Joëlle left with the Firebrand to meet with the TAU fleets, and I piloted one of my mothers- one of my- spare shuttles. It was identical in design to the vehicle my mother had flown, a smooth sphere as white as snow.
Neither Jonathan nor K had ever flown a skyther ship before, and they were too exhausted and stressed to want to learn now. Nevertheless, I taught Jonathan basic skyther ship controls in case we found ourselves in a situation where I was unable to fly it. I would have taught K too, but she slumped in the corner and played games on her holo-gauntlet for most of the ride, complaining about an ongoing headache which seemed to get worse with each passing hour. I was worried about her.
But I tried to keep my mind distracted from K, and everything else. While I was at the helm, I turned off autopilot for as long as I could before getting tired. I flew manually, making constant micro adjustments. My fingers grazed the plastic buttons and control sticks and I went into a bit of a trance. It helped keep my mind off everything else. Even with a sleep break in between, a day and a half seemed to easily slip by, there for the briefest of moments, and then gone.
We had just entered Voren’s solar system and the stars stretched back into place after exiting slipspace. I sat alone in the cockpit, fingers curled around the control sticks. I gazed through the window, and inhaled at the sight of the tiny white planet against a vast blackness. I shuffled in my seat as my consciousness returned from its mindless wandering to the present moment. I flexed my fingers and mandibles. My ears twitched. The cockpit still smelled like fresh plastic.
I heard the door open over the faint whine of the engine and swivelled in my chair to see K step inside the room, holding a bowl full of strange red fruits. They were small, somewhat cone-shaped, and dotted with tiny seeds.
“Wait!” I exclaimed. “You can’t eat in here!”
I felt silly for startling her with my sudden movements. Her eyebrows creased with concern. “Why? What’s wrong?”
I hesitated for a moment. “Oh...” I leaned back in my seat, trying to relax my shoulders. “My mother never let me bring food into the cockpit. She would always scold me if I did, saying that she didn’t want crumbs on the controls or on the floor.” I scratched behind my ears. “I guess...”
“It’s okay,” said K, backing away. “I’ll eat in the dining area.”
“No, it’s alright. Forget what I said. You can eat in here.”
She smirked. “Whatever you say, Osax.”
There were three seats in the room, I took the pilot’s seat in the center. K plopped onto one of the side seats, and spun the chair so she could see me. She kicked off her boots to get comfortable. The cockpit was small, and our seats were close together.
Her horns pointed toward me as she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, casually holding the bowl of fruits in one hand while she picked at it with her other. I could see veins pulsing against the blue skin of her forehead, which was dotted with pale ridges of bone. She forced a half-smile as she looked at me, munching away at the bite-sized fruits.
“How’s your head?” I asked cautiously.
She gestured vaguely with her hand, before grabbing another fruit and popping it in her mouth. “The strawberries are helping. Kinda.” She snorted. “Taste good, at least.”
I relaxed in my seat, and lifted my ears. “How did you get those, anyway?”
“Downloaded a food-synthesizer recipe on my holo-gauntlet,” she said. “Then plugged it in, and voilà! Synthesized strawberries.” She held the bowl up to my face, and I had to back away slightly so she didn’t smack my jaw with them. “Wanna try ‘em?”
I smirked. “I’m up for the challenge.” I grabbed one of the fruits carefully between my fingers and examined it. Then I popped it into my mouth. It was sweet, soft, and quite juicy. “That is actually delicious,” I said. “Where do they come from?”
“Earth, apparently,” said K. Then her eyes fell to the floor. “Of course I’ve never had a properly grown strawberry. You know, that would be a pretty cool experience.” She looked up at me. “To eat some food that was grown in the wild. Rather than something made by a machine.” She bit into another strawberry, savouring it. “I wonder if you can notice the difference, you know?”
I smiled warmly, leaning forward onto my knees. “Well, I can certainly notice the difference between real fruits from Astraloth, and the synthesized stuff. But that doesn’t mean synthesized stuff is bad.” I inhaled. “Hey, after we stop Duhrnan for good... let’s do that.”
She sat up, and raised a brow. “Do what?”
“Go to Earth,” I said, my ears lifting. “Find a wild strawberry, and eat it. Cut it in half, if we need to share.”
She grinned. “I’m pretty sure they grow on bushes, so if we found one, we’d probably find a bunch.”
“Perfect,” I said.
She grabbed my dangling hand, and squeezed it carefully. “Let’s do it,” she said. “After all of this is over... you and I are gonna be dining on wild strawberries.”
We sat there in silence for a few moments. And a deep, but simple truth began to dawn between us...
“Osax-” she cut me off, and let go of my hand.
We each snorted a laugh as we tried to let the other speak. “You go on,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “I was thinking about Omega.”
I felt my ears skew at an angle, but I remained silent.
“They sacrificed themself for us. For me.” She said. “It’s noble. But it seemed odd to me. They only knew us for a day. Why would they die for us?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well,” she continued, “I think the answer is actually really simple. They realized that connections are what make life meaningful.” She stared at me. “Omega spent their whole life following orders, hardly even questioning their existence. They thought they were made to kill the Brotherhood. And maybe that is why they were made, but maybe it’s not why they were meant to exist... you know?”
I nodded. “Maybe.”
“And, we were kind of Omega’s first friends. Their first people. And even in that short time, their world must have changed so dramatically... They found us dying, struggling to fight the elements. And they chose- They chose- to help us. To nurture us back to health. Complete strangers. Omega felt something, some kind of calling to do more than just go through the motions, to do more than just follow orders, to do more than just kill. They chose to heal. To protect. To step into the unknown. And maybe, despite all of their physical prowess and coordination, even despite their abilities of regeneration, that really was Omega’s greatest super power. That they were willing to change.”
I nodded slowly. “Wow, K. I don’t know what to say.”
She smirked. “Yeah, I guess it sounded pretty cool. But where I’m going with this is, I-” She held her breath for a second. “I want to find my purpose. Beyond just fighting things, you know? I was made to be a bioweapon. But even Jonathan had a change of heart... maybe I can change too. Maybe I can get through my condition. Maybe I’ll have a chance to live a full life.”
I smiled. “I think you will, K. You’ve already grown so much since I’ve known you, and we’ve only known each other for a few weeks.”
“It’s crazy, right?” She said, scratching her head. “Cause, I was thinking... One thing I don’t wanna change is- I don’t-” She sighed shortly, then paused. Her orange eyes locked with mine. “I don’t wanna say goodbye to you, after this is all over,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But...”
I felt a warmth rising in my heart. “K, don’t worry,” I said. I grabbed her hand firmly, and lifted it up so our palms were clasped together. “You are my friend. And I see no reason why we can’t keep being friends after this is done.”
She smiled. “We’re friends,” she said. “Maybe best friends. Can I say best friends forever?”
I laughed. “Sure! Best friends forever.”
She let go of my hand, and laughed, shaking her head. “Actually that- That sounds weird when you say it, but... The sentiment is there. Yeah. You matter to me. That’s the main thing.”
“And you matter to me.” I paused, ears reaching for the ceiling. “So after this is over, wild strawberries?”
She smirked. “Wild strawberries.”
Jonathan stepped into the room, standing straight as his head swivelled between us and his coat trailed behind him. “Hey, we arrived at the planet, why did no one tell me?”
“I- Sorry,” I said. “K and I were just relaxing before-”
“We don’t have time to relax!” he stated. “Chop chop, people. Osax, take us in please. Need I remind you of the time pressure?”
“Give us a break!” said K and I in unison.
He sighed. “Whatever. I’m not angry, I’m just stressed.”
“Fair enough,” I stated, and I faced forward. I grabbed the controls and flew us toward Voren. Jonathan sighed once more, and took the remaining seat.
“Hey,” said K. “You shaved your moustache!”
I glanced over to him. She was right. His upper lip was free of hair.
He nodded. “Yes. It was time for a change.”
“See?” said K, gesturing to me. “Change.” Then she turned to Jonathan, who looked a little confused, and said. “It looks good.”