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Phantomine

Chapter Text

It was taking time to sink in. I wasn’t really Morgan Yu. I was a typhon, a hybrid, an experiment. I was in a room that looked like it was in a TranStar station, I’d chosen to sacrifice myself to destroy Talos and prevent the typhon from reaching Earth. I’d sat in the captain’s chair, watching my friends escape in their shuttle, watching Alex’s escape pod follow them to safety. And instead of death and salvation, I got… this. I wasn’t really me.

Alex held his hand out, and I grasped it. I felt it, I saw it. The cold twisting tendrils of my arm - a typhon phantom’s arm - became solid, human skin. Instead of undulating, I could see what looked like flesh stretched over bone. Veins under the skin. Fingernails.

I could feel Alex’s hand touching my own. I had so many questions. Was I really me, was I human enough, with the introduced DNA, was I simply a mimic of Morgan Yu? Was she alive, or dead?

“Just like old times,” Alex said.

Instead, because my memories were still there, I opened my mouth to retort. “That’s what you-” my voice was distorted, whispery, metallic. It was not my voice. I had never spoken once, when I was… in the simulation of Talos 1. I had only heard the real Morgan’s voice, in recordings . I felt a shiver down my spine, I felt my skin shift and I felt thinner, lighter. Unreal. I gasped and pulled away from him.

Alex frowned. “It’s okay, don’t worry, you need time.” He was stern and kind, like he’d always been… well, like he’d always been in the simulation.

So maybe he wasn’t my brother. So what?! He’d made me, he was still family. He had said I had Morgan’s DNA inside me. We were related after a fashion. He’d look after me. He said I’d passed, that I had empathy. He liked me. He was placing his trust in me.

I closed my eyes, felt my body breathe air in and out. Human. I was part human. My body felt real, and I could feel Alex’s hand still holding my own. I opened my eyes to look at him, and I remembered something else.

The typhons… they had never worn any clothing. I doubted that anyone would have bothered with it either, if I had resembled a typhon the entire time I was in the simulation. But now, I could feel my human body. Shoulders, breasts, thighs, crotch, the lot.

Alex realised it in the same moment that I did. He looked up, away, at the walls. Cleared his throat. I buried my hands in my face and bit my tongue and tried not to cry out in that strange voice. I kicked out, pushed him as far away as I could reach.

“Ow!” he said, backing up.

I wrapped my arms around myself and drew my knees up.

“I suppose I deserved that,” he said. I glanced up and he had turned to face the wall.

“I’ll… go fetch a suit from the fabricator,” the AI Mikhaila said, hovering away into the next room. The door hissed shut behind her and I let my head fall back against the padded chair. Well, great. My first day of consciousness, and my brother had already seen me naked. Things couldn’t get worse than that. Could they?

Chapter Text

Mikhaila came back within seconds, bringing a familiar TranStar suit. It seemed to fit pretty well, but then again I’m hardly a good judge of human fashion. I’ve seen myself in underwear in a simulation, and a bunch of imaginary people and corpses. And I guess I’ve seen my brother Alex in his TranStar suit, but I wasn’t sure that brothers counted when it came to judging fashion. I think I looked okay in the suit.

He was in the break room when I summoned the courage to approach him. I still felt a little gross about the nudity thing. Nobody ever wants their big brother to see them that way. I may not have been fully human, but I reckoned that was a pretty universal truth.

“Ah, good,” he said. “You look more like yourself.”

He had two packets of instant ramen on the table, as well as disposable chopsticks and a thermos. He held a hand out, indicating the seat opposite himself.

I sat down. I’d always liked the ramen the best. It was exciting when I’d found another packet still sealed and safe to eat in the simulation. Alex obviously knew that I’d shown a preference for them. I guess the reports from the simulator collected a lot of statistics. Or, maybe, Morgan Yu had liked them too.

“I thought perhaps something familiar and well-liked would help you acclimatise,” he said.

I didn’t dare say anything, with my mangled typhon’s voice. I picked the styrofoam bowl up and opened my mouth to…

Alex’s brows drew together.

I froze.

Right. That’s… not how you eat them? I could feel my cheeks turn pink. I set the bowl back down and watched as Alex tried to spare my ego by huffing, grumbling, looking away, and ignoring me. He did everything slowly, one step at a time. I watched him carefully, mimicking his actions.

Peel off the plastic wrapping. Okay, that makes sense. Humans don’t eat inorganic matter. Then peel the lid back halfway. Open the fiddly little packets of powder, shake them in. Then take the thermos, open it, pour hot water up to an indentation around the inside of the bowl. Take the chopsticks, and set them down on top. It all made perfect sense once I’d seen it being done.

“So, how did they taste, in the simulation?” He asked politely.

I coughed. I tried to remember. Salty? Maybe? When I tried to focus on the thought, it slipped away from me. I shrugged.

“I guess that’s about how they taste out here, too,” he said with a half-smile.

The steam rose up from the container, and it felt warm, and it smelled stale and yellow and wet.

After a few minutes of silence, Alex made eye contact with me and raised his eyebrows. I echoed his gestures closely as he peeled the lid off all the way and snapped his chopsticks in half.

Mine broke badly, splintering. With a sigh, he shoved his neat pair at me and snatched mine.

“Hey!” I said, on reflex. My voice echoed inside me like I was a tin can. I shivered, I shrank in on myself. But Alex just looked back at me evenly and said, “Eat.”

The noodles were wet, salty, and tasted like a sweet, green kind of yellow. I’m not sure how to describe it. But I felt warm sitting there with Alex, making human noises as I ate and feeling my mouth and my throat work how they were meant to. There was something very satisfying about having a body and knowing it was working as it should. That I was sharing something fundamentally human with him.

I’m not sure if he meant for me to see it, but he was smiling as we ate together like a family.

Chapter Text

There had been toilets all over Talos 1 in my memory. Everywhere, everywhere, toilets. I suppose in my memories in the simulation it made sense. I’d never used them, no matter how much I ate. But the simulation was like a dream, and I had never questioned it. Talos had toilets, like it had cinemas and magazines with coupons for pizza deliveries on Earth.

The first sign of trouble came seven hours after I had eaten the ramen. Pain in my stomach. It was different to the pain I’d experienced when I had been injured in the simulation. This pain twisted inside me. I felt sweaty and faint. I was too scared to tell anyone. Obviously the typhon I had begun my life as, was fighting back inside me. Rejecting the human parts of me. Rebelling inside my skin.

I refused to disappoint Alex, or any of my companions from the simulation. I bit down on the inside of my cheek, and I sat straighter in my chair, and I stared at the screen and scrolled through the document I had been reading, pretending that I was still taking the words in. That I wasn’t caught in a deep internal struggle to maintain my very form.

It took another half hour for my abdomen to emit the squeak. It sounded like a deflating balloon, like a crack depressurising a room. A high-pitched whine that came from inside me.

The AI operator, Doctor Igwe, paused where he was hovering nearby and turned toward me.

“Morgan,” he began tentatively. “Did anyone have a talk with you about-”

The ballistic rumble that followed left no doubt at all that something was wrong with me. I jumped, shocked, horrified.

“I won’t hurt you! I’ll kill myself before I let the-” My horror and guilt overcame my normal reluctance to speak out loud.

“Going to the toilet,” Igwe finished.

I turned, if possible, paler. “Oh,” I said. “Oh, no.”

Igwe proved that an AI could most definitely shake with laughter. “I can pull up some files for you if you need a point of reference…”

I waved my hand. “Fine. Thanks!”

I was up and walking out of the office, down the hall, past the potted plants. My cheeks burned with shame, but I knew I had to focus on the imminent crisis.

Toilets were like chairs. I sat down. Oh, shit, the suit. I stood up again. After some fumbling I found the fixtures for the flaps in the right locations. So far, so good. I sat back down.

I do not have words for what came next. It is clear to me that humans use words for excrement as curses with good reason. I also now understand why Talos 1 always had a very good stock of toilet paper.

Chapter Text

Over time I grew used to seeing my own reflection and thinking of myself as a different person from Morgan Yu. I still did not have a name for myself. I still resented it whenever anyone called me “Morgan”, as if the implanted memories were more real than I was. As if I needed to fake a connection instead of relying on the real connections we were building day to day. I suppose they were trying to be nice.

I wondered at times if the real Morgan was dead. If they were acting out a hope so desperate and deep they were hiding it from themselves. Maybe they hoped that they could bring Morgan back, and that could give them hope for their own resurrections, for their lost loved ones.

It took a week for me to understand the truth. They were doing it simply because I called Alex my brother, and they wanted to respect how I chose to see myself. Also, because I hadn’t been speaking much, and I was wearing a suit with the name M. Yu on it.

We were pathetically well-intentioned dorks, back then. It’s easy to laugh about it, looking back. It all felt very serious at the time.

I came into the break room one morning to find a stranger sitting at the table. He had choppy dark hair, and a familiar look to his face. I thought that perhaps he was one of the crew from Talos 1, a survivor, and I was not able to accurately place him. Though I had chosen to destroy Talos 1, the original Morgan Yu had chosen to use the nullwave to save Alex’s research. Perhaps he was a survivor that I knew from Morgan’s fickle implanted memories.

Whoever he was, there was another human still alive. It wasn’t just Alex by himself. That was good news.

“Hi there,” the man said.

I shrugged hello, unwilling to betray myself with my typhon’s voice, and sat down at his table with my food. After a couple of days of experimentation, I had learned to take Mikhaila’s advice and have oatmeal for breakfast. Fibre and hydration were fundamental to a comfortable digestive system.

He had toast, which was crunchy, a plus. Very fun to eat. However it also had little bits of air all through it. Gas was my mortal enemy, and I would not lose to it, not even for the satisfyingly crisp sounds that toast made when I bit into it.

“So, do you like it here?” He was trying to be friendly.

I shrugged. It was the only place I had any genuine memory of.

“Better than the alternative, hey?” He grinned at me.

I shrugged. My options were pretty limited without speech. I ate my oatmeal. He ate his toast. The lights overhead caught on the detailing on his suit. His namepatch. My eyes flicked over it, curious.

M. Yu.

I froze, spoon halfway to my mouth. I was not Morgan Yu. He was. In that case, who was I?!

Something sick coiled and twisted inside me, and it was not any variety of carbohydrate. I felt my body roil under my skin. I found myself wishing to be solid, secure, safe, somehow. To know who I was. I flinched on reflex, and the world shifted around me.

Which is how Alex came in and found us. M. Yu, his brother, holding a piece of toast and staring at a bowl of oatmeal and three mugs of coffee.

“Did you scare her off already?” Alex was colder towards Morgan than he ever was towards me. I wondered what that meant, that he was kind to me. Humans were always weird about gender, I supposed. I’d learned enough from reading their bitchy emails to each other.

Alex sat down in the chair I’d been sitting in. “Well, at least you got enough coffee for all of us-”

“No, don’t!” Morgan cried out.

Alex paused and looked down at the mugs thoughtfully. “Which one is…?”

Morgan put a hand over his face. “I think it’s the pink one. Is that… is it… blushing?!”

Chapter Text

Danielle Sho and January kept me company until I felt ready to stop being a mug. It took a few hours, and I couldn’t come back when the real Morgan Yu and Alex were still there. But eventually the coffee felt cold inside, and I felt the need to have legs and pace the room.

“You took that better than I would,” Danielle said, hovering a polite distance away from me.

I looked down at my arms and thighs. I was female. Morgan Yu wasn’t. I wasn’t Morgan Yu. I never had been, even when I’d carried his memories and thought I’d had his name. There were parts of me that were different.

“He’s not like me,” I said. I was getting better at keeping my voice tighter, cleaner. I still only liked to talk to the AIs.

I couldn’t bear the thought of Alex thinking less of me, of him seeing me as a stranger and not as a sister. And Morgan, well. He was the real him. No competition there. They were family, I was an outsider. But I’d made choices in the simulation that Alex liked better.

I’d read up on what really happened, in contrast to what I’d chosen in the simulation. Morgan had been colder, more utilitarian. He’d sacrificed humanity in order to further his own scientific career. Instead I’d made choices to save as many people as possible, to be kind and empathic. I’d sacrificed myself for them.

“Morgan, nobody would think that you’re-”

“THAT’S NOT MY NAME!” I threw my arms up in the air. I grabbed handfuls of my hair and cried out all the words for excrement that I had ever heard. It seemed like the time for swearing.

“Whoah,” Danielle said.

“You missed out faeces,” January said helpfully.

“Your face missed out faeces,” I retorted. “Sorry. I’m sorry. But I can’t use that name. It’s not mine.” Like Alex wasn’t mine, he was Morgan’s brother.

We all looked out the window at the calming darkness and stars.

“You could share my name if you like, Danielle said. I’d Sho like that.”

January groaned. “Or not. You could use my naming scheme, if you prefer.”

“Seriously?” Danielle sighed. “Who would?”

“I may, may I?” I rolled the word around. “I’m May.” It felt good.

Danielle recoiled. “Seriously?”

I made the right gestures and sounds to give the impression that I was cracking my knuckles. Still not sure if I have bones, but it felt pretty satisfying.

“Well it’s a competition, isn’t it? For Alex’s approval. With M. Yu. And May the best human win.”

Danielle hovered up and down in the air beside January.

“Actually the aphorism is-” January began.

“I think it’s a great name,” Danielle cut her off. “But I’m not sure if you should really be picking a fight with Morgan.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Maybe it is cruel. But he’s awful at being a human, so I’m going to show him.”

Chapter Text

Morgan Yu was far more willing to entertain thoughts of a competition than anyone else. They all thought that the most important task was repeating the experiment, and finding a way for me to communicate with the typhon.

Morgan and I both knew better. Only one of us could be the best. It wasn’t about which of us was real - with my new name, May, we were our own people with our own memories. But there was something there. Mostly it was this.

Alex was nicer to me, but Morgan was his real brother.

I still wasn’t talking to living humans. Danielle was working me through vocal exercises, but when I got emotional or distracted I still distorted and sounded wrong.

“All right,” Morgan said. He looked down at the cards between us. Face-down in a grid. He pointed at one in the middle, and I turned it over. It had a flower on it. Then, he pointed at one in the far corner from me. I turned it over, and it had a picture of a crab.

“You’re cheating!” He cried out, just as Alex walked in.

I shrugged. I wasn’t, actually. But he knew he’d already lost. He’d lost his composure over a child’s game, and Alex had seen it. Alex would think less of him for it.

“It’s cruel, toying with him like that,” Alex said with a smile.

I sat back, face blank in surprise. Morgan pointed at me, and grinned, laughing. “Ah-hah!”

“And honestly Morgan, you don’t have anything better to do?”

I stuck my tongue out at Morgan.

“Really if you want to test your differences, you should pick something more challenging.”

Our station didn’t have anything like the G.U.T.S. to play around in, so we clipped tethers to an airlock and took up our positions on the outside of the ship, facing in. Large painted words like SHUTTLE BAY, RESEARCH, and the ever-present TRANSTAR with the logo in red on white paint.

“On your marks,” January said over the radio.

I turned my head to look at Morgan Yu. He looked back at me.

“Are you ready to lose?” He asked me.

I stuck my tongue out at him. It was childish. I know this. I was being a bit silly, but I was only a week or two old.

I don’t know what it was, but in that moment something changed between us. He grinned back at me, and I blinked in confusion.

“Get set,” January said.

This wasn’t a fight to the death. This wasn’t even a fight for myself, not really. In my life I had only known danger and death. Morgan had mostly known pressure and fear and perfectionism. And then, I could only imagine, an immense and suffocating guilt.

And we were about to make silly things in space with gloo guns for no good reason. I grinned back at him.

“Go!” January said.

We hit our thrusters at the same time. This was fun, right? I was having fun with friends. I hated Morgan a little bit, but I knew him like I knew myself. He’d seen all the awful things I’d seen. It was almost like we’d gone through it together. Yeah, he was my friend. Realising that felt like the memory of sunshine warm on my skin.

Alex was our chosen judge. Once we were done we sat side by side in the break room, watching him squint at the screen.

“What am I even looking at, here?”

That was Alex being polite. I had drawn a giant smiling face, with curly eyebrows. But angles are hard with the gloo gun, and the circle was wobbly and had weird gaps, and one of the eyebrows had accidentally stuck on to a loose panel and floated away, dangling in a lumpy chain a foot away from the hull.

Morgan had tried, he claimed, to draw January. He had drawn a wobbly rectangle.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Morgan said.

I smiled as blandly as I could and tried to look keen.

Alex frowned at us. “Something’s off about you. Both of you. What are you up to?”

He’d picked up on the changed mood between us, but made the wrong assumption.

“Nothing!” Morgan was not very good at appearing innocent. Alex looked at me. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged, innocently as I could. It was also not very convincing.

“I’ll take it as a good sign. Maybe. I’ll see you both at dinner.”

When Alex was gone, Morgan clapped his hand against my shoulder. “Hey, that was fun kiddo. Let’s do it again sometime.”

Kiddo? I glared at him. But then suddenly, Morgan leaned over the distance between our chairs and hugged me.

“Sorry. I kind of need this. You’re the only one who’s really seen what it was like for me.”

I wrapped my arms around him. I risked my hoarse echo of a voice. “Yeah. It was real hard. You ran out of tea, you had to drink the coffee.”

He pulled back, hands on my shoulders, and gave me a very serious look. “It was horrible.” And then he laughed, and I laughed, and we knew we would always be best friends.