a blip in the algorithm

r | major character death | violence

For three hours a day, under the watchful eye of the prison's guards, Mira was surrounded by books and rarely by people. Library duty wasn't terribly sought after. Cleaning, cooking, and laundry duty had better pay. It wasn't much, but that extra ten cents an hour eventually added up to better shampoo, candy, or cigarettes at the commissary. In the beginning, she was the only worker in there, reading to fill time between stocking shelves and hunting down inmates' requests.

It gave her time to think.

She had mandated therapy every day, Monday through Friday. Part of the new prison reform bill. She didn't even know if her therapist was particularly good or not; after six months, they have hardly ever talked about the murders, and haven't spent much time talking about her childhood. Mira can't talk to her about the one thing she thought had significantly impacted her, since the therapist would probably transfer her straight to the mental ward.

SHIFTing had been like being shot out of a cannon, flying past memories and feelings so quickly that she couldn't process or even identify them. There were blues and reds and pinks, blurry and cold, staining her consciousness or her soul or whatever it was that had jettisoned from her old body and into this one. And somehow it felt like the colors had been screaming at her. When she first woke up with the rest of them outside Dcom, she had a headache and was nauseated, but didn't really feel any different.

Until she started remembering.

No, not remembering. They weren't her memories. But Mira hadn't come up with a better word for it, yet.

She recalled the timeline where she stabbed all of D-Team before escaping through the X-Door. She should have only been able to remember how easily the scalpel sliced through Sigma's flesh, or the last thing he said to her before she left to find the others - please do whatever you want to me but don't hurt Diana or Phi please. She should only remember Phi's surprised gasp, how her breathing faltered when Mira stabbed her, the bubbling sound that meant she had hit a lung. She should only remember Diana's body, twitching on the floor, the odd grunts she made before she expired, the way she was choking on her own blood.

But attached to those memories were her victims' emotions. She remembered Sigma's anger. She remembered Phi's hope that Diana could make it out alive. She remembered Diana's deep despair at losing both of them. Feelings that should have only been contained inside other people's hearts had seeped into her.

And when those feelings were there, they drowned out any sensations that were properly her own. She was certain she had been satisfied when the blade had cut into Sigma's side, when he collapsed to the floor. When she heard the crunching sound of Junpei's neck being snapped, when she watched the light leave his eyes. When she dug Eric's still-beating heart out of his chest, when she felt the blood flowing through her fingers.

But when she tried to recall those events, the satisfaction was gone. There was just borrowed fear and sadness and anger, as if her heart was a computer that had been infected with a virus, data warped and overwritten. The memories no longer pleased her, and she no longer actively tried to bring them up to relive them. Things that had been black and white shrieked in fuchsia, instead. Her dreams were fluorescent yellow with streaks of neon green, and they shoved her out of her slumber at three in the morning.

She even had memories of times and places where she hadn't been present. Memories of Carlos and Junpei deciding to let Akane have the only oxygen mask. Memories of them throwing their bodies on top of Akane to protect her from bullets. Memories of Diana and Sigma, devastated as they watched Phi being burned alive. She could watch them like movies in her mind, except movies didn't make her heart scream, like it was in pain.

Her heart.

It's still cold and black and dead, but emotions stolen from the sea she had swum through to get from one history to another occasionally made it beat with an artificial, uneven, unfamiliar rhythm that knocked her off balance.

Her therapist said it was a good sign, that she was making progress. That she was recovering or discovering her emotions.


It was like the Chinese Room she had read about. Now when her heart received input, it analyzed the data and compared it to her memories from the SHIFT. If something matched, if something told it, hey, this would make a normal person sad, it produced output that seemed reasonable, based on the available information.

But it wasn't Mira feeling these things. Her heart was just processing stimuli and mimicking appropriate responses. The girl in the room never actually learns Chinese, and Mira hadn't actually learned how to feel.

When Samantha, the inmate she always ate lunch with, had been killed in a prison fight, Mira had experienced a dull ache in her gut and a pain in her eyes. She had isolated herself and stared at the wall and no longer wanted to eat food or see people. She threw away the origami animals Samantha had made for her, that she had sitting on her small little desk, right below pictures of Eric and Sean. They had been taking up too much damn space, anyway. Her therapist said it was mourning, but Mira knew it was nothing of the sort.

Stimulus, response. Her heart knew how to properly fake it, now, and it would do so whenever it wanted, with or without her permission.

Her therapist's notes say that she's having an "emotional awakening" that will be "painful for her to process but is an important step for her to discover her humanity".

It would be interesting, if it was true.

Sometimes she wanted to call her therapist an idiot, list all the ways she was just as heartless and horrible as she was before. Tell her that she could easily slice out her heart and enjoy it like she's done so many times before. Mira's already broken into her office, twice, to read the things written about her in handwriting so tiny she can't make it out during her sessions. It's how she knows that her mutinous heart has done a wonderful con job on her therapist.

But as long as she reports positively on Mira's progress, Mira gets to keep her library detail.

And library detail was currently important to the work she was doing for Akane.

She and Eric and Sean had mostly been on the sidelines since the end of the Dcom incident. It wasn't like they really had skills to bring to the table. Well, Sean had been of use to Sigma a few times, but Eric wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and Mira ... was here.

But then Carlos visited her in prison, and once he was sure that the guards were listening in on a fake conversation, told her that they had a job for her to do. Leda Parker was being transferred to the same prison as Mira, and would be assigned the same library detail. Akane wanted Mira to befriend her and learn more about her criminal activities.

Considering that Leda was in prison for forty-three counts of tax evasion, Mira really didn't understand the point. Or what any of it had to do with a religious fanatic who was going to nuke the world. She thought that maybe Akane was giving her busy work to feel useful, but she couldn't imagine Akane being that generous.

It took three months to earn Leda's trust. Three months of pathetic small talk intermingled with Mira describing her murders in graphic detail, watching Leda's eyes light up.

Leda would casually talk about trafficking illegal body parts. Thefts from a federal research lab. The kidnapping of a prominent evolutionary biologist ten years ago. A hijacked shipment of equipment bound for the CDC. Mira used her one hour of internet time a week researching unsolved crimes that were similar to the ones Leda had admitted to, and she'd pass on her suspicions. Specimens stolen from a Toronto lab in 2008. A doctor in London who had gone missing around that same time. A murder attempt on the CEO of a biotech firm in Seattle. An odd explosion in a Tokyo hospital.

Sometimes when she was done writing a carefully coded letter to Eric for him to pass on to Akane, her face made an odd expression that was better than any fake smile she'd ever done. She'd feel like someone had tucked a heating pad into her chest, suffusing warmth throughout her body. It was like the satisfaction she used to get from a really, really good heart, and maybe something else. She thought, maybe, it might be happiness.

And sometimes it didn't bother her that it wasn't a real emotion, that it was just an echo of other people's feelings, a remnant of her SHIFT, rippling through the dead organ in her chest to create a phantom sensation. For a moment, she almost felt human.

It ... wasn't as horrible as she thought it would be.