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K’s hologram fizzled away, and she whipped her other hand up. Her lifeless eyes chilled me. Her automatic pistol flared to life, and a volley of scarlet energy bolts screamed toward me.

I gasped.

Omega shoved me. Heat seared my back as I toppled over and the computer desk beside me erupted in raging flames and smoke. Omega took a hit in the back and grimaced.

Jonathan screeched and ran for the cover of a nearby pillar. His foot caught on a cable he could barely see, and he tumbled hard into the stone floor. He scrambled behind the pillar, fresh blood seeping from his scraped cheek. The side of the pillar burst from an energy blast, and the green fluid began pooling on the floor.

I lay on my side. In a split second, Omega pounced toward K, smoke rising from where they were hit on the back of their shirt.

I watched Omega flip through the air. Their skin seemed to catch the red glow of K’s laser blasts as they soared clean over them. Omega landed in a somersault, transferring their forward momentum into a run. Their tail flicked. They were about to barrel straight into K.

I panicked. Omega didn’t stand a chance against K in close quarters.

I bolted upright and reached out to them. “Wait!”

K’s lips were tightly pursed around her tusks. Her orange eyes seemed to glow with a deathly heat. She holstered her E-gun as Omega moved to tackle her. Her muscles were perfectly outlined in her leather jacket. Her bones spiked through her sleeves in vicious patterns. My eyes fell to the weapon at her waist. It was her retracted molecular sword. I flicked my gun toward her.

The gun trembled in my hands. In the hazy green ambience, Omega collided with K. I couldn’t get a clear shot. And even if I could, I didn’t want to hurt her.

Omega hammered both hands onto her shoulders, and grabbed tightly onto her spikes. K growled, and swung her arms forward to crush Omega against her chest, but they kicked off the ground with both legs and their tail. Their claws just cleared K’s arms by an inch as they spun upside-down over her shoulders. They twisted in the air, and landed on K’s back, with both feet pressed into her and their tail adhering to the cloak on her back. Their hands clutched the sides of K’s head, and with the index and middle finger of each hand, they held K’s eyelids open.

Now!” Omega shouted flatly.

Jonathan moved to get out of hiding, but his boot slipped on the pool of luminous liquid at his feet. He splashed onto his hands, and coughed. “The symbols, Osax!”

So I lunged forward, and activated my holo-gauntlet. The abstract deactivation symbols flickered to life in a looping holographic display above my arm. She just needs to look at them!

K shut her eyes. She figured it out.

She slammed her torso forward and swung her head down. She reached her arms back and grabbed Omega’s wrists. A second later, and Omega’s body smashed into the stone floor.

K’s eyes were shut tightly, but she was still holding onto Omega’s wrists. She dropped one hand to her waist, and metal screeched as the blade extended. She pulled Omega’s arm taught, and sliced down with the edge of the sword. Omega was silent.

I forgot to breathe. K growled furiously, and tossed Omega’s severed arm against the wall. Then she kicked their bleeding body, which flew several feet and cracked against a piece of Brotherhood machinery. Then she panted, snarling, shifting her head from side to side.

Jonathan’s eye was wide with terror, and he looked pale.

I stood completely still. K kept her eyes shut. But she was listening.

Jonathan knocked a stone to the side, and K turned on him. Light flashed, and smoke burst from the pillar. She brandished both sword and gun simultaneously. Jonathan was panting, and K fired again. He covered his head with his hands as pellets of energy ripped into the pillar he was hiding behind. Then he held his breath, and our eyes met.

K stalked slowly around the room. The sound of the glowing liquid trickling onto the floor from K’s destruction was the only thing to be heard, aside from her footsteps. I kept my feet planted firmly on the cold stone. My ears twitched. I raised the E-gun as slowly as I could to my eye.

I felt heat coming from Omega’s body, even though it was a few feet away from me. I couldn’t help but look at them. Their left arm had been severed just above the elbow. The bleeding had already stopped, it seemed, and their skin was frantically shifting colours. Their eyes were closed.

I turned back to K. I tried to focus. I trained my eyes down the sights of the pistol. She was moving, but she was moving slowly. I knew I had to concentrate. The trigger was cool against my finger. I carefully pulled it, but it offered more resistance than I anticipated, and I hesitated. I held my breath. The sights realigned.

The air was electrified. The energy bolt collided directly with my target; K’s pistol. It exploded, and clattered to the ground from K’s hand.

She roared, and wound up to throw her sword.

My ears shot back. Not knowing what to do, I ducked and planted my hands on the cool floor. I felt the fur on my ears ripple in the wake of her sword as it spun and cut through the air above me and stuck into the far wall. A drop of blood landed on my cheek. My ear faintly stung, nicked from the sword.

Now at least she was unarmed. She was growling angrily, and waving her arms around. Jonathan gazed at me from his spot on the floor. I glanced to Omega’s body. It was still pulsing with colour.

When I was sure Jonathan was looking my way, I gestured to him. I pointed to K, and started mouthing words. He can’t read skyther lips, Osax! I thought, then stopped. I pointed to K, then to Jonathan. He stared at me confused.

I paused for a moment. The colour shifting on Omega’s skin seemed to be dying down. I didn’t know exactly how their regeneration worked, but I knew I had to bring them their detached arm. If they could reset bones, then maybe they could reconnect severed limbs. But judging from the fading colours on their body, it seemed like their regenerative energy might be time sensitive. If I didn’t bring them their arm immediately, they might not ever get it back.

I looked back to Jonathan. He shrugged at me, and furrowed his brow.

I made sure K wasn’t approaching and holstered my gun. Looking back at Jonathan, I pointed first to him. Then with the same hand, I made a fist. I stuck my index and middle fingers down as legs, and I wiggled them around, miming walking. Jonathan slowly nodded, perplexed, and pointed to himself. I nodded. Then with my other hand, I pointed to K. I turned that hand into another puppet. I mimed K walking slowly around while Jonathan was still. Then I shook Jonathan up and down, and made K turn to him. I made her chase him down as he moved, leading her away.

Slowly, as my message dawned on him, he nodded to me with pursed lips and apprehensive eyes.

My ears shot up in relief.

Jonathan slowly stood. He gave me one more look under his brow, and gulped.

I’m the one you want, K.”

K spun to face him, and her boots crunched on the floor as she approached him with surprising restraint. “You are not supposed to be alive,” she said.

I inched my way around the other side of the pillar, trying to be as quiet as I could. Omega’s arm was splayed against the wall where K had entered the room. I crept toward it.

Jonathan scowled. “Those aren’t your words, K.”

Then who’s words are they?” She said. Anger simmered beneath her calm exterior.

Ryner’s words. You were only programmed with them.”

K stopped. “You don’t know anything about Ryner.”

Jonathan shook his head. “I know Ryner. He’s the reason you’ve lost your mind.”

K continued advancing, and Jonathan stumbled backwards, inching around the room.

I knelt down next to Omega’s arm, and picked it up. The hand was limp and the skin was pale. I grimaced, and looked at the body. The colours were still changing, at a much slower rate now. I inched myself toward it.

K said, “I haven’t lost my mind. I’ve recovered it.” She paused. “You’re the one who activated me. Yet now you want to undo it.”

Jonathan replied. “Because it was a mistake. I never should have done it.”

She smirked. “You’re weak. You know you can’t stop me, unless you trigger the ‘Sheep’s Clothing.’ You desperately want to live.” She licked her lips. “That’s why you regret activating me.”

He chuckled nervously, and backed into a desk. He quickly sidestepped over a pile of skeletal remains. “Living would be ideal, but no. Really, I want to bring you back.”

Bring me back?” she said. “And you think the other me is- what- the real me?” She snorted a laugh.

I felt a chill. A twisted glimmer of her old personality… I held my breath as I approached Omega.

Jonathan replied. “Of course I do. The other you is the real you. I would know.” He frowned. “I made you.”

I made it to Omega’s body. Relief filled me. I shifted Omega’s body so they were lying flat on their back, then I gently pressed their forearm up to the stub on their body. My eyes darted around their skin. The colour wavered between warm and cool.

My ears lifted. I could barely believe it. The skin around the severed area began to shift. Tendrils of skin opened up and reached out to one another. The arm was beginning to reconnect. My mandibles hung in astonishment as I witnessed this miracle. It was disgusting and beautiful at the same time. Heat surged from their body as it worked overtime to mend itself, and I slowly rose.

You didn’t make me,” said K. “Ryner did.”

Jonathan growled, “You were made from my DNA. I designed you. I was the one who first woke you into this world! And you’re only around because I spared your life! You were reckless and afraid when you awoke. The Brotherhood would have had you killed, but I protected you!”

K shook her head. “No.” Her voice cut deep. “You made me because Ryner wanted it. You protected me because Ryner wanted it. Everything you have done is exactly what Ryner wanted. Except for now. Now, you keep on living, even though Ryner wants you dead.”

With her eyes still closed, she slammed her hands onto a desk and flung it toward where she thought Jonathan was. He dived to the floor, and the desk crashed against the wall. I needed to distract her; Jonathan had done so long enough, and he was navigating with only one eye.

Stop!”

She spun and whipped a small boulder my way. I ducked, and it shattered behind me.

Talcorosax,” she uttered with disgust. “You’re part of the problem. The prince of the skythers. Embedded in the backbone of this broken world order. The Brotherhood is the only destiny the galaxy deserves.” Her words were venom. “You should have died along with Astraloth, and its rancid queen.”

My knuckles turned white. It’s not your friend. She’s not really K.

Then I hatched an idea. A reckless idea, but an idea nonetheless…

I crept behind a pillar before speaking again. “Why would Ryner want you?” I said.

There was a moment of silence. “Ryner had me made. Of course he wants me. I’m his perfect creation.”

But you’re far from perfect.” My tone was mocking. “You- You’re dying, aren’t you? And you get headaches, and blackouts… That doesn’t sound perfect to me. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a mistake. You probably embarrass him. You probably couldn’t catch me even if you tried.”

That did the trick. She bellowed, and started running straight for me with her head down like a bull. I sprang to the side, and vaulted over a computer desk, knocking the monitor to the floor. The glass shattered. She drove her horns into the pillar I had been hiding behind, and it collapsed. Luminous liquid splashed everywhere, and she howled in pain as stones tumbled onto her back. The light from the ceiling began dripping out onto her. I panicked for a second, worried that she might not survive. But she stood in the shower of stones, covering her neck with her head down.

I regrouped next to Jonathan and gingerly we stepped over to Omega’s body as K moaned. I watched the ceiling with intensity, looking for signs that the temple would cave in like it did on Voren… This was a gamble. But the ceiling held, and the debris stopped falling. K was heaving on her hands and knees.

Good. K wasn’t dead.

Jonathan whispered. “We need to get Omega out of here, to heal!” He knelt and picked up Omega’s body in his arms, careful of their mending wounds. Then he turned to me and frowned gravely.

You go,” I said. “I can get to her… somehow I can save K.” Fire burned inside me.

He hesitated. “You are indeed brave, Osax.” He eyed me with admiration. “Just, don’t get yourself killed. I don’t want to be alone after all this.”

I will bring her back.”

We shared a brief gaze, then he turned and hurried toward a shadowy exit. I stomped a different direction and circled K.

It was just the two of us now.

K!” I shouted.

She turned to face me, though her eyes were still shut. Blood dripped from her forehead. I activated the symbols around my holo-gauntlet.

Can’t you see Ryner is using you?” I said. “He’ll toss you aside as soon as he is done with you, just like he did with Director Aali and with Jonathan. But I’m not going to use you. Real friends wouldn’t do that.”

She lunged for me, and I skirted around the room once more. My feet knocked against the punctured skull of a corpse. I grit my mandibles.

You think you can appeal to me by pretending to be my friend?” she said. “It won’t work.”

But,” I said, “I am your friend. You know that, don’t you?”

She bolted after me. I stumbled out of reach. The sound of our scampering echoed through the air.

Heh,” she chuckled, regaining her breath. “You think you’re her friend?” She smirked with a sharp menace. “That’s hilarious.”

I was panting. “But we are friends.”

You lied to her.”

You know why I did that-”

So what?!” She didn’t even bother charging for me this time. “You… I don’t see what she saw in you at all. You’re an arrogant, self-important bastard with a toxic hero complex. You’re weak- not just with a flimsy body. Everything makes you shake, and cry. And you’re a filthy skyther, at that. You’re disgusting. You’re worthless.”

She paralyzed me. Had she always felt this way about me?

No, she couldn’t have. The real K couldn’t think that. But what she was saying… it wasn’t far from the truth, was it?

I trembled, and shut my eyes. I wouldn’t let her words get to me. I thought of the moment we shared playing “Defenders of Earth” just a night ago. I remembered her consoling me on Kronos. I recalled our silent drive through the ice flats of Voren as the sun set, letting the calm sound of music fill the space and strengthen the unspoken bond that was forming between us. Her taunting words echoed the voices of demons inside my head. Weak, unstable, emotional, worthless… But I thought about the real K. I knew she cared about me. She had faith in me. Maybe that was enough. And I remembered what I promised her, just before the Brotherhood soldiers arrived. I won’t give up on you.

Please K, just look at the symbols. Please.”

She shook her head slowly, eyes shut tight. “I have orders. I will not betray the Brotherhood.”

My eyes were wet when I opened them again. My voice was barely more than a whisper. “It would be so easy for you. This isn’t you.”

She inhaled sharply. “I. Will. Not. Open. My. Eyes.”

I knew she was telling the truth. I had to find another solution.

I glanced around the dead room, anxiety creeping up into my chest, nearly extinguishing the flame. The light from the ceiling had almost completely drained onto the floor, filling the cracks in the stones, and the spaces between bones, illuminating K and I in a haunting glow from beneath. Not K, I thought. There was no way I could convince, coerce, or confuse her into opening her eyes in front of me.

At last my eyes landed on her wrist as she waded vaguely toward me. And my ears shot up with tentative hope.

I had one last idea. But it meant I would have to flee.

Fine,” I growled as I slowly backed away.

She snarled in response, and leapt for me with arms outstretched. But I wasted no more time. I pivoted on the slick stone, and sprinted out of the room. It didn’t matter where I was headed… I just needed to get away from her.

 

With lungs ready to burst I sped down the winding halls of the underground temple. Almost at random, I skirted around corners and up and down crumbling stairs. I ran past more dead Brotherhood agents, kicking up dust as I sprinted. The halls were dark, lit only by my flashlight.

I slid across the smooth floor, my hands tracing a line across the textured wall until I came to an open archway, and I grabbed the carved frame and swung myself inside. Panting hard, I pressed my back up against the corner, and looked at my holo-gauntlet. This should be far enough.

The air was slightly less foul down here. I savoured every bit of oxygen I could get as I caught my breath. I stared at the holo-gauntlet.

I couldn’t hear K, which meant she was far enough behind me that my plan might work. She must have realized that both Jonathan and I had gotten some significant distance, or at least that’s what I was counting on. And if so, she’d have opened her eyes to find her way out.

There was one thing I was counting on... Our holo-gauntlets were paired!

Eagerly I fiddled with my computer. I was preparing to send the deactivation symbols to her gauntlet, and remotely open them in front of her. I figured catching her by surprise this way was the only way I could ensure she would see the symbols.

Transfer complete. All I had to do was press one glowing key on my arm, and her gauntlet would flash the symbols into the air. I wished I had thought of this sooner, before she found us and hurt Omega, but there was no sense dwelling on the past.

I waited in the blackness. The sound of breathing was my only comfort.

My gauntlet blinked. It informed me that K had just opened the short range scanner on her holo-gauntlet, and was continuing to track Jonathan and my earpieces. Which meant she would already be looking at her holo-gauntlet.

Without hesitation, I slammed my finger to the activation key. Though I couldn’t see K, I knew her computer started projecting the deactivation symbols in front of her.

After a few seconds of breathless anticipation, I opened up a text file next to the symbols.

K, are you there?

Seconds passed.

K, are you there? what the hell is going on? osax were are you? i think i blacked out.

I stifled a cry. Almost immediately, tears of relief started streaming down my cheeks, and I shook my fists in the air with unrestrained excitement. I did it! She was back to normal! I almost couldn’t believe it.

Hurriedly, I typed a response.

You’re already tracking our earpieces. Find Jonathan! I’ll meet you there!

what? but didnt he betray us?

I contemplated my response. I opened up the scanner and oriented myself to Jonathan’s position. The scanner wasn’t sophisticated enough to give a detailed map of the temple, as it couldn’t fully penetrate all of the walls. So I wasn’t totally sure how to get to him. But I at least knew the direction to start heading.

I startled myself when my foot caught on the bones of a Brotherhood technician, and they clattered across the floor, echoing loudly in the room. My eyes followed them out of the light, and I had a terrible realization. I wasn’t the only thing breathing here in the darkness.

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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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