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A note from TheWitchOfTheRock

Thanks again to my patrons; Cannot Account, ColdAu, Cruelfeline, and Sea Jay.

 

Reminder that Patrons get access to the next two chapters ahead of what's published on Royal Road!

 

 Due to my dayjob, there will be no livestream tomorrow. 

Flying made TO feel better. They didn’t know if they had been put in such a beautiful setting on purpose or if it was random, but they were grateful for it. It was peaceful, and the feeling of being hidden away made them feel safe. So long as TO didn’t let their mind linger on the fact that they were still in the simulation room, they felt better.

 

So long as they didn’t let their mind linger on how they had been shot in the face by their own teammate. Would they ever be allowed to participate properly again? Even if they became a commander in a scenario, would the others listen to them?

 

They did their best to push those thoughts from the mind as they focused on flying, on the feel of the air under their wings and the beauty of the glowing forest. Even though they liked the simulation, they wanted DH with them. They wanted to tell DH what happened. DH would hold them and wrap their wings around them. They’d tell them that they’d do something to help; that the two of them could figure something out.

 

They remembered how C12 had stroked Snout’s ears. They remembered how DH’s hand had brushed against theirs the day before while they were checking them for… TO couldn’t even remember what they were being checked for. They felt their ears flush deep blue, and they grabbed a nearby branch, stopping in mid-flight. They hung upside down with their wings wrapping around them as they tried to compose themself.

 

What’s wrong with me?

 

DH had been so strange after TO had told them about C12 and Snout, they had acted so tense and they seemed so very concerned. Clearly, the idea of two synths acting like that bothered DH deeply. TO was grateful enough that DH was willing to look past that to help GiDi, but if they knew for a moment that TO was thinking about DH’s hand on their ears…

 

TO shook their head. No, it was nothing. They were only thinking about that because they had seen C12 and Snout. They were only thinking about it because DH had accidentally touched their ear while checking them.

 

It was nothing, and DH would never know. DH could never know! They didn’t want DH to be tense around them, and they didn’t want to make DH feel uncomfortable. They knew that DH would never say anything to them, would never be nasty to them about it. Still, TO couldn’t forget how tense that DH had been.

 

Maybe GiDi knew, and that’s why GiDi had told them not to tell anyone about the kiss. Maybe they knew how DH felt about that kind of thing regarding synths, and they were worried that DH would act weird around them if they knew.

 

Maybe - once again- in trying to make everything better they had only made things worse.

 

Well, they’d talk to DH. DH loved GiDi just like they did, so no matter what DH thought about issues of romance between synths TO knew that they wouldn’t avoid GiDi for that. It wasn’t as though GiDi had feelings for them specifically.

 

TO remembered once again how DH’s fingertips had accidentally brushed against their ear. They could see the way C12 had caressed Snout’s ear so tenderly before they kissed.

 

They flushed, spread their wings, and dropped from the branch. They needed to focus on something else.

 

======

 

While TO was flying it suddenly felt like they had flown into water. They floated about in nothingness as they felt the feeling leave their body. It startled them at first, but then they realized that combat training for the day must be over, and that they were being drawn from the simulation and back to reality.

 

Back to a reality where they were considered untrustworthy. Where they couldn’t do their training properly. Where it seemed like they had messed up everything they had worked so hard for with just one bad decision.

 

They felt their body in the chair. They could feel the dried tears on their cheeks and realized that though they had cleaned themself off in the simulation, they had not done that yet in the real world. They took the helmet off, intending to quickly rub at their face before anyone saw.

 

The room was empty, save for DH, GiDi, and C12.

 

“I told them that they could go on to their meal—” C12 said with a careless gesture to DH and GiDi, “—but they begged to stay.” their ears flicked, as though they weren’t quite sure if that was the best of ideas.

 

TO looked away, quickly rubbing at their cheeks. “That’s fine.” They said. They didn’t want to look at C12. They felt their ears flush as they wondered what C12 thought of them, getting frustrated and crying in the middle of combat training. “We should go.” TO started to pull the wires off of their body. DH was at TO’s side immediately, helping.

 

It took all of TO’s willpower not to pull away. They thought of the ears again and this time they were sure it was more a result of fear; a gnawing thought that lingered in their head because they were worried about it. Still, If they did pull away then DH would think there was something wrong. They focused on detaching the wires to their legs as they pointedly ignored their blue-tipped ears.

 

“You have time.” C12 said, “The others only just left.”



“Still. We need to shower, and get food, and-“

 

“You’ll be coming with me.” C12 said, “You won’t have to wait for food.”

 

TO stopped, but didn’t look up. “With you?”

 

“The three of you, if you wish.” They said, “But if you’d rather, your friends can meet you later on–“

 

“I’d like them to come.” TO said quickly, “Please.”

 

C12 just gave a quick nod, “Very well.” they said, “Follow me.”

 

======-

 

After their experience with finding C12 and Snout up in the upper levels of the training center, TO didn’t expect to ever venture past their own floor again.At least this time they were invited. It was also a relief to be following C12 into the elevator – which took special clearance on the chips– instead of running up flights of stairs. At least this time, they had their friends with them.

 

“Where are we going?” TO asked, their voice soft and quiet, their ears twitching with fear. Maybe this was how they would be corrected. Maybe they were all going to be corrected. No, C12 wanted it to be just them; maybe DH and GiDi knew and were coming to say their goodbyes to the TO that they knew.

 

“Don’t ask questions.” was all C12 said, their tone sharper and colder than TO had expected it.

 

The elevator lunged to a stop. The door slid open to reveal an imposing looking synth. Though they had seen them only once before, TO recognized them as the commander. They froze, their whole body stiffening up as they remembered how fierce the commander had been when they tore into Overseer T. TO wasn’t surprised at how DH and GiDi’s ears flicked back in fear; they were surprised to see C12’s ears do the same thing, to see their wings tighten around themselves slightly, to see their fists clench.

 

“Commander.” C12 said stiffly as they stepped back to stand alongside the others. The Commander nodded stiffly as they stepped into the elevator. They gestured with their chip, and the door slid closed.

 

In truth, TO had nearly forgotten about the Commander. That day had been so hectic, and so much had happened that any questions they might have had about the Commander had fallen to the background of their mind. As they now witnessed C12’s reaction to the Commander’s presence, all the questions that TO once held came back; Who was the Commander? What was their role here? What kind of power did they have? How did they become a Commander?

 

They were told not to ask questions though.

 

The elevator started to move upwards, sliding between floors. “I wasn’t aware that you brought trainees up to the living quarters.” the Commander said after a moment of silence. “Is this something I should be informed about?”

 

“No, Commander.” C12 said, their voice a little higher and quieter than TO was used to hearing it, “T-They are exceptional trainees, and I simply intend to go over a few things with them during mealtime.”

 

“Exceptional, you say.” the Commander said. They turned slightly to look at TO, GiDi, and DH. Their eyes went to their tags first, then briefly to each of their faces. They paused as they looked at GiDi, taking in their stature. “Interesting.” they said, “I shall have to keep an eye on them.”

 

GiDi glanced up, catching the Commander’s eyes for just a moment before they looked away. The Commander simply turned away, looking back at the front of the elevator.

 

“I am surprised that you’re taking company again so soon after your last...companion.” There was a way that the Commander said ‘companion’ that made the otherwise simple word seem like a mockery, an insult. There was the slightest flick to their ears to denote disgust.

 

Was the Commander talking about Snout? Did the Commander know? TO glanced back to C12. Fear and rage seemed to compete within them, their ears still down but pinned back, their eyes narrowed, their lips curled. Their wings stayed tightly wrapped around them.

 

“They are trainees.” C12 said, their cold voice shaking, “Exceptional ones. That is all.”

 

“I should hope so.” the Commander said as they turned slightly, eying C12, “And I do hope that - given they are exceptional- that you would never do anything to diminish their efficiency and their ability to properly serve.”

 

Disgust flickered over C12’s face, and their eyes narrowed in anger, “I assure you that I would do no such thing.”

 

Surprisingly, the Commander seemed satisfied with C12’s reaction. They turned back to face the door of the elevator, “That does remind me.” they said, “Your former companion, they were headed to Opulentia; one of Arkane’s moons, correct?”

 

“Correct.”

 

“They went at the end of the last period, correct?”

 

“Yes, Commander.”

 

The Commander gave a low hum, “I got a report earlier this day. It seems that the transport going there fell off our radar. Insurgent activity in that area is high, and we assume that they’ve been attacked.”

 

C12 closed their eyes, “I can only hope that those who would attack King Decon’s ships and tools will meet King Decon’s justice.” they said, but TO saw their ears rise up with relief, and saw the telltale twitching at the edge of their ears.

 

C12 was lying. C12 was lying right to a Commander who thankfully wasn’t looking back at them. TO looked on in a mixture of horror and awe, only catching C12’s eye after a moment. They gave TO a sharp warning look, and TO quickly looked down at the floor.

 

“Indeed.” the Commander said, “Well, I have no doubt that the insurgency will fall sooner than later; After the last attempt at King Decon’s life there’s been far less resistance to the expanded security measures taken to stop them. It’s only a matter of time.”

 

The elevator came to a stop. The door opened, and the Commander stepped out, “Well then, Retiree C12, I’ll leave you to your mealtime and your company. And I will keep an eye on these three if they are so exceptional. King Decon could always use more exceptional synths serving Him.”

 

“Of course.” C12 said, their ears dropping slightly.

 

The Commander gave a terse nod as the door closed, leaving them alone again. TO looked up again to glance at C12.

 

Their ears were down and pinned back, their wings pressed so tightly against their arms that TO could see where C12 was holding their upper arms.

 

“...C12?”

 

“I said no questions.” They snapped.

 

“...Understood.” TO said as they turned their attention back to the floor.

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TheWitchOfTheRock

Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell

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