawk.”
“Have you seen her?”
Ava shook her head. She hadn’t been down to the creature containment facilities since Sara had told her what was happening. There was an awkward silence, and Ava thought they might start arguing again, but Sara just stared at the floor. Her fingers were tight around the glass, the amber liquid shaking slightly inside
“Zari started her own radio show.” She said quietly. “Gideon helps her broadcast it on Friday nights. Apparently her biggest audience is UFO spotters camped out in the desert and Time Bureau Employees.”
Ava nodded and enjoyed the warmth from Sara’s smile as she talked.
Coming down the airwaves, ready to take you to another time, it’s DJ Z, playing all the hits from this year or any other. Now, a track for all those out there who are lonely and lost tonight – I know this world is full of broken hearts, and this is one for you -
Ava lay on her bed, headphones loosely in her ears, as the radio played through her phone. She’d never really listened to music before, except for the few songs Nate had shown her, but she’d started listening to Zari’s radio show and was enjoying it. The song ended, and Zari’s soft, smooth voice came through her headphones.
That was Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi – now, onto something really special. I have an exclusive from world renowned author Rebecca Silver, as she reads the first ten pages of her new novel, ‘Death of a Rogue.’
It sounded strange, like a small commotion was happening, but then the microphone crackled, and a familiar deep voice came down the airwaves.
I’m … Rebecca Silver.
Ava couldn’t help but laugh as Mick’s gravelling voice started to read, and she lay on her bed, warm and content.
The mission was simple - capture the seelies who were terrorizing a tiny Finnish fishing village, and it was the first mission Ava had led since being demoted. It had gone well so far, if a little messily - the seelies were now mostly in the Bureau, and Ava was just tracking down the remaining few. Her team were a way behind her. The only sounds she could hear was the soft crunch of snow underfoot and the whispering of the wind.
She turned. There she was, the monster, cowering behind a tree. She looked thin and haggard, dressed in rags.
Ava swallowed. She hadn’t let herself think about what happened to the creatures in the Bureau’s care, and maybe she could justify it to herself when she was arresting the aggressive and almost feral seelies, but not this creature. Not with her tired and scared eyes, not with the bundle of rags wrapped in her arms - a baby, no more than a few months old. Hardly a danger to anyone.
It was a split-second decision.
“Go.” She hissed, and the woman cocked her head, but Ava waved her hand. “Go! Leave! Just don’t cause any trouble.”
The seelie turned and ran, and Ava used her coms to stand the team down.
When she got back, Hank chewed her out for only capturing ten creatures when reports had said there were twelve, but she maintained her ground and insisted she’d merely miscounted. Being yelled at by a supervisor used to terrify her, but maybe some of the Legends spirit had rubbed off on her, and she just stood and nodded as he ranted.
"Were there really only ten seelies?" Ava Thirteen asked quietly, as they sat on the couch that night, eating one of their 'compromise foods' - pasta with garlic bread. Ava looked up.
"Do you want me to answer that?"
Ava Thirteen thought for a second, chewing on a meatball. "No." She answered, when just enough time had passed that Ava thought she might not.
"Thank you." Ava said quietly, but her roommate wasn't listening, her eyes glued to the TV, so much so there was now sauce on her chin.
"What is Denver?" She said, and the sound of buzzers from the TV told her she was right. She did a little fist pump.
The clone was crying.
Ava had gotten home a little late to find Ava Thirteen on the couch, tears running down her face as she stared blankly ahead, at a TV that wasn't on.
"Ava? Is something wrong? Interface, read -"
"I'm not malfunctioning." The clone said quietly. "Or - maybe I am, I don't know, it feels awful -"
"Did something happen?" Ava asked gently, moving to sit next to her.
"Yes." She whispered. "Hank took me - took me to the black-site. They were experimenting on that siren we pulled from that Siberian forest last week. She - she was screaming, so much. Hank didn't care." The clone looked up, eyes cold but sincere. "This isn't right. This can't be - I know we have to follow their rules, but ..."
She trailed off and looked at Ava helplessly. No wonder she couldn't vocalize how she was feeling, Ava thought. She'd never had feelings; never been allowed.
"I'm sorry you had to see that." Ava said quietly. "But it's for the greater good."
"You sound like him." Ava Thirteen said, tears shining on her cheeks. She wasn't wiping them away, wearing them like a badge of pride, proof of feeling in an unfeeling world. "You sound like Hank. I thought you were different."
Ava laughed, a hollow sound. "How am I? You know better than anyone how far from unique I am. A quick time jump and there's thousands more of us. Millions."
She raised an eyebrow, clearly confused. "You are unique, Ava. You're different - you've got likes and preferences, you have friends. You feel things, you've loved." She said, almost wistfully. "You're just as human as they are.”
"You can't - you can't think like that. We're not human." Ava said, voice choked.
"Maybe not at first. I wasn't at first, but you taught me - taught me about all sorts of human things, like books and food and sunshine, and more important things, like kindness, and hope. All the important things." She smiled, a little crooked grin, and Ava didn't recognize it. "You taught me to do what's right, not just what we're programmed for. I think that's pretty human."
"We can't just burn everything down to fix this." Ava whispered, a little taken aback.
"Who said we would? We can do this like Avas, not like the Legends." She was fully smiling now, all traces of tears gone, and Ava couldn't help but smile back.
"Like Avas. Okay. I can do that."
They did it.
In John’s words, they bloody did it.
The plan had gone perfectly - almost all the Time Bureau had joined their side, as the agents had been horrified the creatures in their care were being tortured, and together they'd managed to portal them all onto the Waverider and take them to the safety of the time stream. Hank had got away, but Ava was pretty pleased with the high ground they now had, even if it meant the Waverider was now bursting at the seams with all kinds of creatures and people. Ava was pretty sure she could hear Gideon grumbling about it. Mona was in her element, apparently deep in conversation with a wood nymph and a gnome.
"Are you okay?" Sara's voice came from behind. She was standing in the doorway of her office, hands worrying the edges of her sleeves.
Ava just nodded and smiled. "I need a shower. Other than that I'm fine."
"Think the shower's being used by a mermaid at the moment." Sara said with a half-smile.
"I'll survive." Ava said, and they just smiled at each-other. It was just them, in their own world, just as it always was, even with the chaos around them.
“We should talk.” Sara said quietly.
“After.” Ava said, but backtracked when she saw Sara’s face fall, just a bit. “No – I don’t mean – I just have to do something first.”
Ava Thirteen was in the cargo bay, sat on a box, eyes furrowed as she stared out of the little window. She smiled when she saw Ava come in, then pointed toward the window. “That’s space, right? Space-time?”
“I think we’re technically outside time.” Ava muttered. “I asked Sara once, even she doesn’t get it.”
“I want to understand.” Ava Thirteen said thoughtfully, eyes fixed on the swirling nothingness. “I’m not coming back with you.”
“What?” That threw Ava, but the clone just smiled.
“I’ve enjoyed being the Director, but you’re the Director Sharpe the Bureau needs. I want to – I don’t know. To see the world outside the one I was made for.”
“You’re braver than me.” Ava said quietly. “I couldn’t – I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, and it cost me everything to stay. You’re gonna do amazing.”
Ava Thirteen beamed, and Ava was struck by just how young she looked.
“I think I want to go to the sea.” She said. “I think I’d like that.”
Ava realised then, in her whole ten months and twenty-three days of being alive, she’d never seen the sea either. “I think I’d like that too.” She whispered, and they smiled.