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It’s a good thing the navi-system was still working after our craft took damage. On our way back, a thick storm blew in and before we could reach the facility the snow got so thick that we could barely see ten meters ahead of us. Without the navi-system, not only would we have been lost, but we wouldn’t have been able to call for help since the comms were malfunctioning. The craft was built to survive in such conditions, thankfully, and we decided to activate the external heating, even though it was a drain on power, so that the hull remained above zero degrees and we didn’t get frozen inside. After driving for a while the smell of ozone became stronger, which was unpleasant. It indicated something was overheating, but there wasn’t much chance of us conducting any repairs, at least not out in the snow. We’d likely freeze before making any progress, and if we accidentally made things worse we might not have had the vehicle to seek refuge in from the elements.

When the conditions got bad enough that our visibility was significantly affected, I told K she’d better slow down, just in case we ran into another unexpected object, or creature. She obliged, begrudgingly, but after a while seemed to lose interest in driving altogether and passed the controls over to me. For a long while I piloted the hover-car, mostly in silence, as the sun began to set. K fiddled with the audio system, which I had failed to notice, and began playing some quiet music in the background. It sounded like jazz.

I considered how K’s presence hadn’t actually kept me safe in any way; quite the opposite in fact. She had destroyed the ruins, and likely damaged any information my device had attempted to retrieve, though I hadn’t actually checked yet. And she had damaged the car as well, though only minorly. Yet, looking at her sitting beside me, unnatural eyes gazing into the fog of the storm, I felt comfort in our companionship. She was misunderstood. Outcast. And from my years on Earth, I could relate to that.

She shot me a glance, her eyes matching the orange glow of the sunset, diffused by the fog, and I wondered what she was thinking. She showed a small smile, and I felt contented.

I found myself wondering about her fainting, and what might have caused it. She appeared to be in pain just before passing out from some kind of head trauma. But there was no obvious cause for her symptoms. Perhaps this was just something she lived with, being a biologically-engineered creature. I had no way of knowing what was normal for her; there were no other K’s I could point to for reference. I was aware that some brain conditions in humans could cause unpredictable seizures. I suppose this was similar, in a way.

It could have been a product of the high stress situation we were in at the time. Once again, it made me question why she had been created. She should be equally, if not more effective in high stress situations than a human. And, spontaneous fainting is a particularly undesirable trait for a soldier. It’s entirely likely she didn’t meet her creators’ vision, whatever that was.

I shook my head to myself. Of course she didn’t come out as intended, or she wouldn’t have broken free from her lab restraints as the Director had told me. And no one in their right mind would create a weapon with such emotions.

All that considered, she was unreasonably strong. No robot of equivalent size should have been able to demolish that pillar with such force, not even with a full body slam. All it took from her was a single punch. I was beginning to think my theory about the strength of the myroks was correct. Maybe the scientists who created her had somehow gathered samples from the planet Malum, and used myrok genes in her creation, in attempt to replicate their disproportionate strength. They would have needed to retrieve samples from the caves of Malum, in which myroks took shelter from the heat of the planet’s surface. Whatever they did, they succeeded. Her strength was incomprehensible considering her mass.

What are you thinking about?” asked K. Despite her being at the forefront of my mind, I had almost forgotten she was there.

We drove on through the sunset coloured fog and snow, as a calm trombone solo played in the background.

I cleared my throat. “I’m thinking about the people who created you.”

Her face was solemn, and she stayed quiet. After a moment she replied, “Well, what about them?”

Hm…” I kept my eyes forward. “Well, they must have been crazy to think they could control you.” She actually grinned at this.

Yeah, that’s true. I don’t remember much before the TAU found me… but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty for my ‘parents.’” She folded her arms behind her head. “You can’t contain this. I’m a free agent.”

I chuckled. I had expected this conversation to go worse; this was a good start. “So, what’s your earliest memory?”

She tilted her head to the side, a look of intense concentration on her face. “I guess the earliest memory I have, I’m sitting in a white room. There’s a glass wall, and people are watching me on the other side of it. I’m fully grown but, I don’t know what anything is. I hear people talking about something but I can’t understand any of it. I think I’m wearing a jumpsuit.” She scrunched up her face.

That sounds interesting.” I waited for her to continue.

Yeah. I guess. Eventually, somebody comes in. I think they’re wearing a lab coat, and they’ve got dark hair, and a headset, or visor, or something, and they bring me some food. I remember it tasted awful, but I was really hungry. Everybody was talking quietly, but urgently. I looked at them, and they looked away from me. I tried saying some things to them, but they just stood there, staring…”

These were the TAU people who found you?”

She nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think. Eventually everyone started walking away, leaving me alone, and I got scared. When they closed the door, I just punched through the glass wall. They started freaking out, which just made me more scared. I- I didn’t know what to do.”

What did you do?” I asked.

Well,” she sighed, “I didn’t really do anything. Some more people came in, kept me company. I calmed down eventually. I felt like they were going to abandon me, but I remember they kept someone near at all times after that.”

That’s good,” I said, my mind stretching to imagine what that must have been like.

What about you?” She asked. “What’s your earliest memory?”

I hesitated. “I’m not sure...”

Come on, Sax-O. I just told you mine.”

I gave her a nudge with my elbow and my ears twitched up. “That’s not my name, Ayk.”

“‘Ayk’? Where’d you get that name?” She smirked.

It seemed like fair play,” I said. I kept my eyes on the horizon and exhaled. “I don’t know if it’s my earliest memory, but it’s one of them. I’m not totally sure, but I think I was maybe two, or three cycles old. We were sitting in the shadow of the floating spheres above the Great Temple, on Astraloth. Way beneath them, at a park, at the base of the temple.”

We? Who?” K asked.

My guardian and I. I guess she had taken me out to the park to play.”

Is that all you remember?” K asked.

No,” I said. “There were other families there. Skyther parents conversing as their children ran across the grass and leaped up onto large stones. A ball was being tossed around.”

K leaned forward. “What were you doing?”

I wasn’t playing… just ripping up the grass. None of the other children approached me.”

Why not?”

I shook my head. “I think they were all terrified of my caretaker.”

Why? Was she mean?” K asked.

Well- No, she wasn’t mean- a little cold, maybe- just… she was my babysitter, I guess. But she was hired by my mother, who was... very powerful, to say the least. My family is… I don’t like talking about it, because I find it changes people’s perspective of me- I like to be seen for who I am, not my blood- but my family is kind of… a big deal.”

Fair enough,” said K. “I think... I kinda get that. Wanting to be seen for who you are.”

I lifted my ears a little.

Well,” she continued, “what else do you remember?”

My ears drooped. “Well, as I was sitting I remember I looked across the field. In the distance I saw a group of young skythers following someone even younger. My eyes were fixed on them as they closed the gap on this terrified boy.” Unconsciously, I gripped the controls of our vehicle tighter. “They started shoving him, pushing him around…”

K was watching me silently.

They were right next to an old building. I think they pushed him inside, or maybe they were pushing him behind a corner… And I just remember being so confused… and scared. I guess I was wondering what they were doing? And why they were hurting him. But I didn’t have the words to understand.

My guardian was telling me about the great floating spheres above the temple, and how they supposedly held the power to protect Astraloth. That the spheres contained the energy to shield Astraloth from harm. That with the spheres, not even time could destroy Astraloth. But if they had some magic power to protect Astraloth, why couldn’t they help out that poor boy?

I thought someone would help; I thought one of the parents at the park would notice and protect him. But when I looked around, they were just talking. The children were laughing and playing and yelling and having fun. And no one saw them disappear, except for me.”

Did you do something?” asked K.

I started crying, and my guardian came over to me. She picked me up and spoke to me, asking me what was wrong. The more I began to sob the more worried she became, and pretty soon she was carrying me back home to the temple. But as she pulled me away I lost even more control. No one knew what was happening, no one saw the boy or, I guess they were a gang, and I couldn’t do anything to help him. He was getting hurt, and I couldn’t do anything.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I was just terrified- Not of being hurt, but of watching as someone else was. I was terrified that those skythers were still shoving him around, beating him up, hurting him. And every time I started calming down, and the tears started going away, I thought he might still be in pain. He might be getting hurt right now. He might be crying right now, as I’m trying to relax and get some sleep.

I couldn’t ignore it. For the next few weeks I thought about it every day. I couldn’t have fun anymore. I felt like no one was noticing the things that were going on in the Temple or around me. I was scared that no one was noticing. I felt so small and powerless and insignificant. Everyone was just acting normal, like nothing had happened, like they had no responsibility, like it didn’t matter...”

Why didn’t you explain what was happening?” asked K. She looked perplexed.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I… was a late talker, I guess. It took me longer than most skythers to start talking.”

Really?” asked K. “I find that hard to believe.” She snorted and shuffled in her seat. “How long ago did this happen?”

Over twenty cycles ago, that’s for sure. Maybe twenty-three.”

We sat in silence, and I appreciated the calm nature of the Earth music playing on our speakers. It helped take me out of those memories.

I wanted to change the subject, so I asked K, “How about you? Do you remember when you were in that white room and broke the glass?”

Around a year ago.”

My mandibles dropped, and I caught myself staring at her, dumbfounded. Her earliest memory, before she could even speak, was less than a cycle ago? She couldn’t have been much more than a cycle old, in that case, unless she suffered from significant memory loss.

You-” I struggled to find the words. “You must have learned everything so quickly!”

She exhaled, and nodded. “Yeah. When I started being able to understand words, the people looking after me told me that my growth was incredibly accelerated. I was able to learn things super fast, but my brain couldn’t handle all of it. It took a long time for my memories to stabilize, so, I don’t remember much about growing up. In fact most of my memories are after I chose to become a mercenary.”

What made you choose that, anyway? You could have done anything.”

She shook her head. “Not really. I was always breaking things, and around when my memories began to stabilize, my learning slowed down a lot. I still probably learn faster than most people, but it’s not fast enough for me to pursue something else. Fighting, reflexes, athletics- They come naturally to me. And besides, they needed people to go protect away teams and such. It was a logical way to help out and feel useful at home.”

I lifted my ears in surprise. “Voren- This planet is- You’ve lived your whole life at this station?”

She nodded. I couldn’t believe it, but she continued nonchalantly.

Yep. Surprised you didn’t hear that from someone back at the base. I was brought here after the TAU found me.”

My mind was racing. “So, you’ve never seen a forest? Or an ocean? Or a moon? You’ve never been on a spaceship?”

She looked at me like I was clueless, and replied, “No, I’ve never been on a spaceship, but I know what a forest looks like. I was given a lot of learning material in my youth.”

It seemed strange that someone less than a cycle old could have a youth at all, but under the circumstances I understood it.

Then, how long ago did you decide to become a mercenary?”

Around eight months. Hey, watch where you’re driving, okay?”

I stopped staring at her, but I was shocked. Her stream of consistent memory only lasted zero point five cycles. She’d been alive for maybe a cycle. I had lived around twenty-six times longer than her, which I found hard to believe.

Well, I’m glad the sound system wasn’t damaged,” said K, relaxing in her seat once more.

I nodded slowly, and let the smooth jazz piano fill the ambience. Despite being incredibly strong, she was so young, and this facility was her only home. My mind returned Joëlle’s warning and the mysterious ship I had seen in the sky, and I could only hope that her home was safe.

It wasn’t.

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About the author

Seb Woodland

Bio: I'm a writer, game developer, artist, and musician. Just a creative guy working on art and trying to make his way in the world.

-There is always hope-

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