It was nearly meal time once TO managed to get down to their own level of the center. They made their way to the cafeteria to wait for GiDI and DH, who showed up shortly after. DH’s face lit up when they saw TO, but as they took a good look at TO’s ears and their expression, their ears dropped and the joy drained from their face.
“Alright.” DH said as they approached TO, “What’s wrong? What happened? You look-“
“Later.” TO whispered. They didn’t want to keep this from their friends, but they also didn’t feel like what they saw between C12 and PQ12 – Snout; TO didn’t want to call them N, and they weren’t PQ12 anymore– was something they should share. “I’ll tell you when we’re in private. Let’s just get our food, head to the Flight Training Room, and -“
“TO?” GiDi said, “Didn’t you read the message?”
“There was a message?” TO asked. They vaguely recalled flicking away some kind of notification earlier.
“Yes, there’s a broadcast that we’re supposed to watch.” DH said. They turned to GiDi, “You know more about it than I do.”
“It’s about that stuff I was telling you about earlier.” They said, “About the insurgency? Remember I said things were happening fast now?”
It took TO a moment to remember, then they nodded. “Yes. Something about an attack on the embassy?”
“Right.” GiDi said, “The insurgents surrendered while we were in our vocational training. I think they’re going to broadcast the formalities!” Their ears flicked forward with curiosity, “I’m excited to see how it goes! Though… you two might find it boring.”
“I hope not.” TO muttered as they filed into the cafeteria to get their food. If they ended up being bored, they’d keep thinking about C12 and Snout. They‘d keep thinking about how those two never see each other again, and how that was their fault. TO would remember how the two had held one another, how sad they looked even then. TO would think about how they hadn’t known or even considered that synths could be like that with one another; could look at one another like that.
TO had never considered that romance was for synths.
They ate in uncomfortable silence in the cafeteria, since the room they were instructed to go to was very close. TO didn’t want to eat in the Cafeteria, they wanted to be alone with GiDi and DH. Even though they were still confused as to what they should tell their friends they still wanted to tell them; TO wanted to tell them what happened, and what they had seen. They wanted to tell their friends what they had done, how their stupidity, with lack of self control, and their ‘abnormal curiosity’ had cost C12 and ‘Snout’ so much.
Even though they knew it would be a lie, they wanted to hear their friends tell them that it was alright. They wanted to be held, and told that it wasn’t their fault. Even if they were just to lean against their friends and hold them close then they hoped that it would help that awful pit of guilt in their stomach to go away.
Of course, C12 didn’t have their friend anymore, right? TO wondered if C12 had other friends. Considering how sad they had looked when they were talking to Snout and how low their ears were, TO didn’t think that they did. C12 might be alone now.
Did C12 ever feel like this? This guilt? Did they just want to be with friends who could make them feel better? Who was there for them now?
Do you even deserve the friends you have?
The thought came suddenly as TO was making their way through their food, and it nearly made them sick. DId they deserve their friends? They had poked their snout where it didn’t belong, and had cost C12 Snout dearly. Did they themself deserve to have friends around them to comfort them and make them feel better when they had torn that away from C12?
PQ03 and C12 had said it wasn’t necessarily their fault, but TO couldn’t shake that it was. They hadn’t been lying when they spoke, but TO knew that somehow they didn’t really understand. They maybe didn’t pile up the tinder or pour the gasoline, but they had created the spark that lit the fire.
They had little appetite then, and could only shake their head and mouth the word, “later.” When DH gave them a curious look.
As they finished their meal, they filed out of the cafeteria along with the other synths, walking just down the corridor to reach the seldom used theater. It was a circular room, the seats surrounding a central pillar which would project screens out across every angle of the room so that everyone could easily see. TO, DH, and GiDi took their seats with all the other synths.
“I think that they show some of the plays in theaters like this.” DH whispered to TO excitedly, “Can you imagine getting to see one of those musicals here? I wonder what the sound is like?”
“It’s not a musical today.” GiDi muttered. Their ears were pinned back and once they sat down they immediately pulled up some feeds on their chip and started scrolling through the news, “I’m trying to find more information on what happened. There was some kind of raid earlier today, but then it’s like all information off the planet got cut off.”
“Maybe the insurgents cut it off?” DH ventured.
“I don’t know why they would.” GiDi said, “They were getting some sympathy from other planets. There was actually a lot of push for King Decon to move to negotiating with them, rather than fight them.”
“Wait.” TO said, finally getting pulled out of their thoughts about Snout and C12, “King Decon didn’t negotiate?”
“He tried.” GiDi said, but their ears flicked back as they said that, “The news articles I read said that he attempted to offer negotiations near the beginning of the conflict, but the insurgency attacked ships that were flying into the planet’s orbit.”
“So they didn’t want to negotiate.” DH said as they leaned back against the chair, “Sounds like the other planets should have been angry at them, and not calling for King Decon to be more lenient.”
“That’s what I figured too,” GiDi said softly and quietly. “If someone wants to spit in the face of King Decon’s mercy, that seems to be like it should garner outrage, not sympathy.”
“Well, they’re not very smart.” DH said. They turned to TO, “Right? I mean, if they were then there wouldn’t be an insurgency at all.”
TO hummed in response. “There’s a lot of different cultures out there.” They said idly, “I imagine that no matter what King Decon does someone would be concerned.”
DH gave a dismissive grunt, their ears flicking with diguest, “It's a big galaxy.” They said, “King Decon has to keep order somehow. I say that if a planet has an issue with it, then let them be on their own. Let’s see how well they manage separated from the rest of the galaxy.”
GiDi’s ears flicked back, but they didn’t say anything and DH didn’t notice. TO didn’t bother to bring it up either. They were starting to drift back to C12 and Snout. They looked around to see if they could locate C12, but all they saw were the grey-uniformed synths in training.
DH nudged TO’s leg with the side of their own. “Are you alright?” They whispered, “You’re…”
“I’ll tell you later.” TO muttered, “I promise. Not here though.” Did C12 have anyone to check on them now? They remembered the kiss that they had witnessed between C12 and Snout, and wondered if C12 would find someone else to do that to. Did they just like kissing people, or did they only like kissing Snout? TO held a hand up to their own lips, wondering what the point of it was.
They weren’t sure, but remembering it made them feel embarrassed, and they felt their ears start to burn. A part of them had been wondering if they should confess to C12 that they had seen them, but in that moment as the lights in the theater went down and their ears burned, they decided not to. There was a very good chance that that was the last good memory that C12 might have with Snout, and TO didn’t want to ruin that; they had ruined far too much already.
They focused their attention on the screens that popped up before them, trying to keep their attention on the broadcast instead of what had happened, and what they had done.
The screens flickered as they displayed a vague, pixelated figure, which morphed into a synth wearing a black uniform. It wasn’t actually a synth, it was just the Galactic News Broadcaster Program. There were so many species, and so many means of communication that having a single broadcaster made no sense in order to get the correct information across to so many people. The GNBP was set to morph into the same species, and use the same language, body language, and expressions as the people watching. It was a very complex AI program, and it allowed the simultaneous transfer for accurate information across the entire galaxy.
At the same moment on another planet across the galaxy, a family of gastropods could be receiving the same information that the synths would be hearing, only they’d be smelling it through the transfer of pheromones and a Scent Simulation Attachment for their communication devices; Their broadcaster would be a slug-like creature instead of the synth that TO saw before them.
Just another one of King Decon’s brilliant inventions.
“It appears that the insurgency on the planet Caerlapis, of the Silex Solar System has come to a close.” They said, their ears pinned up in tense excitement, “The planet, Officially designated as Silex-5, had been drawn into the insurgency known as the Despair Rebellion, led by rebels on the planet Arkane” Their ears flicked back in disgust as they said the name.
“Honestly. Who would name themselves the Despair Rebellion.” DH muttered. TO nodded, but wasn’t really listening. Arkane. That name was so familiar. It took them a moment to remember that GiDi had mentioned it to them during their second meal.
It took another minute to recall that Snout was being sent to one of Arkane’s moons.
“After a vicious attack on the planet’s Galactic embassy earlier this day which killed 30 residences of the planet, and caused great destruction to both Imperial and local infrastructure and property, a full raid on suspected insurgent hideouts and bases was launched. The leaders of the insurgency on Caerlapis were captured and quickly surrendered.”
Above the GNBP, a series of 12 pictures were shown; there were 3 distinct races among them, some of which looked like they might be aquatic, with gills at their necks instead of snouts and fins instead of hair.
“While the punishment for their actions in an imperial hearing would be execution, King Decon-“ The synths ears perked up with admiration and respect as they said ‘King Decon.’ “- has decided to show mercy, and allow the planet to try them under their own laws. This mercy is given with not only the consideration of the new member of the Galactic empire, but also with consideration of the 13 planets who have petitioned to King Decon to strive for negotiation, and leniency with the insurgency.” Their ears flicked back in diguest once more, “The pleading for mercy and negotiation continued despite repeated attacks on ambassadors sent by King Decon.” They perked their ears up suddenly in excitement, “Now, let us observe as the insurgents submit to King Decon and receive His underserved mercy!”
The screen flicked to a video feed on a planet that TO had never seen before. There was a stage surrounded by King Decon’s personal guard; The Vanguard. The vanguard were a group of fifty Synths who had worked hard and earned their place at King Decon’s side, to fight for him and to die for Him if need be. Those who were allowed to stand closest to Him were considered His highest officers, and His most favoured Synths. They stood in polished, black armor that covered their entire head and hid their ears, giving them an almost robotic appearance. Were it not for their wings draped over their shoulders like capes, TO wouldn’t have thought that they were actually synths.
The twelve captured insurgents that had been shown earlier were kneeling on the stage with their hands behind their backs, their heads down. Each one had a member of the planet’s own police force standing behind them; they looked so tattered and disheveled in their plain, fabric uniforms. Compared to the perfection and uniformity of the Vanguard, they looked outright ragged.
Before the insurgents stood a handful of officials from the planet - three of them strange, fish-like people with big eyes, brightly colored skin, and flippered limbs.
Behind them, sitting on a metal throne, was King Decon.
The worries of the day melted away for just a moment as TO’s heart pounded. Of course, TO had seen King Decon before, but only in pictures and old videos; they had never seen Him live. Though TO knew that they were only being exposed to a portion of King Decon’s grandeur over the live feed, they were still taken aback by His presence. Even sitting, He was much taller than anyone else on the stage, much wider in the shoulders, much grander. The beauty of technology and living flesh joined together to create His perfect and immortal form took TO’s breath away; the cybernetic limbs that seemed to replicate every muscle and tendon with powerful machinery, glistening in the blue light around him. The perfect, sculpted mask over His face today showed a fish-like visage which partially covered the tank with King Decon’s brain in it.
The brain. The most perfect brain. That was what King Decon really was. A mind. Strip away everything else, so long as the mind is there, the person is there.
TO didn’t even pay attention as the leaders of the planet gave their speeches; they only noticed them as they knelt to King Decon, offering him papers that they had signed to pledge their planet to King Decon, treasures for King Decon’s personal collection, and medals to show King Decon’s status on their planet.
It was no good, TO thought. There was no medal grand enough for King Decon.
Finally, King Decon stood up from His throne and walked towards the center of the stage. TO shifted in their seat, their ears perking forward to listen to what King Decon said. He would probably welcome the planet into the empire, to start. Would He say something about passing over the insurgents? TO thought that at the very least He should castigate them for their actions.
There was a moment of silence before King Decon’s booming, deep voice rang out, “My beloved subjects-“
There was a scream.
The camera moved, and there was the shot of something bright moving in a wide arc towards the stage.
Another scream. The camera dropped. The news feed cut.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell