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Hey Omega, can I have my gun back?” asked K.

Omega had led us, carefully but quickly, through the steamy jungle and halfway up to the plateau along a natural sloped path which outlined the cliff. The lithe bioweapon turned back to us, unfazed by the exertion as K and I panted from the climb. Their hairless, freckled face smirked awkwardly in contrast to their apparent grace. The three suns of Malum had set and risen since K and I left the Firebrand, and they were low in the sky, lighting up our odd trio and our path up the cliff.

Omega retrieved K’s pistol from my pack with their dexterous green hand, and gave it to her. “Your gun,” they said. K took it and holstered it.

The three of us had remained mostly quiet as we journeyed to the Firebrand. I wondered what had happened to Jonathan and Joëlle, hoping they were safe and that they had managed to call for help from the TAU and repair the food synthesizers, at least. But if not, I was glad we had enough water to last a few days, and we’d made a new friend, or at least an ally against our enemies. But as we walked I kept looking at the time on the Code-Alpha channel.

05:06:06:56.

Time was ticking away, and we still hadn’t even located Duhrnan, let alone determined how we would stop his mothership. The Shade Beam would of course be the final challenge, but once we regrouped with Jonathan and Joëlle we would need to spring into action against Duhrnan and the ship which stole the Shade Beam in the first place.

At last we crested the edge of the plateau, and in the distance ahead of us was the unmistakable black and red starship I’d come to think of as a second home. And with Astraloth gone, I thought it might as well be my only home.

At the sight of the ship, K and I both exclaimed in relief. It was no longer nestled into a bed of rocks from the crash, and its landing gear was firmly planted on the rocks, meters away from the crash site. It was parked deliberately, level with the ground, and that meant that they must have gotten the engines working since we’d left.

K started jogging through the dusty plain toward the ship, and I followed behind, my heart racing. Omega kept up, but stayed behind us.

The sun glinted off the black windshield of the Firebrand. Below the windshield someone was standing, wearing a welder’s mask and ducking around, working on the four cannons on the underside of the ship. It was Jonathan, and it was strange to see him without his white and black long coat. Instead he was wearing a dirty white jumpsuit, with leathery pads on his knees, shoulders, and elbows. He wore thick black gloves and boots, and his sleek black pistol was holstered on his hip. He stood up and turned to us, lifting the mask from his head, and his robotic aperture twisted as his eye fixed on us. He looked shocked to see us.

You’re alive!” he called out, genuine relief in his voice.

We closed the gap, and stood under the shadow of the Firebrand. Jonathan looked exhausted, with a noticeable bag under his left eye, as though he had barely slept. Omega and Jonathan locked eyes, and his mouth hung open.

And I see you’ve... made a friend?” he asked, staring straight past K at Omega.

Good to see you too,” scoffed K.

Omega took a single step toward Jonathan. “You must be Jonathan Wellsworth, head of biology. Ex TAU special forces.”

Jonathan gave me a confused look. “Yes… they told you about me?”

Yes we did,” I said. “Their name is Omega. They’re a bioweapon created by the TAU. They saved our lives.”

Jonathan nodded slowly. “Oh… kay…” He lifted a hand up to his ear and pressed a button. “Joëlle,” he said, “Osax and K are alive, they just made it back.”

K smiled, and I lifted my ears. Jonathan winced as Joëlle’s voice screeched through his earpiece, loud enough for us to hear. “Oh my god! Bring them inside! Ah ha ha!” I could hear the smile in her voice.

Jonathan removed the earpiece and held it an inch away from his ear. “We’ll be inside in a moment. And, we have a guest.”

 

With the five chairs of the cockpit finally filled, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were meant to encounter Omega here. The smell of coffee filled the room, as the ship hummed. From left to right, if you were to look at the cockpit from the entrance door and out towards the window, sat K, then Jonathan next to the still broken weapons console, Joëlle in the pilot’s seat in the center, Omega at her side next to the communications panel, and I on the outer right seat. Our seats were all angled toward the center of the semicircle. K was shovelling a freshly synthesized burger behind her tusks, half ignoring the conversation, while Joëlle, wearing a dusty blue jumpsuit, slowly picked away at a bowl of rice with a pair of silver chopsticks. Omega was fidgeting with the earpiece Joëlle had just given them, which was connected to our communications channel. After a moment, they fitted it to their ear. They sat with their legs crossed on their seat, hands resting on each bare paw-like foot, and their tail coiled around their legs. Jonathan sipped coffee greedily, and looked worse than I’d ever seen him before. I would believe it if the coffee was the only thing keeping him awake. I flexed my right hand, and felt the strength returning since K had crushed it. I gripped a glass of root beer, and exhaled deeply, relaxing into my seat. The sound of slurping filled my ears, and for a wonderful moment, I let myself be at peace, and feel the full relief of finding myself back in the comfort of the Firebrand, with my friends.

Joëlle’s brown eyes locked with mine. “...So while you were unconscious and Omega was taking care of you, Jonathan and I were working on the repairs.”

You didn’t get much sleep, did you?” I asked, my eyes turning to Jonathan.

He shuffled in his seat. “Well, I tried to. Couldn’t really though.” He sounded almost frail. “Just a lot on my mind.”

Joëlle glanced into his eyes, and gently placed her hand on his knee. His hand fell on top of hers, though he didn’t look relieved. In fact, he appeared more sad at the gesture, lowering his head slightly. But he forced a smile.

A- Anyway, Joëlle, you were explaining...” Jonathan said, moving to hold his cup with both hands. K munched loudly, and Joëlle pulled her hand back.

Right,” she said, scanning the room. “Well, when you left, Jonathan called the TAU for reinforcements.”

He nodded, eyes down.

Meanwhile I began work on the food synthesizers. He came in and told me he contacted an old group of special forces units he used to work with, and that they were on there way to help as soon as they could. They would contact us as soon as they arrived at Malum.”

Great!” I said. “So, we’ve got Omega to help us, and now we have TAU soldiers on the way. That will be incredibly helpful once we find Duhrnan. Who knows what kind of forces we will need to stop him.”

Awesome,” said K. “Hey, do you think the TAU guys are gonna be bringing any awesome weapons? Ooh, how many are coming, anyway?”

Jonathan cleared his throat. “I could have tried to arrange a large force, but there were two reasons I thought it wouldn’t work. One, a fleet of ships would alert Duhrnan to our presence, and we would lose any chance at surprise we had. And two, the TAU are already mustering their fleets to defend Earth when the Shade Beam arrives in five days, so they don’t have many ships to spare.”

Well, wouldn’t Duhrnan already know that we’re here?” I said. “The valicorr ship that shot us down...”

Shot us down,” said Joëlle. “In all likelihood, they think we’re dead. At the very least, we aren’t considered a threat as the small strike force we are, or they would have come back to make sure we were extinct by now, right? Duhrnan probably knows we arrived on Malum, but I’ll bet he thinks we were destroyed too.”

Right,” said K. “So anyway, how many?”

They’re sending a dropship of twenty soldiers,” said Jonathan.

Well they’ll definitely be able to help us if we need to fight our way onto the mothership, or attack one of these Brotherhood bases Omega was telling us about.” I said.

Exactly,” said Joëlle, taking a moment to chew some food. “So, I assessed the damage to the synthesizers and determined that some fluid from the cooling lines had leaked into the central processor. In order to drain it and repair the system, we would have to first bring the ship to a balanced angle. Which meant fixing the engines first.”

Okay, so you determined some nonsense stuff about some science-y, technical things, and you fixed the engines and the food synthesizer. Is that it?” said K.

Joëlle hesitated for a moment, staring at K. She chuckled. “Yes, I guess the short story is just that. We fixed the engines and the food synthesizers. Jonathan and I made a great team,” she said, and smiled at Jonathan, who returned it weakly. Seeing this, her smile faded. “Though we have had no luck with the weapons. We… we thought you two were in danger, or dead, but… we didn’t want to try searching for you until we were certain that we could use the Firebrand for food and shelter. Once we fixed the engines and the synthesizers, it was well into the night, and we both tried to get some sleep. I think I had an easier time than Jonathan,” she gave him another concerned glance.

Omega’s head tilted slightly, gazing intently at Jonathan. “There is a connection between the REM stage of sleep and eye movement. Could the presence of your robotic eye interfere with your body’s ability to rest during sleep?”

Jonathan shook his head hesitantly, but couldn’t resist a smirk at Omega’s odd conversation choice. “I don’t think you understand how sleep works… but I guess I’m not a sleep scientist.”

REM is connected with dreaming. Do you find since losing an eye that you have had less frequent dreams? Or have you-”

Omega,” interjected Joëlle, “let’s continue this discussion another time. More pressing matters?”

Omega nodded. “Of course, commander.”

Joëlle raised an eyebrow, and a smile slowly spread across her face. “Commander?”

Omega’s angular lips formed a slight curve. “You are a member of Round Table, the previous leader of the squad, and the Captain of the Firebrand. K and Osax are not members of the TAU. Despite Jonathan’s previous experience in the military, he is now primarily a scientist. You are the highest ranking TAU officer on the planet. I am a servant of the TAU; you are my commander.”

Joëlle grinned. “Well, I’m happy to have you on the team, Omega.” She gestured to them. “But, if you’re comfortable enough to sit cross-legged on a chair in front of your commanding officer, then you’re comfortable enough to just call me Joëlle.”

Omega’s smile faded, and their neutral expression resumed. After a few moments of silent hesitation, they unfolded their legs and tail, and sat normally on the chair, with their back straight and their claws brushing the floor. “I understand your point, commander.”

Joëlle paused, exchanging glances with me. She looked back at Omega. “Actually, I’m… not sure you do.” Omega tilted their head to the side.

Anyway,” said Joëlle, “I’m so glad you’re both safe.”

I’m glad we’re all safe,” I said.

Yeah, me too,” said K, mumbling through the last bite of her sandwich. “But, we gotta make an action plan or something, cause at this rate Duhrnan’s gonna disintegrate Earth while we’re just sitting around chatting.”

The room fell silent, save the hum of the ship. The five of us exchanged glances.

Alright,” said Joëlle. “Omega, how long have you been on the planet?”

Would you like it in Earth years, or Skyther Cycles, or-”

Earth years are fine,” she said.

Omega blinked. “I have been here for exactly 1.3751 Earth years.”

Joëlle nodded. “I’m guessing that means you’ve had time to identify major Brotherhood outposts and other points of interest.”

Yes.” they said. “I was designed to be undetectable by life sign scanners. That has made it easier for me to keep track of Brotherhood activities.”

Joëlle paused. “Wait, do you have a vehicle somewhere, or do you do all your travelling on foot?”

Omega said, “I do some of my travelling on foot. Some travelling on hand, and some travelling on tail.”

Joëlle and I snorted a laugh, to Omega’s confusion. Then K stood up from her chair.

Hah ha ha, what a hilarious, weird little dude we found.” K’s voice was sharp with sarcasm. My body tensed looking at her expression. “But can we please stop wasting time and get to the point?”

Joëlle spun around to K. “Sit down, K. I am getting to the point- If you ever actually listened to me you might have noticed.”

I-” K winced, and began to growl. “Yeah, I’ll sit down... In the kitchen, where I can take some medicine.” She stomped off toward the exit, my eyes following her. “Let me know when this meeting is over.”

K-” I began.

The door slid shut behind her.

Joëlle spoke under her breath. “What is her problem...”

Well,” I said, “she suffers from chronic headaches and blackouts. And she’s dying. That’s got to put anyone in a bad mood.”

I know, you told me that a while ago. But ever since we met she’s mostly either ignored me, or talked back to me.” Joëlle brushed her purple dreads to the side, revealing the spiral tattoo on her cheek.

It’s not just you,” said Jonathan, adjusting his cybernetic eye. “She does that with me too, despite my interest in her.”

Joëlle turned to him. “You’re interested in her?” she asked. “That’s…”

No no,” he said, raising his hands in defense. “I meant academically. Academically.”

Joëlle chuckled loudly. “It’s alright, I’m not here to police people’s feelings.”

It’s true. I don’t really have time to develop feelings for people, anyway,” he added.

Yeah,” said Joëlle, turning away from him. “None of us do.”

I tilted my head to the side, though neither of them noticed. They were an odd pair of friends. I glanced to Omega, who seemed to be observing with silent curiosity, still sitting perfectly upright.

But she seems to like you, Osax,” said Jonathan. Something about the way he said those words put me off.

Yes, her and I are friends,” I said. “I mean, I consider all of you to be my friends,” I said, before taking a small sip of soda.

Joëlle smiled warmly, and said “Thanks Osax. I… guess we are.” My ears began to lift, but at the same time I noticed Jonathan had frowned, and turned his face to the floor.

...Jonathan?” I asked. Joëlle and Omega turned to him.

He took a deep breath in. “Well, maybe K just likes you because you’re giving her those pills.”

That’s not it- We became friends before that. I think if you want to be her friend, you just need to… open up to her. Give her the benefit of the doubt.”

Well, what you’ve been doing for her is certainly admirable,” said Joëlle. My ears began to sink. “Making all the medicine for her… it’s sweet.”

Jonathan leaned back in his chair. “Yeah, even though it’s just sugar.”

My heart began beating quickly, Joëlle turned to him with her mouth open and brows furrowed. Then she looked to me. Beads of sweat were forming on my cheeks, and just above my eyes, and I lurched forward with my hands raised. “Shh! Don’t- Don’t tell K,” I said.

Jonathan looked a little startled, and to my surprise, a little guilty, when he realized what he had said. Joëlle just stared at me, silent.

Omega looked at me with their round black eyes. “Why can we not tell K?” they said, loudly.

Because! She thinks the pills actually have medicine in them!” I whispered urgently.

Joëlle frowned. “You don’t actually know how to help her...”

I shook my head.

So,” she continued, “You were hoping that placebo would be enough to make her feel better.”

I sighed, and nodded. “Please,” I said, my heart beginning to relax, “just keep it a secret. I should be the one to tell her.”

Joëlle and Jonathan exchanged glances, and she nodded. “Alright.”

Joëlle hesitated for a moment. “Well, I need to keep talking with Omega, to find out what she knows that can help us-”

Jonathan elbowed her, and said quietly, “I think Omega is male.”

Joëlle’s cheeks flushed. “Oh, Omega, I apologize...”

Omega spoke. “Apology accepted. Male and female has not been a concern for me in the past… I have not spoken with anyone in a long time who might be confused. I have not spoken with anyone in a long time until I met Osax and K.”

Right,” said Joëlle. “Well which pronouns would you prefer?”

Omega thought for a moment, their tail flicking absentmindedly. “Which pronoun is better?” they said at last.

Jonathan, Joëlle and I shared a look. “Neither is better,” I said. “In fact, you don’t need to pick between those two. In my language, we don’t even use gendered pronouns.”

Thank you, Osax. I will not pick between those two.”

Joëlle shuffled in her seat. “Okay, then I’ll just… refer to you as they?”

Jonathan shook his head impatiently. “It’s not that hard, Joëlle. No need to get awkward. Haven’t you met a non-binary person before?”

Joëlle looked at him. “Sorry, I’m just… not totally used to it. I know it’s not unusual, it just wasn’t common in my circles, I guess.

Anyway,” she continued, “as I was saying, I need to find out what you know that can help us right now, Omega.”

Alright,” I said. “Let’s make some plans.”

Actually,” said Joëlle, turning to me. “I’m tasking you with ensuring our team doesn’t collapse.”

I blinked. “Oh?”

Yeah,” she said. “As we were just saying earlier… You’re the only one K has a real connection with. Which means, you need to come clean about the medicine.”

I grit my mandibles.

If K feels betrayed by you,” she continued, “it might break apart our team.”

She was right, of course. And perhaps I needed her to point it out for me, but I didn’t want her to.

Jonathan, Omega and I will discuss plans against Duhrnan. But right now, I need you to keep K’s spirits up, and not by lying to her. I know what it’s like to lead a good team and a bad one, and the good ones always start with trust.”

Jonathan looked away from her.

So come clean. You said it yourself; you should be the one to tell her.”

I stood up and sighed. “You’re right, Joëlle. You’re right.”

She smirked. “There’s a reason I became a leader.”

Yeah,” I said. “I’ll go… take some responsibility for this.”

Good luck,” she said. “So, Omega...”

Her voice trailed off as I opened the door and headed for the kitchen. I clenched my fists. I wanted to help K so much. I was terrified of admitting that I didn’t know how to. My palms were sweaty.

I entered the kitchen, and she was nowhere to be seen. I could hear the low hum of the ship as I scanned the room. The white lights illuminated the counter tops, and my eyes landed on an object resting on the far counter, crushed and deformed. It was the bottle of pills I had synthesized for K, completely squished together, with powdered dust scattered around it like it had exploded out the top from pressure.

My eyes widened, and I became uncomfortably aware of my own heartbeat.

K?”

I ran into our room. She was gone. Her gear was missing.

I sprinted down to the exit ramp of the ship. It was wide open, and the dusty atmosphere of Malum wafted in, howling in the wind. Heavy boots printed in the dust on the way down the ramp. I raised a hand to my earpiece.

Joëlle...” I muttered. “K’s gone.”

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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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