Jonathan’s face was wet. I stared at him and felt my heart sink into my stomach. He was heaving as he sobbed, choking on his own tears. He really needed to cry.
I looked away from him. My gaze fell to the stony floor. I didn’t know what to say.
I breathed in slowly through my nose, gently closing my eyes. I tried to ignore Jonathan’s wailing sobs.
“Thank you for telling me all of that,” I said at last.
Jonathan sniffed, and wiped some tears from his eye and snot from his nose. He moaned. Then, breathing heavily but slowly through his mouth, he began to calm down. He inhaled through his nose, and swallowed. Just as I thought he had regained his composure, his face contorted in sorrow. He bent over and cried.
“It’s hopeless!” he wailed. “You should have let me die! You should have killed me!”
I grabbed him firmly by the shoulders, and jostled him a little. His weary eye met mine. “You don’t mean that,” I said, then thought for a moment. “The waterfall… it’s just an illusion. There’s still a path back from this. A river to the perfect destiny-”
“How can you believe that?” he replied, shaking. “After all that’s happened? After everything I’ve done?!”
My eyes darted to the darkness. Jonathan gasped. Something had pulled our attention away; a sound of movement, something heavy sliding along the rocks down the cavern.
“Wh- What was that?” Jonathan whispered urgently, rising to his feet.
We shined our lights down the dark tunnel, activating the flashlight settings on our holo-gauntlets. Particles of dry sand clouded in the cones of light we waved ahead of us. Something was there in the darkness, and the sound was getting louder.
“I don’t know,” I said quietly. I raised the E-gun cautiously to my eye.
Then I remembered my eyepiece.
“Wait.” We both said it at the exact same time, and exchanged a look. Jonathan’s orange eye stood out to me; I could see the resemblance to K in his face, now that I was thinking about it. She really was a genetically modified clone of Jonathan. But now wasn’t the time to think about that. We each raised a hand to our faces, I to my headpiece and Jonathan to his cybernetic eye. Two clicks later, and my visor’s scanners were active, and Jonathan had switched to thermal vision.
We both froze. My visor highlighted a creature in faint green. They were on all fours, humanoid, and lithe. They had a tail, which flicked slowly back and forth…
“Omega!” I shouted. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief.
That didn’t last long. Omega sprung up toward us, and thrust their arm forward. A yellow glow flashed in the shadows, heading straight toward us.
My furred ears shot back, and a bolt of adrenaline hit me. Jonathan moved at the last second, but I watched in horror as Omega’s plasma shuriken struck him in the face.
Yellow sparks erupted from the collision, and a sharp zap punctuated the air. He screamed and fell to the floor, clutching his head. The shuriken lodged in the rock wall behind Jonathan. And Omega sprinted toward us, retrieving another throwing weapon from their belt.
I felt nauseated. I saw Omega running for Jonathan. I planted my feet on the cold stones in front of him, and aimed the glowing barrel of my gun at Omega.
“Stop!” I shrieked through clenched mandibles.
Omega breached our sphere of light, and crouched. Their smooth face gazed up at me with squinted black eyes, even as they gripped the floor with both clawed feet, their tail, and one hand. The other was poised to attack with another plasma weapon.
I panted, and Jonathan groaned behind me. I didn’t dare to turn away from Omega and check him yet. I knew how deadly Omega could be in a flash.
Omega’s red tongue stuck out like a snake tasting the air. They remained completely motionless. I noticed their skin colour had shifted to a dark purple, with hints of their natural greenish colour. It seemed like some kind of partial camouflage. They moved their angular lips and spoke. “I am here to eliminate the Brotherhood. If any member of the Brotherhood remains, the chance for peace in the galaxy is zero percent.” They looked at Jonathan, then back to me. They narrowed their eyes. “I must keep the peace.”
“But wait!” I cried. “Please, don’t attack Jonathan!” My heart was pounding. “He’s- He’s quit the Brotherhood!” I glanced over my shoulder at him. “Look, Jonathan, I know you didn’t say those exact words, but… help me out!”
Slowly, Jonathan, who was collapsed to the floor in his dusted black and white overcoat, shifted his body around so I could see his face. His left eye was shut tightly, his expression in a firm grimace, and his right eye, the cybernetic one, was entirely sliced across. There was no red glow, in fact half of the aperture was gone, the rest a mangled, flash-melted mess. Electric sparks flitted from the damaged implant, until at last with a click he deactivated the broken eye entirely, and exhaled. He shook his head and caught his breath, blinking several times with his one eye.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He looked at me like I was a complete idiot. Then he turned to Omega. “It’s true, I didn’t say it… but...”
Omega and I waited for him to finish.
“I now quit the Brotherhood. I want no part of it,” he said, disgusted. “I have wanted nothing more than to escape it for days. And I had my doubts for months.” He looked Omega in the eye. “Deep down I never really thought I was right. I just thought… it couldn’t be worse than the TAU.” He ground his teeth together. “I was wrong.”
Omega blinked. “I do not know what to do.”
“Just, don’t kill us,” I said.
Omega hesitantly rose from their battle stance. “But my Commander has been captured, because of Jonathan’s fake reinforcements. And K has been converted to the Brotherhood by him.” They tilted their head to the side. “Why do you defend him?”
I looked between the two of them slowly. “Because- I believe everyone deserves a chance at redemption.”
“Everyone?” they asked, perplexed.
Jonathan began to stand. “As much as I appreciate your optimism, I disagree, Osax,” he said. “Ryner, and Duhrnan- They’ve gotten enough chances.” He scowled.
Omega looked confused. “You actually want to stop them?”
Jonathan exhaled. “Yes,” he said firmly. “In the past few days, I should have died countless times. Just now, even. But I haven’t. There has got to be a reason for it.” He touched his broken eye. “If you’ll accept me as an honest ally, then I will do whatever I can to stop them both. I’ll take K trying to kill me and your near-perfect throw as a final warning; I don’t have any more chances. When I die, I want to make sure I’m on the right side.” His lip formed a straight line, awaiting a response.
Omega took a long time to respond. I could practically see the gears turning in their head as they assessed the situation. At long last they reached out a hand to Jonathan, and I realized I had been holding my breath. Hesitantly, he stepped forward. He reached his hand out to shake theirs, somewhat inaccurately. Their hands met.
“I will accept you as an honest ally,” said Omega. “But this is your final warning. If you betray us again, I will eliminate you.”
Jonathan tried to smile, just as I tried to ignore the shiver that ran down my spine. We weren’t killing each other right now. That was the important thing, I reminded myself.
Jonathan turned to me, and held out his hand. I took it and we shook. His grip was firm, though his arm was shaking. I laid my other hand on top of his and looked him in the eye.
“Consider us allies,” I said. “Now let’s get ourselves together and get moving.”
I glanced at the Code-Alpha signal.
I shut my eyes. “We are running out of time,” I said. “Things keep getting in the way of our primary objectives: stop the mothership, and stop the Shade Beam. This is one of those times. We need to prioritize. Step one, we need to get out of here. Step two, we need to save Joëlle, and we need to save K. Jonathan, I hope there’s a way to reverse the ‘Sheep’s Clothing.’”
“There is,” he said. “I have the deactivation symbols on my holo-gauntlet. All we need to do is get K to see them, and she will return to normal, with no memory of what happened.” He paused, then pressed a few buttons on his gauntlet. “I’ll send them to you, just in case.”
I nodded. “Great!” He requested a file transfer, and I allowed it to proceed. I opened the symbols on my gauntlet to test them, and a series of abstract shapes began looping above my arm. That was a real sign of faith from Jonathan, and it cemented in my mind that despite anything which had transpired in the past, we were in this together, for the time being. We had so much to do, and a minuscule margin for error. “The plus side to all of this… is you, Jonathan.”
“Me?” he said.
“We have unexpected challenges… and they are kind of your fault,” I said. “But, up until now, you weren’t really on our side. Imagine what we can accomplish with a Brotherhood insider working with us.”
Jonathan’s lip twitched into a shallow smile.
“We aren’t going to get anywhere standing around,” I said. “Let’s see where this tunnel leads; maybe there is another exit. We can discuss plans on the way.”
“Yes,” said Omega.
“Al- Alright,” said Jonathan.
We were an unlikely group. But we were all we had. I had no idea how we were going to pull it all off, stopping Duhrnan and the Brotherhood, and saving our friends, except that we had to take it one step at a time.