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FIC: Messengers

Title: Messengers
Fandom: Equilibrium
Characters/Pairings: Partridge, Preston, Partridge/Preston if you squint.
Date Written: 2005
Summary: Some pits, you don't want to crawl out of - even if you ever could.
Rating/Warnings: PG. No particular warnings, aside from being depressing.
Notes: Partridge character piece, nothing fancy.



He sits across the table from me, looking through the same paperwork I am, shuffling through the forms to inspect for mistakes that are never there. The edges of the paper fall past his finger, one, two, a dozen, pressure retracted in gradual perfection to allow for a steady rhythm of rasping paper-on-skin that you could set a watch to. He fills out his paperwork, I fill out mine; the answers are the same. They always are.

I hesitate near the end of the last sheet; it's not in response to anything on the form. I'm simply falling momentarily into a habit I've developed of late, one that will surely be the death of me before much longer - my mind has wandered. I look up to see him regarding me oddly, but not yet suspiciously - it's a nervous look if anything, except that he's never felt nervous in his life. I know this, because his life is my life is everyone else's life. The furrowing of brows, slight pinching of the eyes: a racial memory and nothing more. These are the same answers to the same questions, back and back and back, and he has turned the last form, laid his pen down. Why does my paperwork remain unfinished, under the pen poised in midair?

"Ah. Sorry," I say, and promptly fill in the last few spaces. Dangerous, Partridge. You're getting sloppy. Deliberately oblivious as he can be at times, he'll be forced to notice sooner or later. "My memory is poor lately. Perhaps my sleep schedule needs adjusting."

"Perhaps," he says, as I stack the completed paperwork neatly alongside his; together, they are a report of today's earlier raid. Together, they are a broken record, mirrored accounts nearly down to the handwriting. 'Broken record', curious phrase. He doesn't dig for any further explanation. What was found, what was destroyed. The details required are exacting, and we produce them on command.

----

Exacting questions are exclusive questions. They make assumptions about the content that limit its scope. There is no question, for example, that asks: How many sense-offenders did you accept surreptuous communications from in the course of the raid? The question goes unasked and unanswered. It is only a lie if the question is actually asked.

There are scraps of paper. They pass in between, pass from bare to gloved fingers, dance back and forth between existence and nonexistance. They are acknowledged in the physical realm as the momentary roughness of torn edges against skin, as the slight resistance under closing fingers, balled up in the instant they’re received. A brush at the side of a coat as if to remove ash or cinder and the scrap resides in a pocket, to be allowed back into existence only in the shade of solitude.

The content is rarely useful. The fight these messages support will never be won. I know that and perhaps, so do they. The point of the fight is not to win, but to die trying - it is the only way you have to assert your humanity, anymore. All else has been taken from us, before we were ever born. These scraps of rough paper, scrawled on with charcoal and ink, are our links to the times that went before, when people passed notes in secrecy not for fear of death, but for fear of embarrassment and disclosure. A time when secrets were kept for other reasons. Some of the scraps are not even messages from the Resistance, but are bits torn from old books and papers, letters of children to their parents, husbands away in combat to their wives, desperate beacons from the past, rightfully angry at their children’s children’s children for allowing the world to fall into its current state.

I have a closet in my home, secreted behind a wall. There are a few books, a picture or two. Photographs of John’s children, taken when no one was watching. These notes, hundreds of them, pressed flat and pinned to the wall, fluttering in the ventilation like the wings of dried butterflies.

----

I should not say ‘when no one was watching’. There is always someone watching.

----

I have to kill them sometimes. They understand this. The ones that still see the possibility of a win, a light at the end of the darkness, believe that having a Cleric on their side is the only path towards that light. They happily die to preserve my secret. The ones who, like me, understand that this is a martyr’s crusade simply see it as an inevitable outcome. If it isn’t me, it will be someone else. And eventually, I’ll be up against the same wall.

And it is a martyr’s crusade, and any who believe otherwise are fools. Knowing this does not make it any more possible to abandon it. Emotion is a drug as surely as Prozium is, and addiction is addiction any way you slice it.

Rage, and injustice, and the sick-sweet churn of watching the world go on as usual – those are emotions, too.

----

I find a record, on one raid, heavy and black and shiny beneath the thick layer of dust. There is no player, so I am left to wonder what the musician wanted to say, what message he had that was worth taking the time to carve into black lacquer in order to pass it down through time to a place where no one would understand.

We have no writers, no artists, no musicians, even in the Resistance. The trait seems dead, bred out, extinguished. This is why their war will never be won, at least not in the way they want it to be. If the production of Prozium stopped tomorrow, there would be less rejoicing and more chaos than they realize. There would be no imagination, no guiding hand to help the mass of emotional infants to learn to walk, to stand on their own. There would be anger, there might be suicide, but what there would not be is dancing in the streets with flowers and ribbons.

My collection of butterfly-wing notes grows. I add to it myself, when I cannot take a book or letter out of a raid site whole. There is color in the pattern, and I begin to arrange them as a mosaic of tiles, irregular and asymmetric. I realize that my time will be coming soon.

----

We all have our wives and children. The unit is a mechanical one, and its origin is unsettling and obscure, lost in the blank, vacant past. I was aware – I believe most of us were – that there had been, before Prozium, something beyond simple duty that prompted these clusterings of adults and children. We were not jealous of those times. From all we had seen in the Nether, the emotional family was a squalid, damp-hot rat’s hole of contradiction and manipulation, resentment and jealousy, bubbling over at the edges always with loathing and despair. I understood ‘family’.

What I did not understand, or expect, was how involuntary the feeling of family would turn out to be, or that it would go beyond blood and bone. I did not expect to begin to regard my partner as a brother. I did not expect it to hurt so much that the ‘feeling’, as it were, was not to be mutual.

He is, at times, remarkably dense, and he is beautiful for it, in the way that an animal is beautiful for its innocence. He has never come up with a satisfactory rationalization for not being the one to turn in his wife. There are whispers that he hoped to have her lead him to a Resistance cell. I honestly believe, at this point, that he just didn’t see it. He was trained to see it, he could recognize the slightest out-of-place twitch around the eye, the barest uncalled-for hitch of breath. But he didn’t see it in her, as he doesn’t see it in me. Perhaps someday, he won’t see it in himself. I doubt I’ll be there to gloat.

When the inevitable happens, I hope it’ll be him they send. It will be excellent poetry.

In the end, poetry will be all I have left.

*