As Jackie waited in line with the others to have their first meal in a week or so, she dwelled on how they got there in the first place.
The first thing was trying to accept that they slept for a whole week.
Going into her Mindscape was becoming just as natural as seeing for her. To the point one didn’t overtake the other like they used to, but… The mixture, both reality and the imaginative. Still too potent to simply accept.
Regardless. Jackie glanced over at her recent memory becoming reconstructed.
“Yep! Isn’t it amazing~?” Stark sounded so chipper when she faced them.
“I don’t think going into mini-comas… Like, not quite the circle of life we’ve heard...” Maddie sagged her shoulders in defeat. “Look I’m still waking up, give me a minute—"
“Is that natural…?” Tracy asked, wary of it being not.
“Are you kidding? It’s the ideal time frame,” Stark answered. She was wearing a grey hoodie and sweatpants combo that was too many sizes big for her, to the point of her sleeves overtook her hands, and her pants cuffs covered her feet sans her toes’ tips. “Congrats my friends, you’ve managed the mythical 8 hours of sleep… But you know, add more hours to it—”
“So we’re back to normal…?” River was the next to ask a question.
Stark scratched at her cheek with a singular finger. She only glanced over to her right, for a sole second, before jerking her hand to the left, pulling a random metallic plate from the junk of her basement—catching it effortlessly.
The girls jumped at this, still, of course. Another visible reminder of the long way to go. And a reminder they can be still crushed as easily as that.
Nevertheless, she presented the plate to them. Showing a new level of body horror.
While the busted open and accumulating wounds were gone… But what was replaced was skin grated over, the puzzle pieces just below the surface, as if they all decided to grab layers of skin to try to cover this up. Visibly under the layer of skin, things were still, trying to piece together and hold in motion.
But what pained Jackie wasn’t the feeling of alienation, not the fact that what would’ve been aching—disgust—there was only a pang of 1/16th of that pain… But her real-time reaction. How little her faced moved, just like in the hospital. All she could manage, with her lowered eye lids and neutral expression, was bared teeth and a look of strain.
The possibly of being Blaire or Nathan is becoming more and more apparent.
“Now don’t worry,” Stark tried to ease them all. “Like I said, all of this takes time and you all made a tremendous one. All the little details that we can’t just read a book for have, hopefully, healed and sealed over—you all can handle the rest on your own!”
“We still have to hold ourselves together?” Aiko asked. “This siVis stuff is becoming more and more uncool by the moment…”
“Iiiiiiiit’s a huge investment~!” Stark chimed offbeat. She proceeded to “sing” a jingle, “’Make-What’s-Yours-All-Yours~’ I always loved that little diddy…”
“…You do realize that was the tune of a sex cosmetics ad, right?” River quipped.
“…Well I do now--!” Stark shouted, shrill. “The power of, uh, um… Learning stuff, even if it’s… Uncomfortable—”
Everyone chuckled a bit, but not at her expense. Well, Jackie wasn’t sure about Maddie, but…
“yuh—mrhm—words, right, I have those…” Stark tried to wrestle with her tongue. “Yes, you still do… If you guys wanna, erm, do me a favor… Keep doing that. Keep holding on… But put it at the back of your head. Mind, rather, you might get confused and ONLY can still yourself by bonking the back of your head.”
Jackie looked at her abnormal scars and tightened the pieces. Then she tried to figure out how to not think about them, but she figured talking to Stark was a good start.
“Will this come in handy later?” Jackie asked. “A step that’ll come naturally to us?”
Stark titled her head to her left, smiled with her top front row of teeth were exposed and crooked her thumb up.
Everyone stared in silence.
She stopped… Whatever that was.
“U-uh, yeah, basically—”
“Stark Terri being an absolute doof will never not be entertaining to me,” Maddie laughed, crossing her arms.
“She’s still a… ‘doof’ that offered us to sleep in her home…” Tracy pointed out.
“Which I’m guessing the lease is up?” Maddie asked later.
“Yeah…” Stark scratched the back of her head. “I was stretching it with the whole week. I have to let you all go…”
Jackie couldn’t help but to sink back into being downcast.
“You think we’re able to take… I mean. Are we really different from where we started? You think we’re going to survive this time?”
“You have nothing but mistakes and heartbreak, right? Isn’t that what you’re going to argue with me if I said ‘yes’?” Stark asked back.
“Yeah. More or less.”
“Then you have more than you did when you started.”
“Geez Stark…” Jackie could only refute.
“In fact…” Stark dug into her hoodie’s pouch. “To enrich you guys further…”
She pulled out her hand, naked from the sleeves, and handed Jackie a black, svelte stick. Rectangular, decorated in ridges that leads to the metal socket jutting out.
“…Stark,” Jackie tried to even her voice. “If you’re hurting for funds, there’s no need to give us a credits key…”
“I get siVis/Shift compensation deposits,” Stark began. “Well, we all do—it’s just that I actively use mine whereas the guys only do it if it’s necessary… But even then, I saved up enough. This is 3200 for you all.”
There was a collective gasp amongst the girls, Jackie was just stunned.
“It isn’t much in the long run considering you all have to, y’know, share it and… Uh, the long term. But this should be enough to get you new clothes or supplies… But at least promise me one thing, you using this. Just have a meal, from time to time. Please?”
Jackie could only grab Stark’s hand, clasping it with her other. Trembling a bit, she said:
“Promise. On behalf of everyone here… Thank you so much. Regardless of what anyone thinks of you; you ARE fucking human, Stark Terri. One of the best.”