First Loss


Etienne sat on the roof of SVT’s main office, his feet dangling over the side of the building and stared up at the night sky. Today had been the first time he’d lost someone on a mission. He was currently reviewing the mission for the sixth time, trying to figure out where he could have done better to prevent this. His programming was top of the line, his body responded faster than anything else currently available. There had to be something he could have done to bring that woman home to her family.

He’d properly disarmed all the traps. He’d made sure that none of the biological lifeforms on the mission moved ahead of him. He’d scanned, he’d evaluated, he’d weigh all the choices for the highest outcome of success and the safest path to take. It had been a simple retrieval mission. The target wasn’t even hostile.

One of their operatives had gotten injured in the field and they’d sent a team to recover them before the situation declined further. The operative had been tucked securely into a safehouse, still hidden from hostile forces. It had been a cakewalk. So, he needed to find his mistake in order to avoid it again in the future.

When the mission review was over, he ran it again. He was so focused on his task that he didn’t hear Doctor Vaughn approach him. He wasn’t even aware she was there until she cleared her throat. A flinch was his only response, but he kept quiet, letting the mission review finish again. Hesitantly he closed the feed and opened his eyes, glancing over at her.

She looked at him for a moment and then nodded towards the door and started walking, fully expecting him to follow. He stood without a sound and trailed after her. She wove her way through the halls and took him to his on-site quarters, though he did have an apartment outside of the facility that he preferred most days. She unlocked the door and went to sit on one of the barstools at the breakfast bar attached to the kitchenette.

When he sat beside her, she nodded to a new vinyl. He frowned and looked at her. “The mission wasn’t successful.”

She rolled her eyes and met his. “Yes, it was. Your goal was to retrieve our operative. The scientist you brought back is one of our most valuable assets and we needed them to analyze a new artifact that’s been brought in. You succeeded Etienne.”

His frown deepened. “But I failed to bring back the entire team. That’s not a success.”

With a sigh she rubbed the space between her eyebrows. “It doesn’t feel like one but within the given instructions it was. Yes, you are an android but no matter how sophisticated you might be there was nothing you could have done in that situation. You couldn’t predict that any aggressive forces would figure out where the safe house was or that they would attack with RPGs.”

“You lost one team member, out of seven. It’s an awful situation but you brought back the scientist you were sent to retrieve, kept your body from having to be replaced and kept the loss of life minimal. Stop sitting on the edge of the roof like you’re going to jump off before they decide they need to remove that mission from your memory banks. You can be upset and learn to process grief, something every living being has to learn at some point, you can even refuse missions like that in the future.”

“What you can’t do is draw attention to yourself because we agreed you could have the backup for emergency situations only. This is not within the parameters of what we defined as an emergency Etienne. If they took this mission from your memory, it wouldn’t alter your development because you’ll have ample opportunity to experience grief working for SVT. Do you understand?”

Etienne sighed and looked away. “I don’t understand why I can’t stop reviewing the mission. I’ve already debriefed. I’ve watched it twenty times now and there is nothing new for me to learn. I’ve already found the places I could have improved upon but none of them result in not losing Agent Fitzwilliams. Why am I so preoccupied with this?”

Doctor Vaughn put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “Because, Etienne, you have the capacity to feel empathy and you liked Agent Fitzwilliams. She was fiery and had that awful braying laugh, but she’d swear at you in Urdu and threaten to take your head off if you flirted with her too much. She was a friend. You’ve spent time with her and her wife and their beautiful children.”

“They knew you were an android, the only people outside of the team that worked on you and the powers that be who did. And she didn’t fucking care. Azayiz Fitzwilliams was a light in the dark and the world is poorer for her loss, but she threw you out of the way because she knew how important the mission was and she knew what you’re capable of. Don’t throw her sacrifice away wallowing in it. Anyone can die for someone else. The trick is learning to live for them. So, live for her.”

Etienne felt moisture on his face. This was only the second time he’d cried since he’d been given a body and he hated it. Doctor Vaughn ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his temple then got up. He buried is face in his hands and let the pain of this loss wash over him. His mother puttered around his apartment and then he heard his record player turn on.

He didn’t recognize the song at all. He’d never heard it before, but it was breaking his already fragile heart. Etienne wasn’t religious by any means, but he knew that archangels existed, and he’d even seen Lilith around the facility once or twice.

So, as he cried and listened to this song he prayed to Lilith and told her about the friend he’d lost yesterday and begged her to watch over Aza in her next life. When he’d finished praying, he pulled up his communication function and scheduled an appointment to get fitted for traditional Pakistani garb. Aza would have a fit if he wore a black suit, so instead he deferred to the country of origin for her many greats grandmother who she’d been named after.

He planned to ask them for deep purple fabric because she’d always said it was his color. Her wife Sara had agreed profusely because it apparently made his green eyes brighter. So he’d go to her funeral and he’d be dressed in a way that would honor her and he would come home and train and do whatever he could to be better in the future. He’d make sure Sara and her two children were safe and wanted for nothing so that Aza didn’t have to worry about them. It was the least he could do.

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