The Leap - A novel (New Chapters Weekly!)

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Hi everyone! So I've decided to upload my novel piece by piece each week for you guys to read.

Three reasons for this, you guys can read it for free. You can give me feedback, as I'm still in the editing phase so I can improve the novel as we go. And maybe some of you who are avid scifi readers could even give me a few pointers, to improve myself as a writer. And knowing I have to post an update every week will probably help me get into the routine of actually finishing the editing.

Or you could just tell me anything you like, too! I'd love feedback.

Disclaimer - this is not a Star Wars novel. I use simplified language and it's an easy read. I'm not familiar with the standard "scifi equipment" so I just make stuff and names up as I go along. I'm also really bad at describing fight scenes and ship equipment, so when you see something like that that you think needs improving, feel free to send some ideas my way!

I'll try to post at least once a week, preferably twice. So, please subscribe if you want to follow the story!

With all the disclaimers out of the way, let's get started...

The first piece will be a bit short, I'll try to finish up the rest of the chapter tomorrow.

Also, if the Darebee team thinks this thread is in the wrong place, please move it 🙂
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Disclaimer - This novel contains some violent scenes and is suitable for a more mature audience. It also contains mentions of mental health issues and PTSD.

Synopsis

Rain is everything but your average high school girl. She struggles to fit in even amongst her family. A freckled, red-haired and spectacled genius like herself is bound to stand out in your average suburban street.

On one casual weekend while she is home alone, her whole world is turned upside down. Her curiosity at a strange glowing light in her otherwise lifeless backyard lands her on a world far away in another galaxy with humans colonizing it, and a quirky cyborg-human who makes no secret of the fact that he loathes planet Earth.

And then there's Ara, a human-alien hybrid who looks like she just jumped out of a punk rock band, casually taking on the roll as something of an older sister to her.

Their noble goal is to save the ones who are still worth saving, undamaged by the atrocities a corrupted government has committed against humanity in the name of power.

But where does she fit into the puzzle? She'd prepared herself to be a scientist, but the friendly neighborhood cyborg seems like he has other ideas. He's not attracted to humans, but he's taken quite the interest in her. As a ginger-headed self-proclaimed scientist, she wants to know why! What's he hiding?

And in the meantime, she needs to come to terms with life in the far reaches of space, and the possibility of war.

She needs to make a choice - Team Earth, or Team Nern. Because there's no going back once she's chosen...
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Prologue 1.1


6 Years ago –

Ara

"He's no good to us like this," Emil sighed as he looked up at the mangled body of the young man in the incubating chamber.
I had to admit, he was a mess. He had multiple bullet wounds in his torso, and his legs and arms appeared to have been sawed off. All the pipes from the incubating chamber that were attached to him made it look even worse. But they were necessary to supply blood and oxygen.


"His heart keeps stopping," Nenet, Emil's wife and fellow scientist, worriedly remarked. She kept her eyes on his vital signs on the computer monitor. There were periods when they remained stable, and at other times they fluctuated wildly without warning.
Emil ran his hand over his balding head and took note of everything in our small, basement laboratory. This was only meant to be a backup laboratory. They had limited equipment here. This was the same lab that I was created in. I leaned against the metal table and watched them. Humans had a knack for overthinking things. I found myself feeling grateful that only my looks made me one of them.


Emil sighed. They were never meant to use this lab. They were never meant to find me. They were never meant to stand up against their government, and well, I was never meant to save the boy. I jeopardized the entire mission. It was supposed to be a simple retrieval of information. But I couldn’t help myself. I felt a connection to him I hadn’t felt since I left my home world. I was a hybrid now. And so was he. Feeling any kind of solid connection to a specific species was difficult, except to him. The stark difference was that I was engineered to look human. He was born this way. How that happened was still a mystery, though I had my theories.


Emil and Nenet might have been apprehensive about my recklessness before, but they were cautiously on board with it now. They couldn't stand against the injustice anymore. Saving him fuelled their will to make a difference. Seeing what the government did to those kids, to their own kind, what wouldn't they do to me if they were to discover what I really was? And they would hunt Nenet and Emil down for the rest of their lives. They’ve made examples of people who stood up against them in the past. We had to leave the planet. There was nothing here for me, nor for them. But he was coming with us.


Nenet briefly looked up from her computer screen to stare at the barcode tattooed above his right ear. Whether he had a clean head because it was shaved and had to display his only means of identification, or whether it was as a result of disease was beyond me. Nenet sighed, and I understood why. These children didn't even have names. They were nothing more than numbers. Uvians didn’t understand the concept of the individual, we were all one. But on Earth, it’s an important thing to have an identity. He had none.


He had the number K7-152. K7 was a specialised unit in the Testing Bureau of Advanced Biogenics where the scientists studied the human genome. He was number 152. All the ones before him died in their early years according to my research. But he survived his nineteenth birthday. Nenet and Emil thought it was some miracle, but I knew better.
I never expected to find someone like me on Earth, especially someone who was born this way. We shouldn’t exist here, even less so someone from my birth pod. I suddenly remembered Nenet and Emil’s excited expressions when I told them that Uvians grew in eggs in pods together. Sacks of eggs attached to long flexible tree branches, that hung off cliffs hundreds of kilometers in the air. We synchronized our hatching time and then our planet’s lack of gravity allowed our jelly bodies to drift upward through the sky, like the Earth equivalent of jellyfish drifting through the ocean.


I recognized K7-152 from my pod. The alien presence inside his human body was telepathically begging me not to let it die. I recognized my brother. I have no idea if the human part of him was aware that he was communicating telepathically with me. The only way for him to have happened is that a human must have come into contact with our kind in space. Some of us imprint our DNA on another species, particularly in a life or death situation when we are unsure of our own survival. K7-152 was a lone traveller. Perhaps he only intended on passing through the Milky Way when he came here, though it seemed that fate had a different path mapped out for him.


And me? Well, before I crash landed here, I was what humans liked to call a UFO. Most humans were unaware of the battle for control going on in their own galaxy. There were many alien species like us Uvians, who tried to fight for the betterment of humanity (if they don’t destroy themselves first), and then there were the Gorge, who liked to create chaos and destruction. They were one of a few less advanced species that lacked the required logic and emotion to form a civilized society. In that way, humanity was a cut above them, but they were still technologically more advanced. There was a constant battle between us. My ship was shot down in one such a battle, and my machine body was destroyed in the crash, though it executed its duty to protect me to the very end. Nenet and Emil found me. They allowed me to imprint on the DNA of a deceased human, Nenet’s daughter, and grew me in the very chamber K7-152 was in now.


Although I frequently cursed at my human body for having aches, or having to urinate or whatever other gross human activity it needed to do, sometimes having this body had its advantages. K7-152’s organs were all but gone, owing to the long years of constant disease forced on his body. Experimenting on your own species against their will was revolting, and I didn’t expect things to sink so low on this planet of supposedly intelligent life. If he had the small jelly Uvian body like he was supposed to, he would never have survived. A human would have been able to crush him in the palm of their hand.


I became aware of the constant beeping from the electrocardiogram. This sound was probably an unending part of K7-152's day. Non-stop beeping and vibration from all kinds of equipment. It was a form of torture on its own. I never could understand why humans always had to add beeps and clicks to their technology. Ours worked fine without it, and we were allowed to keep our sanity too.


"We can't save him," Nenet murmured, "He'd have to be on life support for the rest of his life."


I nodded. "You're right. It's too late to save him with your technology, but not with ours."


"What good would it do? We have no time to stay and collect the necessary tools," Emil said gravely, "It's only a matter of time before they find us, before they find him.”


"They won't find him if he's not on the planet,"


Nenet became slack-jawed. "Is it...ready? Will he even be able to travel in it?"

"The Leap Oscillator will be fully charged in 2 hours. And of course he'll be able to travel in it,” I said confidently. If he could endure being infected with the worst diseases on this planet, diseases my kind hadn’t seen in thousands of years, then he could surely handle a quick trip through space. I hope.


“There will be no pressure at all on his body. Once we get to Zion, we'll have all the equipment we need. And we'll remove the microchip they planted in his brain. They can’t track us on another planet, but if we ever intend to come back to Earth in the future, they won’t be able to find us." That was the intention, to save the ones that weren’t already damaged beyond repair. But we had to gather a force first. No doubt the government would put up resistance. Luckily Nenet had some friends with guns, as all high ranking, radical scientists should have on this world.


My heart skipped a beat when I thought I saw one of the tubes attached to his body twitch. My eyes locked on him. The electrocardiogram started beeping wildly. His body convulsed violently. This isn’t good. Nenet scrambled through her desk drawer for an ampoule of adrenaline. I heard her thoughts before she acted, and I caught the ampoule when she threw it to me before her mouth could catch up. I placed the ampoule into the machine, and it was instantly sucked up through the tubes, straight into K7-152's body. The electrocardiogram gave a few fast and short beeps before settling down and normalizing.


"That's the fourth time tonight that his heart's nearly stopped. He can barely survive this chamber. I don't understand how you think he'll be able to survive a trip through hyperspace," Nenet rubbed her forehead. To her, this possibility that he was another Uvian didn’t make sense. How could the government have had an ET, scrutinized for nineteen years under cutting-edge technology by the Bureau and not know it? She wished that she could get a hold of his medical logs. She would have loved to have a look at his DNA. I had to admit, so would I.


I frowned at her. I always admired humanity’s capability to hope, even when the odds were stacked against them. I guess that years of working for a sinister leader and then waking up one morning to learn the cold truth, had damaged Nenet and Emil’s faith in their own kind. I placed my hand on the chamber’s glass. I sensed a calmness wash over him that made me smile. He knew I was there. He could feel me. His consciousness was fading, ever so slowly. The time to act was now, tomorrow it will be too late.

"You've spent years trying to figure him out with nothing to show for it. He’s not like you.”
My eyes drifted up to him. You need a real identity.
 
Last edited:

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Prologue 1.2

“He’s stable,” Nenet panted after we passed through the stargate. She and Emil had taken a lot in since we left Earth, and we hadn’t even gone to planet Z778 yet. We still had to come up with a name for it. The stargate made one experience a stretchy feeling, like you were being pulled in two directions, followed by a compressed feeling, like you were being squeezed together into a tight ball. Essentially that was what was happening to your atoms and all the information of your being once you passed through the gate.

I quickly glanced over my shoulder at my passengers in the back of the ship, and once I confirmed that everyone made it through okay, albeit rattled, I returned my gaze to Zion. It was the planet nearest to the gate and it seemed eerily dark and dead from space.

We closed in on its atmosphere. I realized Nenet and Emil were staring out of the windows of the spaceship, looking for anything that would remind them of the lights of Earth, as seen from space. Nenet was cradling K7-152’s head in her lap, keeping it steady. Even through the stretches of hyperspace, there was no conscious reaction from him. I knew she thought he was already close to dying, but I could still feel life inside him, faintly. Nenet’s emotions troubled her mind. It seemed to me that she had now taken the whole responsibility of his condition onto herself, as if she was the one that committed all those horrible crimes against him. It must be the vastness of space, and the fact that she and Emil were, at least for now, the only humans out here who could be held accountable for such atrocious crimes.

“It looks so, dark,” Emil shifted around nervously in his seat..

“Are you sure they’re even still here? The world looks, dead.” Nenet questioned.

I started my descent into the atmosphere. “I wouldn’t risk bringing him all the way out here, in his condition, if I knew the world was uninhabited.”

The ship’s advanced technology eliminated any turbulence. A vast, dark, metallic city with towering skyscrapers appeared below us once we descended below the clouds. Dark blue lights illuminated parts of the city, and the roads looked and functioned like a computer circuit board. There were drones floating all over the sky which were shaped like jellyfish, yet they were machines. Our species and the Zolke go way back. They liberated us from the limits of our fragile bodies by teaching us how to build strong, android suits that would protect us from the harsh environment on the surface of our own world. It was only because of this that my species was able to evolve into the tech-advanced civilization it was now. We would still be sky-drifters if it weren't for the Zolke. My hope was that they could liberate K7-152 from the limitations of his human body.

I could sense that Nenet and Emil were growing more uncomfortable as we came closer to our landing zone. I’d have to agree that the Zolke civilization wasn’t much for aesthetics. The city was roughly built, and there were sharp corners everywhere. It was like a computer, all wired and circuited without any sort of exterior to hide the ugliness of the necessities.

We touched down, I switched off the ship and looked over my shoulder to my passengers. Nenet had the look of horror on her face, Emil looked green. I smiled. “Right, all ready to go?”

Before anyone could answer me, no doubt in protest, I got out of my seat. Although we were all wearing suits, I activated the Atmospheric Stabiliser on my wrist pad. A near-invisible artificial bubble sprang up around us, and altered the atmosphere in our favour, giving us plenty of oxygen. The metal doors opened and a ramp lowered. I stepped out first. Nenet and Emil followed with K7-152 on the stretcher. The landscape before us seemed barren. Machines don’t need oxygen, nor do they need plants to survive. The planet was the furthest from the sun, and it was in constant darkness. They extracted Ferrium, a metal in abundance on Zion, from the ground and used that as their primary fuel source.

I noticed Nenet shivering. “It’s so cold,”

I adjusted the temperature of our bubble. It could well be -130 degrees out there. External heat was another thing machines didn’t need. They generated their own in their cores.

“Do they know we’re here?” Emil asked.

“Oh yes. They have eyes everywhere. On this world, there’s no such thing as privacy. If you’re connected to the grid, every machine knows everything about you. And if you’re not connected to the grid, they know you don’t belong here.”

Pressure valves released a few feet in front of us, and the ground seemed to open up. A circular platform rose from it. My telepathy detected that Nenet and Emil were holding their breath. On this platform stood a circle of six machine men and six machine women. They were human shaped and had two legs and arms, a shape that they’ve no doubt adopted from Earth for its ease of use. Even this far in, some species were aware of humans. Especially the old, innovative ones like the Zolke, who’d travelled into the far reaches of space since long before they build themselves into a machine race. There was no other species alive today who remembered that the Zolke were once biologicals. Uvians only know this because we are connected to their grid, with all its archived history, spanning back thousands of star years. One star year is the equivalent of 500 Earth years.

My heart warmed up when I saw the species that saved my kind, but I was sure Nenet and Emil were seeing nothing else but the creepy androids from the Terminator. Again, aesthetics weren’t a thing for the Zolke.

My suspicions were confirmed when Emil lifted his rifle, the one he’d been keeping on his lap this whole trip, just in case.

I reflexively pushed the rifle back down. “Don’t! The Zolke are a peaceful race, but they take security of their world very seriously. If you lift your weapon they’ll see that as a threat.”

Emil glared at me.

“They look like they’re about to kill us,” Nenet frantically whispered.

“They have to look intimidating. These are the Police Force of the Intergalactic Community. They will slice you in half with their swords or shoot you down if they believe you are obstructing justice. The Zolke take no prisoners.” I wondered if that might change with a small percentage of humanity added to their programming.

“How many of them are there?” Emil asked, as if he thought for a moment that we could handle them.

“There are millions of individual Zolke,” I said, and he noticeably deflated. “But they have a hive mind. Every individual knows at any given time exactly what’s happening to any of the others.”

One of the Zolke came toward us. I could sense Emil’s heart jumping higher up into his throat with every heavy footstep the machine man took. He stopped inches in front of us and looked at me first. He cocked his head in a strange way. I knew what he was doing. He was scanning my genetic code, because he had detected an inconsistency. I wasn’t fooling him with the human look, no impostor could. They trumped the best supercomputers of the Galactic Community by a thousand fold.

“Identified. Uvian.” The Zolke declared, as I suspected. “2% homo-sapien DNA detected.” I smiled, feeling good that I’m still mostly weird.

He moved over to Nenet and Emil, and proceeded with his screening. “Identified. Homo-sapien.” Right again.

Then he moved to K7-152. He started scanning and hovered a bit longer over him than he did with us. Nenet and Emil frowned. Even I was curious about this result, but the time he spent scanning worried me.

“Error,” the Zolke man said.

My heart sank. An error means that the genetic code is so damaged that it’s unrecognizable, and therefore, unrepairable. He’s dying...

“Rescanning,” the machine said, and a glimmer of hope rose in me.

Then after a few tense seconds...

“Identified,”

Nenet and Emil looked at each other and then at the Zolke.

“Uvian. 40% homo-sapien DNA detected.”

Nenet and Emil were shocked. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling ear to ear, not only because I've proved to them that I was right, but because there was a real chance of saving his life now. I would have someone just like me, a brother. The Zolke hovered his hand over K7-152’s heart, and a 6-inch needle protracted from his palm. He punched the needle into K7-152’s chest and his body jolted up, yet he remained unconscious. I didn’t know what he injected, but if I had to guess it must have been some kind of stabilizing fluid.

The machine man faced me. “What do you want us to do?” He asked me in my mind. It was like the words were typed out in front of my eyes, and only I could read them. No doubt this was due to the Android interface I once had. This was just how my mind preferred to see its telepathy.

“Rebuild him,” I replied telepathically. “But keep what you can. Keep his brain intact, if you can.”

He gave me something close to a nod. Then he looked back to his fellow Zolke. “Prepare for upgrade.”

That was the Zolke equivalent of saying, “We are adding another dimension to our mind.”

One machine man and one machine woman came forward and took K7-152’s body off the stretcher. We followed them to the platform, where we would be retracted into the ground. If Zion was a computer, the facility beneath the ground would be its core. This was where the machines build and rebuild themselves.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Prologue 1.2

It was even darker underground. But there was enough blue light for the human eye to see what was happening. There was a clear wall separating us from the sterilized room where K7-152 would be rebuilt, something of a cross between a surgery room and a robot-operated factory. We could see everything that was happening. There were dozens of computers around us all displaying K7-152’s organs, and their epic failure. Nenet was beside herself. The Zolke operated on him with no anaesthesia. That was unethical on Earth, but then, he was so far into a coma that he didn’t notice anything anyway. It only confirmed my earlier suspicions. She felt guilty for what humanity has done to him.

I leaned against the clear wall with my arms folded over my chest and watched the whole scene unfold with the eyes of a hawk. I was filled with sentiment. How I wished that I could rebuild my machine body, but I couldn’t do that disservice to Nenet, knowing I’m wearing the face of her deceased daughter. I was a living memory to her. Nenet was focussing solely on the bad of this whole situation. Her own guilt was clouding her judgement. It might have been the space travel too. Did she believe that she and Emil would have to face some sort of punishment for humanity’s sins out here? The computer screens around us lit up each time an organ became stressed. We watched the kidneys, adrenals and liver fail on screen, all within seconds of each other. Nenet thought that the stress of the operation was to blame. But I knew they would’ve failed anyway. She noticed the failure, but she didn’t notice how the Zolke replaced each of them with a new, artificial organ, tailor-made right here in this room for K7-152. Her kind, compassionate heart was being a pain in the ass right now. I know her impression that the machines were just, well, machines, made it worse.

“He won’t survive this, Ara! It’s inhumane to let him suffer like this. Humans on Earth never survive these things...” she burst out, her eyes swimming in tears.

I gave her a quick glance, before returning my gaze to the operating table, where the machines were working with a laser precision that no human hand could ever master. So that’s it. I was upset at her for nagging about me being inhumane, but she was definitely feeling the guilt. I refused to engage with her on the subject. She wasn’t thinking straight.

The right lung gave up on the far left computer monitor. A gush of blood sprayed out of it. Within seconds a pump sucked up the blood, filtered and oxygenated it. The machine removed the lung, and replaced it with a new one made from a white woven fabric-like substance. The stomach was made of the same material, but behaved differently. Each organ was individually programmed. The white lung turned crimson as it filled with blood and started inflating and deflating, following its program. It needed no help from the biological body or the brain, although it was able to interact in synch with both.

I connected to the Zolke grid. The grid was every Zolke mind made visual. It was only data. But there were no ones and zeros. There were blue illuminated strings of various lengths and thickness, each with a distinctive meaning, each one its own thought. It was like plugging into a computer mainframe, and only a Uvian or a Zolke were able to visually see the grid, and mentally make sense of it. Every bit of information about every Uvian or Zolke was recorded in this database, and more was being added with every passing second. Communications, thoughts, feelings, movements, it was all here.

I was looking for K7-152 here, but I couldn’t find him yet.

Nenet screamed behind me. I swung around and saw her sob uncontrollably. My eyes shot up to the screen that had her glued, and I witnessed how they removed the heart. One by one, the other organs started going dark. They replaced it seconds later with the machine version, but the screens still stayed dark.

“They were too late,” she cried. Emil started comforting his wife, telling her to have faith, but her own emotions and the great unknown ahead made her inconsolable. In her mind, I saw, she thought of herself as a failure. She failed to recognize what the corporation she was working for was really doing in time to stop it. And once she had realized, she had to run, leaving so many people she knew behind. Another failure, though she seemed to have forgotten our mission in this chaos. She’d failed at keeping this one person safe, not just on Earth where she had failed thousands more, but even here in the great expanse. She’d failed at being a human. Emil shared many of the same thoughts, but he was calmer.

I turned back to the operating table, and kept myself neutral. My heart sped up and my face felt flushed. It can’t be. I can't let their ideas get to me.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Prologue 1.3


The machines stopped working and stood back. We were in time. We had to be, I told myself. In the next few seconds a couple of things happened.

I frantically searched the grid for any change.

Suddenly a message appeared in my mind.

“Ara,”

I frowned. The source was unidentified. And the Zolke didn't call people by their names.

“Who are you?” I asked. The signal was a bit strange, different from what I've seen in the grid. It's line wasn't completely blue but had very slight hues of purple.

For a full minute, the longest minute of my life, there was only silence.

Then the message came, “I can feel you.”

The new blue-purple string in the grid lit up, and I realized that the purple hue was the 0.002℅ of human DNA that was now added into the Zolke coding.

All the computer screens came to life behind me. Nenet abruptly stopped crying, and she and Emil stared in shock.

On the operating table, K7-152 opened his eyes, illuminated blue with augmentation. He moved the fingers on his new hand. He sat up on the table in a strange, machine-like manner. He slowly steps off the table, and I immediately saw how he strained to lift himself with the prosthetics. Zolke metal was heavy, and he was very thin and weak.

He looked at me and showed me something disturbing. I saw flashbacks of the events that happened before I found him. He’d escaped from the facility, killed many men, and was recaptured. They sawed off his limbs while he was fully conscious. Even though I know his brain would have cut off all feelings of pain to save itself from shock, my mind recreates the feeling anyway, and I cringe.

I saw a lurking threat, both in his mind and in his eyes. He didn’t trust humans. And he fully intended on killing Emil and Nenet and making a run for it eswhen he got out of that room.

In an attempt to stop him, I placed my hand against the clear wall and beamed a flood of memories back to his mind, showing him all the most beautiful and happy memories of my short childhood with Nenet and Emil. My growth was accelerated and I became fully grown in three Earth years. And maybe Nenet’s moaning and crying had to be a part of this trip, because I include that too for good measure. I sense guilt rising in his mind, followed by something like curiosity, or maybe confusion. The human-trust level raises a little, enough for him to come closer to the wall and not act like a trapped lab rat.

I glance back at Nenet and Emil, both amazed at this naked adjoining of man and machine in front of them.

“What is he?” Nenet whispered.

I smile. “A hybrid.” I met his eyes. He’d come up to the clear wall and placed his mechanical hand against mine. “He’s my brother.”


-----------------------END OF PROLOGUE----------------------
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 1.1

Present Day –

Rain

"So as I was saying," Mrs. Callis said as she elegantly strolled around the classroom, "we need water for plants to grow. Any water will do,"
The rest of her words faded off into the distance. I supported my chin in my hand and slouched forward on the table. Just as I was about to doze off, Mrs. Callis noticed me as usual.
"But perhaps you would like to tell us more about plants and water, miss Morris?"

I felt thirty pairs of eyes burning holes in every part of my body. I looked at the teacher sympathetically. Usually I hated to be the centre of attention, but in times like these I relished it, because I knew exactly what I was talking about.

"Well, actually your theories are completely false," I started as I pushed my round, red-framed glasses higher up on the bridge of my nose. The colour wasn’t my choice, but my adopted mother said that it matched my hair.

"Plants don't just need water. They need clean water because chemicals in the water salinate the soil, which makes it uninhabitable for the micro-organisms that help the plants to grow. Oh, and that brings me to the micro-organisms themselves. If the soil is dead inside, the plants won't grow either," I gestured toward the window, "case in point, the school garden. You can water the garden all you like, but it's going to stay dead without microbial life. And you need actual pollinators, which we have very little off thanks to your government’s technological revolution."

My teacher giggled, as if to dismiss my theories as false. "All right, moving on..." and she continued the relentless, simple-minded babbling.

I sighed and crossed my arms, leaning back in my seat. Just a few more minutes of this. I aced my algebra test this morning, as usual. I successfully avoided the school tyrants during recess, very unusual.

I passed my biology pop quiz with flying colors, though my biology teacher wasn't happy with me correcting him either. How could he even suggest making nano-prosthetics common practice in hospitals when 99% of all bodies utterly rejected them?

First of all, people's immune systems are so confused by the level of environmental pollutants and chemical substances in their food that they are starting to attack their own limbs. Government corporations are directly responsible for this. Now they want to make nano-prosthetics common practice to replace all the rotten limbs, which will make most people sick. The next step will probably be that people have to pay extra money for medication so that their bodies can actually tolerate the prosthetics. And you have a few more politicians and CEO's sticking billions of extra dollars in their pockets.

I used to think that schoolteachers were intelligent people, capable of critical thinking skills. But apparently they were no less brainwashed than most of the population. But hey, that's what you get when corporations run the world, what with all the propaganda.

I just had to stay out of trouble for a few more minutes. It's Friday, which meant I had an entire weekend of self-created, very important experiments I could attend to. But trouble had a knack for following me. Must be my red hair.

I felt something yank my braid from behind. "Ow!" I cried, and Bobby behind me snickered.

A paper ball hit me against the head. I swung around in my seat to face Mike, whose face was red with barely contained laughter. "Four eyes." He mumbled.

“Zit-face.” His partner Bobby added.

Really? Could you get any more childish? Am I the only sixteen year old here? Am I in the wrong age group?

"Miss Morris!" the teacher yelled, "How many times do I have to tell you to pay attention in class? Straight A's don't exempt you from detention, young lady."

I rolled my eyes. It was kind of my signature move. And I didn’t care who saw it. I was wasting my time here. My microscope back home called to me, along with my notebooks. School was officially the worst part of my life. Straight A's in all my subjects with minimal learning involved meant that all my days were grey. And the teachers with all their mindless, useless mumbling about nothing of significance made the days even drearier. Don’t get me started on the tyrants.

The bell rang, and students stormed out of the classroom. Most were ready to leave half an hour ago. But I, who actually still had my books out, was the one that always got into trouble. The teacher gave me a stiff look as I silently left the classroom. I gave her a smart-allick smirk, a gesture of rebellion that I’m sure she’ll make me regret by the time the next parent-night rolls around. It’s not the first time I’ve embarrassed her in front of the whole classroom.

Relief washed over me as I left the school building. It was only 3PM, but it looked more like sunset. The sky was thick with the usual grey and brown clouds of pollution. They hung in the air like a thick blanket of smoke, obscuring the sun's rays – if we had such a thing. The books said we did. I reached into my backpack for my mask. I'd worn it for nine years now, ever since I was seven, as a ‘precaution’. We were told that our lungs would adjust and we’d get used to the air. And most people did adjust, but they were still encouraged to wear the masks. I doubted that it made any sort of difference. The disease was already inside us. I was sure that the pollution was one of the main causes of the numerous maladies that plagued our society, but nobody would believe a smart-allick high school girl.

I waited, and checked my watch every so often. She was late again.

Finally, I saw the unmistakable blonde hair and heavy-handed eyeliner that belonged to my stepsister, Felice.

"Sorry I'm late, I just had to talk to Bryan!" she panted as she approached.

I had no idea how she was even able to walk in those heels. No wonder she was out of breath. That kind of balance and elegance evaded me ever since childhood. It's a good thing too. Felice always thought me crazy when I warned her about the health issues those shoes would cause. I’d seen people with misshapen feet who wore those torture devices from a young age. Most people thought I was crazy, even my own family. But I digress…

We started walking toward the side of the road. Soon, Dad would come to pick us up on his way home from work. Most of the walk passed in silence, until I decided to pretend to be interested to break the awkwardness that was a daily part of my life.

"So, how's Bryan doing?" I asked.

Felice typed away fiercely on her smartphone, "Hmm?"

I sighed. "I said, how's Bryan doing?"

My sister briefly looked up from the smartphone and opened her mouth to answer, but quickly became so engrossed again that she forgot to say anything.
I shook my head and re-adjusted my glasses. The effects on attention span was one of the reasons I avoided those devices like the plague – not that it was even possible to avoid diseases on the Earth of today.

Dad's white BMW came around the corner. He slowed to a stop next to us. I got in, and Felice also managed to get in without tripping over her own feet. Home was a short 10-minute drive from school. For most of that time, Felice swooned over Bryan and his sports prowess, and how she successfully drove an unlucky, unpopular girl out of the team by framing her. No wonder my biology teacher was in such a bad mood. The unpopular girl loosed a bunch of lab rats in his drawers, which ate away at half a year’s worth of work. Or so Felice claimed. She followed that story up with the usual begging for make-up and new shoes. Dad gave his usual reply, "We'll see."

He eagerly listened to Felice talk, and asked her all kinds of questions.

Then, by some miracle, he spoke to me. “How was your day, Rain?”

“Fine.” I said.

I learned long ago that if I wanted to be listened to, I had to talk as little as possible. Details were unimportant. Discussing things that excited me, like discovering a new type of bacteria or a possible new neural pathway in the human brain, caused them to simply tune out and distract themselves with Felice. I was speaking a different language, and they were too lazy to try to make sense of it.

I had mixed emotions about it. On one hand, I felt alienated. Felice wasn't only the older legitimate sister, she had her prom this year and I was still 2 years away from that. So, she got even more attention than usual.

On the other hand, I didn't expect it to be different. I was adopted. The outsider. I mostly preferred my own company, especially when I was left to my experiments. It felt like I did something that mattered, if only to myself. I lost many hours of the day studying the world. And I had thick logbooks of notes cluttering up my tiny bedroom that would never leave my yard to make any sort of difference in the world. "Hokus pokus" my parents called it.

We arrived home. Our house was the classic suburban home, except there was no real green lawn, owing to the dead soil. But the artificial grass made it look okay. Some sunshine would have been a nice addition if it weren't for the polluted air. Our house was in the last street of the suburban area, and fracking machines were visible in the distance, as was the industrial area that spouted unending clouds of filth in the air. Beyond that, far beyond, I could see the city's skyscrapers that housed all the billionaires of Athes. They were safely insulated in their towers, with every single molecule of air sanitized. Alright, so I couldn't prove that, but it was likely.
 
Last edited:

Nevetharine

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Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 1.1


As I took out my backpack, Felice suddenly gave an excited shriek that nearly made me die of natural causes, a rare thing these days…

"I can't believe it! I've been elected as Captain for the cheerleading squad, again!"

"Oh congratulations, honey!" Dad bubbled with big excited eyes. I was halfway to the front door when his stern voice froze me. "Rain! Aren't you going to congratulate your sister? Where are your manners?"

Congratulate her? She probably blackmailed some girls to win that election. It’s what she did the last time. I stopped and turned around to look at my adopted father. "Dad, do you know that I got an A+ on all my tests today?"

"That's nice, Rain. Now please mind your manners," he clenched his jaw.

I smiled meekly. Fine. Only to avoid conflict at the dinner table. "Congrats, Felice."

"With more feeling, Rain! Goodness you’re so stiff."

I stared at this man in disbelief. In times like these, and there were many of them, I could see the clear difference between our bloodlines.

"Ugh, let her go back to her bugs, Dad. We're not important to her." Felice threw her hair and turned her back on me.

You got that wrong, it’s actually the other way around. I continued toward the house and resisted the urge to slam the door in their faces.

"Felice, my Princess? Is that you darling?" Mom called out of the kitchen.

"No it's me, Mom." I sighed, as I went up the stairs to my excuse for a bedroom.

"Oh. Well hello my little Bug." Mom replied, significantly less eagerly. "Hurry up and get dressed and finish your homework, dinner will be ready in an hour."

I tossed my backpack in the corner of my room and removed the fabric torturing device from my face. I peered over my bed and brought my hands to my hips. It was littered with my notebooks, none of which were from school. I had to clean this up if I wanted to sleep here tonight. But first, there were more important things to attend to. I walked over to my bedside table and pulled out the drawer. Then I picked up one pill bottle after the next, taking one from each. I ended up with a grand total of ten tablets, almost a meal on its own. I tamely smiled at my small pharmacy.

It started with the drugs for my lungs. They were supposed to help me breathe better with all the polluted air. Doctors used to tell my parents that my lungs were damaged from birth. It’s the reason I didn’t participate in any sport at school. Next came the drugs that were supposed to help my liver and kidneys filter out all the toxins in our drinking water. That's where it started, the rest were all to counter the side effects of those two. I would get sick and die without these. And that’s exactly how the government’s billionaires liked it, one more drug-slave at their feet. These medications were standard for everyone from the age of three. Little ones had syrup, but unfortunately syrup was no longer effective for a sixteen-year-old. My throat swelled up when I thought about swallowing the pills. But I didn't have a choice.

I went to my bathroom, drugs in hand, and opened the tap. First, brown water came out. Eventually it ran clearer. When it was a pale yellow like urine, I popped the pills in my mouth. After a couple of gag reflexes, and with the least amount of water I managed to swallow them. It all tasted of metal and stank of sewage. I pulled up my nose and went back to the bedroom, trying to distance myself from the smell. I didn't have any homework to finish. I rarely spent more than a few minutes on a task. I settled for re-reading my book on Advanced Aerobiology until my adopted mother called me down for dinner.

As we sat down around the table over a bowl of beef stew made from lab-bred cow's meat and chemically laden potatoes, the conversation turned the usual way of describing the day's events. But this time, it had a surprising twist. Dad had suggested that we visit the river this weekend to go angling.

"I think that sounds like a splendid idea!" Mom enthusiastically clapped her hands together. "We can grill some tilapia, what do you think my Princess?"

Felice briefly looked up from her phone. "Sure, sounds great,” she muttered distractedly, “Can Bryan come?"

"I suppose there's no harm in letting him join the party," Dad pulled up his shoulders.

My stomach twisted in knots. Bryan was your average school jock who believed the universe revolved around him. He visited the house once before he and Felice were an item. He likes to throw around insults at me and then brush it off afterwards as a joke, and my parents liked to join in the laughter.

"You have to sort of agree with him Rain," they said, "You do look a little bug-eyed with those glasses." Hence the nickname my adopted mother uses, Bug. Before that, I used to be called Mudcake, since I liked to play with dirt.

"Well, what do you think, Bug?" Dad repeated.

I slowly ran my spoon around the bowl’s rim. I came here with little appetite, and lost what I had left just now. It was a recurring thing, and responsible for my lanky, near-emaciated figure. "I don't fancy eating fish that came out of an oil-polluted river. I eat enough poisoned food as it is."

My parents both sighed, the usual reaction. "Oh, Rain. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your food. Humans have always lived like this. Stop being so pessimistic."
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 1.2

I have to put a stop to this before they all join forces against me like last time. "I can't go, Mom. I have a science project I have to complete for school." That was a half-truth. I certainly had a project, but it wasn't for school.

Dad sighed. "Fine then, I'm afraid you will have to stay home then."

How tragic.

The conversation continued as normal. The trip for the weekend was sealed, as was my fate. Felice dominated the conversation as usual. And I went to bed that night musing about my real parents, as I often did. I'd only ever heard that they died in a car crash. I still wore my real mother’s stud in my right ear, the only recognizable thing they found in the fire, besides me. Whenever I thought of them, stars immediately came to mind. I read that there were stars in the sky and saw pictures of them. The pollutants obscured them from view. I often wondered if I was visible to my Mom and Dad. Was there an afterlife and if there was, was it up there? Of course I didn’t believe in a physical heaven. But surely energy existed? Why did these people ever adopt me? They had no connection to me. Perhaps they really did want another daughter, and I wasn’t what they expected I would be. I fell asleep.

****

I hummed and swayed around the kitchen as I wiped down the counters, being extra careful not to get the chemicals on my hands. They left awful rashes on my skin, but my adopted mother dismissed it as me picking. I didn’t need flaky, itchy hands to go with the brand new breakout I’d seen on my face this morning. The hundreds of salves I collected over the years from countless dermatologist visits did nothing to curb the spread of blemishes on my face.

I heard the loud tap-tap of Felice's heels coming down the stairs. I peered out through the kitchen arch to see my sister wearing a short, tight-fitting red dress and high heels so shiny she probably did her make-up looking in their black depths.

A giggled bubbled through me. "You're going fishing in that? You’ll scare the tilapia away with all that bling." She wore an absurd amount of jewellery.

Felice dropped the phone and shot daggers at me with her eyes. What inferior mortal was I, to question her majesty’s choice of dress? "Of course not Bug-eyes! I'm dressing this way for Bryan."

I nodded, "Right." Ah, Bryan. I’d heard whispers that he had four girls he was keeping entertained. But I neglected to mention that to my sister.

My humming continued merrily on with the scrubbing. A sudden loud shriek sent pins of pain through my ears, "Ugh! Do you have to keep humming like that?" Felice barked.

I frowned, "I can sing whenever I want. You can't tell me what to do."

Dad came down the stairs with a huge lot of fishing gear, "Rain, be nice to your sister."

"But," I started,

"Rain!" Dad warned, "Don't make me take away your books, young lady!"

I swallowed my words and resumed cleaning in silence. You would do that. Take away the only thing that mattered to me in this world.

"Are we all ready to go?" Mom chirped as she tied up her hair into a messy bun.

"Think so!" Dad replied. "Bait. Check. Rods. Check. Beer. Check. Yup! All ready."

"Alright then, we're off Bug. Make sure to finish your chores, and do your homework, alright?" Mom said, standing in the door. As if you would know that I had homework. You never cared to find out. She let Dad pass to pack their things in the car. And she kept her side-stance for Felice, who was so busy on her smartphone she would have walked straight into her otherwise.

"I don't want any trouble when we get home. And you haven't said goodbye to your sister,"

"Bye, Felice." I said softly, close to tears. I never caused trouble. Never.

"Oh honestly, Rain. The least you could have done is come outside to say goodbye to her. Can't you just try to be a normal person for once?"

I abruptly stopped cleaning. I drew in a jagged breath. I refused to look at that woman who claimed she was supposed to be a mother to me. I had to hide my tears, otherwise I would be scolded for crying too. Hot anger fumed inside my throat, and I resented my body for making me cry when I was furious. I hated that phrase. Try to be a normal person. Alienated. Even amongst my ‘family’, I wasn't considered normal. I was a freckled, zit-faced, red-haired, bug-eyed freak.

"Think about what I said, Rain." Mom said before she left and closed the door behind her.

The moment the door closed, sobs tore through me. I sank down onto the floor next to the counter. I cursed my stupid Hypothalamus for always making me cry when I shouldn’t. But I can’t take this anymore. And I have nowhere to go. No one would want me.

After half an hour of intense crying and self-pity, I managed to reign it in. I couldn’t say that I felt any better. I had always bottled up my emotions around this family, crying always made everything worse. When they burst out, it left me feeling exhausted. The realization that crying did nothing to improve my situation, but only left me feeling more drained, was always motivation enough to regain my self-control.

I stared at the cloth that I still held in my hand, mangled from the emotional twisting it had received in the middle of my outburst. Cleaning seemed useless. What was I really cleaning? Everything was contaminated. What should I do? Read a book on how to be normal? Practice being like Felice in the mirror? My eyes drifted out the window. I wished my Mom and Dad were alive. I just want a hug. I just want…someone…I can relate to.

I let out a sigh and decided I’ll go study the dead dirt outside. I'll collect samples for my microscope, analyze them, and note everything down like I usually do. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to find a live insect to observe, a rare occurrence, but not entirely impossible. I'll live up to Felice’s expectations and do exactly what she said - play with my bug friends. I'll spend the weekend being Rain.

I left the cleaning stuff right where it was and went upstairs to get my notebook. I didn't bother taking the mask. It’s a bad habit of me to not care about own health when my adopted parents say the things they do. The harsher their comments, the less I cared. Why should I? They don’t. No one does.

Once I was outside, I glanced side to side in the street. There was no car in sight. People had all gone fishing at the toxic lake for the weekend, or they went to their friends, something I didn’t have. I mindlessly stared at the fracking machines in the distance. There used to be a forest where this barren field was now, or so I’ve heard. They supposedly supplied oxygen to the atmosphere before humans learned how to engineer it themselves - mythical things, forests. One read about them in history books, but nobody had ever seen a real one before. My mother loved endorsing the fairy-tale facet of them, but then, she didn’t consider anything I was studying as real. I just had an overactive imagination.

I sighed and let the old lady rest, more so to rest my own soul than hers, then plopped down onto my belly on the artificial grass. My fingers searched for an opening between the sheets trying to get to the earth below, and hoping I might find a live insect while I fuddled through the blades. Sometimes, they mistakenly took the artificial grass for the real stuff, and ended up dying in it trying to find food. I always tried to save them, and feed them scraps from the kitchen. But humans can’t even live with the level of toxicity, what to say of a tiny lifeform like an insect. My fingers felt the familiar rough edges of a seam. Now I just had to find the corner. I ran my finger up the length of the sheet. They weren't very long, only about 30 centimeters. I found the edge and started to dig into it, grabbing a hold of it. I pulled it up.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 1.3

My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Instead of the normal dead dust underneath, the earth glowed. I fingered through the dirt, and the glow intensified. What madness was this? Could there be bioluminescent bacteria in this dead wasteland, and since when? How? The glow became so bright that small beams of light were escaping through the ground as I disturbed it, three meters up into the air. I bounced up from my belly. Even with my palms sweaty with anxiousness, I couldn’t stop myself from staring at this strange beam. It seemed warm, unnatural. I placed my finger in the light beam, but my angst and my curiosity were two opposing forces and I quickly pulled it away again. It was in fact slightly cool. Inhaling deeply, I brought my finger back into the light. This time, I held it there a few seconds longer to see what would happen.

The world around me vanished into a spectacle of light. A spiraling tunnel of billions of small lights and gasses appeared around me. It reminded me of the photos I saw of galaxies and stars. I was being pulled in two opposite directions, like on one of those ye’ olde stretching torture devices. I couldn’t move. Just as I thought I must’ve looked like a piece of taffy, the tunnel vanished as quickly as it came. It spit me out face first onto the ground. A cloud of dust flew up as I disturbed the dirt. The stretching feeling was gone.

As the dust settled, the light became so bright it felt like someone had brought a blowtorch to my eyes. I reached behind my glasses to rub them. My lungs felt constricted, wheezy. And my inhaler lay in my bedroom. My head felt like a block of concrete. My stomach felt like someone had tied it into a bow. Just get it together and breathe.

I took a deep breath, bolstering myself against the familiar smell of metal. But there was no such smell. The air smelled like nothing. I finally managed to open my eyes. Through small slits, I searched for the source of the intense light and found a big huge ball of it in the sky - in blue sky.

Heavy footsteps approached behind me. I swung around still half blinded, and only now realizing I was still on the ground. A tall man-robot-thing stood above me. It had a helmet with a red visor in which I could see no eyes (or soul) at all. Its body was like that of a human man, but the curvature of the muscles were all machine. My insanity was confirmed when I found myself thinking that the curvature of his machine muscles was aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I was in a life or death situation. And my geek-self was thinking that this robot was nicely polished. What is wrong with me?!

It didn't look very friendly. It had weapons and ammo. It was some kind of armored cyborg that looked like it jumped straight out of a comic book, or maybe The Terminator.

I was brought back to my senses when it made some odd sound. I scrambled away from the thing and somehow managed to get on my feet. I ran for what it was worth. My lungs don’t like running. I’m going to die.

The problem was I had no idea which direction to run in. I wasn't home. I wasn't in the city. I wasn't in any place I'd ever seen before. The sky was blue, there was a big ball of light in it. The land around me was a bright copper-colored desert with funky looking trees dotted everywhere. I felt like I’d been swept away from everything I knew like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and instead of being my friend, the tin man was trying to kill me.

I glanced back. It was following me. And it was much faster than I was. I ran as fast as my thin, lanky legs could carry me. It's the government. It has to be. I always knew they would find me. They must have knocked me out somehow and I woke up in some kind of experimental base. And this, thing, behind me was one of their security machines.

The desert was disorientating. Did I pass that tree before? I glanced back, and it was still coming for me. My legs were pained from the running. My lungs were burning and I struggled to take in a full breath. My head pounded harder every time I landed on my feet. The light in the sky torched my eyes. I started seeing doubles, and before I knew it I stumbled over a rock and landed face first into the dirt, again. Every instinct told me to get up, but I didn’t have the strength.

The machine caught up with me in mere seconds. I'd never seen something run that fast. It halted a few feet in front of me. I reached for the rock I tripped over and haphazardly threw it at the robot. It hit it on the helmet. It recoiled from the blow then stood up again, seeing that I had no more rocks to throw. Great, now you’ve made it angry!

It lifted up its arms and slowly, threateningly approached me like one of those zombies in the movies that Felice liked to watch. "Must. Terminate. Human. Intruder." It said in a mechanical, emotionless voice.

And just as I thought that it was about to shoot some death beam out of that red visor, the machine broke out in a chuckle. I squinted. The mechanical voice changed, and transformed into the voice of a human. "I'm just messin' with you, kid."

What? The helmet ostensibly vanished and a young man's face took its place. He had jet black hair that was neatly secured in place by something like hair gel, a square jaw, and high cheekbones. There was a big mischievous smile on his face that had everything to do with me thinking he was about to melt me with his laser vision. I noticed then there were no lasers in his deep green eyes, but there was a blue illuminated tint and I could see something like text passing by his retinas. He had some sort of computer screen in them.

"Your face was priceless just now," he managed to utter through his cackling.

"Who are you?" I demanded, and felt like I could punch this dude if I didn’t know that he would probably be able to hold me down like I was a squishy worm rather than a human. "Are you from the government?" You’re just making this worse, Rain.

He stopped laughing for a moment, looked at me wide eyed and burst into another fit all over again. "The government! Me?"

"Stop laughing!" I yelled. I instantly regretted it, because my loud voice sent pins of pain through my head. My body felt like it was failing. I was getting dizzier. I struggled to take in just a tiny amount of oxygen. I was going to pass out.

The man seemed to calm himself down instantly, and offered me a mechanical hand. Did he notice that I was unwell? I had to hide it…I had to…They’d laugh at me… "I'm much too helpful to be from any government," he said, still grinning widely.

I looked at the machine hand. "What are you wearing? Are you...human?"

"Call me Max."

"Why did you chase me?" I mumbled, my tongue dragging.

"Because I was trying to help you, but before that I had to catch you first. You're pretty fast for someone who has human legs."

I glared at him, pain and all. Who does he think he is, some holier than thou, better legs than thou tin can? What made him think I was going to go with him? You know you’re not going anywhere else in this condition.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 1.3

"C'mon, let's be nice to each other." Max said, winking at me.

"Nice..." I breathed. Was the tin man my friend, after all?

"Yeah, you know how to be nice, don't you?"

I didn't even want to answer him. I felt like I could just collapse in on myself like a bowl of Jello.

He kneeled beside me. "If I wanted to kill you, I could have. I know you don't feel very well right now. Pranav and Ara can help you feel better. But in the meantime, this might sting a little…" he held his palm against my neck, and a needle protruded from his palm, injecting a cooling fluid into my veins. It quickly protracted, but I hardly felt a thing. It must have been very thin. Or I must have been really out of it.

"Who are they?" I asked.

"They're the ones that brought you here, to Nern."

I squinted. Invisible pins pierced through my skull. "Could you turn out the light?" I begged.

Max chuckled. "I can't turn out the sun. Are you going to let me help you now?"

I felt too weak to resist. Maybe it was the desert or the sun, as he called it. Maybe he really did want to help me, maybe he really was...nice. I remembered my adopted mother’s words from earlier. And all the feelings of resentment and worthlessness returned. Why should I care? I allowed him to pick me up. I was too tired to walk anyway. I rested my thick head against the cool metal that covered his chest.

The world was moving with him. I think. "You didn't answer me before, what are you wearing?" I asked, softer than I intended to.

Max chuckled. “You’re really out of it, aren’t you?”

I frowned. "Where are you taking me?"

"I'm taking you to the Dome's medical facility. Don't worry, I know exactly where I'm going."

"How?"

"My internal visor is guiding me. The desert isn't as big as you think it is. It only extends about 4 miles in each direction. It's your withdrawal symptoms that are making it seem so big to you."

"Withdrawal?" I battled to keep my eyes open. What, am I a druggie?
Yes. Yes I am.

"You have to try to take deeper breaths, your oxygen levels are dropping."

"How would you know?" My chest did feel like there was a concrete block resting on it.

"Since I'm carrying you, my visor can give me information on your vital signs too. The solution I injected should help your lungs to open up, but you need to try to breathe."

I tried to take a deeper breath. The cold air burned my nose. "Why are you helping me?"

Max grinned. "Think of me as your friendly neighbourhood cyborg saving you from dying of thirst in the desert."

I giggled. It must be the heat. "You're a cyborg?"

"Half cyborg, half alien, somewhat human. Bet you don't get many of those on Earth."

I couldn't quite hear the last bit. I was faintly aware of Max calling my name, but I couldn't remember that I even introduced myself. I fell asleep for a couple of minutes, then I woke up again to two unfamiliar people around me and some white lights that reminded me of a hospital. My lungs felt a bit better after the short nap, but I was so tired. I could only stay awake for a couple of seconds before drifting off again.

The next time I woke, I saw a middle-aged lady above me who was probably nearing sixty. She wore a silver one-piece suit, and had her greying hair tied up into a neat high bun. Complimenting glasses framed her icy blue eyes. She instantly reminded me of grandmother’s I’d read about that loved to spoil their grandkids rotten.

"Hello, little Raindrop," she said softly, just like said grandma would.

All my defensive walls melted. Raindrop… Her presence warmed my heart, purely because she called me a name that I actually thought was beautiful. Raindrop sounded like something out of a melody compared to 'bug-eyes'.

I smiled meekly. "Raindrop. I like that name," I said. My raw throat made my voice sound hoarse.

"Max gave it to you," she gently took my hand, "My name is Nenet."

Max. His name jogged my memory. I realized that I was in a very sleek, modern bed with pristine white linen. My lungs felt more open. My eyes weren't on fire anymore. My head seemed clearer and calmer. Was I drugged to feel this way?

"Where am I?" I asked softly.

Nenet smiled. "Are you sure you want to hear the answer?"

I nodded.

"Well, you are on the planet Nern, in the Hamethius Cloud galaxy,"

My heart skipped a beat. "I'm...3.5 billion light years away from Earth..."

"Precisely,"

"But, how?"

"Do you remember how you got here?" Nenet tilted her head playfully.

I reflected on what happened. "I, was digging in the ground in my front lawn and then I saw this light. I touched it and, it seemed like I was flying through…" Don’t say it, she’ll think you’re crazy.
“…Stars?” Nenet asked.

I nodded cautiously.

"Hm. Now you seem like a smart girl, Rain. How do you think you got here? What's the most plausible, scientific explanation?" She questioned. Was she testing me?

I pondered her question. "Well, spacecraft is unlikely. So is a wormhole. I would take significantly longer to travel this far with both of them. Then, the only other explanation would be teleportation, if it existed."

Nenet clapped her hands. "Well done! We call it the Leap. When we leap from one location to the next, we transfer all the information of our being from one place to another. What you found in your yard was a teleportation portal that was opened for you, by our Leap Oscillator Controller, Pranav."

"For me? You mean, you knew about me?" A little creepy, sure, but traveling through space? That shot my excitement through the roof. This was monumental!

"We did," Nenet admitted, "We've been observing you for a while now. We had to make sure you were an ideal candidate before we chose to bring you here. And no, we're not part of your government. In fact, you'll be happy to know that we are heavily opposed to them."

This was amazing, there were human people out here in the far reaches of space. No billionaire or government on Earth could ever dream of going this far! "How long have I been away from home?" I asked, suddenly struck with the possibility that my parents could return and find me missing.

"In Earth time, probably a few minutes. In our time? You've been here for three days. You were unconscious for most of the time, though you briefly woke up once."

"Three days?" I brought my hand to my head. "It felt just like minutes."

Nenet nodded. "I've heard that many times before. The Leap Oscillator has some time-bending capabilities. I know you probably have a lot more questions. But I think you should save them until after you've gotten to know the crew and our home, Nern, a bit better."

I was ready to dissect her brain. My curiosity about this strange world that I happened upon overshadowed everything. I'd never even seen a real star through the cloudy skies on Earth, what to say of visiting a whole new world - with humans on it? And some funny cyborg-alien man? I had to know more.

--------------------------------------END OF CHAPTER 1--------------------------------------
 
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Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2

Rain

I stared into the sky. Hea, the sun, was beautiful yet painful to look at. A star…a real star…

"Don't look too long. The rays will burn your retinas," Nenet warned.

"I've never seen anything like that. I mean, I've seen pictures," I felt ludicrous for saying that. How could I even equate a picture to this?

"They'll never compare to the real thing," Nenet said. She had yet to show me the rest of the Dome, I'd only been out of bed for half an hour, and what’s around me was already making me giddy with excitement. The Medical Bay looked out over the desert. Spiky, round, and other oddly shaped tree species dotted the landscape. Their purple and green canopies contrasted heavily against the copper sand.

"Nern resembles the living Earth of half a star year ago. That’s about 250 Earth years. Before it was as far gone as now, Earth also had its sun sit in the sky like Hea, and the skies were also blue. Most trees were green. Actually, Nern right now is still very much untouched compared even to that Earth," Nenet frowned. Even she wasn’t old enough to remember what it was like.

"Back then, the space race was on. Humans started realizing that they were too many for the planet to sustain. And they started furiously ploughing through the galaxy with their telescopes to find another world like Earth. But it was always just a little bit out of reach, just a little too far away. We never would have gotten to Nern without help."

I looked away from the sun. Some strange black dots now appeared in my vision. "If they started realizing that the planet couldn't sustain them any longer, why didn't they do something to save it?"

Nenet crossed her arms over the railing of the balcony and stared out over the landscape. While the ground looked like nothing but dead dust, Nenet assured me that it's incredibly alive and fertile, the furthest thing from a desert you could find. Nern outside the Dome was very much the same, but much bigger and easier to get lost in, with native wildlife prowling about. And on some parts of the planet, dense forests grew on the copper-colored ground. The Dome's sole function was to limit the movement of people who didn't know Nern enough to find their way back, or know enough to defend themselves against the creatures outside the walls.

"Nenet? Why didn't they save Earth?" I asked again, seeing that she was deep in thought.

"Money buys everything little Raindrop, even morals and brains." She sighed.

"Tell me about Nern."

Nenet giggled. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you had telepathic abilities like Ara."

I frowned. Telepathy? For real?

"You'll meet her soon. But let me answer your question by making a comparison to something you know. Nern is seventeen times the size of Earth. A single day lasts 21 hours, and a year lasts 400 days. The landmass makes up 60% of the planet, and the rest are all fresh water seas. We don't have a salty sea here, but there is salt present in crystal formations underground and in the mountains. We have 3 moons. And we have 20 other planets in our galaxy."

"Salt? In the ground?" I gasped, "Isn't that bad for plant life?"

"No, the salt is contained in deposits that are spread far apart. I'm sure you realized that the land is quite like a sandpit when Max chased you through it. Works the calves quite a bit. A salt deposit would be much harder, like marble."

I stared out over the alien world. "Is there life on any of the other planets in the galaxy?"

"There is life on two of them. Two members of our crew are from Huva, the home planet of the Uvians. Then there are the Zolke, but they live on the far rim of our solar system, on the planet furthest from Hea."

My eyes widened. On Earth, people either believed extra-terrestrials were non-existent or bad in some way, out to destroy the world. "Aliens? We have aliens on the crew?"

Nenet giggled. "You should know, you were brought here by one.”

Half cyborg, half alien, somewhat human. Max’s words. At least his head was human. I wasn’t sure about his torso. But I remember distinctly that he had cybernetic arms and legs; legs that outran me and arms with nice-looking curvature. Typical that I, being Rain, would find a cyborg more attractive than a human. Not that I was attracted to him in that sort of way.

“We wouldn't be on Nern if it wasn’t for Ara. She's the brains behind this whole operation. Come on, let’s go meet some of the people.” Said Nenet.

Nenet gave me some clothes to wear so I didn’t have to walk around in the white paper dress of the Medical Bay. It was a simple one-piece silver outfit, just like hers, but its gold embellishments were a little more elaborate.

We toured the Dome. Its design was simple. All the main buildings were round, made of some kind of white material that seemed almost translucent, that was weaved into hexagons like a bee hive from the ground all the way to the roof. They were connected by pathways outdoors that were built on raised platforms, two meters above the ground so as not to disturb the plant life too much. When viewed from the ground, the facility would resemble a complex star shape.

The colony had a lot more people than I initially thought. We passed the staff of the Medical Bay, then staff in the Ecology Lab that studied the environment on Nern, we passed the Assembly building which housed spacecraft that looked a lot like cars, and one massive structure that was five miles in length. I silently nicknamed it the Mothership. There were about two hundred staff members working on that ship alone.

Nenet finally led me to the Main Dome, the biggest one in the centre of all the others. A gallery running all around the walls had an unbroken row of holographic computers with staff behind them, furiously typing away, and in the centre of the floor was a massive spinning contraption with an ultra-luminescent turquoise rock in its centre. Spherical coils made from some kind of metal spun around the bright stone in alternating directions.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2.1

An Indian boy who couldn't have been much older than me was in charge of the group. He also had glasses, but unlike mine, his’ were square and actually complimented his face.

"Who's that?" I asked, nodding to him.

"That's Pranav, our Lead Engineer and Leap Oscillator Controller."

Lead engineer? So young? "Whoa, how old is he?"

"He's two months older than you, dear."

"And he's Lead Engineer?" I guess I couldn’t hide the shock on my face, because Nenet delighted in my expression.

She nodded, and winked at me. "Only the best and brightest make it to Nern."

Nenet waved at Pranav. He came around the gallery.

"Ah! I see Raindrop is finally awake! Nice to meet you." Ah, so everyone is using the nickname now. Is he blushing?

Pranav extended his hand to me and I shook it, a practice I thought had long since died out. People didn’t shake hands on Earth for fear of contamination. That was ironic, because everything on Earth was contaminated.

"Hi," I said awkwardly. I wasn't very good at talking to people. Since I was the freak back home, I was really good at avoiding social interaction. "I hear you're the one that brought me here?"

"That is correct! Me and my crew here operate the Leap Oscillator, that funny spinning thing in the middle of the floor. Which reminds me, I have a gift for you!" He removed a silver bracelet from the pocket of his lab coat. And handed it to me. I thought I noticed a slight tremble in his fingers.

"This little device here can communicate with us, even from Earth. Whenever you need a portal opened, you just call and say ‘Hey Pranav! Get your ass in gear.’ Just keep in mind that the Leap Oscillator needs 30 minutes to charge between cycles. The portals only last a couple of minutes. They require a lot of energy to keep open. And we can't have the machine overheat."

I pouted my lips. "Pranav, silver? This doesn't even go with my 90% of my outfits..."

Pranav's smile vanished, replaced immediately with the look of horror. And I burst out into laughter. "I'm kidding! Do I look like the kind of girl that has 'outfits' to you?" On the contrary, I wear the same stuff week in and week out.

Pranav chuckled shyly. “Ara told me to tell you that you should go see her. She also has a gift for you.”

Nenet nodded to Pranav and we continued on our tour. We headed to the last of the domed buildings, to the East.

I suddenly realized that I was missing someone; the friendly neighbourhood cyborg.

“Where’s Max? I haven’t seen him,” I asked.

“Patrolling the Dome. Max is our security. He’ll be back by dinner time.” Nenet said.

“I wanted to ask you. I remember Max saying he has a visor. What’s that about?” I remembered him reading my oxygen levels when he found me. I found it a bit intrusive that a device could read such personal information. Not that I didn’t trust Max…I frowned at my own mind for being so eager to trust cybernetic strangers.

“It’s located behind his right retina. It’s a minute device with some nano-silicon wires attached to an electrode. We can use it to send information to Max, or he can collect data from his environment, like he did with your vital signs. He can also switch it off at will, when he’s sleeping.”

“That’s a bit… intrusive.” I said.

Nenet smiled. “Max would never read anyone’s personal information without their permission or in this case, necessity. The data he collected while he brought you here helped us to prepare for the Medical procedures you needed. We were able to help you much quicker with that information. But I can understand why you would think that it’s intrusive, especially because someone you’re not acquainted with had access to it.”

I snorted. “I imagine certain high-up people on Earth would love to have a device like that.”

“I agree,” Nenet became silent for a moment, and I wondered if I said something wrong. “We’re just going to see Ara and then it’ll almost be time for everyone to gather for dinner.”

My heart was flip flopping all over the place at meeting a Uvian. I wondered what she would look like, how she would act, would she be anything like Max?

We approached the door to Ara’s lab. Nenet placed her hand on the handle and peered over her shoulder at me. “You ready?”

I took a deep breath and nodded. I suddenly noticed a peculiar stirring sensation in my mind that made me feel slightly queasy.

Nenet opened the door, and I excitedly followed her inside. She stood aside, and before us stood…a human. Huh?

She appeared to be around 23 years old. Tattoos of flowers and roses covered her arms and decorated her collarbones. Her head was shaved on the right side, and medium length platinum blonde hair hang loosely on the left. The tips were colored shades of pink and green. She also had a rose tattoo on the shaved part of her head. She wore a white crop top stained with what looked like grease and black leather pants. She was busy fixing some sort of medical apparatus, and chewing a piece of gum pretty loudly, in a very New Yorker like way.

“Ara, Rain’s here,” Nenet announced, “Are you still trying to fix that Medical Bed?”

Ara stood up, and stretched her arms overhead. She moaned as her back released tension. Apparently she’d been working bent over for a long time. She was a fair bit taller than me, most people were.

This was an alien?

Ara smiled and said, “Don’t look at me like that, kid.”

I lifted my eyebrow. How can I not look? I thought aliens were supposed to be short with big heads and black eyes.

“Not all aliens look like that,” Ara stated casually. I gasped.

“You can read my thoughts?” I stammered.

Ara giggled. She clearly loved playing that trick on newbs. “Yup.”

“Do you…usually do that?” I mumbled. Was that the prodding sensation I felt in my head?

“Nah, just the first time I meet someone. Max is the exception. I do it to him all the time.”

“Doesn’t he find that kind of, intrusive?” I asked. I was sure that I would.

Ara collected the mechanical parts from the floor that she was busy with. “Max and I understand each other – I understand him more than he understands me.”

“Emil and I found Ara when she accidentally crash landed on Earth. Her mechanical body had been destroyed in the crash and we didn’t understand the technology enough to be able to fix it. But it saved her from being killed in the crash. She was housed in a compartment in the android suit’s head. She is a small, jelly-like being. I would say something like a miniature jellyfish,” Nenet started.

My frown grew as Ara started rummaging through her drawers.

“We regrew a human body from a,” Nenet paused uncomfortably, “deceased person… and Ara was able to inhabit the body. The result is the Ara you see today. She may look like she’s 23 years old, but she is in fact much older. Closer to a hundred and six years, I would say.”

Ara abruptly stopped rummaging. She glanced up at me. She did it again. She read me again. I just knew it.

“Go on, say it…” Ara encouraged me, grinning.

I shrugged uncomfortably. “She looks like your typical American punk.”

Ara burst into a giggle. “You’re alright, kid.”

She continued to rummage through the desk drawers, desperately searching for something.

I decided it was appropriate to change the subject. “So what’s this bed-thing for?”

“That bed can identify, analyze and treat all your medical issues. And it can even operate on you, should you require surgery. It’s an intelligent AI robot. We have to build at least a hundred more of them. The problem is I have to get this one working first, so the engineers have a blueprint to work off of.”

“A hundred? Why so many?” I probed.

Ara stopped the rummaging and glared at Nenet. “You haven’t told her?”

“I thought perhaps I’d acclimatize her to her surroundings first,” Nenet answered coolly.

Ara sat down on the desk, sighing. “Look Rain, we have a mission here. We need to build a human colony. And if we’re going to be having a lot more humans around, we need the medical beds, especially since their coming from Earth. The reason why you’re here is because we want you on our team.”

Me? What makes me so special? And why would humans want to settle 3,5 billion light years away from their home planet, Earth. Well, actually, I could think of a few reasons…

“Why build a colony all the way out here?” I asked nonetheless.

Ara smiled, very obviously aware that I knew the answer to my own question. “I doubt I have to explain the details to you, so I’ll just say it in a very Max-like manner, because your planet is a shithole.”

Somehow it wasn’t hard for me to imagine that Max might say it like that. He wouldn’t be wrong.

“See,” Ara continued, “Your own kind is slowly poisoning you. The richest man on Earth is gassing and intoxicating the population so he can continue to feed his relentless hunger for money and power. He has fool-a-fied the population over a century so that they will never rise up against him. 98% of all humans on Earth are now, by past standards, considered sub-human. They are using half the brain capacity you are,”

What?

“Yes, Rain. You are actually a normal human. Well, maybe a bit more than that. Our studies have shown that you use 2% more brain capacity than most normal humans used years ago. Which means you are a prodigy by past human standards, and you are a genius by current human standards.”

Normal? One of the few normal ones remaining. No wonder I felt alienated. There was a bitter taste in my mouth. “But, why am I different? How come I’m not like them?”

“A marginal 2% of the human race is fairly immune to the chemical they are spreading through your atmosphere, which is causing the brain damage.”

Fairly immune?” My head filled with all sorts of nasty scenarios…

Ara nodded. “Yes. The gas has an effect on you too, but it takes much longer to manifest. I’m sure here, where there’s no pollution, you suddenly feel a lot more focused and calm.”

You’re having withdrawal symptoms, I remembered Max saying. What kind of a twisted maniac would do this to his own kind?

I did feel lighter as a whole except for my chest, which still felt slightly constricted. I wouldn’t be surprised if my lungs had permanent damage. My adopted parents always told me that I had respiratory issues ever since I was an infant. Were the issues a result of my own genetic weakness as they liked to claim, or was it a result of my environment? I was part of a measly 2% that could come up with questions like that. I suddenly felt incredibly lonely.

Sure, I had my suspicions that something like this was going on behind the scenes. But I was shocked at how deep it really went.

“But, isn’t there a way to reverse the brain damage?” I asked quietly.

Ara shook her head. “Not without completely changing the person. Even then, some might turn into vegetables. Their bodies are so far gone they wouldn’t be able to use them in the hostile environment of space anyway, even the very young ones who seem healthy.”

“So, what, 98% of the human race is just unsalvageable?” It was hard to hide the shakiness in my voice. It was a scary thought, that so little of my own kind survived.

Ara gave me the impression that she knew what I was feeling, and I found myself wondering if she read me again. The idea made me angry, but only for a couple of seconds. “Sorry, Rain. But most of the human genome has been altered beyond recognition.”

I pushed my glasses up and gulped. 2% was a very small number – only about 5000 people. The Earth’s population has lessened considerably since the pollution first started.

And I wouldn’t be able to count any of my family among the colonists. I felt guilty that that bothered me less than it ought to have.

“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Ara said sympathetically, “It’s a scary thing…I…oh! I finally remember where I put it!”

She jumped off the table, scrambled to the cabinet against the wall through mounds of mechanical parts and debris on the floor.

I heard a loud thump as Ara hit her shin against something.

“Ow! Stupid human body…” she uttered.

She opened the top shelf of the cabinet and took out a bottle of green glowing things the shape and size of half a golf ball.

After stumbling her way back, she handed me the bottle.

“Here. This is your food and your medicine.”

I rolled my eyes. “As if I don’t have enough medicine…”

“No no,” Ara shook her head, “You’re going to stop taking all that rubbish. This will protect your body from all the poison back there. The acne outbreaks on your face are actually due to your body trying to cleanse itself from all the pollutants in your atmosphere. This should help that clear up very quickly. And it will nourish you. I hope you’re not too bothered with taste sensation, because they don’t taste like much.”

I shook my head. “I’m not a big eater. I don’t fancy putting artificial lab-grown food in my body.”

“Yeah, I see that. You’re very scrawny. These should help you gain some healthy weight. Our results earlier showed that you’re malnourished. It already shows in your bone density. So, we need to get you eating and we need to get you training.”

“Training?” I gulped, suddenly wishing I had done at least a little sport at school. But the memory of my lungs burning like fire quickly made me toss the notion.

“To build some muscle mass and strengthen your bones. You’re lucky Nern isn’t as bad as most planets when it comes to gravity.”

“Yeah, I probably would have cracked or faded away,” I brought the bottle up and studied it. “I see you’ve only added five balls in here?” I asked.

Ara shrugged. “I assumed you would be back here by next weekend. So it’s one for each day of the school week.”

I pondered the container of glowy balls.

Nenet checked her watch. “I think it’s time for dinner. We should head to the Mess Hall. Coming, Ara?”

“Sure, I’ll be there in a bit. I just have to clean this dump or I’ll never sleep tonight.” Ara answered, and I was instantly reminded of my chaotic tiny bedroom back on Earth.

Nenet smiled, “You don’t sleep much anyway.”

I glanced at Ara who shrugged at me. “I prefer to keep busy. Sleep is a bit, boring, to me.”

“Don’t you become exhausted?” I asked like a child.

“I have some stimulants that I take. I have too much work to sleep, especially since I don’t really need to.”

Nenet put her hand on my shoulder. “Come on, Rain. Let’s go get some food before you fade away.”
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2.2

I followed Nenet out of Ara’s lab. It was dusk outside. Two large turquoise moons stared down on us like big eyes, and one lilac-colored moon that was half their size hung halfway in front of them. I was captured with the billions of glowing dots among them, like tiny holes in a huge piece of dark fabric with an enormous sun just on the other side of it. My eyes teared up. Stars. I was beginning to think that they were nothing more than pictures in a science book, or just part of fairy tales like my adopted mother said. I wished I could’ve proved her wrong. But it wouldn’t have mattered.

I felt like my real parents were watching me through those tiny holes in the fabric of space. Here, the sky was clear enough for them to see me. Their energy enveloped me like a blanket. Earth people would think me crazy with my imagination but for once, I was feeling something nice, and I wasn’t about to let it go. Belief in some sort of afterlife had died out years ago with everything else that mattered. I myself hadn’t felt any connection to past religions, but I believed in physics. And physics said that information can only change in the universe; it can never be lost. That included my parents.

I bumped into Nenet. “Oh! Sorry, why did you stop?” I stammered.

Nenet giggled. “You were immersed weren’t you? We’re here.”

I flushed. I got so carried away that I had no concept of where I was going.

Nenet opened the metal doors of the Mess Hall and we went inside. The hum of conversation buzzed through the air. There were already at least one hundred people here, sitting in groups at the figure-eight shaped, oddly placed tables. I shook my head at my own stereotypical notions. With all the hi-tech whiteness of the Dome, I thought that there would be rectangular metal tables in neat rows, like in all the sci-fi movies. These tables were made of some kind of turquoise and purple glassy material, and their odd placements made the whole atmosphere more welcoming. Their colours contrasted against the whiteness that lent a softness to the room. However, I noticed that a crucial part of the Mess Hall was missing – the kitchen.

“So, where does the food get cooked?” I asked Nenet.

Nenet pointed to a large silver box that stood against the far wall. “There.” she said.

I raised my eyebrow.

Nenet seemed to grow a bit taller. “That is a Substance Binder Device. It’s my own little invention. Call it the lazy housewife’s saving grace. All the food we grow in our greenhouse got scanned into the device, I loaded a couple thousand recipes on there. The machine simply takes the recipe and reads it. Then it copies the atoms of the food from its memory, reorders them to the recipe specifications, and viola! You have yourself a perfectly cooked dish, just the way you like it. It cleans the dishes afterwards too! It simply breaks up the atoms of the plate and cutlery and stores them to be reused over and over again.”

My jaw dropped. A plate of food in seconds, cooked by a computer. But the food was copied from a natural plant, not lab-created. Better than what’s on offer on Earth…

“The machine retains the highest level of nutrients in the food, just like the day it was picked and scanned in.” Nenet sighed, having suddenly remembered something. “Well, there’s one dish scanned into the Substance Binder that is of disgraceful quality…”

I frowned. “What dish is that?”

Nenet shook her head. “You’ll see later. Let me put it this way, the Substance Binder can recreate any dish once you’ve given it a model to copy, but it cannot add nutrition where there wasn’t any to begin with. Anyway, why don’t you go see for yourself how it works?”

I nodded and went to the Substance Binder. It was a fairly simple device that had a cavity, presumably where the plate of food would materialize, left and right arrow buttons for scrolling, several menu buttons for beverages, desserts, breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners, and lastly, the “Bind” button.

Since it was now dinner time, I pressed the “dinner” button. Recipe 1/400 popped up. It was called “roasted brown tuft with spiced river rock strem.” I tilted my head. What?

“Uh,” I giggled stupidly.

Nenet laughed. “Go on, try it. You’ll like it. That’s a very filling dish.”

“Could you tell me what it is in human language?” I asked as I rubbed my neck.

“Hm, well I can’t compare Nern’s food with anything on Earth. But it’s a mix of roasted fungi and vegetables, with river rock strem, which is a plant with a protein level comparable to beef.”

I crinkled my nose. It certainly didn’t sound appealing. “What does it taste like?”

Nenet shrugged casually. “You’ll have to see for yourself. If it helps you, I’ll take the same.”

I thought about it and pulled up my shoulders. Oh, what the heck. It’ll probably be a million times better than those orange stringy things on Earth that was supposed to be carrots, but had to be dyed orange and injected with a sweetener to make them resemble the real thing. I confirmed the recipe and pressed “bind”. A bowl of food materialized in the cavity of the machine. It was colourful food with some big mushroom pieces that appeared to be roasted. Most of the bowl consisted of some kind of pink, coral-like plant.

“That’s the rock strem,” Nenet said as I stared at my mostly pink bowl.

Nenet got the same and we went over to one of the tables in the middle of the room. Just as we sat down, Pranav and Emil entered the Mess Hall.

“It can’t be done,” Emil said, “You would have to compute the precise position up to a millionth of a millimetre to have it teleport you to an alternative universe, if there even exists one. In addition it would necessitate substantial volumes of energy.”

“But it is probable, at least in theory,” Pranav countered.

Emil shook his head, “The quantities of energy you would require would be five million times greater than the volume a star gate utilizes. And we all know how much those consume just to remain in idle. There’s a reason every galaxy only has one.”

I listened to the engineers squabble. Nenet hadn’t started eating yet, it was clear that we were still waiting for more people to join our table. The engineers’ talk about work winded down as they collected their food and came towards us. Emil gave Nenet a peck as he sat down next to her. Pranav pushed up his square glasses and sat down at the far end of the table, stealing peeks at me every now and then until he couldn’t take it anymore…

“What do you think, Rain?” Pranav he finally asked, “Do you think the Leap Oscillator could propel us into another universe?”

My eyes widened as everyone suddenly stared at me. I cleared my throat. This wasn’t my Biology teacher I was talking with, and yes, I had a real risk of sounding stupid here.

“Oh, Pranav, Rain doesn’t know anything about your project, how can you ask her such a question?” Nenet defended.

“Actually,” I said and Nenet glanced at me, surprised. “I think it is probable. The most viable solution would be to, firstly find a suitable source of energy, and then find a way to condense it into a smaller mass. Maybe to allow itself to multiply, and then release it.”

The door sprang open. Heavy footsteps came in and I turned around in my chair. An involuntary smiled formed on my face.

“I agree. After all, in a system’s rest frame, mass and energy are equivalent. The two values only differ by a constant and the unit of measurement.”

Pranav shut his eyes at the mumbo jumbo. “Max. You’re supposed to be a soldier.”

Max smiled. “Doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”

“What did you even just say?” Pranav asked, irritated.

“Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared,” I said, and Pranav stared at me in amazement.

Nenet proudly smiled at me, like she knew I had it in me all along.

“It’s Einstein’s equation. E=mc2.” I shrugged. “It’s the same principle they used to create the atomic bomb on Earth.”

Nenet, Emil and Pranav stared at me silently.

I cleared my throat and shifted in my seat. “I, actually thought it was pretty obvious what Max was saying.”

He burst out into laughter behind me. And he contaminated the rest of the group with it, a skill I never had.

“Finally, someone that can understand Max’s language other than Ara.” Pranav said as he started to eat his food.

As if called, Ara joined us at the table. “Yeah well, he’s gotten a lot better, Pranav.” She didn’t need to hear the rest of the conversation to know what was going on.

I thought I saw Max blush a little. “Alrighty then! I’m going to get some chow.” He said awkwardly and left the group to go wait at the Substance Binder Machine. There was a small queue of five people in front of him. At the speed the machine worked, it would probably only be minutes until he joined us.

“What do you mean he’s gotten better?” I asked Ara.

“Max used to talk like that all the time. For instance, he would call laughing ‘irritable convulsive vocalizations’. He didn’t know how to speak in a different way. A normal human would have found it impossible to understand what he was saying. But he learned less complicated speech pretty quickly. In a matter of months, he learned to speak common English eighty percent of the time.”

Strange.

“You can ask him one day, maybe he’ll tell you the story. It’s not our place to tell.” Ara said before I could ask anything more.

How could someone only speak science jargon? Did his parents never speak common English then? Why would they just allow that to continue without any correction? My parents bemoaned my jargon from a young age, and I was happy for it because I wouldn’t have been able to function in society without that correction, sad as that was. Then came the thought, what happened to his parents? It was clear that he wasn’t related to Nenet or Emil. They must have been part of that small 2% that didn’t have any brain damage. Why did he leave them behind then? Or, was he an anomaly, actually a genius born to two damaged humans?

Max returned and plopped down a bowl onto the table. Nenet sighed and brought her hand to her forehead. “Max, what did we talk about last night? Didn’t we say we were going to eat vegetables first?”

I leaned forward. “Are those, Cheerios?” No way…

Max smiled at me unapologetically and placed a spoonful in his mouth.

Ara shook her head disapprovingly. “You’re messing up my artificial liver.”

“You’re seriously eating that crap?” I giggled. Cheerios. Here. 3.5 Billion light years away from Earth. How?

“It’s all he eats,” Nenet sighed, “He got hold of it once. ONCE. And that’s all he’s been eating ever since.”

“Sam.” Ara muttered.

“Sam?” I asked.

“Max’s friend from the…” she cleared her throat, “From, a couple of years ago. He brought Cheerios to Nern, and gave Max one taste. One…” she said, holding up a single finger.

I laughed, keeping myself from probing further about his friend. “Max, you know that stuff is really bad for you, right?”

“Will you all mind your own bowls? Stars. I have the most boring job in the world, can’t have the most boring food too,” Max bemoaned us.

“You barely even know what real food tastes like,” Ara snorted.

“Don’t care to find out either.” Max shrugged. “Stop looking at me, look at Rain, she hasn’t even touched her food.”

What nerve of him to now push his reprimand onto me... “It wasn’t on purpose!”

Nenet smiled. “Don’t worry dear, we’re not mad at you. We understand. You have a lot on your mind. It’s been a continuing battle for a long time... And he still won’t eat his vegetables.”

Max rolled his eyes.

I smiled and minded my bowl. There was justice out here. Unlike back home where Felice got away with everything. I was surprised to find my food still pleasantly warm. I tried a little bit of everything, and I was shocked at how delicious it all tasted! It was fresh, earthy, herby, and savoury, unlike anything I’d ever tasted on Earth.

I ate in silence while the rest of the group talked. They spoke of the day’s events, just like my parents usually did, only their days were much more interesting. Ecology, engineering, science, medicine, and Max seemed like he had the most interesting job of all, despite him claiming that it was boring. While he patrolled the surroundings, he collected information. He collected information on plants, insecticide species, and the ground beneath his feet, the atmosphere and anything else he encountered. He relayed the information back to the Dome, for the scientists to study. He got to go outside the Dome, even admitted to getting lost a few times for a couple of days, though he eventually found his way back.

And me? While I was limited to a small artificial lawn back home – here, I had an entire new planet to explore! I wondered if I would be allowed to choose the kind of work I’d be doing here. There was a lot to be done. And I didn’t know much about any of it. How would I choose what to do? And I was still on the fence. I desperately wanted to be a part of this group, but it meant that I had to eventually leave Earth, forever. They were collecting the colonists and leaving, never to return again. And I didn’t know if I was ready to leave behind everything I knew like that. At the same time, this was the opportunity of a lifetime; and one my adopted parents would never understand the significance of. I couldn’t even try to explain it to them.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2.3

I quietly stared at the group as they conversed. A lot of the focus seemed to be on Ara and Max. It was obvious why. One was a cyborg, the other an alien turned human. There was something magnetic about the both of them that just pulled people in, including me.

“So, will you be staying with us for a while Rain?” Nenet asked me. She and Emil seemed something like a mother- and father-figure to the group.

“I’d love to, I just have to be home in time before my parents get back, and with enough time to finish my chores.”

“Don’t worry, I have the timing down for that!” Pranav said confidently.

Max snorted. “Sure you do.”

Pranav crossed his arms. “I told you last time was just a slight miscalculation.”

“Yeah, that nearly cost my head!” Max said, “You can’t afford to lose a brain like mine, Pranav, don’t you know that already? Who else is going to fix your machines when they are ‘impossible’ to repair?” Max sighed melodramatically. “You all take me for granted.”

Ara sighed. “Oh brother.” She emphasized the last word.

Max threw his hands up into the air. “You see? Fine, I’m leaving,” he jumped up from his chair, almost sending it flying back. “I know when I’m not wanted, come on Raindrop. These phonies probably didn’t even show you to your bedroom.”

“I have a bedroom?” I gasped.

“Sure you do! You didn’t think you’d sleep in that cramped hospital room, did you?” I actually thought that room was light and airy…

I glanced at Nenet, trying to figure out if I was breaking some sort of Nern custom by just getting up and leaving. She nodded approvingly. I rose and as I followed Max out of the mess hall, everyone said their goodbyes and goodnights.

I walked next to Max. Breath-taking scenery was before me, the ground was lit up with dancing lights of blues, purples, greens and dots of pink. Plants glowed all kinds of colors. We continued on the pathway leading to the furthest building, almost hidden behind the domes. It was square with at least seven floors, the design made it a little difficult to count. Max walked slower than Nenet, and even though the biological light show in front of me was mesmerizing, I found my eyes drifting up to the sky again.

I wondered suddenly if Max walked so slowly on purpose. I heard soft motorised sounds coming from his prosthetics every time the cyber joints bended, and odd but beautiful musical sounds coming from all around me.

“What’s that?” I asked quietly. The sounds seemed so delicate that I felt I might disturb it by talking too loudly.

“Those are the plants. They attract their pollinators with sound.”

“That’s amazing,” I whispered. The world around me was a sea of colourful bioluminescent plant life. The desert of Nern had come alive when Hea set, just like Nenet promised. But up there, there was the real magic.

“You like the stars?” Max asked.

“I love them,” I whispered, “I always think my parents are up there, looking down on me. I started to think stars were just pictures in a book. You can’t see them from Earth.” I looked up to Max. He was a good ten inches taller than me. “Are your parents still on Earth?”

Max smiled at me, and frowned awkwardly. “Let’s not talk about me for tonight.”

I raised my one eyebrow. Alright. So no personal questions then, at least not now.

“So, your parents died?” Max asked cautiously.

“Yeah, when I was very young. I don’t even remember them. I just know they died in a car crash. I still have a picture of them back home.”

“Would you ever want to come and live here? For good, I mean.”

I sighed. “I’m not sure yet. I mean, it feels amazing to be here. It feels like a dream come true, but I don’t know if I’m ready to leave everything behind like that.”

Max nodded. “I gotcha.”

As we approached the building, I noticed that it was kind of small for the amount of people on Nern.

“Does everyone sleep here?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s rectangular, not square.” Max smirked as he opened the doors.

“Oh…” I said while feeling a bit dumb. I have no idea why my mind just error-coded this building as 2D instead of 3D. Must be space.

“Ladies first,” he said as he extended a cyberhand.

I went in and he closed the door behind us.

“Elevator’s over there, it’s on the seventh floor.” Max said.

We rode the elevator to the very top floor of the building.

“Your apartment is number eleven.”

I gasped. “I have an apartment?” I felt dumb for being excited about something like that, but the upgrade was monumental from my cramped little excuse for a bedroom back home, which was nothing more than a store room that had been cleared out for me. Because my arrival was at an inconvenient time…

Max laughed. “What, did you think I was going to let you sleep in a cube?” If only he knew that I had been sleeping in a cube for pretty much my whole life.

There was a biometric locking device next to the door.

“Place your finger there.” Max said.

I placed my index finger on the blue light, and it turned green as it read my fingerprint. The door clicked open. My eyes widened. The room was huge on the inside. Twenty people could sleep here. The bed looked lonely on a raised platform next to a reinforced glass wall. It was all very sleek and modern, with several structures carved out of some colourful crystals, including the base of the bed. I walked over to the window. The bioluminescent light from the natural world danced up the walls of the entire room, and the music of the plants penetrated the walls, like a soft lullaby.

“You like it?” Max asked.

“It’s huge,” I admitted, “Much bigger than what I’m used to back on Earth.”

“Eh, bit cramped for me.” he shrugged and smiled.

I stared at him, something I did when I was fascinated by something. I rarely stared at humans. “Why do you have cyber prosthesis?”

He cleared his throat on purpose.

I nodded. “Ah. Personal question.”

“Yup.”

“Nevermind then.” I whipped my head and walked to the bed, feeling the texture of the sheets. I’m going keep probing him. He’ll eventually have to spill the beans.

Max shook his head, and I momentarily wondered if he read my mind. “Get some sleep, Raindrop. Big day tomorrow.”

“Will I see you?”

“Affirmative. You’ll get sick of me.”

I frowned. “Why?”

Max closed the door on his way out, just after saying, “Goodnight Rain. See you at training tomorrow.”

My heart thumped. Training with a cyborg? Great. How was I supposed to keep up with a machine-man?

I opened the chest of drawers in the room, looking for something like pyjamas. There were several sets of clothing there. I picked a black dress made of some sort of light, silk-like material. As I laid down on the bed I felt heat radiating from beneath me, warming my cool skin. It was coming from the crystal base. The natural vibration of the crystal seemed to make its own heat.

And when I laid my head down on the pillow, with the music of the plants lulling me to sleep, I decided that I had to find out more about Max. He’s the most curious person in the group, probably because he doesn’t want to give away anything. Forbidden fruit and all that, but in a non-creepy, non-romantic way. What was he hiding? What if it was something that could influence my decision to stay on Nern? I had to know.



***


Max

I leaned against the railing on the rooftop as a dull pain ran down my left leg. I usually came here when I needed space to think. The world seemed wide open in front of me, and the starry sky seemed more like an outstretched sea to me than a blanket over Nern.

I felt like a lot of human minds were confined by the roundness of the world. Their mental vision extended only so far as the horizon. I however was very aware of the large expanse of the universe, and of the littleness of Nern. Nern was too little. Too cramped. I needed to be out in the expanse. It was ironic really. What I once feared was exactly the largeness of the outside world. I feared it would swallow me whole if I ventured out into it. Now it seemed claustrophobic to me.

It was a strange thing how I could feel Rain’s energy just beneath my feet. But I liked it that way. I liked knowing where she was and what she was doing; that she was safe and well.

I felt a familiar tug at my mind.

“Hello, Ara.” I said, without needing to turn around.

“Sleep tincture not working again?” Ara asked. I could feel the doubt in her mind at her own question. She’d increased the dose just a month ago.

I shook my head. “I haven’t taken it yet.”

Ara nodded, and came to lean against the wall next to me. “Are you in pain?”

I found her ability to read me like that, comforting. “Just a little. Ghost limbs,” I smiled meekly. “The ghosts of my past…”

She was silent for a bit.

“So, what do you think of her? Rain, I mean.”

I sighed and leaned more of my weight into the railing, the dull ache now moving into my other leg. “She’s a little too curious for me.”

“You knew that before she came here,”

She was right. We’d been observing her from a distance for some time. I was the one that suggested we choose her in the first place. There was just something about her that made her different from the others we considered. “I know.”

“She’s just going to keep examining you.” Ara said.

“Yeah. I know.”

“Don’t you trust her?”

I sighed. Trust had nothing to do with it. “I do trust her. I just, don’t want to trouble her with all my shit yet. You dropped a lot of stuff on her when she arrived. And you know how humans get when I start talking. Look at Gerald who came here two years ago. Once I told him what really went on on that planet…well, you know. He hasn’t been the same since.” Gerald had been on strong natural antidepressants ever since I opened my pie hole and dumped the big, hard truth on him.

“Ah,” Ara said, “So it’s more about her than you.” She seemed doubtful.

“It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve talked about it too many times.” Though I get why she thinks the past still bothers me. I still have nightmares. I still need sleep remedies. I’m still not fully adjusted to social life, it takes a conscious choice for me to get out of my shell, six years later. It’s why it’s easier for me to embrace my alien nature rather than my human nature. I’m just not that well-versed in being human I guess, whatever that means. And there are still, side-effects.

“Humans get despondent when I tell them these things. I don’t want her to feel like that.” I said softly.

Ara smiled. “You’re human too, Max. You like to talk about them like you’re not one of them. You’re at least part human.”

“Am I?” I asked sarcastically. There was no distinguishing line that made me human rather than Uvian or Zolke. I liked it. When the human part of me felt fear, I could tune in more fully to the Zolke part. You’d think that the Zolke felt nothing, but we are sentient beings. And we can feel remorse, and compassion. Or we can choose to simply switch off the emotions, and be the cold, hard machines that we are, though it was rarely switched off entirely. The Zolke too, were once biologicals.

Ara turned away from me to look out over the desert.

“I’ll tell her later.” I said, “Maybe next time she comes to Nern” I frowned. “I feel very, protective, over her.”

Ara frowned. “But, you’re not attracted to humans.”

I glared at her. “Not like that, I don’t know. It’s weird. I just feel like I have to have her back. I feel a connection to her. And not the kind where I want to drag her to my bed. It’s more like the kind of thing I have with Nenet and Emil, but different.”

“You barely know her, Max.”

I ran my hand through my hair. I couldn’t explain it either. “Yeah.”

“Your hair’s getting long…” Ara said.

I gave her my stay-the-hell-away-from-me expression.

She snorted. “I’m not scared of you. That doesn’t work with me, kid.”

I raised my hand in protest. “Ara…”

Ara shrugged innocently. Faker detected. “Max…”

“Not today,” I said evenly.

“I didn’t say anything.” Ara said. “You need to get some sleep. You have training tomorrow. And I need you to go out and get me more of those mineral samples if you have time. I don’t know if the scientists are snorting that stuff or what but it disappears faster than your Cheerios.”

I allowed myself to relish in the fake invincible feeling I got from being mostly cybernetic. “Who needs sleep.”

“You do, you still have a human brain that needs rest.” Ara laughed.

Yes, that was a drag. “Yes Mom.”

Ara punched me on the chest, where I could still feel the impact. “I’m not that old, squirt.”

I smirked and headed off the rooftop. I pooled my concentration together and attempted to send her the mental message that she’s an old lady. Because Uvians can age to around three hundred earth years. She must’ve got the message, because she glanced back at me and threw me a cocky middle finger as she headed back to her lab.
I started to my apartment, the pain down my legs steadily growing worse. The prosthesis only started four fingers or so above my knees, so I had to work my muscles enough to be able to carry them. Of course, nanobots in my bloodstream helped.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2.4

I scanned my hand and the door peeled open. My apartment was roughly the same size as Rain’s, which was too small, but functional. I made my way over to the windowsill where I liked to fall asleep most nights, sitting upright with the view of Nern’s colorful nighttime plants being the last sight I see before drifting off. I didn’t like sleeping in my bed, it was too soft even with the harder mattress. I grabbed the pills Nenet had given me as I sat down on the windowsill. My legs were happy to have my weight off them, but by no means were they giving up tormenting me.

I swallowed three pills without water, two more than the usual dosage. They were natural and potent. And they were supposed to start working immediately.

I laid my head back, closed my eyes and waited. A sudden wave of pain shot through my arms, and rushed through my entire body. I inhaled deeply and shut my eyes tightly. Not this again...

Seeing where this was going, I forced my body up and hastily left my apartment. I started making my way to the Dome on the furthest side of the facility, Ara’s lab. My breathing laboured as the pain steadily intensified. Every step racked my body with agony.

There was not a single human around at this hour of the morning, not that they would have been able to help. Every health bar on my UI was flashing red. My heartrate shot up. It encouraged me to move faster, something my body heavily protested. A spear of agony through my left leg left me breathless and on my knees no further than two metres away from Ara’s lab. I couldn’t draw in a full breath, my ribcage felt crushed. Get up, Max, get up before you can't walk anymore...I managed to stumble back onto my feet with my Zolke prosthetics becoming heavier and heavier to carry.



I stumbled through Ara’s door, and looked up to see the dizzying double image of her spiral staircase leading up to the lab on the loft - the one I had to get to. Liquid dripped out of my nose, and when I looked down I saw the deep red of blood contrasting sharply against the white floors. My heart galloped unsteadily, the warning signs in my UI turning the entire screen red, not just the bars anymore. My legs buckled beneath me. Every bone in my body felt like it was broken. Every organ felt like it was torn.



“Ara!” I called-moaned, as I crawled toward the staircase, “Ara!”

I made it onto the fifth stair before she burst out of the loft-lab's door, eyes wide. “How bad from 1 to 10?” she yelled above the ringing in my ears.

My head was too heavy to hold up. Pain jolted through me forcing a scream through me, my body shuddered in response. I had a high pain tolerance, and keeping my pain quiet was something I had to learn in the past to keep myself from receiving a beating. I’ve gotten sloppy with it over the years. Not just with keeping it a secret, but with the handling of it. This was something I went through on a daily basis six years ago. I'd gotten spoilt, being pain-free most days. “9...” I whispered through a jagged breath.

I reserved a 10 for when I was close to losing conciousness. A 10 was having this pain, and having a saw tear through my living limbs. It was being butchered, like an animal. Ara hated that I made myself hold out that long. You never have to go that far! she would say. But I always went too far. It’s why she had programmed my prosthetics to automatically shut themselves down before I worked them to failure. But this had nothing to do with overworking them, so they didn't shut down but they weren't helping either.

She darted back into her lab, and seconds later reappeared with an exoskeleton that only fit over her torso, designed specifically for carrying me. I weighed a lot, due to the Zolke metal. She pulled the suit over her head and seconds later, she threw her arm under mine and lifted me up. My legs were beyond use now. She dragged me up the remainder of the stairs and into her lab, placing me down next to a spherical restoration chamber. There were two, one the usual tube shape, the other this sphere which she designed specially for me. She entered commands into the computer interface and the sphere opened up. She tore off my armor plating, and removed a fabric cutting pen from her pocket. She started burning through the fabric of my suit.

“Is that neccessary?” I wheezed through the agony. I liked this suit. My eyes were starting to go in and out of darkness, and my ears were ringing like crazy, muffling her voice.

“You’re moving like an old guy," she grinned at her own joke but she was furious with me. "Damn it, why do you always have to wait so long!” She ripped the clothes off me. I felt her probe my mind for the answer. She cursed when she realized that I didn’t waver.

“...Close...to...9.5...now...” I panted. Another surge of sharp pain coursed through me that made me reflexively arch my back. I gritted my teeth and stifled the scream. I wanted to vomit, but my fear that I might die kept me from it.

“You’re not getting to a 10,” she declared as she picked me up and lifted me into the chamber, "Not ever again..."

She sealed the door and initiated the program on the screen. A neon green fluid started to pool into the sphere. It seeped into my pores and in between the crevices of my prosthetics, each drop melting away the torturous agony, and soothing my overworked pain receptors with heavy painkilling properties. My body shuddered. An involuntary groan of relief escaped my mouth. The spherical chamber filled to the rim. The restorative fluid was oxygenated, so I breathed normally. I could also talk in the chamber, though it felt a little bit like drowning. And I would have to cough up the liquid from my lungs once I got out of here.

The warnings in my UI immediately switched off. I instinctively turned onto my side, facing Ara and curled up into a fetal position to decompress my spine. It had carried most of my weight when my quads gave in and couldn't support my prosthesis anymore. My body went limp, exhaustion overtook me.

“Damn it,” Ara breathed a sigh of relief, “When was the last time that happened?”

I quickly scanned my records, it didn't take much energy. “Approximately 1 year, 54 days, 19 hours and 23 seconds ago.” I mumbled.

“You’re keeping time?” she raised her eyebrow.

“Attacks are becoming less frequent...” I whispered. But not fast enough.

Ara sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I'd much rather have you be indestructible."

I stared at her. "But of course, I know that's not possible without losing YOU" she continued.

Ghost limbs caused most of the mild aches I had every so often, but this torture was caused by a substance called Alibutrol Vitradipine - a neurotoxin that caused muscles to spasm and pain receptors to go haywire. And in that... zoo... I was kept captive in on Earth, I was gifted with a dose of the stuff daily. It was supposed to build up my pain tolerance to my "internal" diseases. I never knew how messed up that was until I got out into the world. It was used for nothing else but pure torment. Years later here I am, still having freak episodes every now and then as a result of it. My neuroreceptors were probably damaged. I supposed it would only really go away once my brain had also been replaced with a Zolke version, but that wasn’t happening.

My eyelids became heavy. I took a deep breath, then sighed.

“I take it you’re sleeping in there tonight, then?” Ara asked.

“Hm.” My eyes closed. I heard her type on the keypad, and moments later the restorative fluid became pleasantly warm. It melted my muscles even more. She rarely slept, so she went back to whatever she was working on at the desk opposite the chamber. I drifted into the peaceful forgetfulness of sleep.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2.5

Rain

I woke early the next morning as the plants’ song quieted down with the rising sun. I dressed myself in something I thought would be appropriate for training, whatever that meant. It was a mostly silver suit with some bronze and gold embellishments, perfect for being out in the desert. The shoes were matching flat boots. I tied my hair back into a single braid, as opposed to my usual two. My adopted mother always insisted on me having two braids, because it made me look more “normal”. But two braids just didn’t seem appropriate on Nern, and being any kind of normal was frowned upon here, so. Obviously I was worried about the kind of training I might have. It couldn’t be that bad… right? Max was just going to teach me how to use some equipment for measuring statistics in the atmosphere, I think... What other training would an environmental scientist possibly need? That’s what he was apart from his soldiering, wasn’t it? Hm, but how do I know that’s what I was going to be?

I marvelled at the fact that today was my fifth day here, and back on Earth half a day hadn’t even passed yet. The time bending ability of the Leap Oscillator was a beautiful thing, at least while I was on Nern. On Earth, not so much. The next time I came to visit, months would have passed. It certainly gave the people here the advantage. They were better able to prepare. The next time I came back the Mothership, as I called it, would probably be finished. How long had they been planning this, I wonder? They didn’t start building that ship yesterday…This started years ago. I couldn’t identify a precise event, but I thought that there must have been some kind of turning point in humanity where they decided to do this; a point of no return. I could think of so many of those.

The issue of time made me feel hurried to choose. I already felt at home here, something I never felt on Earth. But I couldn’t make a decision this enormous so quickly – many of those had been made on Earth with dire consequences. I had to learn from everyone else’s mistakes. But with every passing half hour on Earth, I missed an entire day of what was happening on Nern. The team would probably be ready for their mission to recruit the colonists by the time I came back. Which means in a week’s time, I had to decide - team Earth, or team Nern. I probably had about 5 earth hours left here before I had to get back – ten more days on Nern. I squinted as I did all the calculations in my head.

I shook the math out of my head and left my apartment. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was supposed to go. Max didn’t give any details. Walking along, I stopped the first technician-mechanic dude I saw.

“Excuse me, do you know where I’m supposed to be meeting Max? Oh, I’m Rain by the way.” At least get the order of the greeting right Rain, for goodness sake.

The technician-dude, a quirky-looking guy with a funky moustache, very eagerly shook my hand and nearly popped out my shoulder. “Ah! I’m Lance. But everyone just calls me Mouse. Max gave me the name, seeing as he’s so much taller than me. Well, everyone is. Except you.”

Max apparently liked to give nicknames to people. I could see why he called him Mouse. I didn’t think he got the name because of his length though, he probably got it because of his big ears.

“If you’re looking for Max, he’s usually outside patrolling the Dome at this time of the day. Well, since 4AM.” Mouse said.

“4?” I asked. “It’s already past 6,”

Mouse squinted. “Oh…Yeah he’s probably going to ride you hard out there. He’s got a thing about being on time. Well, he does with us.”

I rolled my eyes, said my goodbyes and made for the nearest door I could remember that led to the outside. Well, technically he couldn’t be cross with me, because he didn’t give me a time. The sharp light of Hea momentarily blinded me, but my eyes adjusted much quicker than before. I picked a direction and ventured out into the desert expanse of Nern, keeping in mind that this desert wasn’t really as endless as it seemed. A couple of kilometres on was the Dome’s edge, in every direction. Beyond that lay the real Nern, an alien world in all its mystery. It was enigmatic to all except Max and Ara, and hopefully me one day. The idea excited me. It was like having a huge version of my yard back on Earth to explore. And there was nothing artificial about it.

I moved further out. Hea was hot, but a breeze kept me cool. The further I progressed, the more I became aware of a dampness on my skin. There was only one logical explanation. With skies this clear, it meant there had to be a sea nearby – and the breeze was blowing sea mist onto my skin. I recalled Nenet mentioning a fresh water sea.

I continued walking, alone. Then, the edge of the Dome started to come into view. Hexagon shapes weaved into one another high up into the air. I was starting to see the true scale of the Dome. It was about 8 miles across diagonally. And it was nothing but a big circular wall with no roof. It was when I traced the wall all the way up to its highest that I saw a figure moving about on its edge. I squinted.

“Max?” I whispered to no one in particular.

How the hell did he get way up there and how was he balancing so perfectly on the rim? Clearly he didn’t have a fear of heights if he could prance around a surface of no more than twelve inches wide, 1.5 miles into the sky. It was obviously the ideal vantage point. He would be able to see miles into any direction with his augmented eyes.

I continued watching him, racking my brain on how he got up there. When he noticed me, he stopped and turned towards me. I gasped. He came closer to the edge. What the hell was he doing? He’s going to jump…

“No! Don’t do it!” I yelled.

Max dropped off the edge along with my heart. Instantly the wall pulled him to it, like a magnet pulling to steel. He landed with his feet horizontally against the wall and carelessly walked down its side. I frowned. Once he was on the ground, whatever pulled him against the wall switched off and he was able to walk upright again.

As Max came up to me, he gave me his usual blasé smirk. I crossed my arms, partly to show him how cross I was, and also to calm myself down. “What are you laughing at? I thought you were going to fall to your death,”

Max shook his head and lifted up his leg to show me the soles of his prosthesis. “Magnetic soles. Kind of turns me into a lizard, only at will of course, although I do enjoy walking on the ceiling more than on the floor.”

Right. So that’s why he isn’t afraid of heights. He can walk on any surface, horizontal or vertical. I noticed he looked different than the day before, but not in a good way. He seemed older, or maybe just tired.

“Ready for training?” Max asked.

“Uh,” I scratched my head. “Sure.”

“Right.” Max brought up the holographic device on his wristpad. It activated itself on command straight from his brain. He punched in a couple of commands at a speed only a machine can master. Or a really advanced hacker.

He looked at me and smiled mischievously. “Right, let’s race!”

“What? Me and you?” I had already had one race with Max the first day we met. There was no way I could keep up with him. Was he being serious?

“Yes. Let’s finish what you started when we met. Pretend like I’m a scary robot man chasing you.”

I burst out into laughter. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Max sighed. “Yeah on second thought, I’m not really into it either. I just need you to run as fast as you can so I can scan your lung function.”

I gulped. “Max, I’ll die. I’m not allowed to run…”

“I’m not going to let you die,” he said. His face, changed. The warmth in his eyes left, and he suddenly seemed cold and detached.

His visor formed around his face out of thin air. I guessed that he was going to follow me.

“How do you do that?” I asked.

“Hyperspace technology. All our tech is linked up to us so we can call them here when we want, but they are stored in an alternate dimension as bits of data. It works the same way as the Leap Oscillator, only the material isn’t actually in any specific location, but its information is scattered and suspended, until we transfer it here. All the things I need are connected to me by a single fragment of their information in a small microchip underneath my skin.”

“Is there a limit to the amount of stuff you can store there?” I asked.

“No.” Max said. A rifle appeared in his hand.

I felt my heart in my throat. He’s just trying to scare me. It’s not going to work… “How many weapons do you have there?”

“Many.” He answered coldly.

“You’re not serious about this running thing, are you?” I asked, careful to hide my nervousness. But I knew the effort was futile. He would already have picked up my racing pulse on his visor. “You won’t hurt me,” I said, more to myself than to him.

Max didn’t answer me. He continued to tread closer silently, like a predator cornering its prey.

“Max,” I said, “I can’t run…” I treaded backwards.

Still, no answer came from him. His helmet made him look even more like a machine, even more threatening.

I didn’t know what to think. Suddenly I heard the loud noise of the gun, dust flew up where he loosed the bullets on the ground, inches in front of my feet. I recoiled.

“Max!” I yelled.

But Max wasn’t there. It was only the machine, this one was even worse than the one I saw the first time I came here. More rounds touched down millimetres before the tips of my shoes. I retreated and started running in the opposite direction. I glanced over my shoulder. He stood still. He was giving me a head start. I turned my head back. I had to put as much distance between us as I could, now. My mind spinned. Why? What the hell just happened? And where is the f****** exit?

What seemed like hours passed as I struggled on, then I glanced back again, and Max was gaining on me very quickly, despite the distance I put between us. I heard rounds go off, and dust flew up around me as he started shooting at me again, forcing me to zigzag across the sand to get out of the way. I willed my legs to run faster. My heart was pumping wildly, my lungs were on fire. They refused to give me the oxygen I needed, and as a result my legs were starting to cramp up. I briefly glanced over my shoulder. Max was so close now he could jump on me. Run, you useless legs! Run! The next moment Max was running next to me. Then he passed me at my top speed like it was a piece of cake. He ran far out in front of me. There was no human that would be able to keep up with that. He stopped a few metres ahead.

I stopped running and drew in breath, but I didn’t get nearly as much as I needed. Each following breath became more constricted. My legs cramped up. I drew my hand to my chest and shut my eyes. Can’t. Breathe. I kneeled down. My vision went black.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2.6

I faintly felt a mask being put over my face. Oxygen flooded the mask, but I couldn’t take it in. A firm hand pressed against my chest, and a pin of some sort darted through my skin, then bounced back instantly again. I couldn’t even feel any pain. Suddenly my lungs felt like they expanded and opened. When I breathed in, the oxygen from the mask burned through my nose all the way down my throat. But it felt wonderful.

My foggy head cleared and I looked to my right to see Max above me. I noticed now that my head was resting in his hand. He suddenly had an oxygen tank with the extending mask on his back; another thing he keeps tucked away in his own little part of hyperspace…

“Oh my god you’re an asshole,” I whispered.

Max smiled gently, his emotions suddenly back. “Shut up and breathe.”

“You could’ve hurt me, you know.” I could feel my eyes tear up. Stupid! Stupid!

As if I hadn’t been through enough, a pistol materialized in Max’s hand and he fired it right at my leg. I reflexively jumped and cried out. But there was no pain, and when I looked, there was no blood either. There wasn’t even a scratch. I glared confusingly at Max.

“Blanks,” he said, “Light and sound only. They only disturb the dust on the ground. Did you honestly think I would use live ammunition in training? I know I look like a killing machine. I’m not.”

I tried to calm my racing heart as I looked at the gun. “Why the hell did you do that?” I half-yelled, a pathetic attempt at controlling my anger.

Max answered calmly, it irritated me even more. “Because it’s the only way I can push you past your perceived limits. Honestly, did you ever think you could run as fast or as long as you did just now?”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. “No,” I admitted sheepishly.

He nodded, and the seriousness faded a little. “You never would have tried if I didn’t push you. Out in the field, there aren’t nice robot men who have mercy on you. It’s kill or be killed.”

He was right. Sadly. “Did I pass the test?” I asked, deflated.

Max chuckled, and I saw that tiredness in his eyes again. “No. You failed. I’ll give you an F-.”

He stood up and extended his mechanical hand to me, just like the first time we met. My heart dropped, and not just from exhaustion. I took his hand and he pulled me up.

I couldn’t look him in the eye. I was useless. I can’t even make the grade to be a scientist on another planet. “Are you going to send me back to Earth?” I asked softly.

“Don’t be silly. Speed isn’t everything.” He patted me on the back. “Your lungs are what’s useless. They are three quarters weaker than the average human’s. So now we have to work on you getting stronger and honing combat technique. Ara will have to figure something out with your lungs.”

At least there was some scope for improvement. We started walking back in the direction of the Dome. I continued staring at the ground. I didn’t know I had so little lung function left, and only at age sixteen. “Stronger?” I asked, realizing what he’d said a little late.

“Yeah. You’re looking a little soft around the edges.” Max grinned cockily.

I rolled my eyes.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get some good muscle on you in no time.”

“Why does a scientist need to learn combat techniques?” I asked.

“You don’t want to be stuck in a lab all the time, do you?”

I shook my head. “I want to come with you.” If that was at all possible…

Max smiled and nodded. “Well, then you’ll have to learn how to operate in my world, outside the Dome. You need to know how to defend yourself.”

“How did you learn to defend yourself?” I asked cautiously. I figured this would fall in the realm of personal questions.

Max was silent for a bit, confirming my suspicion. But he actually answered me this time!

“The Zolke taught me.”

“The Zolke?” I asked.

“The people that, made, me.” Max said flatly.

I wanted to ask more, but his deflated tone of voice kept me from it. But as usual, my curiosity got the better of me. This was important!

“Max,” I sighed, “I know there are some things you’re not telling me. And I need to know them because they could influence my decision to stay here or to stay on Earth. You understand that, don’t you?”

Max half smiled. “You want information? Go ask Ara. She’ll tell you everything you need to know. And when you’re ready to hear more, you can come to me.”

“Why can’t you just tell me?” I asked, irritated that he can’t just trust me and be open.

Max stopped and turned to look me in the eye. “Because you can’t unhear what I’m going to tell you. And if you can’t handle what Ara is going to tell you, you won’t be able to handle my side of the story.”

I sighed, seeing that I’ll get nowhere “Fine.”

A little bit of silence passed. “Something in you changed back there,” I said.

“Zolke can turn off their emotions, to an extent. I did it so my feeling sorry for you didn’t get in the way of my work.” He admitted.

“Why would,” I couldn’t even finish the sentence. It seemed inconceivable to me that someone would willingly want to switch off their emotions.

Max sighed and we stopped walking. “I can’t let my fears get in the way of my work, Rain. So I use the ability, when it’s needed.”

“You have fears?” I asked. A big muscled machine man like him?

He smiled lightly at me. “I have ghosts that follow me. They can be, persistent, sometimes.”

I silently stared at him. “You look really tired today. I mean,” I giggled uncomfortably, “You look, old, today. Does that make sense?”

He shut his eyes briefly then smiled. “Yeah. Stress does that to you.”

Before I could probe further, a rumbling reverberated through the ground from far ahead. I squinted, and in the distance I could make out some sort of dune buggy coming straight at us.

“He’s always late.” Max sighed.

“Who?”

“Mouse.”

“Lance? The technician?” I asked, surprised that someone like that would be out here.

“Yup. “ Max nodded.

Lance brought the vehicle to a halt a few feet from us, with dust flying up into the air all around him, and into our eyes. Max coughed as the dust invaded his throat, and I found it strangely welcoming that he had this very normal, very human reaction.

“Need a ride?” he yelled.

“Hell yeah,” I sighed, “My legs are killing me.” I wasted no time in climbing into the dune buggy. “Aren’t you coming, Max?”

Max smiled. “I think I’ll walk. Or actually, run.”

“You won’t outrun me this time! This baby’s got a whole new engine,” Mouse declared firmly.

I glanced between the two of them. “You’re going to race?” Really? What’s with these people and running?

Mouse chuckled. “This challenge has been going on for a long time,”

“And you lose every time,” Max taunted.

I laughed, “Are you kidding? Max, you can’t outrun this buggy! Not with those heavy legs of yours,”

“You’re quite right,” Max nodded. The prosthesis below his quads dissolved into hyperspace and in their place appeared a set that resembled the old prosthetic blades they supposedly had on Earth years ago, but the design of these were much more streamlined. They reminded me of photos I saw of some extinct predator cat species. Max’s helmet appeared around his face.

“Get strapped in Rain,” Mouse said as he brought glasses over his eyes to keep the dust out of them.

“You’re kidding, right?” I panicked, as I frantically pulled every strap I could find around my body. Eventually I managed to fasten them all in a somewhat appropriate manner, but my lankiness meant that they weren’t nearly as tightfitting as I wanted them to be.

No sooner had I fastened the last strap, and Mouse plunged his foot down on the power. The wheels spun mounds of dust and sand into the air, hiding Max in a cloud through which I couldn’t see a thing. We took off. The dune buggy glided over the sand with nearly zero resistance. The speeds increased to 70mph, much faster than I was expecting it to go on such loose sand.

I held on for dear life and tried to keep my stomach from falling out of my mouth as the buggy slid across the sand and over smaller dunes, sometimes leaving us hanging in the air momentarily.

I turned my head to the right and gaped when I saw Max keeping up right beside us.

“Oh no you don’t!” Mouse yelled. He forced more power into the buggy, but it was nearing top speed.

Max matched the vehicle’s speed for a few seconds. Then he overtook us with so much ease that I couldn’t believe it.

“How is that even possible!” I shouted.

“Argh, back to the drawing board.” Mouse shouted back over the sound of the engine.

“How fast is he running?” I asked.

Mouse looked on his computer, “Looks like a comfortable 85mph.”

My eyes nearly fell out of my head at the possibility that a, uh, human, could run that fast. And Mouse knew this! “Did you honestly race to beat him?”

“Nah, Ara says I have to give his machinery a good run through every now and then. This is the best way to do it without having to tie him down in a lab chair. Trust me, strapping him down is something you don’t want to ever witness in your life. Everything works really efficiently when he runs like that. But I guess there is that element of winning that would be nice,”

Minutes later we arrived back at the Dome, with Max waiting for us at the entrance and wearing a big grin of victory.

“Well since you won the race, your prize is that we need your help in Assembly.” Mouse said sarcastically.

“Installed the engine in the wrong end again, did you?” Max asked.

“No, we need your help with the wiring. Communication between the computer and the components keep waning.”

Max came up to Mouse and placed his arm around the little man’s shoulders. He was a good 3 feet taller than Mouse. “Ah Lance, what did I tell you about listening to the machine? It tells you what it wants, and you have to work with it instead of against it,” Max looked at me over his shoulder, “You can go inside. Ara will probably want to see you. I’ve sent your data to her.”

“Will I see you again at dinner?” I asked, feeling strangely panicked at the prospect of him declining.

Max nodded as he and Mouse walked off.

I took in the world around me. Everything happened so fast, only now was I able to feel the heat of the day, to feel the tightening in my chest loosen from the oxygen I had received. I guessed the time to be around three o’clock. My legs became heavy as fatigue set in, now that I was settling down. How had time passed so quickly?
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 2.7

I made my way inside. The Dome in its whole was so large that I still felt lost without help. Fortunately there were maps everywhere. I finally found Ara’s lab, and knocked softly on the door.

“What!” came the get-out-of-my-sight-I’m-busy answer.

I shut my eyes. I wasn’t good at handling conflict. I had to turn around, clearly now wasn’t a good time. I wanted to answer, but my throat was shut. Changing my mind, I turned around to go find Nenet.

“Wait,” Ara called from inside, and I stopped in my tracks, “Sorry, come in Rain.”

She read my mind again. I gently turned the handle and the lock clicked open. The door softly glided open and I found Ara, just like the first time, underneath the medical bed. She rolled out on the crawler and got up.

“Uh, you okay?” I asked, seeing the obvious look of human frustration on this alien’s face.

“I don’t have the proper equipment to fix this thing,” Ara sighed, “I’ll have to go shopping soon.”

“Shopping?” I giggled, “Where would you go shopping here? We’re in space.”

“Well, these kinds of things can only be found on the black market,” Ara scratched her head. “Like most of the stuff I use,”

I laughed, “On Earth?”

Ara frowned. “No, kid. I can’t even find a nail that fits this thing on your planet. Anyway, that’s not the point. You’re here about your results, yeah?” She walked over to her desk and picked up her holo-tablet.

I nodded. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason I was here. But I felt the frustrated vibes roll off Ara, so I didn’t think it was a good time to discuss, the other issue.

Right on cue, Ara asked, “But, that’s not the only reason you’re here, is it?”

“I thought we were done with you reading my mind,” I said flatly. Truthfully, I didn’t really mind it anymore.

“I didn’t read yours…” Ara said.

“Max?” I asked.

Ara threw the holo-tab back down on the desk and leaned against it, heaving a heavy sigh. “Shit. He always does this to me.”

I felt like a child being scolded all of a sudden for walking in on something I shouldn’t have, or for going into a room I was told not to. “I…”

“No, no. It’s fine. I get it. You need to know.” Ara brought her hands up to stop my protesting.

“You know we’re at war with Earth, right?” Ara asked, crossing her arms as if to protect herself.

“I kind of gathered that. I didn’t think it was war, though.” I mean, life went on on Earth. There were no giant tanks, no artillery being fired in the suburban areas or even in the cities. Everything was quiet.

“Well, it is. It’s been going on for the better part of eight years now, ever since the first human rebellion rose against your government. But then, it became…” Ara sighed again, “…a galactic war.”

I frowned. “How?” We can’t even get past our own Moon, how would we engage in war with an alien species?

Ara was silent for a bit, perhaps considering whether she really should tell me the truth or not. “Humans don’t tend to get along very well with species outside their own planet. Of course, there are exceptions. Everyone working here is an exception. But most humans on Earth, except for that 2%, generally want to kill or torture anything that isn’t like them. And well, they even do that to their own kind.”

“Six years ago, I was on Earth with Nenet and Emil. They saved my life. And in return, I promised to help them get off the planet. There was a better future for humanity out here. But there were things they needed before we left. It was important information they had gathered about the human genome, information we would need later on to prepare human colonists for living in space. The information was left behind when they fled their workplace, that tall white building that seems to be the centre of everything in Athes,”

“The seat of government,” I recognized it all too well. I sat on my lawn many nights staring at it, coming up with what my adopted mother and father called conspiracy theories; most of which turned out to be true by the looks of it.

“Among other things, yes.” Ara continued, “I volunteered to get the information for them. They fought against the idea, but eventually they decided that it had to be me. I was faster and stronger than they were, I had technology on my side. And of course, when they fled their faces had been plastered on every WANTED wall in the building and around town. Nobody would recognize me. I had the biggest chance of getting out alive with the data intact. I had the Leap Oscillator on standby for our getaway. It only had enough charge to get us back to their hidden lab. Then, the next charge would have to take us off the planet,”

I sat down on the chair. I thought I could see a hint of angst in Ara’s eyes. Whatever it was, she was clearly reliving it.

“I used a cloaking device, so I was able to sneak past everyone unnoticed. I got the data, and got out. But before I was able to get to the car, something stopped me. I saw chaos, heard frantic voices, and I saw pain. Lots of it. And, I felt an eerie familiarity about it all.”

“You heard someone’s mind?” I asked.

Ara was silent for a moment, her eyes distant. “I felt conflicted. I knew I had little time to get out of there, but I couldn’t bring it over myself to leave that energy. Nenet and Emil shouted at me to get a move on, but I turned back.” Ara took a deep breath.

“I started walking to the left side of the building. And I caught a whiff of, death. Rotting flesh. It turned my stomach upside down, but the pull of that mind was too strong for me to turn back. I kept moving forward, keeping my cloaking device on. My mind was in a conflict of its own. I knew I was putting Nenet and Emil in danger by making them wait so long. It wouldn’t be long before the guards would discover them. We’d timed the escape to a change in their shifts, when nobody would be there. And our time was almost up.”

I must look like a small child listening to a story of Red Riding Hood. And this was the part where Red kills the Big Bad Wolf with a rifle. I hope.

“I turned the corner and discovered a huge heap of human bodies. Some were mutated, some were disembowelled, decapitated. The sounds of that frantic mind came from somewhere in this heap. I felt sick at what humanity did to their own kind. Living beings, tossed away like trash. I couldn’t fathom how anything there could still be alive. The closer I came, the stronger the lure became. And the more familiar. I walked around the heap, and traced the sounds I was hearing to a young man on the ground. He was grossly mutilated. His arms and legs had been sawed off, and everything I saw in his mind suggested that this had been done with him fully conscious. The pain I sensed in made my stomach turn into knots. And by some miracle he was still alive, though just barely. I kneeled down beside him, and turned off my cloaking device so he could see me, if he could see at all. I laid my hand down on his chest, the only intact piece of his body, and that’s when I realised what was pulling me to him,”

“What?” I asked a little too quickly.

“Uvians always recognize their pod-mates. He wasn’t fully human. He was like me, like I am now. But whereas I was engineered to look like a human, he was born that way. And I had no idea how that had happened. I wasn’t just receiving the information from his mind like I do with humans. He was actively communicating with me telepathically, as we Uvians do on our home world. It was the alien that called to me for help, the human part of him didn’t realize what was happening.”

A lump formed in my throat.

“I have no idea how to even calculate the odds of me finding someone like me in the universe like that. By some means his parents had to have come into contact with the Uvian for him to even exist. Maybe the odds of that are one in a billion? And that, is how humans started a galactic war. By torturing and mutilating one of my kind. Whether they did it knowingly or unknowingly doesn’t really matter, I suppose.”

My mouth tasted bitter.

“The guards found us. And it was time to leave. But I couldn’t leave him. I used the Leap Oscillator to teleport him to the vehicle, and just as the guards open fired on us, we teleported back to Nenet’s lab. But try as they might, they couldn’t help him. All they could do was keep him somewhat stable. I knew human methods would never save him. So on the day we left the planet, the first place we went was Zion, home world of the Zolke.”

“The Zolke?” I asked meekly. I couldn’t deny the picture that was coming together in my head.

“A highly advanced machine-race that helped us Uvians evolve from our fragile jelly bodies to machine bodies, so we could advance on our planet. Nenet and Emil didn’t think he would survive it, but I knew better. He was never meant to be a human. He was Uvian. And becoming a machine was the evolution of my species. It would be his identity, along with a new name,”

I shut my eyes momentarily. “Max,” I whispered.

Ara smiled and nodded lightly. “They rebuilt him, and he became a part of them. The Zolke may be many machines, but they are all one mind. They call it streaming, and Max tapped into this network of communication long before he knew what it was. He could understand and communicate with the machines. And with me,”

Ara sighed, “We watched as they rebuilt his body. Nenet and Emil couldn’t believe how his flesh moulded with the machinery, like it was meant to be that way. And when he came to, I showed him all the best and most beautiful memories I had of Nenet and Emil. He wouldn’t have trusted them otherwise, like he didn’t trust any human. He would’ve killed them.”

“Max, kill a human?” I was hesitant to believe that. But I could be wrong, he shot at me in the field. I think Max is like one of those supercomputers on Earth; really efficient and pretty hard to understand.

Ara smiled. “You wouldn’t have recognized Max six years ago, Rain. He was as alien amongst humans as alien could be. He didn’t know how to speak properly, he didn’t know what he could and couldn’t eat, he didn’t know how to use a knife and fork. One of the things that surprised Nenet the most was how quickly his brain absorbed information. He could quickly flick through a book he’s never read before and tell you exactly what’s in it. In fact, he doesn’t even need to open it. That’s what he did with dictionaries. And then he learned grammar and context through watching television. That’s how he learned to speak like a normal person. He didn’t even have his sense of humour back then, in fact, he didn’t know how to manipulate his mouth to smile.”

A Max that can’t smile? Outrageous.

“How did you choose his name?” I asked.

“We didn’t, he chose his own name.” Ara said, “It was a name he saw on the cover of a comic book. Commander Max and the Scorpion Galaxy was its name. I still wonder why he was attracted to that particular book as oppose to all the others. He’d read many different names by that time.”

I giggled as I pictured him being a space adventurer. “I guess I could see how he felt attracted to that name.”

Though I smiled, I noticed my hands trembling. My mind was struggling to comprehend that my own species was capable of doing something like this. And they might not have even known that he was Uvian; they thought he was human. They would do this to other humans…And for what?

“I would’ve shown you my memories of this, but I’m thinking that maybe you’ve heard enough.” Ara said.

I shook my head. “I don’t want to see something I can’t unsee.” I’ve already heard something I can’t unhear.

“Humans started this war.” Ara said flatly as she turned to her desk.

I nodded thoughtfully. “They always do.”

Silence passed.

“Max is important, Rain.” Ara looked at the medical bed. “He’s like, a dying angel.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Max is a rare breed. He has a genetic mutation that links back hundreds of thousands of star years, to the time where the Zolke were still biologicals. The Zolke had some among them that they called Healers. They could cure any disease in the Universe. Max can build up immunity to anything, that’s what the human government wanted.”

I was right all along. And no one believed me. “They engineer the illnesses, and sell the cures for millions of dollars.”

Ara nodded. “Every medicine you’ve ever received was, at least partly, engineered around Max’s antibodies. But like you said, they engineer the illnesses. So what you received was never pure, just a weakened form of the real thing.”

“Max’s antibodies are important,” she walked over to the medical bed and ran her hand along its surface. “These beds are all programmed around his genome. They can heal any species, of any illness.” She sighed heavily. “Except Max.”

I gaped at her. “What do you mean?”

“Something went haywire with his DNA because of what happened to him on Earth. Infants are vulnerable to such things. The experimentation began when he was just a couple of weeks old. There was another genetic mutation, but a bad one.” Ara looked at me. “Max’s body is disintegrating. His bones are becoming thinner, in a couple of years his skull would be so thin that, if he just bumps it lightly, it’ll crack like an egg. And I can’t have Max die, someone like him only comes along once every hundred thousand star years.”

I gulped and felt my eyes tear up. “So that’s what you’re working on every night?”

Ara smiled. “There’s a way of solving the problem now. But it means that he has to become a complete Zolke, and I don’t want that. I still want his humanity to be a part of him. I don’t want him to have the face of a robot, or the mechanical voice with no warmth. I would never see him laugh again. Then, there’s another option. But it’s impossible.”

“What?” I asked.

“Another Healer. Someone like him would be able to save him. The Zolke would be able to fix his DNA by copying a sample of the healthy Healer.”

“Don’t they have a memory of it? I mean, can’t they just replicate it?” I asked.

Ara nodded. “They have the memory, but even they can’t create it from scratch. They need a real sample.”

My eyes teared up. “Does he, know? About the beds?”

“Of course he does. He willingly donates his antibodies to the beds. Humanity’s escapades with him had another unfortunate side-effect…”

How much worse could it get? “What?”

“Sterility.” Ara said. “Max can never have children. The medical beds are sort of his way of leaving a piece of himself behind in the Universe. To everyone, except humanity.”

I nodded lightly. “Just the colonists?”

“Yes.” Said Ara.

Silence.

“I can’t believe how he could be so, happy, all the time.” I said.

Ara smiled. “Max’s smile is a gesture of rebellion against the darkness.”

“He said if I can’t handle what you’re going to tell me, I won’t be able to handle what he has to say. What more is there?”

Ara sighed and took the holo-tab to finally go through my results. “The gory details. There are some who have actually gone to him to hear about it.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think I’ll be one of them.”

---------------------------------------------------------END OF CHAPTER 2------------------------------------------------------------
 

guibo94

Member
Gladiator from New Asgard
Posts: 12
"Silent but deadly."
I wanted ask you if you have sent this to an editor or anything like that? Is this a rough draft or first draft or both? Do you have any writing experience or courses in school/college? I like the story so far and I am only in the prologue. You put a lot of work into this! Keep it coming
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
I wanted ask you if you have sent this to an editor or anything like that? Is this a rough draft or first draft or both? Do you have any writing experience or courses in school/college? I like the story so far and I am only in the prologue. You put a lot of work into this! Keep it coming
Hi! No this is me editing. So still seeing some errors while I go. No writing college, and sadly I don't have the funds for a true editor. Lol. Thanks for reading :)
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 3.1

“Rain, you haven’t touched your dinner,” said Nenet, “That soup doesn’t taste great when it’s cold, you know.”

“I’m not very hungry. Must be the training.” I answered as casually as I was able.

“You’ll never gain muscle that way.” Ara chimed in. She knew the real reason I didn’t have any appetite.

“Hm.” I mumbled. I drew circles on the table with my spoon. I wasn’t particularly worried about myself at the moment. I was having trouble processing what I’d heard. It boggled my mind that people on Earth allowed that kind of stuff to go on without batting an eye. My heart felt crushed when I thought about the rest of the kids who might be in that modern, sleek apartment of hell. How could people just not care? How did I fit into a world like that?

“Where’s Max?” Pranav asked.

“Working on the SS Orion as far as I know.” Ara said. She took a huge bite of her Crimson Root burger at which I raised my eyebrow. Did she have an augmented jaw or something?

“What’s the SS Orion?” I asked, trying to steer my mind in a different direction.

Pranav smiled smugly. “Ah, just your average battle spaceship. But it’s nothing like those heavy eyesores you see in the movies. This one is lightweight, sleek, and you’d have to have pretty decent artillery to be able to shoot it down. She’s going to be very fast and maneuverable yet incredibly strong thanks to her Lusphalt body.”

“Lusphalt?” I asked.

“A metal that’s lighter than aluminium, but six hundred times stronger than steel.” Ara said, following that with another huge bite of her burger, even bigger than the previous one.
“How would you control something like that in space?” I wondered.

“The same way Max walks on walls, with gravity-control devices.” Nenet said.

I nodded slightly, my mind taking me back to that tall, white Trojan horse in the middle of Athen. “So, is that the big ship I saw in Assembly?”

“No, that’s the CS Independence. It’s the cruise ship we will use to bring home the colonists.”

Bring home. Pranav already talked like Nern was his home. I wasn’t quite there yet. But, I didn’t want to be a part of Earth anymore. It was an embarrassment. And there was nothing homey about it. Home is where people accept you as you are. It’s a safe place. Maybe in the past that was Earth, but not today. I didn’t have a home now. I was floating in the middle of nowhere.

“CS Independence sounds so, militaristic.” I remarked, maybe a tad bit late, “I just kind of dubbed it the Mothership when I first saw it. Because when you think about it, you guys are technically ET’s now.”

Pranav raised his eyebrow and looked at Ara, who pulled her shoulders up.

“I kinda like it,” Ara admitted.

“I’m not surprised,” Pranav said.

“What will happen once you’ve brought the colonists here?” I asked. I needed something, anything, to hold onto. What would my role be in all of this once the mission was over? Would it be better on Nern than on Earth? What was the future like?

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Proper housing would need to be built, we could establish individual gardens for the people and teach them how to grow and find their own food. They need to be familiarised with the environment outside the Dome. We need to establish a means of travel, medical facilities.”

“Schools would have to be set up to teach them how to get around and function in space. They would need to learn a whole set of new skills, from piloting to engineering to mechanics, how to engage with different species…I could go on. There are years of work ahead of us.” Nenet said.

“You want them to go outside the Dome?” I frowned, “So, we would have to train them?”

Ara and Nenet exchanged glances. Ara abruptly stopped chewing, Nenet cleared her throat. Okay, there was something that wasn’t being shared with me. But at this point I really didn’t care, so long as I had some sort of purpose here.

“There are safe and unsafe places to go outside the Dome,” Ara explained carefully, “They wouldn’t need much training, but they would need some light form of defence when they go out. It’s really only the wild creatures on Nern that they need to be cautious of. But they aren’t all out to kill them. We don’t kill the animals. We just stun them long enough to get away.”

Nenet peeked at her watch. She shook her head. “Rain, would you go find Max? Dinner time is almost over and he hasn’t eaten.” I felt like she changed the subject just to evade my questions. And I didn’t particularly like the way this was going.

“I doubt he’d want to,” said Ara. I kicked myself for feeling slightly relieved at that. “But go find him anyway.” She added.

I sighed.

I nodded, then rose from the table and exited the Mess Hall.

After losing my way multiple times through sheer absent-mindedness, I finally stumbled onto Assembly. My heart was jumping wildly. I didn’t really want to see Max after what I’d been told. What would I say to him? The huge, metal doors were very slightly opened and I was able to squeeze through easily, thanks to my petite frame. It felt ghostly that such a large space was empty of people. I momentarily imagined this to be an abandoned building, and here I was, knowingly on another planet. The only human here. I shivered. I tried to lighten my steps as best I could, so that the echo of my footsteps didn’t quake through the building. All the technicians were off-duty, all but one judging by the faint sounds of a wrench.

I stalked around for at least half an hour, inspecting every vehicle and robot, trying to understand their way of working. The closer I came to the SS Orion, the louder the wrenching sounds became. The other presence in the hanger relieved the eerie feeling.

The size of the ship really hit me when I came up close to it. It was ten times the size of my double story house, if not larger. And the Mothership was even bigger. The engineers had only begun to piece together the hull of the ship with Lusphalt, but much of the construction was still only the skeleton. The electronics seemed to be in place at least in some positions.

I followed the wrenching sounds and stopped inches before an exposed bionic foot on the floor. I sighed quietly. “Hi.” I peeped.

Max rolled out from underneath the ship on the crawly, and laid the wrench down on his chest. I noticed now that he wasn’t wearing armour plating, just a silver and navy suit. He kept his face neutral and for a second, it almost seemed like he read me.

“Dining hall is that way,” he said, cocking his head. And he skid back under the ship.

“Dinner is over, they sent me to come find you.” I said. Max changed wrenches.

“I’m not hungry.” He said.

I shifted around and crossed my arms. “Nenet said,” I began.

Max suddenly rolled out again and got up. “Please don’t talk about food unless you want me to throw up…” he said.

“Uh, okay…”

Obviously he saw that I wanted an explanation. “Ara pumped me full of the weirdest combination of concoctions and my stomach is in knots.”

He walked up the ramp and started to work on the wiring on one of the computers.

I figured I didn’t really want to know that the concoctions were for. “It’s kind of odd to see you without armour you know,” I said.

He chuckled. “I’m off-duty. Carrying armour around all day isn’t my thing.”

I nodded and looked at the skeleton craft. “This is a big ship for an exploration ship.”

Max followed my eyes. “Really? I think it’s a bit cramped. But it’s got everything said explorers would need. You know, the usual. Mess hall, command centre, sleeping quarters, engine room, medical facility, observatory, armoury.”

“Oh wow,”

“This here is the main deck, where the command centre will be. It’s got everything needed for year-long trips in space, or longer.” Max stared at me and smiled, and I knew he figured it out. “But you didn’t come here to talk about the SS Orion. You went to talk to Ara.”

I pushed my glasses up. Ok, now what? How would I approach him? The past sins of the human race all came crashing down on me. Max was Uvian. And I felt like I had to repent for the sins of humanity and give some sort of weak apology to him for all the hell my species had put him through.

“Don’t make things awkward between us.” Max said.

I couldn’t look him in the eye. “I, I just feel like,”

“No,” Max interrupted me, “Don’t apologize for something that isn’t your fault,”

I frowned. It was my natural inclination to apologize for everything. After all, everything was always blamed on me back home, whether it was my fault or not. It was natural to take the blame.

“I don’t want your sympathy,” Max said, “You can’t fix what happened. And don’t listen to Ara either. I’m not a ‘dying angel’ who came to save the universe. I’m just…dying. Alone.”

A dagger stabbed through my heart.

He sat down at a small round table beside the ship. “You know how long I have?” he continued. “Ara says I have five years. That’s the equivalent of a human having a month. And the medical beds? Those people don’t need to ever know my face, or my name. They just need to sit there, and get healed. You understand?”

I frowned. “Why are you being this way? I mean, what you’re doing is noble…”

He slammed his hand down on the table and I jumped. “Because I just want to be normal!”

I stared at him wide eyed. He sank down into the chair. I gulped and took a deep breath. “I get it.” I finally said. I really did.

“I know you do.” He was distant. “I’m not doing this to be some hero. I just want to be a productive part of a society for the few years I have left. I want to laugh and be normal and this is apparently the only ‘talent’ I have, so.”

I sat down opposite him. I didn’t care if it was inappropriate, I took his hand in mine. He had a strange expression on his face after that. “I get it.” I said again.

He stared at my hand. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. And don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answers to.”

My eyebrows shot up. “Did you just read my mind?” I was going to ask if he wanted to share what happened to him with me. But I supposed he picked up on my nervousness about it. What if I was opening a can of space slugs?

“Yeah I guess so. I’m not that good with it. Sometimes I can control it and other times not.”

I nodded and pushed my glasses up. That’s becoming a new nervous gesture, it seems.

He sighed. “You’re not going to drop it, are you?”

I raised my shoulders. I’m a sucker for secrets. “I feel like I need to know something. Just, don’t tell me all the gory stuff.”

Max rightly shook his head. I was clearly insane for wanting to know things that will literally keep me awake at night. “Your curiosity is going to get you into trouble.” He rubbed his neck.

“I don’t know what life was like for the other children in the facility, I never got to see them. Everyone in K7 was kept separate from the other units and sometimes, each other. They didn’t want us to ‘contaminate’ one another.”

“Contaminate?” I asked.

“If you were in the K7 unit, your DNA would’ve been vastly different from the normal human genome. Either you were grossly mutated, or you had an unusual immunity or you were a magnet for every disease on earth. Most subjects in K7 didn’t live very long. If they contracted something like the cold, they would just keel over and die. They had no immunity.”

Anger boiled up in me. Kids, treated like nothing more than parasite carrying hosts.

“The scientists were more interested in those that had a superior immunity.” Max sighed. “I’ve been purposefully infected with nearly every disease under the Earthly sun for the sake of ‘science’. Anthrax, influenza, multiple cancers at once. Even some less well-known engineered ones that were supposed to be used in biological warfare. I made it through them all.”

My throat swelled shut. “What’s it like to nearly die?” I managed to peep.

Max smiled. “I’ve nearly died a thousand times over. The last time was nothing unusual, except Ara was there. I used to think dying would be nice – pain free. Lost my fear of it, really. Until I discovered that I can actually care about something in life.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but Max held up his hand. “Don’t say you’re sorry.”

“Right…I still think you’re a hero but if it makes you feel better, I’ll just pretend you’re normal.” Goodness knows I of all people can appreciate wanting to be normal…

“I appreciate it,”

The heaviness in the air lifted. “Good to know that this sun-sized ego of yours is all a façade. I was beginning to think you were a pimp.” I joked.

He laughed heartily, the warmth of it taking away the last of the cold awkwardness I was feeling. Maybe Healers were Soothers too?

We rose from the table and Max placed his arm around my shoulder, leading me out of Assembly. “I gotta put some personality into this tin can of mine – most of which I got from Bugs Bunny. Can I interest you in a bowl of Cheerios?”

I squirmed at the thought. “No thanks. So when do I get to meet the Zolke?”

Max looked at me like no one in the right mind would actually suggest something like that. “You want to meet them? I’m not sure you’ll like them. They’re pretty wired, if you know what I mean.”

I rolled my eyes. “Lame.”

Max laughed. “I’ll take you to the Arc sometime.”

“The Arc?” What? Noah’s Arc?

“It’s my local joint.”

“Joint?” My eyes widened.

Max sighed. “Man, we need to get you out on the streets! Come on, I’ll accompany you to go and have your bowl of space salad or whatever it is that you people eat. I’ll just turn off the smell sensor so I don’t gag.”

I giggled as we left the building.

***
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 3.2

A couple more days passed where Max drilled the lights out of me. I had to do everything from leopard crawling to scaling up the wall of the Dome (I never got to the top with my weak arms), shooting and actually hitting the target, and the worst of all was the push-ups. Not only did I have to lift my own bodyweight, but Max used me as a human recliner. He placed his prosthetic legs, which weigh a ton, on my back while I had to do the push-ups. With every struggle to the top (I only lasted for a single push-up each time), I silently wished I could land my fist on the very human part of his face that was his jaw. I had no idea how he carried those heavy legs, he must have quads of steel. Hell hath no fury the way he went on with me, and my begging earned me nothing but a static, robotic stare. I guess it was all for my future improvement.

And then came the day to go back home.

As I watched Pranav and Ara prepare the Leap Oscillator, a strange concrete block formed in my belly and my heart. I wanted to cry, but I put up dams so I didn’t look like the baby I was. It felt like I was leaving home. I was amazed that I’ve formed such a bond with this place and these people in such a short time. And I haven’t even officially made a decision, have I?

I reminded myself of the silver bracelet Pranav gave me. I would still be able to communicate with them, but that wasn’t as reassuring as I wanted it to be. It was a painful reminder of how far away they were.

“All ready?” Ara asked.

“All systems go,” Pranav replied.

Ara stood next to me and extended her hand, gesturing for me to stand on the marker on the floor in front of the machine. I exhaled my tears back as I stepped forward. I placed my feet on the marker and turned around so I could look at the people I’m leaving behind. I felt like I had to freeze their faces in my mind, in case something went wrong and I was never able to return.

I first looked at the closest thing to parents I’ve had in my life, Nenet and Emil. I haven’t known them long, but they have such an incredible nurturing energy.
Then I looked at Ara, whom I’ve come to think of as something of an older sister; a punk-rocker older sister who would totally tell me to do what my heart says and screw the rest of the world.

Finally I spared a glance for Max, who looked at me as though he was fully aware of everything going on in my head. His eye augmentation wasn’t active, and I could see the green colour of his eyes. I thought I saw a hint of sadness in them, but I couldn’t be sure. He was naturally very good at hiding his emotions. Something we had in common. I suspected that there was no terrorist anywhere in the universe who would be able to break him for information. We never even went outside the Dome; I just wasn’t strong enough to even be able to carry armour yet.

Pranav started the machine. The coils started spinning, gaining speed with every second. The crystal lit up as it started to generate energy. I lifted my hand. Before my eyes I watched it disintegrate into tiny specks and disappear, like I’ve watched Max’s visor appear and disappear from hyperspace. The same started happening to the rest of my body. The room with everyone in it was replaced by a spiralling swirl of stars and gasses. I saw myself moving through this tunnel faster than I could ever run. The star spiral was replaced by the gloomy, pinkish grey landscape of Earth. In the distance, the fracking machines kept working. My mood sank deeper into the ground than they did.

The artificial grass that was my lawn was littered with my notebooks. I had long since forgotten what I was studying. It felt like parts of my memory were missing, no doubt owing to the Leap Oscillator’s time-bending capabilities. More than a week had passed on Nern, while little more than an hour had passed on Earth. I still had most of the weekend to myself, and an entire week of school ahead of me. Motivation to do anything evaded me. Earth was small. My experiments were small. Unimportant.

Then all of a sudden I was hit with a barrage of smoke, or so it felt. Suddenly I had become aware of the heaviness of the air around me, and the cloying smell of metal mixed with some chemical. My chest tightened immediately, and my eyes became teary. Exhaustion overwhelmed me, and I became aware of a tightness radiating all throughout my body, though I was pretty sure that that was due to my heavy training. Breathing was laborious, and I found myself wishing that I had Max’s cybernetic lungs to help me. Was it always this difficult?

I made my way into the house to stop the attack on my senses. I dragged myself up the stairs to my bedroom with heavy legs which I attribute to the million and one lunges the friendly neighbourhood cyborg had me do. I plopped down on the bed on my belly and reached below the bed for my wooden treasure box. It was filled with all kinds of useless trinkets I’ve saved up through my childhood. Suddenly, they all seemed insignificant, all but one. It was the photo of my real parents.

I finally found the small photo below everything else, and I stared at it. Both the man and the woman in the photo wore formal military attire. They both looked very happy and in love. My dad had neatly combed dark hair, and my mother sported a very precise, militaristic shoulder-length cut. Obviously I could owe my own ginger head, and all the freckles, to her. And now that I looked at my dad there was suddenly something familiar about him that I couldn’t place my finger on, something I hadn’t seen before. Strange, considering the many days I’ve spent studying their faces.

I have no idea how long I stared at the photo, but I must’ve drifted off to a deep sleep because the next time I woke up I found my adopted mother standing over my bed.
“You’re back early,” I mumbled through the grogginess.

She smiled. “We didn’t want to leave you home alone for too long,”

And by that she meant that Felice started to get uneasy. She probably thought that I would rummage through her bedroom and steal her make-up, high heels and lace panties, all things that I had absolutely no interest in but that Felice was sure I would love.

“What day and time is it?” I asked, pretending that my memory lapse really was all due to my sleep hangover, and not me spending more than a week in another galaxy, on another planet.

“It’s Sunday, 2PM.”

I cringed. I had to attend school tomorrow, and pretend that I’m not smart enough to get A’s for everything. My imagination conjured up the image of Max sitting in my Science class. I could clearly see the horrified face of Mrs. Callis when he started answering her with his science jargon language. He would attack the school bully in the middle of the courtyard. Hundreds of students would form a circle around the fight. There would be a team-Max and a team-bully. And at the end of it all, well, the bully would end up in the hospital and Max would end up in the principal’s office and be expelled from school.

Alas, he wasn’t here to deal with my school bully problem.

The rest of the day passed as usual. The more my adopted parents indulged Felice, the more out of place I felt. When I couldn’t take the alienation anymore, I went to bed. Images of stars and galaxies, the real ones, danced in my mind. The song of the flora played loud enough in my memory to eclipse the suburban sounds of the night, and lulled me to sleep.

***

I felt his hands tighten around my throat. The more I struggled against him, the tighter his grip became. I couldn’t see his face, he was wearing some freakish exoskeleton suit and a visor with red bug eyes. I was no match for his weight. He pushed me down against the asphalt of the highway. Burning buildings coughed up clouds of smoke. Weakness spread throughout my body as I became more and more deprived of oxygen. My face flushed. I couldn’t breathe. My vision started going dark. Life was leaving me…

***

I jack-knifed up in my bed. I should’ve realized that was a nightmare long ago. Why would I be out on a road somewhere with some armoured tank-asshole, when I distinctly remember going to bed? One part of the dream hadn’t left though, my chest was extremely constricted. My throat felt swollen and breathing was hard.

I reached into my bedside table drawer and pulled out my inhaler. But where it once helped my lungs, it just made it worse now. I started panicking, and hyperventilating wasn’t helping my situation. Then, I remembered Ara’s glowy balls. I’ve placed them next to my container of a billion synthetic meds in the same drawer. I haphazardly reached over the government’s drugs to the container of glow-balls and took one out. I plopped it into my mouth. It had a funny jello-like consistency. It tasted like nothing but had a funny cooling sensation in my mouth, almost like mint.

Almost immediately after swallowing the ball; my throat cleared, my lungs opened, and a flush of energy spread through me, along with a calm focus. The glow-ball took away a jittery feeling I never knew I had. I usually woke up tired, but the ball was returning life to me. I felt like I was back on Nern. I could breathe. I wanted to cry.

I forced myself to get up, and walked to the mirror to braid my hair into a single braid, then proceeded to get dressed and wash my face. After washing, I noticed in the mirror that my acne was almost entirely gone, something I’ve never experienced before. Even as a very young child I always had the bumps. I quite liked my face without it. Funny that my parents and Felice didn’t comment on that, they always seemed very interested in my zits. I collected my books and went downstairs.

With every minute inching closer to the start of school, my heart became heavier. I realized that I hated going out into the world, because it felt like I always had to put up walls to protect myself. I never felt safe, not even in my own house. I haven’t had practice in putting up any sort of wall in more than a week…My eyes teared up.

“Breakfast is ready little Bug,” Mom said, while she spooned out some boxed egg scramble over a slice of stale toast. She then piled up some cranberry flavoured, nitrogen pumped bacon strips that had been pan fried in some gooey yellow oily stuff. It looked like it came out of a sick turkey’s gallbladder.

“No thanks, I’m not hungry.” I said while I tried to keep myself from puking from the chemical smell radiating off the stuff.

“Fine, starve!” a voice came from behind me.

“Oh, hi Felice.” I said, while watching my sister take a piece of said stale bread and piling it high with preserves that had been designed and engineered to slowly eat away at one’s internal organs. I could almost see her teeth rotting away in front of my eyes. No problem, Dad would just pay for them to get replaced.

No one objected to me skipping breakfast any further and I silently sat at the table, watching them all eat their way to their graves until it was time to go to school.
The days passed so slowly I thought that the Leap Oscillator had broken the way time worked on Earth. And with each passing minute, I felt more alienated. No one could understand me. I couldn’t say anything meaningful to anyone. There was this thick blackness that came over my mind. Each time my parents indulged Felice’s trivial achievements over mine and forced me to acknowledge them in the same way, I shrunk away.

Did this whole adventure I went on really even happen? What if it was all a dream? But it couldn’t have been, because I felt it in my body. I had the glow-balls to prove it. My skin was healed. My body felt sore and I thought I saw my muscles when I looked into the mirror. My school backpack certainly was easier to carry.

There was a sinking feeling I only recognized now. I was isolated here on Earth; part of a lousy 2%. Nern was warm, welcoming. No one looked at me funny. Whenever I started thinking of the crew, I just wanted to burst out into tears. And every night I saw that tall white skyscraper looming over the city, I would have night terrors. Scarred, mutated children would scream at me in my dreams, driven insane by isolation. They would claw at me, trying to pull me into their white-lighted, chemically laden prison; or maybe they wanted me to pull them out.

I became detached from the world around me. I even got up once on Monday during a class, and walked because I didn’t think any of what was being said bore weight. My dad was called to school, and we went to the Principal’s office to deal with my behavioural problem. They talked to me and, I’m pretty sure they scolded me. But I didn’t pay attention, and I distinctly remembered telling them that nothing they did or said mattered. I remembered my adopted father pulling on my arm to try to wake me up, and I just gave him a static stare. He was there. I just couldn’t really see or hear him.

Even the school bullies left me alone, because they got absolutely no reaction out of me. They would have had to hit me in the face to wake me up, and that would land them in trouble for the first time, ever. I sat alone during recess, as I often did, only I didn’t read my books or do any experiments. I wasn’t interested in studying anything. What purpose did it have? I couldn’t just call them…after a couple of days. That would just be weak. I could surely handle staying away for a week to clear my head and make a decision. Right?

And then Wednesday happened.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 4.1

Rain

Wednesday started out like any other school day, only I had completely forgotten it was the school Talent Show. And since I didn’t have any talents apart from blabbering scientific jargon and spewing radioactive levels of sarcasm, I was commissioned to do the lightning for the show. Not an issue, I finished the sequencing on my laptop during recess in less than fifteen minutes. I was going to be low key, in the background where I belonged.

Except that’s not what happened at all.

It all started well. Two hours after school, the parents started arriving. And our school theatre started filling up with a noisy audience. I set up my gear and my computers just a few feet behind the curtains, so I could still see who was going on stage and when. I hated these kinds of public events, but at least it would be over before seven, since it was in the middle of the week. We had to be able to actually concentrate tomorrow, and that required sleep. For most people.

Felice was also going to be in the show, showing off her best cheerleading moves with her team. So was Bryan, her boyfriend, showing off his juggling, a skill that took him two years to learn from some old videos that someone downloaded from something called Youtube. It was so old my adopted grandmother would probably be old enough to remember it if she didn’t have advanced Alzheimer’s.

One by one everyone did their thing, and I kept up pretty nicely with the lightning. Bryan came up to the stage and started his juggling. His goal was to keep at it for ten minutes. And yes, this audience found juggling entertaining for that long. It went well for the first two minutes, but clearly Bryan needed another five years of practice, because he dropped one of the balls on his head. Reflexively he threw the three other balls, and two came straight for me. I managed to dodge the one, only to have the other one whack me in the eye, knocking my glasses clear off my face and sending them flying onto the stage floor.

Pain from my right eye shot into my head. I managed to open it, but found it even dimmer than my left eye. One of the school jocks came up behind me and pushed me out from my hiding spot. I scrambled onto the stage on my knees, feeling everywhere on the floor for my glasses. Everything was blurry. I could make out big blobs of color, but no solid lines or faces. I couldn’t even distinguish a chair from a refrigerator without those specs. I had a quick flashback of me eating a molded sandwich by accident one day, simply because I was unable to actually see the mold. That moldy taste came back into my mouth and made me nauseous.

It was great entertainment for the audience though. From what I could make out from my vantage point of shame on the floor, Bryan and some of his pals had found my glasses, and begun kicking them around to keep them out of my reach. It seemed that since Bryan couldn’t impress the crowd with his juggling, he’d resorted to exciting them with his football, my spectacles being the ball. Each time I missed, the audience roared. Bryan kicked it to Theo, who was behind me, but his kick wasn’t quite strong enough and the spectacles stopped inches in front of me.

I reached out my hand to grab them, and Theo’s boot pressed down on my fingers. They cracked. I yelled. Pain shot up through my hand and into my arm. He removed his big ugly foot.

And then there was a crack.

My heart stopped momentarily, so did the makeshift football game. Suddenly the pain in my hand meant nothing. The roaring audience quieted down into whispers. The spectacles were kicked in front of me, and finally I was allowed to take my glasses, well, glass. I only had one intact lens left. And I probably had five broken fingers on my right hand.

I felt the warm wetness of tears running down my cheek. The audience laughed. Yes, laughed. I got up and ran off the stage. At that point I forgot to even put my spectacles on, and I accidentally tripped over the curtain and face planted on the floor, again. The audience roared with amusement. I scurried off the stage and attempted to find my adopted parents in a sea of people ready to keel over with laughter.

They were in the tenth row, in the seats nearest to the aisle. I saw my adopted father first.

“Dad, my glasses are broken,” I said with a shaky voice and I showed him the fragments of my vision, struggling to properly hold the thing with my injured fingers.

“Oh Rain, it’s not that bad, there’s still one good one,” he took my hand and gave it a kiss. “There you go, you just put that in warm water and it’ll be better tomorrow. Now come sit down with us.”

I was speechless.

A few meagre performances without added lightning followed, until it was time to go home.

The drive back home was nothing unusual. Felice and, her parents, babbled on about Bryan’s great hand-eye coordination. I was surprised that they even knew what that meant. My hand was aching, and I had real trouble bending my fingers. And yes, I wore my glass. What could I do? I was human in my left eye, and a fly with a million-fold vision in my right. I’m getting Buggier by the day, just like Felice’s mother said I would.

Out of nowhere, Felice vehemently grabbed my sore hand. “Ow!” I yelped, the pain shooting up all the way into my shoulder.

“Is that my bangle?” she spit.

She was talking about the communication device Pranav gave me; the one I’ve basically forgotten all about until now. “No, I got it from a friend. Now let go, you’re hurting me.” I said, trying to hide the pain in my voice and miserably failing.

She shot a glare at me. “You’re lying! It IS mine! Bryan bought this for me,”

“Felice, I’m telling you it’s not,”

She grabbed the bangle to pull it off my wrist. She yelped and jerked back her hand, clasping it like the bangle was a hot stove plate or something.

“You shocked me!” she gasped, and suddenly caught the attention of the two adults who’d been casually engaged in conversation this whole time like nothing was happening. “Mom! Dad! Rain stole my bangle and booby-trapped it!”

“I didn’t,” I pleaded.

“Rain! Where are your manners? Haven’t you caused enough trouble tonight?”

“Me? I wasn’t the cause of,”

“Oh for goodness sake Rain,” Felice’s mother threw her hands up, “Take some responsibility!”

Anger boiled up inside me and burst out through my throat like a volcano, “You never listen!”

Felice’s father stopped the car. “That’s it! You can walk home from here young lady. Maybe that will give you time to think about what you’ve done. Out you get.”

I stared at this man who expected me to walk a mile home, in zero degrees, with nothing but a tank top and jeans. The day temperatures were warm in Athen, but the nights were like we were in the arctic. Like so many other things, humans have figured out a way to muck up the weather, too. And there was a storm coming in.

I figured the heat of my rage would keep my warm as I climbed out of the warmth created by the air conditioning in the car. They drove off. I started walking in the direction of their house. I resisted the temptation to just sink down and sob. These people were nothing to me. Nothing. And the feeling went both ways. Mom? Dad? If you could see me now…The skies opened up and rain starting pouring down. Great.

Eventually I made it back home, shivering from the cold and soaked. Every finger on my hand looked like a badly stuffed, aged sausage. Everyone was sitting at the dining table, casually talking over dinner. Nothing unusual.

“Go get your jacket, Bug.” The female adult said, every connection I had with these people suddenly felt severed. And the worst part is, had I not gone to Nern and realized what it was to be treated like a person, I wouldn’t even have cared about it. I was so used to this kind of treatment here.

Having nothing of value to say, I went up the stairs and dressed in dry clothing. I blow dried my hair and covered myself with the fluffiest, comfiest sweater I owned, and came back downstairs to sit at the table. I didn’t say a word, I didn’t want to get into trouble for being rude too. I rested my chin in my healthy hand, and stared at the bruised, purple one while everyone enjoyed their food. I didn’t bother taking a plate, and no one cared enough to question it.

Suddenly there were three loud knocks on the door, the kind that sounds like someone pounded it with a hammer. Ten seconds later; knock knock knock. Ten seconds later; knock knock knock. Who the hell even knocks on a door like that?

“I wonder who that could be?” The male adult said, “Would you go see who it is, Rain?”

“Gladly,” I muttered, thinking I’ll ask the unwelcome visitor what kind of an idiot knocks every ten seconds until someone opens the door.

I walked to the door and opened it. I gasped, slack-jawed.

“This kind of idiot does that,” Max said, grinning from ear to ear.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 4.2


He looked like some badass biker boy with jeans, a leather jacket and black gloves. Or maybe like someone who committed a murder and just threw the body into the river…Either way, everything was covered up.

“What are you doing here?” I stammered.

He frowned. “Didn’t you invite me to dinner? Hm, must have misunderstood you.” He shrugged.

I distinctly remember that I didn’t invite a cyborg to dine with my very normal human family.

“Who is it?” Felice bubbled as she swanned on over, thinking it was Bryan. “Oh!” she purred, and I could hear the honey dripping from her mouth.

My adopted mother came over too. “Who is this?”

“I’m Rain’s friend,” Max answered, seeing as I was too frozen to say a word.

Felice laughed. “You? Rain’s friend?”

Now, an outsider might not understand that comment. But in my world, guys like Max didn’t mix with girls like me, because he was handsome by most earthly standards and I was, well, Bug.

Max caught the jist of it though. But he let it slide with his characteristic rebellious grin. Might’ve been me, but I thought I saw a hint of annoyance in his eyes. Even if he was actually attracted to humans, I doubt Felice would have been his type. “Sorry, I thought Rain invited me to dinner. I must’ve misunderstood her.” He pretended to turn around to walk away.

“No, no! You can stay, there’s plenty of food for everyone,” my adopted mother said.

“Yes, please stay!” Felice squealed. I rolled my eyes.

He came in and we all sat back down at the dinner table. My adopted mother plopped down a plate of chemicals in front of Max. He looked at the food-like substances. I wondered if he was scanning the components they were made of, but his eyes didn’t light up. He took two bites for appearance’ sake, and just as I did when I wasn’t in the mood, pushed the food around on the plate to make it look like he was eating. He looked a little green for a moment, like he was ready to gag, but that went unnoticed, thank goodness.

“So, where do you go to school?” Felice asked Max.

“He’s twenty-five, Felice.” I mumbled. I felt much more at ease with him here. I could feel the atmosphere of Nern radiating off him like a cloud of space magic. I noticed him staring at my hand every now and then, but not for long enough to look suspicious.

“Oh! A working man,” Felice tweeted, “Isn’t he a bit old for you, Rain?”

“What? Eeuw, no. We’re just friends.”

Max raised his eyebrow at her comment. I spared him a glance. He wasn’t impressed.

“How did you two met?” My adopted father asked, slightly suspicious. I suspected he might have thought that I was hanging out with some biker gang, judging by Max’s appearance.

A lump formed in my throat.

Max saved me, as usual. “Her teacher called me to help her with her Math assignments. Bumped up her score quite a bit,”

“Oh! That reminds me,” my adopted father said, “Felice honey, have you finished your project?”

Felice pouted her lips. “No Daddy, I completely forgot with everything going on tonight.”

“But you’ve had the project for a week, haven’t you?” Dad said.

The pout increased.

“Ah, nevermind. I’m sure Mrs. Cunningham will oversee that, if not, you just call on us dear.”

“Oh! Daddy, I’ve been meaning to ask, could I get some lip filler done? And maybe a little Botox around the eyebrows? You know, for prom?”

I caught a glimpse of Max’s expression and had to stifle a giggle.

“Well, honey, we were thinking about getting your sister some new goggles, I mean spectacles, but I guess that can wait.”

“Are you f***ing kidding me?” Max yelled out of nowhere.

I jumped in my chair and glanced at him wide-eyed.

“What?” Dad asked suspiciously. I wondered why Max always had to make a spectacle of himself.

“It’s this math equation, it boggles my mind!” Max retorted, pretending to look at some cheap cellphone he got somewhere.

He took me by the arm, dragging me right into his play. “Rain, we have to go figure this thing out. This is life changing! This could alter the school curriculum for goodness sake!”

“Bug, please wash the dishes first.” My adopted mother said.

“Did you just call her Bug?” Max asked a little too excitedly for my liking.

“Oh it’s a little nickname Felice’s boyfriend gave her, I think it had something to do with those big spectacles of hers’. They do make her eyes look a bit big,”

I heard a loud crack next to me, the next thing I knew, I saw Max with a piece of our wooden dining table in his hand.

“Uh, that corner was loose yesterday, Dad. I forgot to tell you,” I stammered.

He didn’t look convinced, and Max looked like he was about to melt them with laser eyes. Luckily my adopted mother had latched onto something, like she always does. “Bug, the dishes,”

“Mom, my hand,” I pleaded.

She gave me the evil eye.

“That’s alright,” Max interjected and I looked at him, confused at why he would side with her, “The warm water will help,” he clarified.

I nodded, and went to wash the dishes to keep myself out of trouble. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be. The pain was relentless, and washing just one plate took me five minutes. My adopted mother and father retired to the TV room, while Felice decided to hang around Max like an irritating fly.

“So,” she said, “What’s a hot guy like you doing hanging out with a nerd like my sister?”

Max clenched his jaw. “Did you say something Barbie?”

“Uh, Felice, my name’s Felice,” She said, and placed her hand on his forearm.

“Is there a difference?” he asked.

She giggled, and apparently squeezed his arm or something, since he vehemently shook her off him. “You’re not my type. I don’t play with dolls.” He got up from the table, and I felt an evil inner sense of satisfaction from him doing what no other man has ever done to my sister; reject her.

She burst out into tears and ran up to her bedroom, something that only ever happened when she didn’t get what she wanted; and it was very rare. Max casually strolled up the stairs to my room, and when I finally finished washing the dishes, I followed.

“Be safe, Rain,” my adopted mother said.

“Mom! Eeuw. We’re just friends. And I’m sixteen!”

She winked at me. “If you say so,”

“Ugh.” I rolled my eyes and just shrunk away up the stairs.

I found Max sitting on my bed, reading something from one of my notebooks. I closed my bedroom door.

Max shivered. “How do you sleep here? I feel like I can’t breathe…”

“Maybe it’s the air,” I suggested.

He shook his head. “I can’t stand small spaces like this. I was locked up in one for nineteen years.” He took a deep breath and brought his focus back to the book.

“You should bring these things with you, to Nern. You’ve made some great discoveries here, you know.” He said.

I shrugged. “I guess. Don’t know what it would be worth on another planet though.”

“I see you’ve made lots of observations about bacteria. We could need these when we bring the colonists over,” he shoved the book to the side, “but I need to get a look at those fingers,”

Without getting into the issue of why he was here in the first place, I sat down next to him. He gently took my hand, being careful not to bend my fingers, and his eyes lit up. He was x-raying my hand, I figured.

“I can’t believe you cursed at my adopted parents at the table,” I said smiling.

“I can’t believe those assholes are your parents,” He replied, gently turning my hand side to side.

I sighed. “You could have gotten me and yourself into a lot of trouble, you know.”

He chuckled. “Trouble’s my middle name.”

Max sighed and released my hand. “Well, your fingers are all fractured. And your immune system is down by 40%, probably because you’ve been walking in the cold. You need to take really good care not to get sick now. There’s a lot of pressure in your right eye, it’s going to swell up for sure.”

I gulped. “I can’t go to a hospital here, that’s asking for trouble.”

Max smiled. “I wasn’t suggesting that you do.”

“Then what are you suggesting?”

“Ara is going to kill me for this, I’m not supposed to meddle in your ‘thinking time’ she said,” he sighed, “The night is long. There’s more than a week in this night,” He looked out the window, and I could see the confusion on his face. There were no stars.

Nern had changed me. Nothing here seemed real anymore, my ties with these people had been broken after tonight. A full week hadn’t passed here, yet on Nern around about six months have gone by. I could understand that Max was getting fidgety over there. He allowed me to think. After a good five minutes, I sighed and sprung up from the bed.

“You have to help me,” I told him.

“With what?”

“Packing.”

Max packed the notebooks that he thought we would need, and I supervised him on some others I thought might be useful. He neatly tucked away the two boxes of them in his hyperspace sphere. There wasn’t really anything of use other than that in my room. There was only one thing of true value to me in this cramped little hole. I took my parents’ photo from the trinket box beneath my bed.

“Who are they?” Max asked.

“My real parents,” I said nostalgically, as if I knew them.

“You look like your mother,” he said.

I smiled. She was much more attractive than me. At least the red hair proved she was my Mom. I again noticed something familiar about my father. The dark hair, square jaw, high cheek bones. I glanced at Max. That was odd. I considered a possibility. Nah, it couldn’t be. I dismissed the idea. There were lots of people who looked like one another in the world. There were lots of red-haired freckled bugs around too, so my dad and Max looking, very alike, didn’t necessarily mean anything…

“Aren’t you going to say goodbye?” he asked, before he started entering the instructions to setup the Leap Oscillator and open the portal.

Why would I? They didn’t care. They’d be better off without me. “No.” I simply said.

He stared at me for a moment, I suppose trying to decide if I was serious. Then he typed the instructions onto his holographic wrist pad.

A minute later, a glowing gateway of light appeared in my bedroom, and I thought my neighbors must be loving this spectacle.

“Let’s go home,” I said, and we stepped through the portal together.

The swirling spiral of stars appeared, and we were spit out, gracefully this time, on the other side. I looked up to the starry night sky, at the two moons of Nern.

 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 4.3

***​

“It doesn’t look like the bones moved out of place at all,” Ara said while she looked at the x-ray of my fingers. “Sadly, I don’t have the equipment to fix it here. My medical bed is still a bust.”

She took a thin, grey glove out of her drawer and gently placed it over my hand. The moment it fit snuggly, it turned rock hard. It was a very sleek, lightweight cast.

“You’ll have to go to the Arc then,” Nenet said.

“I thought the Arc was a club?” I said, remembering that Max called it his local joint.

He chuckled where he stood cross-armed against the wall. “The Arc is a city on a floating space station.”

“Oh,” I said awkwardly.

“They have working medical beds there. They’ll be able to fix your hand. I need some supplies anyway. But before we go there,” She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out an intimidating looking jet injector. She placed an ampoule of clear blue fluid inside and came right at me with that thing.

I swallowed loudly and shut my eyes really tightly. The needle must’ve been really thin, because I barely felt a thing. My mind made it a lot worse than it was.

“We have to boost your immune system, it’s had a big drop since you went back there.” she said.

I looked at Max. “What were you doing on Earth in the first place?”

Max cleared his throat and ran his hand through his hair. “Well, your communication bracelet was connected to my frequency. I kind of heard everything that went on since the day you went back. I’m guessing you accidentally plugged it in.”

Wow. “And you didn’t think to switch it off from your side?” I was a little angry about that, but at the same time I felt something like a protective instinct coming from him. “That’s a bit of a stalker-thing to do, Max.”

“Right. Sorry.” He said awkwardly.

I shook my head. Sometimes I thought he was awesome at being social, more so than me. And at times like these, well, he was a weird robot-guy. They had no such thing as privacy. There were no boundaries.

“Alright, we should probably get going. That eye of yours is swelling up pretty bad.” Ara said.

I didn’t think I was coming back to a trip to a space hospital. I had no idea what to expect. A city in space? Who would live there? It was probably more like a bunker on a moon somewhere. My mind was boggled. I just couldn’t imagine it.

We went to Assembly and made our way to a spaceship that was only slightly bigger than my house, shiny, sleek and round-ish.

“Can I drive?” Max asked.

“No way,” Ara defended, “There’s no way you’re driving my Bobble. Play with your own toys.”

“My toys aren’t ready yet,” Max laughed.

“Too bad, kid. I’ve seen your driving, you’re not coming near my baby’s controls.”

We got inside the craft and strapped into the luxurious seats. The pressure inside the craft changed, though I couldn’t detect how. I heard the hover craft’s engines fire up. And we started moving forward, slowly at first, and suddenly we jetted forward with zero resistance. We raced down the runway, and before us I saw another portal opening.

“Bobble 353 you are ready for transfer,” I heard Pranav say over the radio.

“Closing in,” Ara replied.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Max told me. He noticed it before I did. “Just breathe normal.”

We passed into the portal, and the swirling field of stars appeared for less than two seconds, leaving much quicker than when I travelled here from Earth. They gave way to dark space, sprinkled with tons of stars in every direction.

I looked up ahead, and my jaw dropped. There was this huge, round thing with spinning spirals and a gigantic light in the middle of it floating just there in the middle of space. It seemed like something held it in place, but I had no idea what.

“What, is that?” I stammered.

“It’s a star gate, one of many. They connect galaxies with each other.” Ara said.

“Gosh, that is colossal,” I couldn’t even blink. “How does anyone build anything like that?”

“I dunno, ask the Zolke. They built them thousands of years ago. It’s ancient tech.” Ara said.

I shot a glance at Max. He pulled up his shoulders. “Was before my time,” he said.

“But you could probably access that information if you wanted to,” I asked.

“If I wanted to, yes.” He replied.

“Do they connect all the galaxies?”

“Most,” Ara said, “Some you don’t want to be connected to. But technically you could travel anywhere in the Universe if you knew how to work the map.”

We started heading straight for the star gate.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To the Epsilon Galaxy, in what we think is the center of the Universe.” Max said.

“Pranav?” Ara asked.

“Systems ready.” Pranav answered over the radio.

Ara pressed a button and we jetted forward, G’s pressing us back into our seats. The closer we came to the star gate, the faster the coils around it spun, like it was sensing us. The light became brighter as we flew into it. There were no spiraling stars, instead it seemed momentarily like they were all stretched out, along with us. The star gate propelled us out of the Fold and forward, like a rock being released from a slingshot.

The hover craft slowed down, and I looked ahead again. This time I saw something even bigger, about six times the size of the star gate. It reminded me of two gigantic roulette wheels stacked on top of each other, and spinning slowly in a clockwise direction. Each wheel was cut in eight slices like a pizza, and inside each slice were layers and layers of structures. Tall, modern, sleek, the most beautiful skyscrapers I’d ever seen. The enormous city seemed to be on the top wheel, and the bottom wheel had more suburban-ish houses. There was greenery mixed with the white and silver of the buildings, I could see water. Some buildings were draped with greenery. An entire working ecosystem had been fully incorporated into this futuristic metropolis.

“Welcome to the biggest freakshow in the universe,” Max said smiling.

“Try not to stare.” Ara chimed in.

“Why would I stare,” I mumbled dumbly as I continued gaping at this vast space station.

We entered into the Arc’s artificial atmosphere. And an unknown male voice started talking over the radio.

“Requesting status,”

“This is Bobble 353 requesting landing space,” Ara replied.

There was a few tense moments of silence, for me at least.

“Copy that Bobble 353, please enter docking station 5D for landing. Welcome back, Commander. Have a safe visit.”

I raised my eyebrow. Commander?

“Please note we have a third passenger with us, she has yet to receive her identification,” Ara said as she veered the craft toward the left, making her way to the specified dock.

“Copy that. Biometrics will be taken upon arrival.” The male voice said.

“That’s not necessary,” Max intervened, “Log onto my frequency, I’ll send you everything.”

I was at the edge of my seat, holding onto the back of Ara’s seat, trying to get a better idea of what was happening around me. At the same time I was nervous about getting past security, like I was a sixteen year old entering a club for twenty one year olds.

Finally after some silence the man on the radio replied, “Information received. Welcome to the Arc, Rain. We hope you enjoy your stay. Please collect your identification tag at the docking station.”

“Thanks!” I beamed at the faceless guy, brimming with excitement.

We flew through several gates before I saw a human-looking guy with some flickering lights, signaling us to land at his dock. I was struck with just how many of these hover craft travelled about through the air here, it was like a busy highway. I still wondered who, or what, was driving them all?

Ara landed Bobble and we got out of the craft, with Max taking care to activate the pin he attached to my collar on the way here. “This’ll keep your oxygen and atmospheric levels steady. Everyone here has one, since everyone’s needs are different. It also helps you communicate in a language we can all understand.”

The pin activated and well, nothing else happened apart from that. But I knew it must be working.

A guy came up to greet us. “Welcome back and saluted, and nice to meet you Rain. Can I have your wrist please?”

I frowned for a moment and then surrendered my wrist. He put something like a jet injector to it and punched a microscopic chip through my skin.

“Now you are a citizen of the Arc,” he said smiling. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t interfere with your access to anything. It’s just an identification tag so we know that you aren’t on some kind of ‘wanted’ list.”

I smiled, grateful that this tag won’t keep me from getting into any of Max’s ‘joints’. I looked around, and recognized at least one other alien species – machine men and women. Patrolling the streets, standing at nearly every corner, watching.

“The Zolke,” I whispered.

Max smiled.

“Take care of my baby,” Ara said.

“Sure thing, nice to see you again.” The dock attendant said, saluting once more. Max nodded at him and we moved on.

We walked into the first tall building. I still couldn’t fully grasp the size of this station. But all I could see on the inside were humans, they couldn’t have been more than twenty.

“This is the human docking station,” Ara explained, “Each species has their own.”

“Each species?” I gaped.

We passed through the building to the other side, and through the glass doors. We walked past several rows of neat greenery, but I didn’t have time to take it in. I couldn’t blink. I couldn’t close my mouth. In front of me, where hundreds, thousands, of different kinds of alien beings. Jelly-like beings that slothed around with no legs, two-legged beings with faces only their mothers could love, floating Uvians, metallic terminator dudes, thin aliens, big aliens, round ones, square ones, pink ones, purple ones. There were too many to count.

And they were all peacefully interacting with each other.

On Earth, we humans were destroying each other.

And everything that anyone’s ever said to me about my appearance just meant absolutely nothing now.

“Being normal is frowned upon here,” Max said, while patting me on my back.

“How many people live here?” I asked.

“The Arc has 55 million permanent residents, but about 150 million pass through here on a daily basis. That’s not counting Alpha Taurus,” Ara answered.

“Alpha Taurus?” I asked, trying to keep myself from staring at the lean, tall alien that reminded me of the classical Greys with big black bug eyes, only with a fancy suit on.

“Another station like this one, though not quite so big. The Arc is like the upper class society of the Universe. Alpha Taurus is more like the middle to lower class, complete with shady alleys. Ara’s friends hang out there,” Max winked at Ara.

“That’d be the Black Market I told you about,” she clarified for me. “Max only talks about Alpha Taurus like its lower class because he owns a penthouse in one of these fancy buildings.”

“Right,” I said, still a bit slow to respond. We humans have been searching for life in the universe all this time, and here was an entire advanced cosmic society.

Max’s armored suit disappeared into hyperspace and transformed into something more formal, but not the kind of formal you’d wear to a fancy dinner party. It was military, decorated with tons of medals and pins.

A passing alien, wearing a similar suit with less fancy pins filled the picture for me when he greeted Max with a salute. “Good day, Commander. Welcome back.”

Max nodded respectfully and returned the salute. “Private.”

As if I didn’t have enough surprises, I found out that the friendly neighborhood cyborg is not just a rebel with his own mission, but in fact with the military.

“It’s not the military,” he corrected me. Apparently he got hold of one of my brain wires again, intentionally or unintentionally. “It’s the IDC, or Intergalactic Defence Confederacy.”

“Same thing,” I concluded, “You’re pretty high up the rank…”

“He climbed the ladder to that rank in just three years,” Ara chimed in. We headed for a public elevator. It was made entirely of a see through, glass-like material. We passed neatly trimmed gardens and fresh-smelling fountains of water.

I had to admit, I was surprised that Max could get to such a high rank so quickly with all the, issues, he had. It seemed to me that he did really well with routine and order. Maybe it was the Zolke in him that steered him in this direction. They were all part of the defense, the law, or whatever other forms of justice existed in the universe. No wonder he could afford an apartment here, with that danger pay. My mind drifted back to the photo of my parents. Both were in the military.

We entered the glassy elevator, and I saw Ara punch in a couple of numbers on the touch screen. My eyes widened. Level 101? I felt like sinking down onto the ground. I had a fear of heights. But I kept my composure; until we started moving. The elevator moved a lot like Bobble. Slowly at first, and then it seemed to rocket upwards. I grabbed Max and held on for dear life. He burst out into laughter. What a pain in the ass. We reached level 101 in about one minute, and I felt like I had to be spooned out, I had turned into jello.

Eventually I got my heartrate to slow down enough to look normal. We entered the lobby. A human brunette sat behind the desk. When she looked up at Max, she smiled and nodded for us to go inside.

“You actually need an appointment to go in,” Ara clarified, “But Max is allowed in at any time. She just assumed that he was donating antibodies to the beds.”

“Oh,” I nodded.

“Thankfully that’s not needed for another couple of months,” Max said.

“Does it, hurt?” I asked carefully.

“No,” he said, “I don’t like being probed.”

We proceeded into a very white and sterile looking space with a couple of humans and aliens tending to patients. They all wore the same, silver and gold lab suits. I noticed Max tensing up beside me as we approached one of the human scientists, his fears seemed to be more about the equipment than the woman herself. He appeared to have a particular aversion to needles, because he was nearly frozen with dread when he saw a whole tray of the stuff on the table. I noticed him breathing deeper, no doubt an effort to try and calm himself down.

“Nice to see you, Gina.” Ara said as she shook the woman’s hand.

“Nenet told me you were coming,” Gina smiled, “Don’t stand so close to those things, Max. They’re not for you.” She took him by the hand, entranced as he was, and dragged him away from the tray, and he snapped out of it.

Then she turned to me. “You must be Rain. Nenet told me about you. Why don’t you sit down on this bed?” I did as she said, remembering that whatever treatment I’d be getting now is all thanks to Max. I found myself thinking of him as an angel again, but quickly tossed the idea aside before he peered into my head again.

“We’d better take a look at that hand. Goodness, and look at those glasses.” She squinted to get a better look. “That eye needs some attention too, but let’s start with your hand first. I’ll give you some local anesthetic.”

She took one of those needles Max had been staring at and brought it to my hand. He stared in horror as she pushed the long needle into my hand. I didn’t even feel it through the swelling.

The next moment. He made a dash for the door, “I have somewhere I need to be,” he said before hastily disappearing.

I shot a glance at Ara. “He can’t watch stuff like this,” she explained, “He stayed to support you, but he wasn’t lying. He does need to meet someone. Don’t worry, we’ll catch up with him later.

I inhaled deeply as Gina took the cast-glove off, but my hand was already numb. She activated something on the medical bed I was sitting on. I presumed that the one Ara was trying to fix was supposed to look like this one.

“Place your hand in the slot to your left, let’s fix you up.” Gina said.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 4.4

***​

Max

I ran into the restroom and shut the door. I placed my hands on the wall to keep myself from passing out. I dry heaved. Due to the nature of my artificial stomach, it was actually impossible for me to vomit in the traditional sense of the word. I had no stomach acid, and whatever food I ate was synthesized in less than half a minute, leaving my stomach almost always completely empty. Unfortunately I still had the very unpleasant human reflexes that went along with throwing up.

And my human brain wasn’t making it any easier, as it continued to spout images of needles entering everything from my eyes to my bellybutton at me. My subconscious memory was cruel, and with each revolting image, and a far-away memory of the sensations that went with them, my gagging continued.

Eventually my system must have picked up the glitch, because I felt it slowing down my heartrate and breathing. The cold sweat I felt vanished before it set properly, leaving nothing but a slight sheen on my forehead. My gagging stopped, and the images in my mind were replaced with a message before my field of vision, REBOOTING…

“Are you alright?” Ara’s message came up in my head.

I looked at my flushed, sweaty face in the mirror. I had forgotten to shave this morning, so I had a light stubble that made me look like I just had the best night out and woke up with the worst hangover ever.

“Glorious,” I replied, smiling. “I’m looking gorgeous as usual.”

“I put something in your inner pocket,” she replied, annoyed yet sympathetic.

I reached into the hidden sleeve and found two capsules and swallowed them dry. The nausea subsided quickly.

I left the restroom and made my way to the building opposite the Medical Center, the seat of the IDC and the Intergalactic Peace Council. Though Nenet was the councilor speaking for humanity, I’ve never actually been in their presence. With everything going on though, I suspected that that would change soon.

I rode the elevator up to the roof, 142 stories in the air. This was the tallest building in the Arc, and even I had to admit that it was an extraordinary feat of engineering, not that I was good with building stuff… I mean, it’s not as if I helped to build the defense turrets on the outer rim of the Arc while spacewalking or anything.

When I arrived, he was already waiting for me, collar and tied as usual.

“Right on time, as always.” He said with a clear western accent, and with a name like Jeremiah, he might as well have hailed from the great ye olde state of Texas. “Lookin’ a little scrubby though.”

“I thought me being on time would make up for the fact that I forgot to shave,” I laughed.

We saluted each other, and followed it up with a handshake. Once upon a time, this man was the strong father figure I needed, the one that basically told me to get my shit together. “You know that’s not the way it works, son.”

I gave him my best rebellious grin, and another grey hair. “Good to see you too, Admiral, it’s been a while.”

“I wish it were under better circumstances,” he sighed, “We only seem to meet when the shit strikes the fan.”

I chuckled. “It’s because we know how to clean up well.”

His face became serious, time to talk business. “I have received some disturbing intel about the situation on Earth,”

I lifted my eyebrow, marveling at the fact that that hell hole could actually get any worse. “What now? Has the guy set the sky on fire?”

“You’re not far wrong; it looks like he’s involved with the Gorge…”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Wow. It was possible that things could get worse there...The Gorge was a reptilian alien race that evolved in the Milky Way. They’ve been banned from every civilized corner in the Universe, and they are well known to be an abominable race. The Zolke were at war with them thousands of years ago, The First War, and they exiled them to the far reaches of their galaxy. They’re not nearly as advanced as most intelligent species, being unable to travel between galaxies like the rest of us, but they are more advanced than humans. There’s only one reason why a human would want to side with creatures like that; power and technology. They managed to steal some ancient Zolke tech during the war. That made them dangerous, even more so if they figured out how to advance it.

”You have proof of this?” I asked, keeping my tone even.

“I was hoping you could help me out with that,”

I shut my eyes briefly.

“I’m sorry for having to send you there, son. But you are the best man for the job,” Jeremiah said sympathetically, “I have no solid evidence, but there are distinguishable patterns that point to them.”

“You know what this means, don’t you?” I said after I’ve taken a few moments to gather my wits.

Jeremiah rubbed his eyes, like he’s had less sleep than he would’ve liked. “Of course I do. It’s ironic, isn’t it? We came here for a peaceful life away from Earth, yet she’s sent her problems to us regardless.”

“It’s not Earth bringing the problems,” I said unapologetically. Humans have a bad track record with me. And the Admiral couldn’t really argue my point, though he seemed careful to agree with me. Ah, denial.

“Would your people defend humanity in a fight against the Gorge?” he asked.

By my people he meant the Zolke. “They would want solid evidence first. You know the Zolke don’t engage in warfare unless it affects the rest of the Galactic Community. They’ll only get involved if the threat isn’t confined to Earth.”

“I doubt it is an isolated case. If this is an intergalactic war, we’re going to need the Zolke’s technology. I need you to find proof, Max…”

The idea of going back was driving me coo-coo, but I held my composure and willed my subconscious mind to shut up. “I’ll talk to the leader of the Rebellion on Earth, Danny. He’ll know if something is going on.”

“You trust him?” the Admiral asked, as if he knew who I was talking about.

“Yes, I do. He’s helping to gather the colonists.”

He seemed at ease with that. “Do what you have to. I don’t think we have much time, Commander. The next time you come here, you’ll have to present your findings to the Council.”

I nodded and saluted, “Yes, Admiral.”

“One last thing Commander, tell me about the girl…”

“Her name is Rain,” I said.

“Is she going to be staying on Nern?”

I grinned. “I plan to take her with me on the SS Orion.”

Jeremiah widened his eyes. “She’s a long way from ready,”

“So was I…” I countered.

He smiled and nodded at me.

We both went our separate ways. After this news, I need a drink.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 4.5

Rain

Looking at the world without glasses felt unnatural. My own eyes suddenly worked better than my spectacles ever did, and all I had to do was keep them open for long enough to allow the laser-thing to run over them; no knives needed. My hand was almost healed too, I just had to keep it still for another minute.

The slot in the medical bed that Gina had me put my hand into, sprayed some kind of metallic silver liquid onto it. It seeped into my skin and into my bones themselves, mending them. I watched in amazement how several aliens on the beds were healed; one had lost an entire arm, which grew back in only a couple of minutes with the help of the medical bed.

I could see why Ara wanted to keep Max alive. His DNA was a miracle, really.

“Are we almost done here?”

I turned my head to see him standing in the door. I felt horrible after Ara had told me what happened to him. I wasn’t worth all the trouble of him having to go through that trauma. He didn’t need to support me. I felt like my resentment for humanity grew every time something like this happened, or at least, for most humans.

“Just waiting for the Silver to set,” Gina confirmed.

Max came closer, and suddenly he had a look of shock on his face.

“What?” I laughed, knowing it was because of my lack of spectacles. “Do I look ugly?”

Ara giggled behind me, and I knew that she must have read his mind.

“No,” he stammered, “Rain, you look hot,”

I frowned first, then doubled over in laughter. Me? Hot? “You’re not serious,”

“I’m not kidding,” he said, still with a dropped jaw, “You look like a completely different person,” he crossed his arms, “I’m going to have to kill anyone that comes near you…”

“Calm down, Max” Ara giggled, “I don’t kill any of your flings, even though I think most of them are goldiggers.”

“Pfft, what flings?” he scoffed.

“I can take care of myself Max,” I said defensively.

He looked doubtful, and I found it both irritating and reassuring. It was strange to me that someone seemed to care so much about me. I didn’t know how to react to that. I’d always been very independent out of necessity, never relying on anyone but myself.

“All set,” Gina said.

And miraculously, I could move my hand again.

“Alright, we have places to go and things to do,” Ara said, giving me her hand and helping me up. I wondered what other surprises this trip would have in store. We left the building.

As we walked through the perfectly manicured gardens, Ara asked for my bracelet, the one that shocked Felice when she tried to take it. The thought of that brought a mischievous smile to my face. I handed it over and in exchange, she pulled out some kind of device, took my index finger and punched a tiny needle into it.

“Ouch,” I peeped.

She smiled apologetically and put away the contraption. “Sorry, press your index finger and thumb together, use a little pressure.”

I did what she said and before my eyes appeared a large empty holographic space. I frowned.

“There’s nothing there yet, but we’ll fix that now.” Ara said, as if I was supposed to know what she meant.

We approached a shop that seemed to be some kind of fancy clothing store.

“I’ll wait outside, don’t be in there for four hours,” Max said.

Ara winked at him while putting her arm around my shoulders in a very big-sister-best-friend kind of way. “Find something to keep yourself busy with, little brother.” He rolled his eyes at her comment and went his own way.

As we went into the clothing store, we were greeted by two friendly, purple-skinned female aliens who sported tentacles for hair. One looked new on the job, she had an expression of disbelief when she saw Ara, with her piercings, tattoos, half-shaved head and leather-ish pants. Clearly, I was missing something too, because Ara clearly wasn’t the type of person who came to buy clothing in a place like this.

“May I help you?” The other alien lady asked, seemingly recognizing Ara.

“I’d like to see your eclectic collection,” Ara said.

“Can you afford it?” the new alien employee asked, raising her eyebrow.

The other alien woman punched her in the ribs for the inappropriate comment.

Ara smiled. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

We followed the alien to the back of the store, and I tried to act normal after I saw that she had three legs instead of two. It must take a lot of coordination to walk with those…

We entered a medium-sized room at the back of the store, full of human-appropriate clothing; dresses, suits, shoes, it was all here, and a big mix of casual and formal. Ara started picking out a couple of outfits, some being glittery short evening dresses. She threw me two of them. “You can try those, I’m still deciding about these.”

“Me?” I stammered. I’ve never worn a dress in my life, much less a short dress that looked like it fell straight out of a Bollywood film. “That won’t fit, they’re too big.”

“You’ve gained muscle, they’ll fit. Now go, I’m picking out at least fifteen outfits for you.” She answered, unstirred by my excuses.

I tried on the dresses and they fit, just like she said they would. She picked out more outfits that I never would have picked for myself, but I thought that I looked surprisingly good in them. I suddenly looked more curvy and womanly with a bit of muscle. I actually had a body, who knew?

We eventually brought a whole mess of clothes and shoes to the cash desk. The purple judgmental alien rang them up and the total came to a staggering 25,000 UC. ‘UC’ stood for Universal Credits, Ara told me. It was the currency of the universe. Beings from all corners could exchange resources or skills for UC, and the amount they received would be based on the value and rarity of the skill or resource, just like normal money on Earth. Only one UC was worth five times more than 1 American Dollar. So 25,000 UC was a pretty penny to pay for these clothes, it was six times the amount my adopted father made at work every month, and he had a well-paying job. This was a very upper-class store…

Ara held out her wrist where her identification tag was, and the cashier scanned it. Her eyes widened when the transaction was accepted. Ara winked at her and looked at me. “Hold your hand above the clothes, press and hold your index finger with your thumb as you sweep your hand over them.”

I did as she said and the bundle of clothes disappeared into hyperspace. “Okay, that’s nice,” I said, “How do I get them back?”

“Release your index and thumb, and then short press with pressure, just like the first time.”

I did that, and the holographic space from before appeared again, but it wasn’t an empty white block anymore. “Think of any of those outfits we just bought,” Ara said, “and hold the image in your mind for three seconds, then blink twice.”

I did as Ara said, picturing the red glittery dress and some black wedges, and after my second blink, my clothes disappeared and they were replaced with the outfit in my mind.

“Okay, that wasn’t hard,” I said. Maybe a little awkward, but I could get used to it.

I repeated the motions to replace the dress with something more appropriate and casual; a purple, white and navy dress with black tights and boots that I could actually walk in without breaking my neck. We left the store and went to find Max.

“If my suspicions are correct, we should find him in the barber shop, since I’m hearing a whole lot of ‘What’s up doc?’” Ara laughed.

“Isn’t that from that cartoon?”

“Exactly.” She said.

We walked into the shop and saw a whole mix of aliens inside, including Max. He was sitting in the chair, with the barber cutting his hair, and him chuckling apprehensively at a holographic episode of Bugs Bunny. Each time the razor came closer, the chuckles became louder and more nervous, as if to drown out the noise of the approaching blade.

I choked a giggle.

“He hates having his hair cut. So, he watches Bugs Bunny to keep himself occupied and calm. Bad past experiences with haircuts,” Ara said. “Now you know where he gets his screwy personality from.”

He had a lot of bad experiences with the simple things in life. Again, it surprised me how well he adapted in just six years. Eventually we got through the whole ordeal, with his hair cut only an inch shorter, it was time to leave the Arc for Alpha Taurus.


***​


Alpha Taurus was a funnel shaped space station, it was as long as the Arc was wide. There was no security greeting us here, except for the Docking Guards, whose job was only to make sure that we didn’t park Bobble in the wrong station.

We got off Bobble, and we walked into the first section of the layered city like a bunch of penguins huddled tightly together.

There were some alien species here I recognized from the Arc, but then there were also new types, some of which looked a little shady. But I wasn’t all that good with distinguishing between what was shady and what not yet, so I kept my opinions to myself. There was definitely the feeling that I had to watch my back here.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To my local hardware store,” Ara answered.

“To the Black Market,” Max corrected.

We headed down a shifty alley and down a flight of stairs. So far, there wasn’t any of the clean modern lines, manicured gardens or fancy water fountains of the Arc. Alpha Taurus reminded me more of the slums of New York City.

We caught sight of a bunch of ET’s with spiky heads, no upper lips and red evil eyes, harassing another alien citizen. It seemed like they cornered the guy in the alley and they wanted his money. One of the evil ET’s heard us and swung around, staring Max straight in the eye.

“Zolke!” He shrieked at his mates. They attempted to draw their weapons, but before they could Max was on them. He stripped them of their guns, twisting a few wrists and arms while doing so, and knocking one out cold. He took their leader by the neck.

“Give the nice man his money back,” he threatened the alien.

“Fine! Fine!” he shrieked, and threw the bag of money back to the citizen.

Max took the alien in one hand, and another of his gang in the other. The other two were still on the ground, groaning in pain. He pressed all four of them against the wall and placed some sort of device against them. They stuck to the wall, unable to move or do anything.

“Now, you think about what you’ve done while the Zolke arrive, kids.” Max taunted.

The aliens’ hissing did nothing to help their situation. It was all over in seconds.

The victim bowed and thanked us for saving him, and quickly walked the other way as well. I just realized that there was a stark difference in the amount of Zolke here compared to the Arc. That meant that there was very little law and order on Alpha Taurus.

“Why aren’t the Zolke here?” I asked as we continued walking.

“There are Zolke, just not very many.” Max answered. “It’s a fine line we have to walk on Alpha Taurus. Most of the aliens here have access to things we need, like rare weapons, armor or information; things that they can only acquire through shady methods. They would never be able to get to those things if they were in the Arc. The regulations are too strict.”

“Take Shane for instance,” Ara chimed in, “My contact in the Black Market. He’s species has a broad knowledge of how to deal with, less than pleasant aliens, without it ending in a blood bath. He uses that knowledge to acquire rare items from them at decent prices, so I don’t have to. The Dome we have now wouldn’t exist without those materials.”

“The Zolke all know about this, and allow it?” I asked, surprised.

“It’s a collaboration. As long as they don’t cause too much trouble, we let them be. We do intervene when things get serious, obviously.” Max reassured me. “There are some species however, that are just too volatile to even be allowed here.”

We came to a stop in front of a metal door and Ara knocked. A piece in the metal slid open, and two beady eyes peered out of the opening. “What’s the password?” the ET said in a voice that sounded as if he was being drowned.

Ara rolled her eyes. “Are we doing this again, Smen?”

The beady eyes narrowed. “Say the password or I can’t allow you in.”

Ara looked at Max. He sighed. A laser pistol appeared in his hand and he punched it through the hole in the door. We heard the sound of Smen stumbling backwards and tripping over a bunch of stuff. “Open the damn door or I’ll blow what little brains you have out all over your lackeys behind you.” Max yelled.

There was a clumsy fiddling with the lock. It clicked open and the door sprang open, and a short green jelly ET fell through it on the ground. Smen didn’t have legs, though he had tiny arms that wasn’t nearly strong enough to lift up his blabbering jelly body off the ground.

Max rolled his eyes and his weapon disappeared into hyperspace. He lifted up the jelly man with his beady eyes. “Jeez, how many times do we have to do this, Smen?”

He was pretty co-operative after that, and allowed us into the building. Light psychedelic music played in the background, there were many stalls in the Market and each one had its own color of neon light, and holographic advertisement boards that attempted to grab the attention. As we walked past all the stores and stalls, I was struck with the huge variety of stuff here. Weaponry was only a small part of it. I supposed you could really buy someone, or something’s, kidney here if you wanted to. The smell of some kind of fried food enticed my senses. It reminded me of cinnamon rolls.

We approached a store with an alien merchant that was armored. His face looked like a smaller version of that old sea monster, the Kraken. He was even taller than Max. Somehow he managed to crack a grin on that face.

“Ah! Haven’t seen you guys in a while, and who’s this?” he asked enthusiastically.

“This is Rain. Nice to see you again, Gren.” Ara said, shaking his three-fingered hand. “Rain needs some toys, what do you have?”

“Quite the selection. First, a question for Rain. Heavy, or light?”

I peered over the large selection of weapons on the table. “I’d prefer light.”

“And make it effective and quick.” Max added.

“Ah, I have the perfect weapon! I just got this in. The Long-Range Laser Pistol. High power with little recoil, and with aim-assist too.”

I took the pistol and felt its weight in my hand. I pointed it at a target practice dummy against the far wall, and saw the laser pointer light up, creating a dot on the dummy’s head. Max pushed down the gun and grabbed it.

“Rubbish,” he said, “Especially for stealth. Can we see something without a bunch of disco lights? Don’t waste her new eyes.”

I crossed my arms and stared at him, wondering if I need to punch him in the gut now, or later when he’s sleeping and vulnerable. Gren chuckled. Apparently he was used to this kind of treatment.

“Alright,” he said, “Try this one. This one has a scope, should you need aim assistance. Same firepower, a little more recoil but not enough to send you flying backward. More economical on the battery as well.”

Max nodded approvingly. I held the weapon and well, I had to admit, it did feel more comfortable. We picked out more rifles and handguns and a couple of explosives for me. Again, Ara pulled out that nifty wallet of hers.

“I don’t think you need that much. Just a little something of your own,” she said, “You can always exchange with Max.”

“So, how many weapons do you have?” I asked him.

He smiled and stepped onto some sort of pad on the floor. A blue light appeared around him as the machine started tallying up the amount of weapons in his hyperspace sphere.

Then the machine spoke. “Number of weapons found…522 000.”

My eyes widened. “Oh my word, Max you have an addiction.” I stuttered.

“One of many.” He laughed.

We left the weapons merchant, passed all the other aliens and went into some obscure room at the back of the building that was hidden behind some fancy curtains. The room was dimly lit with no blaring advertisements. I looked around and saw a whole mix of different things. It was like the eclectic clothing store, only for weapons and armor.

A green, scaly alien came out from behind one of the displays at the back. He wore black leather clothing, and had two legs and arms like a human, but his eyes were pitch black, and the skin looked like he might have evolved from some kind of sea creature. His hands were also webbed between the fingers, like a fish’s fins.

“Shane,” Ara smiled, “Nice to see you again. You have my goodies?”

He nodded to us all in a polite greeting. “Greetings, Ara. I do indeed, though I don’t need to remind you of all the trouble I had to go through to get these things. You like to make my work difficult. Luckily for you, I’m always up for a challenge.” Shane looked at me. “I’m assuming the exoskeleton is for this young lady? The measurements seem to add up.”

“Yes exactly.” Ara replied.

Shane looked at Max, and then at Ara again. “I don’t need to tell you that it was extremely difficult for my contact to try to replicate the workings of a Zolke body into this suit. The technology is far beyond our scope of knowledge, but I’m assuming that you could find someone with the skills to upgrade it later, should you so wish.” He looked at Max again. “For now, it should provide everything you need.”

Shane gestured for me to stand closer. My stomach was full of knots as he took the suit apart and started reassembling it on my body. It looked light, but I could see why Max wanted me to train to be able to carry it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to walk a mile with this thing, much less run in it. I was still doubtful about my ability to carry it through an actual mission.

As Shane attached each part of the suit in place, small pins pierced through my skin, releasing a bunch of programmed nanobots into my bloodstream. Almost instantly, the suit felt lighter as they increased my strength. They would also increase my speed, and dull any pain sensation. My eye sight and hearing became sharper, and I felt like I had a strong grip in my hands when I clenched my fists. I just felt alert and ready, whatever that meant.

“I’ve already programmed the suit into your holographic sphere,” Ara said, “You should be able to safely put it away, but the nanobots will still have the same effect, even if you’re wearing casual clothing.”

When everything was done, and Shane and I were satisfied with the way the suit fit, Ara nodded to Max and we left the room, leaving her with Shane.

“She has other business to attend to,” Max told me, “We’ll leave her to her geekiness and go have some fun.”

“What fun?” I asked, narrowing my eyes.

“You’ll see,” he grinned.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 4.6
Ara

When I knew that Max and Rain were out of the building, I let Shane know and he bolted the steel doors behind us that were hidden behind the silky curtains. It was a precaution he took whenever we dealt with very valuable things; things that some people would die for.

“I take it you found it, then?”

He opened the trap door in the floor beneath us, an old fashioned hiding spot that nobody would think of looking in in this day and age. “Follow me,” he said.

I followed him down the rabbit hole, or in this case, down the flight of stairs into the basement. It was dark, lit only by a few dim neon blue lights. There was a large locked cabinet in the corner. He removed the fabric on top of it, and I could barely believe my eyes.

I ran my hand over the glass, and stared into the iridescent milky-blue crystal. It seemed to light up the cabinet. And he’d cut it to my exact specifications, too. At least, so I hoped. I would have to measure it to be sure.

“Turgenite,” Shane stated, “Hardest crystal in the universe; can only be cut by a Proton Disintegration Laser, and then still overheats the machine after every ten minutes of cutting. When my contact finished cutting your skull and vertebrate design after a month of 16-hour work days, he had to buy a new PDL, which is the most expensive machine in the universe by the way,”

I scrutinized the crystals. The vertebrates where able to open and close in on themselves, just like I requested. The skull was cut like a jigsaw puzzle that clipped together. I pulled out the measurements on my holographic wrist pad and scanned them through the glass. I bit my lower lip as the scanning went on. The size had to be no less than perfect. There wasn’t room for a millimeter of error.

“Why would you want the hardest crystal in the cosmos to be shaped into a human skull and vertebrae anyway?” Shane asked.

“Science experiment,” I said casually, trying to influence the device to work faster with my mind. The suspense was killing me.

“That’s a very expensive experiment,” Shane retorted.

My wrist pad beeped with the results; 100% Match. I sighed a sigh of relief and smiled at Shane. “But it’s worth every credit. It will change the medical world as we know it…”

“That brings me to the issue of payment,” Shane said, rubbing his hands together like a beggar.

“How much?” I asked.

He had the look of guilt on his face. “5.2 Billion Credits,” he peeped.

My eyes widened. “Whoa,”

“It’s the best price I could get. We started at 17.5 Billion.” Shane shrugged.

I stared at him bewildered for a moment before coming to my senses. “That’s fine. Still worth every credit. I can make that money back in five years’ time on Alpha Taurus. But man, that’s a hard bargain. That’s taking three quarters of my savings.”

I paid him, and scanned the crystals into my hyperspace sphere, mentally setting up three firewalls and complex 15-character passwords that change every sixty seconds. Since it was all in my head, I would be able to instantly recall the password at any given time. It was possible for a hacker to tap into someone’s holographic sphere. I did it all the time.

I left the market to go join up with Max and Rain.

***​

Rain

“So, why are at The Hive, and what exactly is this place?” I asked, nervously keeping a lookout for some creep that might attack us at any moment in this shady street slash alley.

Max casually leaned against the wall, keeping track of my racing pulse with mocking amusement. “Are you honestly asking me that?” he taunted.

I looked up at the pink neon sign that read The Hive, with its accompanying neon pink cocktail glass, complete with cherry, next to it. The ground beneath my feet practically shook with bass coming from the inside. It was obvious that this was a bar, or a club, or both. Maybe a stripper’s lounge, who knew with Max after all? Images of naked aliens with weird bodies danced before my eyes, and Max burst out into laughter that echoed through the empty street. He just let every potential hiding scumbag know exactly where we were.

“What are you laughing at?” I asked, frowning.

“You think I’d go to a stripper’s lounge?” he chuckled. “I have no more attraction to another species than I do to humans. Romance isn’t on my to-do list.”

“Why is that?” I enquired.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose a potential partner has to be exactly like me. My hormones are picky that way.”

My ears caught the sound of a revving engine coming our way. I turned and saw a black motorcycle, complete with badass black-clothed rider, racing around the street corner the furthest from us. The bike showed no signs of slowing down as it headed straight for us. While I ran out of the way, Max casually walked to the center of the road.

“What are you doing?” I yelled, seeing in my mind’s eye how that biker maniac will run him over. What kind of a reckless Zolke move was this now? Was he trying to stop the motorcycle as part of authoritarian prowess?

The brakes of the motorcycle screeched, the smell of burning rubber filled the air, and the back wheel of the bike lifted high up into the air, as it came to a dead halt, only 3 inches before Max’s feet. He didn’t flinch, in fact, he was wearing the grin of the crazy. The bike’s back wheel dropped to the road, and the rider removed her helmet. Ara.

“Are you insane?” I yelled at Max, wide-eyed and panicked.

He raised his eyebrow. “Is that a trick question?”

Seeing that my anger won’t work on him because yes, apparently he was insane, I turned my attention to Ara. “You could have killed him!”

She answered me with a kind of calmness that suggested that they do this often, like some sick game of death. “The only thing Max is afraid of is his own head.”

I didn’t really have an answer to that. She meant it. And I knew it was true, he’d admitted it. I looked to Max and his clothing changed; this time into a sleek black suit with a white vest, unbuttoned at the top of his chest. Accompanying the suit were black shoes so shiny I could see every freckle on my face in them if I looked. I had to admit, he looked hot and I had trouble thinking of any girl, human or otherwise, that wouldn’t find that attractive. I caught a whiff of a musky, woodsy cologne wafting off him.

Ara changed her clothing as well; her suit morphed into a black leather cat suit and high heels that kind of made her look like the futuristic version of cat woman, complete with hot pink lipstick. Felice would shrink away in shame if she saw Ara’s make-up skills.

And she took it upon herself to change my appearance for me by hacking into my hyperspace sphere. She dressed me in the red glittery dress, high-ish wedges that I could still walk in, and she changed my hair too, though it was difficult for me to see what it looked like. When she was finished, she handed me a small mirror to ‘admire myself’ as she so aptly put it. My jaw dropped. She’d kept my hair mostly loose on one side, and braided it on the other right onto my skull. I had red lipstick that was slightly darker than my hair, and black eyeliner with dark brown eyeshadow that accentuated my green eyes.

The person I saw in the mirror didn’t look like the Rain from Earth. That Rain was just a girl, the one I saw here was a strong woman.

As we went inside the club, the loud music felt like it was pounding a hammer on my eardrums. Dread overtook me as I saw the sea of people on the dancefloor. The place was big. I could get lost here, never to be found again, or trampled to death by jelly- and finny dancing feet.

I looked behind me, only to see Max and Ara were gone. The dancing people and the flickering strobe lights disorientated me.

“Max!” I yelled, but the music drowned out my voice. “Ara!” I tried to push my way through all the people, but I didn’t know which direction I was going in.

Everyone just continued dancing as if I wasn’t there, and eventually me pushing through them turned into them pushing me around the floor, unintentionally. First, the tall alien stepped on my feet; then the one next to him, a short scaly fat one, pushed me over to the left as he showed off some dance move I’d never seen before. I bumped into something that felt like a human chest, and when I looked up, I was relieved, and annoyed, to see Max’s smirk grin.

He took me by the arm and dragged me out of the crowd to the bar, lit up with a dozen pink neon signs; roses, cocktail glasses, funky space vehicles. And with Ara as the bartender. As we sat down on the chairs, I marveled at how she effortlessly threw around the glasses without breaking a single one, mixing strange neon cocktails and drinks like it was a form of art. If there was any place in the universe that Ara fit into, it was this club.

“This is Ara’s club,” Max shouted.

My eyes widened. “You own a club?” I yelled at her.

She smiled. “I own ten, six on Alpha Taurus, and five high roller lounges on the Arc.”

She mixed up a clear neon green drink and gracefully slid one in front of each of us. “Single for the lady, double for the gentleman,” she winked at us.

“What is that?” I asked Max.

“Something for your nerves,” he said, and downed his drink in one big gulp. “I kind of invented it by accident.”

“Am I going to get drunk from this?” I asked, as I took a small sip. It tasted fresh and lightly fruity.

“Not drunk, just floaty. There’s no actual alcohol in it. But it releases a bunch of happy chemicals in your brain like alcohol would,” Max grinned mischievously.

My eyes darted nervously around the room. There was a lot of people in here. I had trouble sealing the image of the new me in my head, and I still felt like bug-eyed, zit-faced Rain here. Logically I knew my mind was conjuring up past images of me making a spectacle of myself in front of huge crowds of people. It was stage fright, as if any alien in the room was even looking at me. I downed my drink to shut up my head.

And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, Max took my arm, “Come on,”

“What?” I said wide-eyed.

“Let’s dance,” he smiled.

“Me? Dance? No way, I can’t dance!” I stuttered. I tightly held onto my cocktail glass, “I, I, I need another drink!”

Max laughed and tried to take the glass from my hand, but I wouldn’t surrender it. “Come on Rain, let go!” he pleaded.

“I can’t, Max…” I tried.

He just wouldn’t let it go. “I’m saving you here, you know that in a couple of minutes one of those jelly alien citizens are going to sloth over here and ask you to dance, and how are you going to dance with a green blob? Does it look to you like any of them know how to properly dance? There’s no such thing! You just let the music carry you.”

“No one would,” but before I could finish my sentence, I felt someone tapping me on the shoulder.

I turned around to see an alien that was mostly pink jelly, with eight legs and four long tentacles for arms. “Excuse me, would you like to dance?”

Max nearly keeled over with laughter beside me, and Ara was quick to tell the alien person that he’d had one drink too many, as usual. Meanwhile, I was slack-jawed and staring. I remembered that that wasn’t polite in these parts.

“I uh, I’m sorry sir. I already have a dance partner,” I placed my arm on Max’s forearm, “He just asked me to dance,” I got up and pulled him along, and the alien politely nodded and went off to ask someone else who had more coordination than me.

Somewhere in the crowd of people Max composed himself and led me to a small opening in the dance floor. Max started swaying around to the music, in no particular fashion, and I just awkwardly watched him. He rolled his eyes and took my hands.

“Come on, loosen up already!” he chuckled. He lifted my arms up and down and all around as if that was going to get me going like some stroppy human toy that needed winding up.

Just as I was about to give up and leave, my body started to feel slack and kind of, floaty. I heard the music for the first time, and suddenly it seemed to flow like a river with the lightshow around me. Everything seemed like it was happening a little slower than it really was. My anxious heart slowed down and readjusted itself to match the rhythm of the music, and the heat of the club started feeling nice instead of menacing.

I started giggling. And I didn’t care to know why. My mind stopped, and there was only the music.

I started dancing, if you could call it that, but maybe I was just letting the river of music carry me to the abyss. Somewhere I lost track of Max. I danced with this alien and then with that one, and I didn’t know where I was. But I didn’t care to know either. Nothing mattered, just the music. I found myself on some kind of platform, with a field of stars passing me by to infinity.

***​

Max

I kept my gaze fixed on Rain, who was dancing in the far end of the room, inside a holographic bubble of stars. The club’s dancing girl left her holographic sphere to join some high roller’s card game in the VIP lounge. Rain was way out of it.

“Are you sure you gave her a single shot of that stuff?” I asked Ara behind me. My tongue dragged a little from my drink, but I was still very aware of what went on around me, unlike Rain who was floating all over the place, amongst the stars no less...

There were only a few people at the bar right now. It was well into the early morning, and I’d long since given up dancing. Rain’s been dancing in that sphere nonstop for four hours.

Ara grinned naughtily. “You know, might’ve been two, maybe even three now that I think about it.”

I shook my head, but the drink made it impossible for me to get angry. “Poor girl,” I muttered.

“She looks pretty happy to me,” Ara said.

“She would be, you gave her a triple dose of endorphins. She’s higher than my ego now.”

I watched her intently. Even a triple dose couldn’t keep her going this long. Maybe she had one drink left in her system, but I realized that most of the rush was a natural one, from her thinking she was in space.

“What are you thinking?” Ara asked. Of course she knew what I was thinking, her question was really forcing me to think further than I already have. She wanted to hear my conclusion to the thoughts I’ve had.

“Well, I don’t think she belongs on Nern as a scientist.” I answered, “Nern is too small.”

Ara nodded. “She’s like you, she craves the expanse of space.”

“Mm. Maybe.” I said softly more to myself than to Ara. My mind was already made up.

“You plan on bringing her on the SS Orion,” Ara said, frowning.

I smiled. “That’s been the plan all along.”

“Space is a big backyard to explore,” Ara said as she put away the glasses she’d been cleaning. “Dangerous, too.”

“That’s why she’ll love it. Alright, I better go get her before she keels over from exhaustion.” I said as I got up from the chair.

“Yeah, Meera’s shift is starting. I’ll just go get my stuff, and we can head back to Nern.” Ara said.

I nodded and started plodding along with heavy footsteps towards the woman in red, who made fools of everyone tonight with her dancing skills. My time for fun was coming to an end a little too soon for my liking.
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Commando from Prometheus Cloud Galaxy
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 184
Chapter 4.7

Max

I watched Rain struggle to wake up on the grass. I could probably have placed her on a bench, but I figured she’d enjoy waking up to the sight of the stars. There was a mechanical problem with Bobble that Ara needed to fix before we could leave. I’d decided that one of the city’s many outlook points would be a good place to wait. This one was near our docking station and had a neatly kept park. It was one of the few places on Alpha Taurus that was almost Arc standard. I leaned against the railing and stared out over the night lights of the city. It was 3AM.

“Hm,” Rain mumbled behind me, blissfully unaware of the turmoil threatening to rise inside me.

The endorphins from my drink was wearing off, and my anxiety about the coming days was quietly returning, slowly reforming the knots in my shoulders that were gone just a few hours ago. My mind felt jumbled, full of indistinguishable scribbles of horror scenarios that could play out on Earth.

“What are you staring at?” I hopped. I didn’t notice Rain coming up next to me. She was sneaky for someone who really appeared to have had too much tequila.

I smiled gently, seeing how out of it she still was. “Just dreaming. Ara has to fix Bobble before we can leave. She’s been at it for about fifteen minutes.”

Rain smiled hazily, her head was all over the place so she set it down on her forearms on the railing, staring up at me with big shiny eyes. I couldn’t help but chuckle. I felt sorry for her, but her spaceyness was very amusing. It reminded me of my first time with those drinks. Only I had five instead of three. I was happily drooling all over myself a few hours later. I weighed more than she did, so her three probably almost had the effect of my five.

“Are you thinking of Earth?” She mumbled.

“Now why would I want to think about a place like that?” I asked. I didn’t make eye contact with her. Her eyes were like a magnet, pulling information out of me.

She giggled. “You’re lying. Are you afraid?”

A part of my mind protested talking, but I suppose the endorphins were still somewhat active. I couldn’t bring myself to care at this point. “Yes.” I said without looking at her.

“Not as afraid as I am,” she admitted, probably against her own will too.

We Zolke use a purer form of the chemical in these drinks to get prisoners to give us information. It’s like a truth-serum. Only, instead of causing intense pain that forces the prisoner to talk, it makes them so happy that they just don’t care what they say. Of course, when it wears off they always regret it, probably like both of us will after this.

I looked at her thoughtfully. “I think I’m even more terrified than you are, Rain. You’re afraid because you don’t know what to expect. I’m afraid because I do,”

“But you’re invincible!” She half-yelled, throwing her arms up in the air, before bringing them back down on the railing, head on top of them.

I bit my lower lip. “I’m not, all it takes is a shot to the head.”

She cocked her head as if asking if it was really that easy.

I smiled meekly. “Now you know my Kryptonite.”

“But, Ara said the only thing you’re afraid of is your own head,” she dragged.

Ara was right. This was all in my head. Unfortunately it still produced a very real stress response. “She’s right. That’s because Max is all in here,” I tapped my head with my finger. “Without this, there would be no Max. Just a machine man.”

Rain didn’t answer. She just stared distantly at me, but I knew she was taking it all in, even if she didn’t feel that way now.

“In the past, I used to have massive panic attacks when my mind wandered this way. I hadn’t had one in years. After such an attack I just sat there like I was in a trance. I couldn’t think or move, it was like my mind just shut down. And when I started coming to, I would taste blood. Ara would tell me that saliva dripped out of my mouth, and my nose bled. It was like brain hemorrhaging.”

Rain frowned.

“Sounds attractive, doesn’t it?” I smiled.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. And she took my hand. “I’ll protect you,” she said innocently.

I blinked tears away. “Thanks Raindrop, but it doesn’t quite work that way,”

“It will,” she smiled, “I want to be just like you.”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

She tapped my arm with her hand. “I want to be cybernetic. I want to be strong, and healthy. I want to be able to breathe without struggling.”

I stared at her. I was in two minds about my situation. On some days, I welcomed it, on others, not so much. I was leaning more toward the latter today. I couldn’t imagine why someone would purposely want to be cybernetically augmented. But then, I remembered the pain and misery that went with having a sick, failing human body. Rain wasn’t there yet, but she would be in a few years if she stayed on Earth. And like mine, the illness will drag on for years, slowly, painstakingly draining everything she had in her.

Maybe getting shot in the head wouldn’t be so bad after all. I’d take that any day over my past prospects. It would be quick. Merciful. Painless.

“You don’t know what you’re wishing for,” I said.

“I’m wishing for a better life,” she said, squeezing my hand. “Can we make a pinky promise to take care of each other?”

I dropped my head and smiled. The last time I made a pinky promise, I promised Ara to give Nenet and Emil a chance to prove their trustworthiness to me. That panned out well. I fully believed in the magical abilities of pinky promises. As such, I surrendered my shiny pinky, and Rain wrapped her’s around mine. She gleefully giggled and threw her arms around my neck, giving me a hug in the way a little girl would.

Bobble appeared in the sky and lowered down to our level. The bridge extended onto the ground. I guided Rain up the bridge, trying my best to keep her in a straight line. She needed to sleep off her hangover, the time for fun and games was over.


***​

Ara

I was working when I heard a rustle in Max’s mind and decided to go over to his apartment to see if he was okay. It was the early morning hours, an hour from sunrise. Nenet and Emil were up too, we usually spent the quiet morning hours together just going over the work that needed to be done for the day and having casual conversation.

When I entered Max’s apartment, I found him sitting against the windowpane, his usual spot. I cocked my head. He stared numbly through the window, and I could feel the turmoil in his emotions.

“You okay?” I asked as I stepped inside, closing the door behind me.

He looked to me and rubbed his eyes. It looked like he’d been crying. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He said dully.

I took a seat opposite him on the windowsill. “What’s wrong?”

He took a deep breath. “It was just a bad dream.”

I raised my eyebrow. “With that kind of emotional response?”

He was silent.

“Can I have a look?” I asked. I felt him let his mental guard down and I peered through his mind.

I saw a very hazy image of a man and woman. They looked like they were in some kind of lab. I couldn’t make out their faces, but they seemed to be in a state of panic. Immediately I felt a very strong bond between Max and these people. They were running from something or someone, trying to escape from this lab. The man pulled the woman on her arm. “We have to leave now!” he yelled at her.

She cried bitterly, reaching out towards where Max would be in the scene, screaming. Eventually the man pulled her out of the lab and closed the door behind them. The dream stopped there, either because he didn’t know what happened next or his subconscious mind purposely locked me and him out.

I came back to the present. He was staring at me now, eyes very far away and dejected. “That’s not a dream,” I said, “That’s a memory. A very old memory. You must have been very young there, like a couple of days old.”

He frowned. “Why would a memory like that make me feel like this? I never had any relationship with the humans in that place.”

I considered what I saw for a moment. And wondered if I really wanted to share the answer. But I had to be honest. “You had a strong bond with those people. This event was very traumatic for you. Those kinds of connections are only ever parental…”

He smiled, it wasn’t a happy one by any means. “I don’t have parents. I was lab bred.”

“Is that what they told you?” I challenged him. He thought about it. “And they are a reliable source?” I asked sarcastically.

His face became grim. “It doesn’t feel, right.”

I nodded. “Yeah, because you have trouble processing the fact that your parents might have left you behind…” I regretted saying that, but at some point he had to start dealing with his emotions instead of just switching them off all the time. “If it means anything, I don’t think they left you willingly. It doesn’t seem that way to me in that memory. It was a very distressing event, for you and for them. When did you start having these dreams?”

He was silent for a bit. “Since Rain came here.”

“Really?” I asked surprised.

“At first, it was just little glimpses that I couldn’t decode. This is the first time I’ve seen so much of it that it made me feel … like shit really.” He said solemnly.

Well, that was interesting. That meant that Rain had some kind of connection to these events. But he didn’t need to know that. I had a theory, but I’d need a lot of proof first, proof which I could probably find in Max and Rain’s memories, but best to leave Pandora’s Box closed, for their sake.

“I’ll see what I can find out about them, in the meantime, try not to make too many conclusions of your own. You don’t need to upset yourself any further before you have to head back to Earth.” I said.

He smiled. “I’m fine.”

“Yeah, that’s what you always say.”

I got up and went back to the lab. Nenet and Emil had started their work for the day. She was studying a new plant species under the microscope, and Emil was going over the notes of the Engineers.

“So,” I said, “Random question, Nenet. Do you have any information about the employees that worked at the Bureau of Advanced Biogenics 25 years ago?”

She and Emil both turned to look at me. “25 years ago?”

I told them what just happened. They glanced at each other, then back at me.

“You might be able to hack into their database. I could show you how to find it,” Nenet said.

She came over to my computer, typed in a couple of codes and a black screen with green writing popped up. I dived in. Hacking the database was a piece of cake, I was in in minutes. I scanned through the logs that they had protected behind a dozen passwords and firewalls.

I frowned. “Well, well. Hey Nenet, Emil, come look at this.” They came to stand behind my desk chair.

“Look at his log here, it’s a name change.”

At 15:47, Maxwell Alexander Reed was reinstated as K7-152.

“Maxwell?” Nenet gasped.

I nodded, “Maxwell…”

“Well, now we have a surname to work with.” Emil added.

“Already on it,” I said.

I managed to find a folder with employee identification photos, no doubt used to make ID cards, from around 27 years ago. I flicked through the photos, searching for the name Reed. Two photos popped up. I smiled.

I brought up the two photos side by side.

“Who do these people remind you of?” I asked Nenet and Emil.

“Oh my,” Nenet said.

Before us was a red-haired woman named Angelica Reed, and a man with jet black hair, named Alexander Reed. Both bearing striking resemblance to both Max and Rain.

“It’s just a hunch,” Emil said cautiously, “We don’t have definitive proof…”

I took care to shut the gates to my own head, in case of any unintentional peepers.

I recalled two vials from my hyperspace sphere and walked over to the DNA analysis device. “Well, proof isn’t that hard to find, either.” I placed the vials containing Max and Rain’s DNA in the machine and let it run.

Moments later, the results popped up on my computer. 50% match.

Even though I was expecting this result, my stomach was still full of butterflies. “Well, that’s it.” I said.

“They're brother and sister…” Nenet gasped.

Silence.

“We can’t tell them,” I said, “Not until we know what happened and why they left Max behind.”

“Of course, we have to have all the facts. Any more information about them?” Emil asked.

“There are some suspicious things there,” I continued. “Their parents were decorated military veterans, astronauts. Very highly qualified. And the next thing you see is that their working in the Bureau as Lab Technicians.”

Emil frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s a massive demotion.”

“I agree,” Nenet said, “It sounds like that might have been a cover up for something to me.”

I was silent for a bit. “And then they just, seemingly disappear off the face of the planet. At least according to that database.”

“They couldn’t have been dead if they still had Rain a few years later.” Nenet said, “What are you thinking, Ara?”

I sighed. “I’m thinking about their demeanor. The emotions I felt from them in that memory. They didn’t leave Max behind willingly.”

“Maybe they were on the run, and changed their names.” Emil suggested.

Nenet gasped. “Of course! That would make sense if they were onto something about the Bureau. The Bureau would have wanted them dead if they had incriminating evidence…If they were those kinds of people…”

“Maybe Rain had it wrong, maybe their car accident wasn’t really an accident…” Emil said.

I smiled. “Well, if their children are anything to go by, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t idly stand by while the Bureau breaks every human rights law in the book. Another curious thing is that there was a ‘mistake’ of some sort in the logs. Max was listed as being deceased, then a printout was made, presumably a death certificate. And just a few days after, he was listed under his code. I mean, they could have just changed the name. Why mark him deceased, too?”

Nenet and Emil pondered. “Mistakes like that had cost many their lives in the Bureau, if it truly was a mistake…”

“But we have to keep this between the three of us until we know more.” I said.

“Ara, do you know what this means?” Nenet asked.

I smiled. “Yeah. Rain might be able to save him.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------------END OF CHAPTER 4-------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
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