number one

Fic: And Always My Eyes Ached for the Light (Number One - gen)

Title: And Always My Eyes Ached for the Light
Author: igrockspock
Characters: Number One
Rating: PG-13
Summary: One is the only name she's ever had, and the Minders are the only parents she's ever known.
Notes: Yet another one for the Halloween Drabble Fest at where_no_woman. For the prompt "at last I looked again / No radiance in the far sky... / No vision painted upon a pall; / And always my eyes ached for the light."

Her first memory was the flesh prickling at the back of her neck when the Minders came into her room. She didn't know how old she was; they hadn't bothered to tell her. She must have been young, though, because she had still needed a stool to climb into her bed.

The minders looked like her, but she knew they were not like her. They were taller than the men who appeared in the Terran holovids they allowed her to download, and their pale, gray-tinged skin crackled under her touch. Not that she touched them often; even as a child, she had no instinct to trust.

"Is One my name?" she'd ask them, over and over again. They stood silently, three of them arranged in an arc around her, each regarding her with expressionless eyes.

"If I am One, who is Two?"

Still, the Minders were silent. It was as if she had not spoken.

She climbed the bed and pointed out the window to a solitary sand-haired boy in the exercise yard.

"Is he Two?" she asked.

They did not answer, merely beckoned her forward with bony fingers and an extended tape measure. Once a week, they came and did this. One of them measured her arms, her legs, the circumference of her head and the width of her waist while other scratched the figures into a data padd. The third stood and watched. She never flinched under their touch because she was not afraid. But she didn't like it either.

"Do you call all of us One?" she tried one last time. But by now, she did not expect an answer.

What troubled her was that nothing in this world made sense. If she was One, there must be a Two, a Three, and a Four, yet they would not tell her which child received what number or why. Though she had never spoken to the other children, she had watched them from the window of her room each time they were taken into the yard for their hour of solitary recreation. She was not the tallest of them, and she could not be the oldest. Her room was in the middle of the long, narrow compound, and she was never the first escorted into the yard. She was not the most recent arrival among the children, nor had she been there the longest. Nothing about her made her One. Yet, something about her must make her different -- why should they bother to call her anything at all if each child was the same to them?

Later, she began asking for her parents. She was not sad not to have them, merely puzzled by their absence from her life. The Minders did not limit her access to information, and in the vids she watched and the books she read, people always had parents, no matter what their species.

"Who are my parents?" she tried.

"You are ours," they replied in voices that sounded like hers even though they somehow set her teeth on edge.

"It is biologically impossible for three men to make a child."

"Nonetheless, you are ours."

"Who made me?"

"It does not matter. You have always been ours."

The Minder in the middle beckoned with a tape measure. Obediently, she stuck out her arm. The illogic of it rankled her, made her insides feel the same as her skin when she rubbed it on the scratchy wool blanket covering her bed. At least, she thought it was wool; she had never seen a sheep here and she did not know if Terran animals lived on this planet.

Though the Minders supplied her with information about every planet and every galaxy, they refused to divulge anything about this world. She did not mind not knowing the types of animals that lived here or the name of the fabric that covered her bed, but her inability to accurately judge time irritated her almost as badly as the Minders' refusal to answer questions about her parents. For as long as she could remember -- which was quite long, for she had an excellent memory -- she had loved precision, but she could gauge time only by the changes in her body. Once, she had counted days, but the activity was fruitless; she did not know how many solar cycles this planet required to complete a year. She could not identify the feelings this lack of information provoked, but it aroused a restlessness in her limbs that could not be discharged by her daily runs back and forth across the exercise yard.

When she had grown taller, she noticed that children disappeared. Or rather, she began to care that children disappeared; she had always known that certain children simply ceased to appear in the exercise yard, and when she peered into their rooms during her own exercise, they were empty. Those children never came back, and soon new ones took their place.

"Will I be taken away?" she asked.

"You are being Saved."

"Does that mean I will never be taken away?"

"No. You will be Chosen one day."

She didn't know why, but the words made a crawling sensation in her belly like the one their touch made on her skin. Now, each time they came into the room, whether they spoke to her or not, she felt her skin tingle, her muscles tense, her senses sharpen. She did not know what she knew or how she knew it, only that something was Wrong.

Still, she was obedient and felt no fear. Just as instinctively as she felt the Minders' darkness, she knew she could not cross them. Fear was futile. Her life was what it was, and she could not change it. Escape did not cross her mind; she did not need to think about it to know that it was impossible. So she continued her studies, devouring weapons manuals and piloting guides as she devoured everything else. It was not part of an escape plan, merely information to be digested, as were the martial arts exercises she now practiced during her time in the yard. Attacking the Minders was so inconceivable that she did not imagine the possibility for even a fleeting second; she simply needed something to occupy herself. The Minders told her that she was to play, but she scarcely grasped the concept of the word. Play was something children did with other children, and like everyone else on the compound, she was always alone.

When she was nearly grown but not old enough for her monthly bleeding, she discovered quite by accident that a small scrap of cloth wedged under the door prevented it from locking properly. Once, she had had a handkerchief in her hand when the Minders came to measure her, and one of them had insisted that she drop it on the floor so that they could measure the full length of her extended fingertips. This had upset her because she liked to keep her things orderly, but it could not be helped. When the Minders left, a small sliver of it had become lodged in the rollers at the bottom of the door. To her surprise, when she leaned against it to remove the cloth, it slid creakily open. Shyly, she peered into the hallway, which was covered with the same brown tiles as the floor of her room. Seeing nothing of interest, she shrugged her shoulders and closed the door again. She could go nowhere but the exercise yard, and its dry, brittle grass held no mystery for her. She preferred to stay in her room and read. But she did not attempt to remove the cloth. If the Minders noticed, they did not care; perhaps they knew already that she could not leave for she had nowhere to go.

Soon, she could measure the months by the time between her bleedings. After six of them, she noticed a ship near the yard. She had seen it before; it usually arrived a day or two before a child left. But tonight the hatch had been left open, and she could see inside to two black leather seats. From her reading, she knew its make and model, how it might be flown, but she had never had a chance to learn anything from experience. Silently, she slid her door open, checked the hallway, crossed the exercise yard, and sat down in the ship. Once there, she judged it prudent to close the door behind her; the Minders had never told her any rules, but she knew that she was breaking them. The controls felt familiar beneath her fingers, and she remembered the way the Minders' voices hurt her head, the way the touch of their skin trailed ribbons of disgust across her flesh. Without thinking, she lifted the ship silently into the air. At first, she flew in the zigzags she'd seen holovid pilots use to avoid pursuit, the ship swerving clumsily beneath her inexperienced hands. But when she looked down at the compound, it was dark and silent. She saw no other ships on the ground and no buildings large enough to contain them. They could not pursue her.

Gradually, the atmosphere disappeared and soon she was enveloped by the blackness of space. Navigation was not as easy in practice as it was in theory, and she drifted a long time toward what she hoped was Federation territory. She had no food, no conception of how much oxygen was in the canisters, not quite enough layers of clothing to insulate her from the inadequacies of the ship's climate control system. Soon, she began drifting in and out of consciousness, and when she was finally too weak to fight any longer, she surrendered fully to the blackness with no trace of fear. Fear was useless when she had no choice.

She awoke in a medical treatment bay like the ones she had seen in holovids, and for the first time, she heard voices that did not scrape her ears and felt touches that did not warn her of some coming danger. The sight of their flesh, pink like hers, warmed her.

They asked her name, and she called herself One. They wanted to know where she had come from, if there were other children like her, and she told them what she could, but the long periods of unconsciousness had dulled her normally sharp memory. She could not recall the coordinates she had set out from, and the ship turned out to be a smuggling ship whose computer automatically erased its navigational data every fifteen minutes. Soon, the Federation offered her asylum and sent her to live in a group home where the teachers tried to give her a succession of human names. None of them stuck, though; because she was good at everything, she stayed One, and eventually it became a comfortable nickname rather than a relic of a past life that grew more frightening each time she thought of it.

When she was fifteen -- she could measure her life in years now because the doctors had done tests to determine her age -- she left the home for Starfleet Academy. When people asked her where she was from, she answered truthfully that she did not know. They frowned at her when she said her name was One, but she kept her face expressionless and waited for them to realize that she deserved the title. For the most part, she kept to herself. She had grown up without companionship and never developed the need for it, and when she did make friends, she never told them of her past. Because she never spoke of it, it was easy to avoid thinking of it, and soon her awards and accomplishments blotted out her history even in her own mind.

On the Yorktown, she sometimes heard of backwater colonies where children were sold by traffickers or bred by cults for use in bizarre religious rituals, and she wondered dimly if one of them was her home. Occasionally, when they explored a new world, she wondered if she would suddenly encounter the Minders' gray faces, and the thought sent small shivers down her spine that only her captain noticed.

"Something wrong, Number One?" he would ask, and the sound of a human voice was enough to warm her so that she could truthfully answer that it was only a passing chill. Years later, when she lay in bed with all his skin pressed against all of hers, she would marvel at the difference between the tenderness of his touch and the coldness of the Minders'. For the first time, she found the strength to sift through all the fates that might have been hers, and when she shivered in his arms, he did not ask her why, only kissed her and pulled her body closer to his.
Oh god, oh god, oh - and this, this is exactly what I had hoped for: all I had hoped fore and more and so creepy.

Damn, woman, I kindof love and fear your skills a lot.
Thank you for the feedback, and for giving me a chance to try out a genre I hadn't explored before :)
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

For the record, this remains one of my favorite stories - period, across fandoms and originals - ever.
You have just succeeded in really creeping me out

Seriously, that's a brilliant horror story. And horribly plausible canon-wise, given how little we know about Number One *shivers*
I'm glad you found it plausible! I really wanted to find something that would perhaps explain the cool, somewhat distant person she is.
I really rather adore this. I would say more, but... today. Anyway. I really do love this.
This packs a lovely punch. (Paradoxical as that sounds.)
Very, very creepy. I think it's the precision in her voice and the contrast to what little she actually knows about her background, despite really trying to find out... *shivers*
Thank you! I wish I were better at articulating it when I really appreciate a comment, but that one was especially gratifying.
This is very creepy-- I love that the Minders are gray, and everything about One's background is drab and shabby, but obviously technologically advanced at the same time (this is my favorite kind of sci-fi setting).

Also, the set-up was very Star Trek TOS. I could almost hear the theme music as I was reading!
Thank you! I feel like I had a couple TOS episodes in the back of my head while I was writing.
Oh wow. Doing some research on Number One (seriously know nothing about her) and found this little gem of yours. I have goosebumps and think I am slowly being converted into needing to know everything about her.
Thank you! I am so, so pleased to be spreading the Number One love. The scary, addictive thing about her is that there's nothing to actually know, so you have to make it all up yourself!