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I always looked up to my father.

William Wellsworth. He was a strong man. Indeed, both strong of heart and body. He had the most fashionable moustache too… Bushier than mine; though I inherited some of his good looks, I wasn’t blessed with such thick facial hair…

Sorry.

I know it’s- It seems weird to be talking about this. But if I’m going to tell you what happened… Well, you have to understand, I loved and admired my father, more than anyone in the world.

He was an example of the perfect dad, at least that’s how I felt. He had a hearty laugh, was well-dressed, well-spoken… Whenever he gave me a hug, he gave me the tightest squeeze he could. He said he would give no less to his little girl. Of course I told him I was a boy, like him. He asked me if I was serious, and I was. He told me to talk to him about it if I still felt like a boy the next day.

Well I did. And I wasn’t too old before I realized that being a boy wasn’t about being like him… It was just about being myself. But he was so accepting; he told me about people he knew who were transgender, and non-binary. He told me that as I got older I could make more decisions about what I wanted for my body. He was so accepting… more than many of my peers. And of course, I took those opportunities to have the body I wanted and present the identity I knew I had. It was so freeing to be me, Jonathan. I always wanted to be like my dad, but that was just about being me. Of course, it did make me feel lucky that people started comparing us more after the transition. I liked that. It was a nice perk.

He was also a soldier. He worked with the Terran Astral Union. He was strong and skilled and disciplined. He was so good, in fact, that he became involved in a special forces unit. Some people had recommended him for his fast learning, adaptability, and team-oriented nature.

I always wanted to be just like him. My mom loved him. Everyone loved him.

I’m getting distracted.

I followed in his footsteps and joined the TAU military when I was old enough. Cliché, I know. Though, I actually had a harder time deciding what I wanted in life than it sounds. To be honest, I’ve never really felt as though I’ve known. But doing this made sense to me. He was like… a beacon of honesty, and genuine goodness. He was a hero in my eyes. He fought for the good of us all, and he never let it get to him.

I also thought I might get into science, and study biology, because I’m fascinated by life and all its forms. Also, my mother was a bio-engineer, so she liked to teach me things. After my surgery, I became curious about what technology we humans had developed to manipulate our bodies for medical, or cosmetic reasons. What other ways could we influence life? These bodies we have are just crude vessels for our souls; that’s what my mom would have said, anyway. She was a bit of a poet.

That led me down some very interesting paths studying gene manipulation, psychology, enigmatic creatures… among other things. But all the while I continued on my path to become a marine. I wanted to be a good man, like my father.

 

By the time I was working as a special forces member, my dad had retired and was living with my mom in a colony on the planet RS833. Colloquially known as Rose. I didn’t spend much time with them those days. This was only a few years ago now.

It was around that time that I lost my eye, during an attack on the colony. We were trying to defend-

Actually, that part isn’t important, as traumatic as it was. You already know I got a cybernetic replacement. No one I knew was hurt during the attack, not my parents anyway, and I didn’t think much of the situation at the time. It was a small colony, and it was upsetting that the valicorr had attacked. But it wasn’t unusual.

A few weeks later, and my team got a classified message from high command. Apparently the attack unearthed some information about illegal activities taking place at the colony. And the public was not happy. In all of the reporting of the valicorr raid, it was revealed that there was a weapon being developed in a secret research lab at the colony… a weapon of mass destruction, endorsed by the TAU. High command claimed they knew nothing of the project, and that it was being funded using stolen credits. There were connections between some of the colonists and the research and development project… including my mother and father, who apparently were working on this weapon in secret, or at least working with the people who were creating it.

The weapon? It was the Shade Beam, though it never came to fruition. It was an earlier version that was never completed. The aim was still the same: to create a weapon that could destroy an entire planet in the blink of an eye.

I was utterly broken. I couldn’t believe that my parents were involved. It had to be a mistake. Why would they be working on this? Especially in secret? My father had gutted my trust… He was working on something outright evil. I admired him so much; I dedicated so much of my life to following in his footsteps. I couldn’t understand why he would do this.

My world was shaken. But the worst was yet to come.

The message ended with our new orders: to destroy the colony and wipe out the ‘terrorists.’

Did high command even know those were my parents they were asking me to kill? Did they even care? It was so hypocritical… so horrendous. They claimed they knew nothing of the project, but how could they be so blind? The colony was full of high-ranking TAU members. They must have known about the Shade Beam. But as soon as it became clear that the secret was out, that the weapons development was happening there, they flipped. They wanted to save face. And they must not have wanted the skythers to find out. To build such a weapon would defy the treaty between Astraloth and Earth. Yet they wanted to construct it. My parents had betrayed me, but the TAU had killed me.

We bombed the colony. There was nothing left but ashes and glass. No one survived.

I quit the team. The TAU said that they highly respected me and would love to have me back. I doubted I would return in any capacity. I decided to focus on science. I wanted to help people. I tried not to hate myself. My mother and father had been evil, hadn’t they? I told myself that. It was the only comfort I had, and it offered me very little. The TAU said everyone living on that colony was evil. That they were terrorists involved in a plot to destroy civilization. But the TAU were heartless. They were just trying to cover themselves.

My grandfather was my only living relative. I spent a year with him, before he died, on his farm. He lived on Earth, in Norway. He was the only one I could talk to about my distrust of the TAU. We talked for hours about how backwards our entire civilization was. We talked about what true freedom would be like. We talked about how the common citizen of the TAU was blinded by false promises and distractions. We talked about how much better the world would be if everyone were free from the constraints of our corrupt government. And he shared with me a song that he sung, almost daily. It was a song of rebellion against the world order.

Show me a place where the world never turns. Bring me the light of a star as it burns. Where nary a soldier is there to command, take me away to an anarchist’s land.

Show me a place where the people are free, the shackles of justice are nowhere to see. Break up the treaties and take up a stand. Pave me the way to an anarchist’s land.

Fight your commanders and fight for a voice, where governments distant aren’t given the choice. Where all life is equal and no deaths are planned, live with me safe in an anarchist’s land.”

That song became my anthem of hatred for the TAU. It became my comfort that I was doing what was right. I continued to sing it long after my grandfather passed, and I was alone as the last Wellsworth.

 

That’s why I joined the Brotherhood. Because I had lost all faith in the TAU. I saw a corruptness in it that I couldn’t unsee. I had done things under their orders that I couldn’t undo.

When Ryner contacted me, I was skeptical. He said he knew what I had done. He said that he knew why I had done it. He said that he knew what was wrong with the TAU, and more importantly, he said he knew how to bring them down.

He asked me to join the Brotherhood. I said we would have to meet in person first. To my surprise, he agreed, and we took a long walk together, talking quietly about his group. He was young, and incredibly smart. He was pale, tall, and thin, with wispy hair and a clean face. He had a simmering menace to him… I didn’t like him. But I agreed with what he was saying. It was time for the power-balance of the galaxy to shift. If the people were freed from the control of their rulers, then the world would be a better place.

I know it sounds insane now. Looking back… I don’t know why I ever thought it was a good idea to help. I should have killed him then and there, had I known what I was getting into. It would have been a lesser evil than he would have me do. But he told me that he learned the TAU were restarting the Shade Beam project. That piqued my interest. And it made me so angry. How could they dare?

I wanted to stop them. I wanted to expose high command, but Ryner hushed me. He ensured me that playing the long game would be much more worth it. He told me about the base on Voren, and that his operatives had already acquired positions there. He said that there were enough members of the Brotherhood there to influence, and ultimately take control of the entire Shade Beam project. And he had a plan to influence the TAU to fast-track production of the full-scale super-weapon as they worked on the smaller prototypes on Voren.

The plan was to allow the TAU to create the Shade Beam… to help them even. To make the public see what their leaders were truly. And, in a worst case scenario, to take control of the Shade Beam and use their own weapon against them, threatening the galactic leaders to surrender their control.

Like a fool I agreed to help him, and he managed to secure me a spot as the Head of Biology at the base on Voren.

He assigned me a special project, noting my knowledge and skills regarding genetics. He wanted me to work on creating a bioweapon from cloned DNA, that could be grown and taught in as short a time as possible, and that could be imprinted with programming. Essentially, he wanted soldiers that could act as spies, unaware of their true allegiance until activation, at which point their true nature would be revealed and they would follow whatever orders they were given by their master. There were many layers to the task, but I was up for the challenge.

He said he trusted me, and would only give me orders if absolutely necessary. So, I started coming up with ways to fulfill his request. I knew a bioweapon would have to be strong, so that was my second goal, after working on accelerated growth and learning. To find a way to create a more powerful, more resilient clone of a creature. At first, we cloned the fauna of Voren, manipulating their DNA.

There were countless prototypes. Most of them failed, but with each success and failure I gained knowledge to apply to the next. Eventually I had figured out a way to manipulate myrok genes and create muscles of an unreasonable strength and durability.

Then my team started work on the final step. The ability to create a clone which, at the flick of a switch, could be completely controlled by its master. Ryner called it the “Sheep’s Clothing” project. We knew we had to start working with human clones. I was so eager… I used my own DNA to begin the experiments.

K was one of them. The eleventh experiment. But not the last.

The Director at the base on Voren, Director Aali, was annoyed with my experiments. He didn’t understand why I was given so much freedom at the station. He felt it was his duty to oversee operations and he should have been given more control over the bioweapon project, but Ryner wanted me to be in charge.

Of course, he was just using us both. He probably wanted us to resent each other, so that when he finally gave us the orders to eliminate one another... we would.

When K was awoken, she went into a panic. None of the previous experiments had survived. But her… she was alive, frantic, and emotional. She was tearing apart the lab, and I knew it was my duty to kill her. I held the gun in my hand, and aimed it at her. I almost pulled the trigger. But I just couldn’t do it. I knew everything about this was wrong… The least I could do was give her a chance to live.

The Director was furious, but I convinced him to let K live at the station. We would fabricate a story for her, not far from the truth, saying the TAU had discovered her. The doctors on the station, most of whom were members of the Brotherhood, would train her, and watch over her. It was clear that she had a strong personality, but I assured the Director that keeping her alive would be more useful than having her killed. Really, I just couldn’t bear to let her die. I felt responsible for her existence. I was responsible.

I was too responsible. I had to distance myself from her, so I made a point not to talk to her. Ever. But from early on it became clear that she suffered from random blackouts and headaches. I felt the pull to help her. But that feeling scared me. It was something like family, something I hadn’t felt in years. It was terrifying and comforting and that made it all the worse. I kept my distance, and the other doctors did what they could. No one knew how to counteract the side-effects of her accelerated growth. And we very quickly determined that her lifespan, while unpredictable, was going to be very short. I was at once mortified and relieved to know that sooner rather than later, she would be gone, and I would be free of these distracting thoughts. I must remain focused, I thought. I wanted to be heartless, I had to be, so I numbed myself.

Ryner informed me that we would proceed with the “Sheep’s Clothing” tests on her. I reluctantly agreed, but I didn’t oversee it. The only way it could work was if the “Sheep’s Clothing” was integrated during the early phase of accelerated learning… it wouldn’t have worked on a normal human.

I was given the trigger, a set of visuals which, when she saw them, would activate her. I never thought I would need to use it. I hoped she would get to spend the rest of her short life on Voren, oblivious to everything that was going on in the shadows. She was given jobs around the station to keep her busy. Surely, some of the TAU members there were genuine to her. But her life was a lie. And I was responsible for it.

Then one day, Ryner told me that the Brotherhood was working with the valicorr’s new leader, Emperor Duhrnan. I was stunned, but he demanded that I believe him. He put me in direct contact with Duhrnan and his valicorr, and ordered me to coordinate a strike with them on the Voren base. I asked him why, and he said it was all part of the plan. Well, you were there. You know what happened.

I immediately regretted my actions when I disabled the generator. People were dying everywhere, and it was only because of me that it was happening. But I thought, some sacrifices must be made. That was the lie I told myself over and over again. The TAU wanted to create the Shade Beam. They had us destroy the colony on Rose. The one comfort I had was knowing that once the valicorr retrieved the plans for the Shade Beam, they would retreat. I made sure only to minimally disable power to the facility… I would need to restore it to ensure that the secret labs where I conducted my experiments stayed powered after the attack.

It seemed ridiculous to allow an enemy to steal the Shade Beam… if we wanted to use it, why didn’t we do so ourselves? Well, Ryner believed it was always better to remain hidden, he said. Duhrnan seizing control of the Shade Beam meant exposing the TAU’s involvement in its creation, which would destabilize people’s faith in the TAU. Astraloth and the skythers would be outraged, as would most humans. And Ryner informed me that he had a plan to betray Duhrnan when the time was right. That was when we would reveal ourselves… the world would see the error of the TAU, and they would see the heroism of the Brotherhood. We would be revered as saviours, and with galactic faith in us, we would tear down the old societies and build something new. Something free. So when he had me disable the facility, he also had me send Duhrnan the access codes to the top secret research labs.

Of course I see now just how twisted and backwards it all was. Somehow, that day on Voren, I forced myself to still hold onto the belief that the Brotherhood was right. But it wasn’t. The Brotherhood is even worse than the TAU.

I met you and Joëlle, and re-acquainted myself with K. When you were leaving Kronos, I followed you to make sure you didn’t find out too much, or if you did, to eliminate you. I was still following Ryner’s orders. I was meant to keep us close to Duhrnan, to make sure he wasn’t going to betray his alliance with the Brotherhood, but also to keep a far enough distance that you wouldn’t be able to find out we were involved. He must have considered offing me in some other way since the Director had failed, but when I told him about you and your interest in tracking the mothership, he decided I could still be useful a while longer.

Yes, I knew exactly where the mothership was then. I made sure we stayed close behind it at all times, close enough that I could intervene if Ryner gave the order, but far enough that you couldn’t discover anything of the plot. That is until Duhrnan decided to attack the Titan-class warship. The distress signal messed me up. I didn’t know what to do. Duhrnan got away with killing those people.

I should have done something different. But I don’t know what we could have done against the mothership anyway.

I suggested we bring K along, not because I thought I’d need to activate her… simply because I-

I wanted to get to know her. I was already feeling conflicted.

Each day I spent on the Firebrand I felt closer to the three of you. There was a wholeness, a goodness in each one of you that had been lacking in all of my companions for the last few years. It was a light from the happy life I had before the attack on Rose. I was beginning to doubt myself, but I knew I couldn’t betray the Brotherhood. I had spent so long working with them. And I had already let the base on Voren be attacked, not to mention the experiments I had done. “Anarchist’s Land” looped in my head, telling me I was on the right path. I didn’t think I was. But as far as I was concerned, I was in too deep. If I betrayed them now, I would be a target. They would murder me. And if the reality I didn’t want to face about the Brotherhood was true, and it was evil, I was far beyond the point of redemption; I was too involved. So I followed my orders. I kept sabotaging our mission, hoping all of it would end soon and maybe something good would come of it all.

But then, Duhrnan attacked Astraloth.

I couldn’t-

I couldn’t believe…

I’m sorry.

I- I’m so sorry.

For everything that happened.

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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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