Out from the canopy two gold objects shot past me, and sliced the vines at their bases. They lost there grip on me and I caught myself with my hands on the cushioned ferns at my feet, panting. My right hand still ached from being crushed on the ship the day before, but by now it was a fainter pain than the stinging from my left hand. My ears hung to the floor, and gently rustled the plants beneath my face. The saturated greens and purples beneath me filled my senses as I caught my breath for a moment in the humid air, wondering what had set me free. Whatever it was, it must have been intentional. The vines were cut in one swift motion, in exactly the correct spot to render their restraint useless.
I raised my eyes up and scanned the forest. Luminescent plants scattered away into the distance, giving the forest a sense of scale with their bluish glow. But I couldn’t see anything ahead or behind me, aside from stout, curling trees, and more of those spiny creatures.
I glanced behind me at where the gold objects landed. Sticking out of the ground, half-covered by the grass and low bushes, I saw the two weapons, distinctly star-shaped like an Earth shuriken. Each star’s blade-edge was glowing a faint orange. The plasma edges quickly fizzled out into small plumes of smoke.
I looked ahead once more, and gradually got to my feet, sweat still beading all over my skin from the heat. A warrior with that kind of accuracy would easily be able to target my vital organs and kill me.
Despite this, caution got the better of me and I bent over to pick up the E-gun I had dropped. Gun at my hip, I panned across the clearing ahead of me where the ninja stars must have come from. Chirping and skittering filled the silence from nearly everywhere around me.
Not more than a few meters away from me, the creature fell down from somewhere up in the trees, landing gracefully on the grass in a low crouch, releasing a cloud of spores and dust. I leaped back in surprise, raising my weapon instinctively towards the creature.
It was bipedal, humanoid, and with a flat face. Its skin was a pale bluish-green colour, almost iridescent, and it had large, reflective black eyes. Its mouth was almost humanoid, but its edges were angular. With its lips closed, its mouth formed a straight line which dipped down into a ‘V’ shape on each side. It had no discernible nose; in its place was simply smooth, spotted skin.
The spots accented its forehead and bare-shoulders and the backs of its hands. It had no hair, only a smooth, bald head, with a low ridge which began partway up the forehead and traced a line to the top back of its neck. It balanced on the balls of its feet, which were bare, four-toed, and shaped like paws with angular claws. It almost looked digitigrade, though it was hard to tell at a glance. Its body was very thin, but clearly athletic, built with a smooth, elegant form, and densely woven muscles.
It wore black, skintight clothing on its torso and legs, and silver-gold bracers. Sprouting from the base of its spine was a long, smooth tail which flicked back and forth and looked incredibly flexible. The tail shifted to a red colour as it flared toward a wide tip.
My mandibles dropped in shock and wonder at the creature as I continued to take in its appearance. I had never seen anything like it.
I was beginning to think it must have been a species native to Malum, when I noticed its equipment. It wore multiple belts across each shoulder and its smooth hips. The waist was covered in gold shurikens like the ones it had thrown at me, but lining one of the shoulder belts was a series of powerful grenades, of TAU design. Slung over its back was a TAU grenade launcher, painted black. I could tell its arm bracers also hid some kind of devices; I assumed they were concealed weapons, but I couldn’t be sure.
I slowly lowered my pistol to the ground. It locked eyes with me and its lips widened and twisted upwards in what could only be a strange, charming smile. Gracefully, it rose to a standing position, and stood around five and a half feet tall, notably shorter than me. It made no move to draw any of its weapons, and it kept its arms ready at its side.
“Do not be afraid.” Its mouth moved revealing a reddish tongue. Its voice was androgynous, somewhat nasally, and almost monotone, but it managed to convey an air of compassion. “You are not my enemy,” it said.
I powered down my gun, and wiped away some sweat from my face with the back of my right hand, conscious that the creature seemed not to be perspiring at all in the heat. “You saved me,” I panted. “Without your help I’d still be stuck in those vines. Thank you.”
It simply nodded. It maintained eye contact, but kept its distance from me.
“What are you?” I asked.
“Now is not the time for questions,” it said, activating a tiny hologram from its wrist and glancing at it. It looked like a local-area scanner. “The Brotherhood are almost upon your companion. I must stop them.”
Without any more hesitation, it leaned forward into a run and darted past me. I glanced around quickly, before falling into step with it, trying to keep up. “Wait!” I exclaimed. “What’s your name?”
Halfway through vaulting over a giant root, it stopped and glanced back at me with its black reflective eyes. Its lips stretched into a smirk.
“Omega,” they said. Then they faced forward once again and continued to bound through the trees.
I struggled to keep up, ducking under and jumping over obstacles as I followed close behind them. Omega seemed to sift through the terrain like water through a storm drain. They used all of their limbs to get around, grasping with their hands and clawed feet, and even using their tail to swing and push off the ground. Effortlessly, they managed to avoid getting pricked by any spines, or tripped up by any snags in the terrain. And since they were smaller than me, following them was difficult because I had to make course corrections for myself to avoid accidentally lodging myself somewhere I couldn’t fit.
Omega was unlike anything I had ever seen. Where had they come from? I was trying to piece it together as we closed the gap on our enemy, hoping to intercept them before they could ambush K in her defenceless state.
Waves of dizziness crashed into me and I stumbled against a tree, groaning involuntarily. My vision blurred, and I suddenly felt nauseated. Lines of sweat dripped from my face down my mandibles, mixing with some fowl tasting saliva I struggled to keep inside my mouth.
Omega stopped and stared back at me. I looked at my palm; my skin was turning blue where I had been poked. I coughed up some more saliva.
Omega was by my side before I could react. They took my pistol from my hand, powered it off, and latched it back into my holster. I felt their arms wrap around me, and despite their size they swung my weakening body over their shoulders.
My eyes fluttered closed as, disoriented, I sensed my body jostle up and down as they carried me. The sound of the forest seemed to echo further and further away from me. I told myself to stay awake.
I awoke in a cool, azure cave. The sound of running water filled my ears and bounced off the smooth, glistening walls. I breathed slowly, and felt life returning to my muscles.
I sat up. K was lying next to me, motionless. Our cloaks, backpacks, and outer-gear were all set aside and folded neatly. Our weapons were arranged next to them. My fingers pressed into the cool ground beside me. The cave was made up of a smoky-blue crystal. On the other side of the cavern, the ground dipped into flowing water. It was an underground stream which intercepted the cave. Blue light dimly glowed from the walls and ceiling behind the crystal.
I bent over to K and gave her a gentle prod. She didn’t react, but she was breathing calmly with her eyes closed. I sat up straighter.
My left hand was no longer hurting, and had returned to its normal colour.
Something swung down from the ceiling in front of me, and I nearly fell onto my back. It was Omega, hanging upside down. I looked up at the ceiling; their tail was adhering to it somehow. I looked back at their face. Their lips were curved in a smile.
“You saved us,” I said.
Omega nodded. Then they reached their arms to the floor and twirled around as their tail let go of the ceiling. They halted, sitting cross-legged in front of me.
“How?” I asked. “I must have been poisoned by that spiny creature- how did you stop it?”
“I rubbed the antidote on your wound. Your body accepted it and fought off the poison,” they said.
Was it luck that they had the antidote? Or something else?
“You are not part of the Brotherhood,” they said. Their round eyes blinked and they tilted their head to the side.
“No. We don’t like the Brotherhood,” I said. I sat forward. I knew now that I could trust Omega, but I didn’t yet know why. “You don’t like the Brotherhood either?” I questioned.
Omega shook their head. “They are the enemy.”
I glanced to K, then back to Omega. “You could have left us alone. Why didn’t you?”
“Why would I?” said Omega.
“Would you have?” they asked.
My eyes trained the reflective floor between us. “No. I would have tried to help too. I’m just trying to understand you.”
“Why?” they asked.
“I- I suppose I’m curious. It’s in my nature. Wouldn’t you be curious about your saviour, if you had one?”
Omega looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds, before looking back at me.
“I do not know,” they said. “I have never been saved. I do not know if it is in my… nature… to be curious.”
Our eyes met and we sat in the meditative quiet of the cavern.
“What happened to the Brotherhood soldiers?” I asked.
“I eliminated them.”
There was a pause.
“I noticed you carrying TAU gear… They must have sent you to Malum. What’s your mission here?” I asked.
“Peacekeeping,” they said.
“Peacekeeping?” I said. “But, there are no settlements on Malum. None that I’m aware of.”
“There are no settlements here. None except for Brotherhood outposts. I am here to eliminate the Brotherhood. If any member of the Brotherhood remains, the chance for peace in the galaxy is zero percent. I must keep the peace.”
Their voice was almost monotone and their smile disappeared. I felt a chill run down my spine. They were talking about killing like it was nothing. I simply nodded. I was glad they were on my side.
“I also noticed you carrying TAU gear,” they said to me. “They must have also sent you to Malum.”
“Well, not exactly,” I said. “We’re working with members of the TAU, but we weren’t sent by them.”
“What is your mission?” they asked, and tilted their head to the side.
“Our mission? We’re here because-”
My heart skipped a beat. How long had I been unconscious? I flicked my holo-gauntlet on and tuned into the Code-Alpha signal.
“Shit!” I exclaimed. Over fifteen hours! The heat, dehydration and poison had gotten to us.
I started back by the sudden movement as K lurched from her rest, and glanced around. Her eyes were bloodshot, full of fire, and locked onto Omega.
“Get away from Osax!” she cried, and lunged toward them with both arms forward. I fell back onto my hands, holo-gauntlet deactivating. K’s hands grasped thin air, but Omega sprung into a backwards cartwheel and landed on their feet. K growled.
I stood up and jumped between them. “K, it’s alright! They’re with us!”
K panted, and slowly eased up. “What happened?” she asked.
“Omega saved us,” I said.
“Omega?” said K. Her brows were twisted with concern. “You mean that… thing?”
Omega nodded, seemingly unaware of K’s judgment. “I am Omega,” they said.
K began pacing back and forth. “You saved us, huh? What even are you?”
“I am a bioweapon created by the TAU to destroy the Brotherhood,” they said.
“Bioweapon?” said K, raising an eyebrow.
I took a step back, and Omega approached K. K stood above them, bulky and awkward by comparison. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the two; K’s bony ridges and horns made her appear so much more imbalanced than Omega, who looked like they were printed by a finely tuned machine.
“What are you?” said Omega.
K clenched her fists. “A bioweapon.”
“Created by the TAU also?”
“No. I dunno. Probably not.” she said, before taking a few steps away.
“What were you created for?” said Omega.
K looked back over her shoulder, cracking her knuckles. “I- Why do you care?”
I stepped up to K, and gently placed a hand on her back. “K, it’s fine. We can trust Omega. They’re with the TAU.”
She sighed. “If you say so,” she said, and turned around. “I’m glad you’re safe.”
“You too,” I said, my ears lifting.
Omega stepped up next to us and we both turned and looked down at them. Their black eyes sparkled in the light of the luminous crystals. “What is your mission here… Osax, and... K? Perhaps we can help each other.”
We sat in the cave for a while as I explained to Omega what had happened since I arrived on Voren. K tried to call Jonathan and Joëlle, but the signal couldn’t reach them through the cave walls and the atmospheric distortion. Instead she filled our packs with water from the stream, mostly ignoring our conversation. I told Omega about the attack on Voren, about Duhrnan, and about Joëlle and Jonathan and how the Firebrand had crashed. They seemed interested at every part of the story, but not excited one way or another. I told them about Astraloth… and the Shade Beam, and Duhrnan’s threat to Earth.
“Duhrnan must be stopped,” they said, after a moment of silence. “If Duhrnan remains, the chance for peace in the galaxy is zero percent. I must keep the peace.”
K rolled her eyes. “How dramatic.”
“But probably true,” I said. “We know that Duhrnan’s mothership is somewhere on Malum, and we know that he’s probably aboard it. The trouble is we don’t know where, or how to destroy it.” I fixed my eyes on Omega. “You weren’t sweating in the heat of the jungle.”
K scoffed and leaned forward. “So what?” she said.
“You were made specifically to survive on Malum, weren’t you?” I asked.
Omega nodded. “Yes. The TAU discovered Brotherhood presence on the planet, and created me to be an undetectable agent who could sabotage their plans and remove them from the planet.”
“That’s how you had the antidote too… The TAU put their best into designing the perfect agent with all the knowledge, skills, and physical prowess and coordination needed to not only survive alone out here, but to take out the most deadly of the Brotherhood soldiers.”
K raised her hands in defense. “That’s so cool,” she said, sarcasm dripping from her lips. “We should all admire the fancy bioweapon.”
“There is no need,” said Omega. “I was not created to be admired.”
“Ha! Yeah, me neither,” said K, rolling her eyes.
“Omega,” I said, “Can you help us get back to our ship? It’s up a cliff a ways off-”
“I know where it is,” they said. “I saw it crash. I assumed everyone aboard to be dead, so I did not initially investigate. But I know how we could get up the cliff.”
“Well, great!” I said, hoisting my backpack onto my shoulder. “We shouldn’t waste any more time- I don’t want to leave Jonathan and Joëlle to themselves any longer.”
K stood up, ready to go. “Yeah. Osax, we gotta get back to them. They might be in more trouble than-”
K winced and clutched her head. Omega stepped forward.
“What is wrong?” they asked.
“Nothing!” said K, clearly louder than she intended. “Just a headache.” She rubbed her forehead.
“Head… ache?” said Omega.
“Oh, of course you don’t get headaches,” K spat.
“I was... not created to get head aches,” Omega said.
K’s jaw tightened and her brows lowered.
“K,” I said, my ears drooping, “let’s just get going.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she sighed.
We all moved to exit the cave, and I winced as I gripped my shoulder strap with my crushed, bandaged hand. K looked at me remorsefully.
Omega stepped up to me, hands outstretched. “I can carry the pack while your hand recovers.”
“Actually, it would be nice to rest my shoulders. Thanks,” I said, and gave them the backpack.
K stood there staring at us, unimpressed. “Hey, Omega, would you mind please carrying my pistol for me too? I’d really, really appreciate it,” she said in a sarcastically high voice.
I was about to say something, but Omega stepped up to her and simply said “I would not mind.”
K handed them the gun. “Oh, thank you. How kind, and sweet of you. Isn’t Omega just the best?” She looked at me with a fake smile.
“K,” I said.
“Come on, Osax-” K began.
We both stopped and stared as Omega turned away from us, and without hesitation spun K’s pistol twice on their finger, before flinging it up into the air. The pistol almost hovered for a second as Omega took a step, and it began to fall. Another step forward, and the pistol slid perfectly into the pouch of the backpack Omega was wearing on their back with a satisfying fwump. Omega continued walking away from us, oblivious to our gaping mouths and wide-eyes.