The cargo hold was quiet, save for the happy gurgles of the baby bouncing in Cass’ lap. A simple lighting system had been rigged up by wedging the palm lights in the ceiling and hooking them up to a small solar bank that had been placed out in the mid-morning sunlight. Cass looked up at the Indra; they were all piled up in the far corners of the cargo bay, save Ellie, Laverne and Mithra. Not even Kid’s devotion to Mithra would allow her to be anywhere near that baby.
“Well it se—, ack!” Laverne attempted to break the silence but is voice broke instead, after a few seconds of coughing he resumed. “It seems we have no choice but to split.”
Mithra raised a hand. “Remember what happened last time?”
He nodded and frowned slightly. “And it all turned out for the better because now we’re all here, the Raksha have been freed and we’re stuck with this little bundle of joy for the time being.” He lost his train of thought and began gibbering to the baby. He looked away, trying to regain his composure. He put a stern look on his face. “I think it’s time we divvy up into teams, one for infiltration and one to remain here with Kid, Mithra, and myself.”
Cass chuckled as she looked at the tiny wiggling person in her lap. “That’s gonna be a tough sell Laverne, my children seem to be a little bit afraid of children. Call me crazy but I think they’d all gladly fight the Shalthar alone rather than stay here with this little muffin.” She devolved into a similar gibbering fit.
The baby’s joyous laughter rang through the bay, the Indra shrunk further into the corners.
Cass glared into the room. “We have to be logical about this which means I have to put my individual feelings for all of you aside… Are you ready?”
There were several gulping noises from the huddled Indra.
“Lethe, Ellie, Ghost, and Marge… You’re staying here with Laverne and company until they’re back at their best. This little snookums is staying behind too. Marge you’re staying behind because I still have absolutely zero trust in you.”
“But I know the systems!” Marge whined.
Scorn raised his hand. “So do I, I was stuck working there for quite a while. I know my way around large portions of the city and the inside of the Citadel.”
Cass thought for a moment, absentmindedly bouncing the baby. “We’re going to have to do something about your glow before we send you in there. When was the last time you wore clothes?”
“There’s a first time for everything.” Scorn shrugged.
“Alright, we’ll get you sorted and send you lot on your way. Now whatever you do, don’t try to be a hero, seriously, the Shalthar aren’t messing around. This is Japan all over again, and this time I’m coming with you.”
There was a chorus of arguments.
Lethe stepped forward. “No…” His tone brooked no argument.
Cass tilted her head. “No?”
“Consider this an executive decision on all our parts… We’re not going to risk losing you again. Besides being the only person on this planet who understands how we work you’re also our mom. We watched you die once before and there is no power on earth that is going to have us risk watching it happen again.”
Cass shook her head. “I can’t just sit back and do nothing, that’s all I’ve ever done!” The baby’s cheerful coos quieted as Cass grew increasingly frustrated.
“You aren’t doing nothing, you were never just doing nothing. You kept us going, ma, through all of it, before and after you died. Your memory kept us from falling into despair and kept us striving towards doing the right thing. Now that you’re back… well, you’re more precious to us than our own lives.”
Cass sighed as she resumed bouncing the baby; a delighted smile broke across its chubby features. “What did I do to deserve kids like you?”
“You had to build us.”
“Fair point…” She looked up at Ellie and pointed at the Indra. Her tone was one of mock evil. “My children are disobedient, beat the stuffing out of them while I cackle maniacally from safety.” The baby giggled along with her evil cackle.
Ellie didn’t move. She began stroking her chin. “I seem to recall the last time I did that… Hmm, I can do half as long as you leave Ghost out of the equation.”
Pixia crossed her arms and replied equally jokingly. “Oh, don’t get so uppity, we attacked you one on one.”
Ellie’s hand dropped. “Oh yeah… and I still had all my legs. Sorry boss I got nothin’.” She shrugged.
Cass deflated. “You’re really not going to change your minds about this?”
“Not a chance,” they chorused.
Cass tried to look on the bright side. “At least that leaves me with more time for this little gremlin.” She tickled the baby’s stomach, it screamed in joy as it wiggled.
The room filled with groans of disgust as the Indra vacated through the open bay door, seeking their salvation in the open air.
Cass grunted as the last of the Indra fled through the door. “Brephophobia I never thought they’d wind up with something like that.” She looked over to Ellie and Mithra. “Why not you two? What about Ari?”
Ellie crossed her arms. “I’m afraid of babies and children for a different reason… they’re too small.” She held out her hand and Cass tentatively placed the baby in it.
Ellie’s fingers were larger than the thing’s arms, it looked positively ridiculous.
“Understandable.” Cass picked the baby up and Ellie let her arm drop to her side. “Mithra?”
She shrugged. “I’m still human at heart so they don’t really bother me, then again that’s the first baby I’ve ever seen. Ari’s feelings are a bit different, but I get the feeling its more trauma than fear.” Mithra winced as vague tendrils of Ari’s memories flitted through her mind. “Yeah, I hope you don’t mind if she doesn’t participate with the baby.”
Cass understood. “It’s all right; I can’t blame her for that.” She sniffed as a foul odor began emanating from the child. “Oh dear… Laverne do we have any spare rags or anything that isn’t covered in blood?”
He raised his eyebrows amusedly. “I’ll go check the med bay, here Ellie how about you join me, it’ll be a nice breather.”
Ellie nodded eagerly and followed Laverne from the cargo bay, leaving Cass and Mithra alone with the baby. An awkward silence descended.
“I’m beginning to envy the others,” Mithra muttered.
Cass chuckled. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Mithra sniffed, feigning annoyance. “I still don’t forgive you for poking me earlier.”
Cass was somewhat distracted by the baby. “Did I poke you?”
“Did you already forget?”
“No… No I haven’t.” She turned to look at Mithra. “Look, you need to understand, I’m a scientist, I am entirely motivated by two things: My children and brutal, tormenting, curiosity. I know you may not want to hear this but you’re no longer human. You’re much like Ellie, but reversed, the old government’s dream.” Cass voice hardened. “Be glad you weren’t created in my time Mithra, they would have made a soldier out of you. They would have torn the humanity from your body until you were a husk.” Her hands began shaking.
The baby had stopped its happy cooing and was looking at Cass thoughtfully, its wide eyes glazed over as it began to scream.
Mithra immediately recoiled and Cass looked away.
“I think the little tyke is hungry!” Laverne announced as he and Ellie returned, clean cloth in hand.
Cass grunted somewhat annoyed. “Shoot, I forgot that humans need food. Is there anything on this tub that could be classified as food?”
“There’s always the Shalthar nutrient broth.”
“It’s better than nothing.”
The baby’s screeches hit a new octave as Cass tried to coax another spoonful of the malodorous broth into its mouth.
She looked desperately to Laverne. “Get Anon… and Marge.”
He nodded understandingly and rushed from the small room. Ellie and Mithra stood by and watched the drama unfold. Wrapped in a fresh diaper the infant was squirming wildly on Cass’ lap, broth spilled all over its face. She looked desperately to the two.
Mithra kept her face neutral. “I’m growing to dislike babies.”
Ellie said nothing.
“Help me…” Cass whimpered.
Mithra walked up to Cass and the baby, its face was pinched horribly as its screamed louder. She carefully scooped it up, careful to support its head like she saw Laverne do, and she held it against her chest and shoulder. She kept a hand pressed to the back of its head and she began bouncing in place. The baby kept screaming but its cries were slightly quieter. Suddenly the infant went quiet.
“What did you do?” Cass whispered in astonishment.
Mithra’s eyes were wide. “I have no idea; I’m just copying what I saw Laverne doing earlier.”
The baby made a small noise, like a frothy grunt. Ellie groaned in disgust. Mithra felt something warm rolling down her back. She froze, the revulsion making her body turn stock still. She felt her body begin shaking, starting in the feet, slowly moving up her legs where it came to stop in her chest. She was suddenly glad she didn’t have a stomach anymore. The baby resumed crying and thrashing in Mithra’s gentle grip.
“Help me…” She whimpered.
Schultz ducked back into the room carrying a small bowl. He dumped the contents of the bowl into the tub of broth. He stuck a finger in and tasted it. He nodded appreciatively.
He dished some of the treated broth back into the bowl. “Anon just pulled off some sort of miracle. Babies like sweet, Mithra give this a quick taste.” He offered her the bowl.
Mithra dipped a finger into the bowl and gave a small taste. It was a wonderful sweet taste, almost overwhelming, with a lovely nutty aftertaste. “Hell yeah, that’s good.”
He nodded, satisfied, he quickly went back to the door and pulled a struggling Marge inside.
She wildly thrashed about, trying to make a break for the door but Ellie shifted to block her escape. “Leave me out of this Schultz!”
He kept his face calm. “Not a chance. I don’t trust you one bit, I think we all share that particular sentiment, so I’m gonna give you a chance to rebuild some of those obliterated bridges.” He shoved the bowl into her hands and uttered three soul shattering words. “Feed, the, baby.”
Marge’s face flashed through every conceivable expression, the cycle of grief was completed several times over as she processed the three words. “You can’t be serious…” was all she could manage to stutter out.
Laverne looked her dead in the eye. “I am. This should be easy, you’re a natural when it comes to faking affection.”
Cass placed the baby on the table, it flopped onto its back, squirming and screaming. “C’mon Marge it’s only right, you redheads should stick together.” She grabbed Marge’s shoulders and sat her down in the seat next to her.
Marge gingerly placed the bowl on the table and stared at the baby with a mixture of revulsion and total perplexion. “Schultz, you know I’m not good with people.”
He grinned angrily. “Oh, you’re good with people, it’s just that you can’t lie to or trick this one. All this little fella understands is the smile on your face and the tone of your voice. So chin up, voice happy, and hide the pain.”
Despair was added to the chorus of expressions. “Oh balls, this is just like before.”
Schultz leaned in and whispered into her ear. “Sorry sweetie, it looks like you lost this time, wanna try again?”
Marge sighed in resignation. “I’m used to playing the long game Laverne but I think you take the cake with that one.”
He turned and was faced with Ellie and Mithra’s quizzical stares. He smirked. “Those were last words she said to me before she drove me from my life. To describe how I’m feeling as blissful may be an understatement.”
Cass got up and stood next to Laverne. “I think it’s time we get things in order with everyone else and send them off.” She looked at Ellie and Mithra. “Guard her, and don’t let her do anything stupid.”
“Done,” they chorused.
The unfaltering red mists continued to swirl around the imposing Citadel. Nothing, not even the vicious storm could batter the thick choking smog away. A flash of angry blue lightning crackled across the sky followed almost immediately an explosive clap of thunder. The light illuminated a lone figure looking out across the city from the topmost floor of the Citadel, peering curiously through the massive fractured window.
The shadowy woman frowned as she watched the toxic rain shower over her city. She squinted her eyes but everything remained blurry, she wondered why. Holding a hand out through a hole in the window, she caught a few droplets of the hazardous shower. She watched intently as the acidic water slowly turned her skin red as it whittled away the outer layer of skin. It snapped and popped as it clouded red; she turned her hand over and let the bloody water spill onto the floor. She wiped her hand on her clean white dress, leaving a dark red smear. She looked at her hand again, the hole was already closing, soon even the faint scar faded into nothing.
She waited for a pain that never came.
She looked back out of the window, her frown deepened. “Why must my world be red? My sky, my blood, my hair…” She looked at the ringlets of fiery red hair outlining her vision. “What is the purpose, why won’t my love tell me?” She struggled to wrack her mind but all she could see was her own scrutinizing face staring back at her, and her love… what was behind the mask? Why did she love him so blindly?
She didn’t know why she loved him, it just felt right.
She turned about and shuffled back into the room. She looked at the machines, vague blurry masses of metal and circuitry, pipes and cords splayed across the floor in a frenetic chaotic display. She didn’t know what the machines did but she knew that she should, something deep in her mind screamed to be heard. She tried; she closed her eyes and focused on the tiny voice screeching in her mind.
A distorted voice grumbled vaguely, she couldn’t remember all of the words, “Minutes… goodbyes… progressed…”
She could hear her love’s voice but it was only a mutter… an apology? An oath? What did he say? She felt a warm vibrant feeling as her love’s voice buzzed through her mind. Was that happiness?
Why couldn’t she remember? She pinched her eyes harder and her breathing grew heavy as she struggled further into the recesses of her mind but the memories kept squirming out of reach. Vague silhouettes flitted across her eyelids, people she knew, their faces hidden by shadow.
“I’m sorry, but it’s progressed too far, she won’t know who you are,” the distorted voice from earlier sounded clearer in her mind.
She was warm, wrapped in blankets, supported by pillows. A warm contentedness filled her body. The edges of her vision were ringed with color; the sweet smell of flowers filled the air. There was a tall man, his face replaced with a dark shadow standing over her. He was talking with another man but she wasn’t listening, she was more focused on the rays of sunlight filtering through the window. She smiled as floating specks of dust lit up in the warm light. She reached out to touch the light but she stopped, it wasn’t her hand it couldn’t have been. The arm she saw was bony and covered in spots, her skin was thin and pale and sagging. Her hand was gnarled and skeletal, it shook uncontrollably. No matter how hard she tried to stop it she couldn’t stop the shaking. As she watched her hand shake she felt her body shake as well, her entire body shook and she didn’t know why. Why? Why couldn’t she remember?
She heard a small frantic beep and the distorted conversation stopped.
The same words echoed as before, but she could make out a few more. “Attack… Vitals… Degrade… Minutes… Goodbyes… Progressed…”
She opened her eyes; her vision was bleary, filled with tears. Her chest rose and fell wildly, she felt hot, she felt wrong.
“My love?” she whimpered as she sank to her knees. “Where are you?” She slumped forward, curling up into the fetal position.
My love… who are you?”
Kid juddered slightly, not that any of the Indra around her noticed; they were all focusing on other things, more important things. Kid looked around at all of them, buzzing around industriously in the beautiful sunlight, preparing for an excursion into slaughter. Kid looked down at the soft earth squishing between her toes, she savored the feeling. She looked back at the landing craft and the yawning dark chasm of the cargo bay. She jogged inside letting the dark swallow her.
The others didn’t notice.
She knew where she needed to go, she needed to find Ellie, but she didn’t know where she went. She listened, beneath the creaking of the ship and the chatter of her fellow Indra she heard the wailing of the baby. She fixated on the noise as it echoed through the ship; the pitiful, keening, wail guided her toward Ellie.
She spoke to Katrine earlier, voiced her concerns, and Katrine agreed it was for the best. Kid was glad that Katrine agreed, she missed her. Kid stopped, her movements froze.
What about Mithra?
Kid thought… she argued with herself, struggling to think of a medium, a place in between where she could have them both. But she couldn’t, she had to choose. She loved them both, but could she live without either? She would have to.
Kid crept forward once more, lunging to the side as Laverne and Cass strode past, deep in conversation. She watched them pass. Mother and father, together at last. She loved them too and she was giving them up to be with Ellie. That decision came so much easier. She kept moving.
A light shone in the corridor and the burbling coos of the baby grew louder as the bounced down the corridor. There was another voice mixed in, a sickly sweet voice, a voice filled with forced cheer. It reminded Kid of her own voice. She poked her head around the edge of the door, Ellie was blocking the way. Kid let out a silent sigh of relief and she gingerly placed her hand on the stump of Ellie’s leg. She knew Ellie had no feeling there, so did Katrine.
She focused, and the apartment door faded into existence. She opened it quietly and peered inside, the familiar surroundings filled her with contentment. She closed the door behind her, Katrine was waiting on the futon, Vee was nowhere to be seen, probably somewhere deep in Katrine’s mind.
Katrine didn’t get up; she sat staring at the blank wall. “Are you sure about this Kid?” Katrine asked.
“It’s the only way,” Kid replied sadly.
Katrine nodded solemnly. “Come on in then.”
Scorn cursed quietly as he struggled with the pile of Shalthar undergarments and body armor. “Damn I wish we had Katrine here, she’s the tailor of the group.”
Xypia looked up at Scorn as he attempted once more to get the odd bodysuit to stop bunching up around Scorn’s ankles. They were both out of their depth and Scorn was too stubborn to ask for help, bar, Xypia the only one guaranteed not to talk. There was a knock on the ship’s bulkhead; the two looked despairingly at their witness.
Bolt made the sound of clearing her throat. “I’m sorry but this is too embarrassing, let me help.”
Scorn turned sharply around. “Nope, no, Xypia and I are doing just fine. Right Xypia?”
Xypia shook his head.
“See he agrees with me,” Scorn said triumphantly.
Bolt was suddenly standing beside him, looking him up and down. “Remember the gala? All those years ago?”
“The pillow fight was legendary,” Scorn nodded. “As was that thing you were wearing.”
Bolt snorted. “Excuse me if you don’t understand fashion.” She began balling up portions of the garment and tying them off with strips of tough grass. “Now… who do you think designed all of your outfits, my money is that you thought Katrine did. Well you’d be wrong. She made the final drawings but I did the original designs and measurements.”
Scorn was taken by surprise. “Ah, so you do have a hobby.”
Bolt crouched down and began rolling the hems of the legs up until they were resting at ankle level. “Did… believe me, when you’re stuck in the middle of a salt pit for god knows how long you begin to find yourself short on materials incredibly quickly. Shit I need some string.”
Xypia shot up and jogged around the corner.
The two watched him go with mild confusion.
“I guess he knows where to find string,” Scorn shrugged.
Bolt went back to trimming the bodysuit. “Good lord you’re skinny,” she muttered as she wadded up the portion around Scorn’s midsection. “Hmph, oh well, we didn’t get to choose our bodies. Personally I’m glad I didn’t wind up like Ellie or Wall, I rather like being able to fit down most hallways.”
Scorn figured it was time to see if that vague grumble from Pixia was true. “What about Pestilence? She’s quite nice looking, perhaps a bit more petite than you are, but then again—.”
There was an annoyed grunt from Bolt and the suit suddenly tightened around Scorn’s chest, cutting him off.
He kept going. “Or do you prefer them more like Ghost—.” He winced as the material around his crotch tightened painfully.
“Who I love is none of your concern, now I’d suggest you stop talking about such silly things or you’re going to the Citadel in a dress,” Bolt growled.
“While you’re at it make me one too!” Pestilence called from around the corner.
She threw a glare back at the unseen Pestilence. “I’m surrounded by children,” she sighed as she went back to fiddling with the loose garment.
Cass’ voice sounded behind her, “and yet you fear that harmless baby.”
Bolt threw another quick glance to see Cass leaning against the bulkhead “That’s different, there’s something evil in a creature so pure.”
Cass chuckled. “An oxymoron mine ears do detect.”
Scorn grunted as Bolt continued her adjustments. “I agree with Bolt. You look into that thing’s eyes and there’s nothing, no soul, no character. It’s like the husk of a human being.”
Cass’ voice was wistful. “A blank slate, free to grow and develop at its own rate, molded and shaped by those around it and by the events it experiences. You both were incredibly similar at one point in time.”
“We were different; we already knew who we were when we were created.”
“Indeed, I deprived you of the wonders of childhood, but that hasn’t stopped you from growing as you’ve aged. Bolt, I doubt you ever expected to be a tailor, and I doubt Pestilence ever thought she’d be a policewoman. Anon never thought he’d become a chef or a husband, and Scorn I doubt you ever expected you’d be a novelist.”
Bolt looked up at him metaphorical eyebrow raised. “Novelist?”
“The past may have forgotten, but I have not.” Cass chuckled as she turned back to the others, letting Scorn stew in discomfort.
Bolt glared at Scorn, “So what did you write about?”
Scorn’s voice was morose. “Dear sweet, innocent, baby sister… You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.”
“I will learn eventually.”
“No, you won’t.”
Bolt began working on the arms; she noticed the bandaging on his left arm bulging the material as she bunched it up.
She grunted, “You’ll need to take that bandage off it’ll throw off my measurements.”
“I’d prefer to keep it on.” Scorn’s tone turned oddly defensive.”
Scorn sighed and relented; he rolled up the ludicrously baggy sleeve and tore the bandage from around his arm quickly pulling it down again.
Bolt stopped with her fussing. “Y’know, in my experience self-mutilation is not a great habit to start.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Scorn snapped. “I got it when I tripped in the dark.”
“Scorn, we both know that puncture wounds are never perfect squares.” She was silent as she began her measurements once more. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Scorn scoffed bitterly. “As I recall it used to be your job to be the impulsive one, making self destructive decisions.”
“I’ve had good influences to curb those particular habits.”
He sighed. “It was something Cass said, she didn’t want to tell me because she was worried I’d do just this. Apparently removing my skin will slowly reduce my glow.”
“I imagine that is an incredibly tantalizing prospect, even with the means being so destructive.”
“I wanted to try it on a small spot, just to see if she was right.”
“And if she was? You up and skin yourself? Scorn… I have no idea what it’s like living as you do, but I can guarantee you this… it’s not worth it. You’d be suffering for years; I know how long it takes for our skin to grow back fully. And besides… why go that far when you have me here to make delightful outfits for you? You can wear a new skin every day, capable of reflecting your personality and mood better than your words ever could.”
“And what? Carry an entire wardrobe around on my back every day?”
“No you silly bastard… You’d be living with us, Pestilence and me. When this is all over we’re gonna settle down somewhere, try to do what Ghost and Pixia did, try to live a normal life. We’d be happy to have you join us.”
Scorn was caught in a stunned silence he stuttered, trying to find the right words. Finally he sighed, “I’d like that.”
“It’s a deal?”
Xypia skidded around the corner his hands full of several wads of string which he dumped into Bolt’s waiting hands.
She looked at the stuff. “This is medical grade. Looks like you raided the med bay… it’ll do nicely but… did you grab a needle?”
Xypia stiffened; he spun around and rushed off again.
Cass sat on the cargo bay door, swinging her legs as she watched the Indra inspecting supplies for their journey. She cringed internally. Journey? Such a campy word. Quest? Worse. Excursion, was the proper word for it. Xypia buzzed past her carrying a solitary needle, his feet snagged on some loose straps that were left about as anything that wasn’t bolted down was pulled from the ship. The needle glimmered in the sunlight as it flew from his hand and landed somewhere in the tall grass.
Cass got to her feet and helped him look for the needle, Pestilence also decided to chip in.
“The pinnacle of biotechnical engineering and we’re foiled by a couple strips of cloth.” She chuckled.
“We’ve been foiled by many things,” Pestilence said airily. “I once saw Death lose a suspect to a windblown newspaper. I have no idea why they brought those things back into circulation; everybody could use the paperless alternatives.”
“How horribly wasteful.”
Pestilence grunted, peeved. “Yeah, but no, this guy was a pain in our collective asses, graffiti artist. You’d have thought he and Schultz were best friends or something ‘cause he knew policy changes before we did, then he would draw huge bloated caricatures on buildings. You should have seen the one he did of Death, it was hilarious.”
Cass chuckled, “not many folks it could have been… What if it was Xypia?! Schultz’ personal bodyguard!”
Pestilence scoffed and looked at Xypia, who was glaring at her. “Sorry bud, we’ve never have carried a conversation, but I think I know you a bit better than that.”
He nodded quickly.
“Also…” Pestilence started suspiciously. “I found it.” She held up the shining needle.
Xypia snatched it from her hands and ran off to Bolt.
Cass and Pestilence watched him go, they both sighed.
Pestilence stole a glance at Cass. “Looks like I got that habit from you.”
“What? Sighing at dramatic times? I think we all have that particular habit. The habit I’m more concerned about is you kids going off and getting into relationships without telling me. Pixia told me, she broke first.”
Pestilence slouched. “Ah, and my private life has been revealed.”
“I can’t say I blame you, stuck in the middle of a desert for who-know-how-long with only her for company. Then again I do recall Ari mention you being rather flirty.”
Pestilence slouched further.
“Honestly I’m glad, I was rather worried you’d be stuck with your brothers and Famine forever, I’m glad you finally found a sense of individuality.”
Pestilence scoffed. “I’m probably the only one of them with any form of character whatsoever. So stern, so serious, they have no idea how to let loose and enjoy life.”
“Well I’m glad you’re finally enjoying yours.”
“It’s like the old songs says… ‘Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right’.” She walked back to the others whistling a joyful tune.
Cass walked around to the other Indra, chatting quietly as they prepared. She was reminded of the quick meetings she’d get with them before they went out on missions for the government. The same feelings she used to feel every time they went out began to creep into her mind, the painful wondering if they would all come back safely.
Her quiet reflection caught the attention of a few of the Indra.
“Ah cheer up ma!” Wulf gave her a hearty clap on the shoulder, something he wouldn’t have dared done when she was still flesh and blood. “We’ll be back, we always come back, you know us.”
She looked at him. “I lost you once before, I don’t know if I can do it again.”
Wall placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’ll always come back for you. It doesn’t matter if our bodies are blasted away, as long as our board is in your hands we’ll be safe.” He gave her shoulder, and significant portion of her upper body, a squeeze.
Bolt emerged from around the side of the ship. “It isn’t my best work but he’s covered. Feel free to slap whatever flourishes you want on, I don’t have eyes to bleed from so go wild.” She waved dismissively and walked over to Pestilence, she dragged her back inside the cargo bay, her whispering was quiet and annoyed.
Scorn hopped around the corner struggling to get a pair of Shalthar combat boots on his feet. The suit was trimmed remarkably well with all of the seams dotting the back of the garment, entirely invisible from the front.
“Behold the world’s shrimpiest Shalthar!” Wulf announced. “We just need to get one of their helmets on you and the illusion will be complete!”
Scorn stomped his foot on the ground, finally getting the boot fully on. “Couldn’t you have just dipped me in paint or something? This thing feels so stifling!”
Pixia stalked up, arms full of Shalthar body armor. “Stifling you say? Jump him boys!”
Cass watched in bewilderment as the Indra descended on Scorn, wrapping him in various articles of armor. Soon the scrum disbanded and revealed a remarkable figure. Scorn swayed from side to side as he tried to maintain his balance under the weight of the armor. It cut a frightening juxtaposition to his narrow frame; he looked absolutely bloated in places. His chest and shoulders seemed to stretch out from his narrow waist and his knees had grown massive. He refused to even try and walk under all the clutter.
“Take this shit off or I’m staying back and letting you bastards rough it,” he growled.
Back inside the ship, through the surprisingly sprawling maze of destroyed corridors Marge had finally finished feeding the baby, and drawing upon ancient disused knowledge she managed to burp it. The baby nestled itself into her chest and quickly fell asleep. She sighed and looked over at the two, her face still twisted in her fake happy smile, the desperation in her eyes was more than evident.
Mithra yawned and looked over at Ellie. “You mind if I step out for a bit? I think I’ve forgotten what the sun looks like.”
Marge turned further to look at her, joyous façade melting away. “Take me with you!” She quickly lowered her voice as the baby fussed quietly in her arms.
Ellie barred the door, preventing either of them from leaving. “Not a chance, we’re waiting until either Cass or Laverne come back, I’m keeping you both right here.”
Mithra crossed her arms. “Come on now, I’m not also under guard… I’m not an evil scumbag piece of shit like Marge is.”
“Don’t compliment me,” Marge muttered as she turned her attention back to the baby.
Ellie raised a contrarian finger. “Perhaps not, but you’re still under close medical supervision, my close medical supervision. You’re still incredibly weak and in need of biomass, frankly it’s incredible that you’re standing up right now.”
“I’m very stubborn,” Mithra admitted. “Can I at least sit down?”
Ellie chuckled. “I’m not that heartless, go on, pull up a chair and watch Marge’s discomfort.”
Marge glared at them as she gently rocked the baby back and forth; she looked down at the tiny sleeping creature and began muttering to it. “I despise you, if there ever comes a time when I can escape from these detritus laden fools I will do so and leave you in a field for the carrion… Well, maybe not in a field… actually I’d probably just drop you as I made my escape. But the point still stands you bacteria laden shit machine.”
Mithra glared at Marge, she heard every word. “Marge, stop whispering sweet nothings into its ear, you’re scaring me.”
Marge glared back. “You have no idea who I am child, you don’t know how serious I am.”
Ellie stepped forward, feathers ruffled. “She doesn’t need to know who you are to know that you are a sniveling pathetic wretch who neither deserves the life she was given nor the body she’s walking about in.”
Mithra looked over at Ellie, rather surprised at how angry she was.
Ellie continued, quietly placing her hands on the table. Her voice was deadly calm, “You are the root cause of all of this, if you hadn’t driven Schultz, and us by proxy, from Alcadon the Shalthar never would have gained power. You bitch; we were actively working on culling the Shalti’s genetic mutation when you decide to stage your little coup. If you had waited a year, six months even, then the Shalti would have been stabilized and the Monarch would never have been able to rally them into his personal army.”
Marge’s face twisted in confusion. “The who?”
Ellie’s fingers dug into the table. “Don’t play stupid with me… The Monarch, the creature you’ve been working with since you drove us from Alcadon.”
Marge shook her head her face a perfect mask of confusion. “Sweetie, I distinctly remember working alone for all those years.”
Ellie sighed and went back to the doorway. “Mithra, get Cass, something doesn’t seem right.”
Mithra leaned forward, scrutinizing Marge’s semi-concerned face. “I’m pretty sure she’s lying.”
Ellie shook her head as she eased back against the doorway. “Yesterday she wouldn’t stop insulting the guy, now she refuses to acknowledge his existence. I’ve never known Marge to let go of a grudge.”
Mithra sighed as she stood up; she had to pause for a moment as a gray haze clouded her vision momentarily. She shook her head and jogged into the corridor.
“Any insight?” Mithra asked Ari.
“This is most unusual… Oftentimes it was a struggle to get Marge to shut up; this refusal to talk is a dramatic shift.”
Medusa growled. Mithra was mildly surprised she hadn’t heard anything from it in a long while. “Sabotage, she is a computer, such things are known to be easily tampered with.”
Ari grunted in agreement. “A very good suggestion, we’ll have to see what Cass says.”
Mithra narrowed her eyes. “You’ve gotten really chatty now that the baby is gone.” More images of death flashed past her eyes, from both Ari and Medusa’s perspective. “Yeah… that’s right.” She entered the cargo bay, the light of the sun filled it with a pale glow, she could see the shadows of the Indra flashing by. Mithra paused for a moment.
Ari chuckled. “They are quite intimidating I know. And yes, they will view you as a child, they still think of Ellie as their scrappy baby sister despite her being far more mature than most of them.”
“Pretentious aren’t they?”
“Oh yes, their years of protecting humanity has unfortunately led to a predisposition to view them as lesser.”
“Well on a technical level they are.”
“Indeed, but they forget how powerful humanity can be, perhaps it’s repression but let me just say… Every misfortune we’ve had was born from human hands.”
“Aren’t they all?”
“Yes,” Medusa seethed.
Mithra walked out into the warm sunlight. She inhaled deeply as she savored the warmth on her face. She knew that she didn’t need to breathe but old habits die hard. Kid was lying on the slightly angled door, basking in the sun. Mithra crouched over her.
“Mind if I join you later? That looks fantastic.”
Kid grunted in response.
She smirked. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
She straightened up and looked for Cass. She was off at the edge of the group, loitering with Ghost, Mithra jogged over to the two. She dodged around the other Indra; they were all fairly heavily laden and finally ready to start their trek to the Citadel.
Cass huffed appreciatively as Mithra drew up. “Well your skin is staying on I don’t think it’ll take you too long for you to be back at one hundred percent.”
“D’you really think they’ll need that much stuff?” Mithra asked. “It seems a little bit overkill.”
Cass chuckled. “They like to be prepared.” She looked over at Ghost, “Do you really think giving Pestilence the fusion grenades was a good idea though?”
Ghost thought for a moment. “With her luck she’d drop them and just knock the whole Citadel over killing the Monarch instantly.”
Mithra stopped Cass before she could lob off a witty response. “Yeah, actually, that’s why I’m here. I don’t really know how to say this without it sounding stupid but Marge has completely forgotten the Monarch.”
Ghost snorted. “I find that a bit hard to believe, he was stuck with her for centuries.”
“Look, I may be a naive youngster but she I don’t think she was lying, she actually seemed bewildered.”
Cass sighed, “Well alright, but bring her out here, I don’t want to go back in that depressing death trap.”
Marge took no coaxing, she was up and out of the door, baby in hand, before Mithra had finished the sentence. “Even I can only take so much of this depressing pit, and that’s saying something when you take into consideration my former home.”
Ellie decided to do some prodding. “So if you have no clue who the Monarch is then how come you’re here with us and not lording it up in the Citadel?”
Marge stuck out her tongue. “The Shalthar scientists… the brains, behind myself of course. They always insisted that they were more than capable of forwarding the cloning process without my input. They finally convinced the military, my idiotic safeguard, to throw me out.” She huffed. “I knew making some of them smart was a bad idea.”
Ellie pondered for a moment. “A likely story,” she finally replied, unconvinced.
“It’s the truth sweetie; I don’t have any reason to lie.” She readjusted her hold on the baby unconsciously. “That’s exactly what happened.”
If Ellie had eyes they’d be rolling. “You are so full of shit Marge.”
Marge raised an eyebrow, taking Ellie’s statement at face value. “On the contrary I haven’t produced any meaningful quantities of waste product in years.”
Ellie was not in the mood for trivia about her least favorite person. “Shut up.”
“If you insist.”
“Oh, I do.”
Mithra sighed; did she really have to be the grownup in this situation? “Oi, both of you, act your age and both shut up.”
They both quieted down as they entered the cargo bay, the sunlight cast its welcoming glow across them. Mithra’s eyes had finally readjusted to the darkness of the ship and suddenly they were blasted with such a bright light, they began watering almost instantly. With her vision blurred she totally missed Kid lounging in the sunlight, she’d moved since Mithra last passed her by. Mithra tripped over Kid’s prostrate form and bellyflopped in the grass.
Ellie looked over. “You alright?”
Mithra was amazed at how squeaky she sounded. “Yeah… I’m just gonna stay here for a while.”
“Have fun.” Ellie passed her by and escorted Marge to Cass.
Ghost, Lethe, Laverne, and Cass were watching the vague outlines of the Indra fade into the long grass. The shape of Pixia flitted up into the air and waved one last time before being lost beneath the grass. After throwing a quick glance behind, Ghost broke quickly from the group, hiding off in the tall grass. The others watched her go in confusion; Lethe looked back too and followed Ghost as quickly as he could. Standing alone, Laverne and Cass finally turned to see what drove the two away.
Cass crossed her arms as Marge drew up. “Ah, the amnesiac approaches, with precious cargo.” Cass gestured for Marge to give Laverne the baby.
Marge stuck her tongue out at the baby and gently placed it in his waiting arms; he wandered off to where Mithra was laying and sat down, gently rocking the baby.
“Now, let’s see what the problem is.” Cass pointed down. “Sit,” she said as if she were commanding a dog.
Marge obediently sat. “I really don’t know what you expect to find in there, there’s nothing wrong.”
“Uh huh,” Cass replied skeptically. She gently felt around Marge’s scalp until she found her previous point of entry, she gently pulled off the chunk of hair and skin. Marge winced as the staples loosened and broke free. “Well alright so I immediately know something’s wrong.”
Marge raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Where’s your automatic tampering protocols? I didn’t lop them off before… so why aren’t you struggling?”
Kid wandered up, blearily rubbing at her facial region. “Wanna have me smother her again?” She pantomimed aggressively hugging. “Squishy, squishy.”
Cass shook her head. “I appreciate the offer but I don’t think we’ll need to right now.” She began patting her sides, feeling around her small utility belt, she pulled out a tiny pair of pliers. “Now, what’s the matter?”
After several minutes of silence Cass finally reemerged from Marge’s inner workings. “It’s a bodge, an excellent bodge, but you’ve definitely been screwed around with.” She dropped the pliers back into her belt. “A-a-and there’s nothing I can do that’ll fix it, not without some pretty hefty equipment, and chances are that the equipment I need is tucked nicely away in the Citadel.”
Laverne had come back over when he heard Cass start talking again, the baby was cooing happily in his arms. “So what’s the prognosis?”
“Well, one of her core memory banks has likely been completely overwritten and the edge connector I’d need to use to interface with and recall the suppressed files has been pretty much been whittled to the board.”
“Can the bank be accessed directly?”
Marge surprised them all by shaking her head. “No, you need to go through that specific edge connector, if I know the one you’re thinking of then you’d have to hardwire the connection. The stuff you’d need, specifically the ribbon cable needed to actually transfer the data is highly specialized.”
Cass grunted. “We need half a robotics lab just to fix the damage from a piece of sandpaper.”
Laverne smiled. “The most complex of things have a nasty habit of being taken down by the simplest of tools.”
Cass was lost in thought again. “But… there is a connector somewhere in that ship, it was used to overwrite the memories, but who the heck did it? The only people who’ve been here are us Indra and the baby.”
Marge pointed a finger at the baby. “I blame the baby.”
Cass slapped her hand down. “It’s not the baby.”
Laverne was growing concerned. “Most of us don’t know the first thing about computers or robotics… I have a fairly baseline knowledge, then there’s you, and Scorn.”
Ghost poked her head from the brush. “Anon and I took a few basic robotics and programming courses at the university.”
Cass shook her head. “This was expertly done, whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing, nothing else was touched, not a mark anywhere else.”
“Do you think it was Scorn?”
Cass shook her head. “It couldn’t have been… Both he and Marge were under almost constant supervision.”
Marge snorted slightly, “and I would have seen him coming from a mile away.”
Laverne frowned deeply. “Look, I really don’t want to put suspicion onto Scorn but he’s the only one we know of who is adept in this sort of technology, and he was working with the Shalthar for quite a long time. It was under duress so maybe they have him hostage somehow? Forcing him to do this?”
Cass held up a hand, stopping him from going further. “We mustn’t jump to conclusions so quickly. I think for now we have to focus on getting Kid and Mithra back to their full strength, we can discuss this later.” She turned to Ellie. “Ellie I have something I want you to do, this is right in your wheelhouse so you shouldn’t have any issues.
Ellie shrugged. “Alright, shoot.”
Cass pointed at the ship. “If we’re gonna use that as a shelter it needs to air out a bit. I think it’s time you finished what you started and tear that thing open.”
Ellie crouched down slightly as she eyed up the large ship. “Wanton violence wins out again, eh? Well, let’s get started.” She pulled the sword from her back and prepared to get to work.
“Remember, focus on the walls! And try to leave anything important looking off the chopping block!”
“I make no promises!” She broke in a sprint towards the ship.”
Laverne waved Mithra over; she was far too close to the ship for his liking. She jogged over to the group as Ellie made her first slash.
The sea of grass was endless, or at least that’s the impression the Indra got as they had been totally submerged in it some time ago. Waving easily ten feet in the air it was almost impossible to wade through.
Wulf called the group to a halt. “Ok, this isn’t working, we need to get organized.”
The Indra all nodded in agreement.
He clapped his hands together. “Alright, did we bring any edged weapons? Blades, swords?”
Bolt dropped her bag on the ground, it clanked quietly. “I got ya covered.” She flipped it open and pulled out several sheathed short swords and a small handful of axes.
Wulf grabbed one of the short swords and pulled off the sheathe. “Ooh, nasty.”
It was an odd looking thing with the top half of the blade being a straight edge with the bottom half being serrated. The metal of the blade was slightly thicker near the top so the wielder could comfortably grab hold of it.
Scorn shuddered slightly. “Limb Cutters. They use the top half for the flesh and the bottom for the bone. Those’ll get through this grass no problem.
Wulf gave an experimental swipe at the grass. The blade sped through the tough greenery like a knife through water. He hissed appreciatively, “I wish I had one of these a little while back, would have made life quite a bit easier.”
Wall clapped him on the back, knocking him off balance. “Was it the bear? That adorable little fuzzy creature that nearly tore your throat out?”
Wulf straightened up and looked away.
Wall looked at the group. “If I hadn’t stepped in then Wulfy boy would have had his head torn off by an adolescent brown bear.”
Wulf pointed at Wall aggressively. “That wasn’t the average bear! There was something up! It was too smart!”
“Not everything smarter than you is too smart.” Wall shrugged.
Wulf slipped the sheathe back on the Cutter and wacked Wall over the head with it. Wall stopped and slouched slightly, the blow seemingly had little effect on him.
He turned around, finger outstretched and waggling. “We’ve been working on this Wulf, you need to control your emotions.”
“I am.” Wulf’s voice was strained. “That’s why I hit you with the flat and not the sharp bit.”
Wall tilted his head from side to side. “Fair enough, next time try hitting something that isn’t me though, I can only live with so many lumps.”
Wulf thrust one of the blades into Wall’s outstretched hand. “Alright then, I nominate the two of us to start mowing the lawn, you can watch me hit anything but you.”
Wall nodded. “That’s better, catharsis is healthy.”
The Indra stood by dumbly as the two continued to argue aggressively with each other.
Pestilence leaned close to Bolt, “I thought it was the opposite.”
“D’you think it’s time to break this up?”
Bolt nodded again.
Pestilence stepped forward and wedged herself in between the two. “Alright lads! That’s enough flirting! Get cutting before I have Bolt tie you in a knot and leave you behind!”
The two looked down at her; she barely came up to chest height on Wulf and was torso height on Wall. They stepped away, still grumbling.
She pointed due east. “Hit the grass and stop complaining.”
Wulf and Wall continued complaining but they did start scything away at the grass, a narrow green corridor slowly cut through the waving sea of grass. The Indra had to pad along in single file to keep their progress consistent, too often one would get caught in the grass and drag the whole group to a halt as Wulf and Wall plowed ahead. Several hours passed and progress was slow, the grass only seemed to get thicker the further they went. The sun was hanging low in the sky, nightfall was approaching and the Indra were basically stranded. Scorn was about to suggest having Pixia take flight to get a survey of the area but he never got the chance. A closed fist from Wall stopped the group; Wulf was nowhere to be seen. They all slowly came to a stop; something felt wrong, their hackles rose as the atmosphere seemed to develop a negative pull.
Wall slowly backed up to the main group. “Something felt off, Wulf went ahead to check it out. According to his estimates we’re about three hours from the river fork, two if we really hurry along.” He held a finger up to his mouth region as a series of loud thumps and heavy rustling filled the space around the Indra.
A grey blur shot from the grass, ramming into Wall’s midsection. He was torn from the group into the shroud of greenery in a flurry of panicked grunting and tangled limbs. There was a series of sickening cracking and Wulf came flying from the grass, visibly shaken. A lithe pair of soot grey hands wrapped around his ankles and pulled him to the ground, he was pulled into the grass with a cry of panic. There was more sickening cracking and Wall was thrown from the grass into the group, bowling them over.
“Stick together,” he wheezed, “these bastards are fast!”
The grey blur shot from the grass again, wrapping a slender arm around Bolt’s neck and pulling her into the grass. There was a loud screeching and Bolt was thrown across the corridor landing somewhere behind the Indra. The grey blur shot by again, aiming low it knocked the legs out from several of the Indra. As they regained their footing it snagged Wall again and pulled him into the grass. The cracking sounded again. A dark grey blur followed by a lighter one whizzed past the Indra.
“Shit,” muttered Pestilence as she scanned through the grass looking for Bolt.
Xypia startled everyone by dropping his bag and tearing it open, a variety of machine rifles and pistols clattered onto the ground. He picked one up and began scoping through the long grass. The other Indra picked up guns of their own and followed his example.
A creeping voice whistled through the grass. “Knock, knock…”
The Indra zeroed in on the voice and let off a barrage of hot lead. There was a rustling as the thing shot off through the grass.
A second, equally decrepit voice eked through the grass, responding to the first. “Who’s there?” It came from almost directly behind the Indra.
They whirled around and fired again. There was a chuckle as the thing rushed into the darkness. The sun was setting, a darkness had settled on the group, only Scorn’s restrained glow shone any light into the grass.
“Fear,” the first voice called out, from the front.
“Woe,” responded the other from the back.”
“Your forever…” It drew closer.
“And eternal…” And closer.
The two shapes shot from the darkness, wrapping their thin limbs onto Anon and Pixia. The darkness hid most of their features but they were humanoid in shape, small and thin. There was a screech of triumph from the one riding Pixia as it dug its hand into her back and tore off one of her wings. Pixia let out a shriek of pain as the thing grasped for another.
Bolt shot from the grass, bowling over Pixia and the shadowy creature, they fell heavily to the ground. Xypia had grabbed a hold of the writhing creature and pulled it from Pixia’s neck. Scorn and Pestilence were working on wrangling the one trying to tear the spikes from Anon’s head.
Xypia wrapped his long fingers around the thing’s neck and began to squeeze. It writhed and thrashed and squealed but it didn’t show signs of weakening. Xypia looked at it in confusion and began using his other hand, trying to crush the thing’s spine but its neck would not yield, it barely even flexed in his viselike grip. It worked its legs up and launched a double footed kick right into his stomach, throwing him backwards to land on Anon and Scorn. The two creatures fled into the grass, cackling as their footsteps faded into the distance.
The Indra were frozen, bar Pixia who was rocking on the ground in shock.
Finally Bolt broke the silence. “Scorn, take the suit off, we need some light.”
He carefully unzipped the bodysuit and his light illuminated a sorry scene. All the Indra present were covered in a variety of scratches and small punctures, black blood dribbled into the stalks of the grass. Pixia lay on the ground, shaking, a thin stream of biomass oozing from the hole on her back where her wing used to be. Bolt and Pestilence knelt over her and rolled her onto her stomach, she didn’t resist.
Bolt examined the hole, she looked up at the Indra. “C’mon, there’s still enough fresh biomass here to try and graft the thing back on. Find the wing, get lights and find it!”
Another bag was torn open and the Indra armed themselves with machine rifles and palm lights and struck off into the grass, looking for the shine of Pixia’s lost wing. There were several crashes, the sound of something large blundering through the grass. There was a desperate grunting followed by gasping; it quickly drew towards the scanning lights.
Wall burst through the greenery, holding a limp Wulf over his shoulder, gingerly held in his free arm was Pixia’s lost wing. His legs trembled and he fell to his knees holding out the wing. Bolt rushed forward and snatched it from his hand.
“We found it! Everyone get back here!” she called to the searching Indra.
The lights turned back, focusing on the corridor. Wall slumped forward letting Wulf slide from his shoulder onto the ground. He fell backwards landing with a massive thud.
Bolt gestured for Scorn and Anon to get over to the two. “Check up on them, quick.” She turned back to Pixia. Slathering the chunk of flesh at the end of the wing in her own biomass Bolt slowly fed the nub back into Pixia’s back.
Pixia jumped slightly as the wing reentered.
“Did we actually bring any medical supplies?” Bolt asked desperately.
“My bag.” Anon pointed to the furthest bag from the group.
Bolt rushed over and opened the bag, she let out an audible sigh of relief, it was filled with gauze, braces, and supplies for stitching. She grabbed the bag and ran back over to Pixia. She pulled a roll of thread from the bag and fished her hand around for a needle. She winced as one stuck into her palm, she wrapped her hand around it and polled it from the bag.
“Anon, you’re better at this than I am.” She waved him over.
Anon looked up from his examination of Wulf and Wall. “Trade places, these guys have some pretty nasty gashes, the staple gun should be somewhere in the bag.”
It was lying at the top of the pile of supplies. Bolt snatched it and went over to Wall and Wulf while Anon knelt over Pixia and began sewing her wing back in place.
It was a painful half hour of stitching and stapling but soon the biomass had stopped flowing. Roll after roll of gauze was wound around Pixia’s midsection, pinning her wings in place. Wulf also needed an incredible amount of gauze to cover the positively massive gash that scythed across his stomach.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Wall muttered, “I’ve never seen something move so fast, not even Ghost.”
Bolt placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, we all made it. Did you see their faces?”
Wall seemed to stiffen in fear as he remembered. “They didn’t have one.”
Bolt tilted her head, confused. “What?”
His gaze seemed to pierce to her core. “They were Indra.”
“Is that good!?” Ellie called from deep inside the shredded husk of the ship.
Ellie had roughly cleaved away a majority of the outer hull and punched hundreds of large holes into the inner walls. I was miraculous that the ship didn’t collapse under its own weight but Ellie repeatedly insisted that she’d left the support structure untouched.
Ghost tapped her chin and framed the ship in her open hands, she tiled her head. “Barely adequate! Have you no knowledge of symmetry!?”
Ellie let her blade smash into the metal flooring, her shoulders slumped. “Well I didn’t know it was gonna be graded!” Her voice was full of despair.
Cass held out a fist, it wavered in the air for a moment. She twisted it, a thumb pointed towards the ground. “Failure!” she declared.
Ellie sharply dropped to her knees and began pounding the floor, denting and cratering it. “No! My honor, I will never recover from this.”
Mithra leapt into the wreck and jogged up to Ellie, she winced slightly the staples were pinching again. She crouched down in front of Ellie’s sorry form. “You’re joking right?”
Ellie looked up. “Hmm? Oh yeah.” She straightened up and followed Mithra out of the ship. She landed heavily on the soft earth. “Alright, call me crazy but that thing is plenty aired out.”
Marge curled her lip; the baby had been placed in her care again so she was unconsciously bouncing in place. “I think you missed a spot.” She nodded her head at a virtually untouched room near the center. “Wait, don’t tell me, that’s where I’m staying.”
Laverne came rustling through the tall grass followed by Lethe, both were heavily laden with overstuffed canvas bags. “Incorrect, that’s the brew room. We need to keep it airtight or the biomass will get contaminated and Mithra will wind up glowing like Scorn.”
Marge blanched. “Weak organic bodies.”
Mithra crossed her arms and stared at Marge. “Hon you were taken out with a few wires and a piece of sandpaper, your technological masterpiece doesn’t seem much better.”
Marge harrumphed and went back to pawing at the baby. It wiggled and squealed in her arms, suddenly it grew quiet. Marge sighed. “Alright where’s the slop, this thing is gonna cry any second.”
Laverne tossed a thumb at the small fire. “Pot by the fire, should be a ladle next to it.”
Marge grunted her thanks and plunked down by the fire. She sighed in resignation and looked at the baby. “Alright you little creature, let’s get some food in you.”
Mithra tried to eavesdrop of Marge’s muttering trying to see if there were any new insults she could borrow for later but Marge was being too quiet. She looked down at her arms, they were crisscrossed with jagged stapled cuts, a few staples had begun to loosen. A thick slow moving droplet of biomass spread from a reopened cut and was trying to make its way down her arm. She dabbed her finger in it and touched it to her tongue. She gagged as a rotten taste filled her mouth.
Cass looked at her, slightly more than amused. “Yeah, not too fresh, we’re going to see if we can remedy that tonight.”
Mithra didn’t hear her; she was too busy trying to flush her mouth out with water. Tears spewed unbidden from her eyes as the taste seemed to burrow its way down her throat.
Laverne crouched over her, he looked over at Cass. “Should her gag reflex still be intact? There isn’t anything to vomit up, her stomach’s gone.”
Mithra managed to choke out through her retching. “Boy, you’re so wrong!” A column of thick, grey sludge rocketed from her mouth.
He stood up sharply to avoid getting splashed. “I think it’s time we got cooking, that doesn’t look healthy.” He and Lethe jogged into the skeleton of the ship and quickly shut themselves in the room.
Cass rushed over to Mithra who was still rocketing out an obscene amount to the grey sludge. “That’s not biomass… What the hell is it?”
Mithra made a disgusting gurgle in response. Her nostrils flared as she stared at Cass in panic.
“Close your eyes Mithra, you don’t want to see this.”
Mithra squeezed her eyes shut.
Cass plunged her hand into the growing pile of gunk. She fished around in it for a moment and withdrew her hand pulling a handful of something from the deluge. “Bowl!” she called over to Marge.
Not even looking up from the baby Marge swung a nearby bowl like a discus straight at Cass. She snatched it from the air and dropped whatever was in her hand inside; she wiped her hand on the grass and gave the still vomiting Mithra a pat on the back. Mithra’s eyes shot open and she made a horrified grunt as she saw Cass wandering away, sifting through the wad of muck.
Cass threw a glance over at Mithra. “Oh dear… and that’s why human to Indra should never have been attempted,” she whispered.
“What’s wrong?” Ellie asked.
Cass carefully picked several solid chunks of something from the ooze and held them to the light.
“Yeah…” she muttered.
Kid had wandered over and was reassuringly smacking Mithra’s back, trying to coax the foul liquid out quicker.
Ellie placed a hand rather roughly on Cass’ shoulder. “What’s happening!?”
Cass rounded on her, startled. “Well… she’s vomiting up the remnants of her old body…” she held up her hand. “See, these are bone fragments and that is definitely liver.”
Mithra vomited harder.
“Well… this is distressing.” Ari was entirely bewildered.
Medusa’s voice was oddly hesitant. “Child, I have seen many things, and killed many things, I have delved into the most vile and repugnant realms of existence, but the thought of you vomiting up your own skeleton is far beyond where I may ever tread.”
Mithra rolled her eyes and grunted. The stream was beginning to thin. Kid had long retreated as the puddle threatened to submerge her feet. Ghost was banging on the door of the brew room, screaming for Laverne and Lethe to speed up. The stream slowly petered out; Mithra took a shuddering breath and spat a wad of the grey gunk into the slowly spreading flood.
Cass approached cautiously. “Mithra? How do you feel?”
Mithra looked up at Cass, she imagined from the recoil she looked about as bad as she felt. “Light as a feather and desperately in need of a bath. I think I’m just going to stay here, I get the feeling that if I move I may actually dissolve.”
Marge called sarcastically, “Oh no that would be terrible.” she shot to her feet as the outer edge of the slime wave began wrapping around her hindquarters. The baby began crying with her sudden movement. She retreated from the fire, gently shushing the baby.
Laverne poked his head out from the brew room. “What!?” He was not in the mood for distractions.
“Mithra just barfed up her skeleton!” Ghost’s voice was a mixture of frightened and revolted.
Laverne’s eyes widened and he slammed the door; Ghost could hear him yelling frantically to Lethe. Ghost stepped back as a series of thunderous clangs emanated through the door. There was a loud yell; she couldn’t tell if it was Laverne or Lethe only that it sounded suspiciously like someone had dropped something heavy on one’s foot. The door latch rattled and the door was tugged, it shook in the frame. Ghost stepped forward hesitantly and unlatched the door. It flew open revealing Lethe and Laverne carrying a massive metal vat filled to the brim with a sloshing back liquid. He grunted at her to get out of the way.
She stood back and pointed toward the fire. He nodded grimly and the two began slowly making their way over to the ramp.
His voice was strained. “There’s a funnel and tube in the room… grab it.”
Ghost brushed past him and began searching. They weren’t too hard to find as they were the only two things Ghost could actually identify in the room. She’d snoop later, Mithra needed that stuff now! She shot back through the door, pulling it closed behind her, and leapt from the edge. She rolled to her feet and jogged over to Mithra. Laverne and Lethe had just managed to maneuver the vat to the bottom of the ramp when Ghost came up on Mithra. She stuck the funnel into one end of the tube and waited for the two to arrive.
“Ghost, you’re standing in my kidney,” Mithra’s voice was weak.
She recoiled lifting her foot in disgust; there was a cry of revulsion from Laverne as a thick rope of goo slapped across his pants. She looked down; there was only the uniformly grey sludge, no major organs to be found.
“Or was it my spleen?” Mithra was beginning to sound delirious.
“Faster guys, her humor is failing!”
Marge wandered past; she placed a dramatic hand across her forehead. “Oh, the horror!” The baby giggled in her arms. She turned serious. “No, I will not be endeared to you.” The baby giggled harder, it grasped for her hair. She squawked as it latched onto a thick tendril of her hair.
“You go, baby,” Mithra’s voice was little more than a whisper.
Laverne and Lethe set the vat down, it settled in to the recently wetted earth with a squelch. The two rushed over by the large stack of salvaged supplies and pulled out several pots. One was issued to each member of the group with exception to Marge, she had bigger problems.
“Get that tube down her throat and start pouring.”
Ghost knelt down and carefully pried open Mithra’s mouth and with little grace shoved the tube down Mithra’s throat. She held the funnel steady as the others began pouring the biomass. It gurgled cheerfully as it flowed down the tube and into Mithra. Her eyes had closed and her face had gone slack, a thin dribble of biomass flowed from the edge of her mouth.
“More!” Laverne shouted.
Ghost waved Kid over, she was too short to help ladle. She gave Kid the funnel and tube and began helping the others.
“They think you’re dead y’know,” Ari was lounging on her back, mindlessly fidgeting with her hair.
Mithra huffed and crossed her arms. Her tone was exaggeratedly haughty, “they think I’m so weak as to let the violent expungement of my own body from my own body render me dead!? Hah!”
Ari sighed. “That’s not a word Mithra.”
She looked over at Ari. “Which one?”
Ari snorted and rocked into a sitting position. “It looks like you’ll be out of commission for a while, wanna help me with something?”
She shrugged. “Anything is better than sitting in an empty void.”
“Actually that’s what I want to try and remedy. I got the idea from Katrine and her little world inside Ellie.”
Mithra smirked. “I saw that look when she showed us the pool.”
Ari’s face sank. “Don’t blame me if I like swimming. Look, you’re not stuck here in perpetuity; it would be nice to have a change of scenery, hell I’d like to have scenery.”
Medusa stalked from behind Mithra. “For once she and I agree on something. You may assist her in constructing a suitable space to exist, I will create my own. The thought of being able to exist separate from her is tantalizing to say the least.”
Ari nodded. “We agreed not to cohabitate, I didn’t want to live in a cave.”
Medusa hissed, offended. “Caves are delightful.”
Mithra cringed. “Medusa, I want you to never say delightful ever again, in fact, never say something so positive ever again.” She shut her eyes and scrunched her face; she gently shook her head, that word would forever be tainted.
Medusa grumbled and wandered a ways away and hunkered down.
Mithra looked back at Ari, “so what do we do? How does this work.”
“Well, I’ve spoken with Katrine about it; she said it’s a relatively simple process. Due to your brain being completely swamped in Biomass is has been saturated and preserved, meaning things can remain in a more permanent state.”
Mithra raised a finger. “I thought I was in your chip, not the other way around. You’re still all Indra-y and Medusa is all spidery and not human looking.”
Ari hesitated. “Well… we’re interfaced… that didn’t occur to me. I think you’re in me right now so…”
Mithra didn’t like the wording of that.
Ari continued. “Then it would simply be a matter of assembling and storing data in my memory… But that would take up far more power than what your body can supply. Medusa we’ve hit a snag!”
Medusa looked over.
“We’re not in her brain! She’s in ours!”
Medusa stood and trotted over to the two. “She requires a power core otherwise we won’t be able to retain more than our base data.”
“It might also give you a much needed boost in strength and… resilience.”
Mithra rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Oh, because I’m so-o-o-o fragile.”
“Distressingly fragile,” Medusa intoned.
Mithra’s frown deepened.
Ari placed a tender hand on Mithra’s shoulder. “I understand that you may not want to hear something like that but if we’re to live together… harmoniously? We’ll need to make changes, you may not particularly like some of them but it’ll be for all our benefits.”
Mithra’s gloomy demeanor seemingly vanished. “Huh? No I’m just hamming it up, sounds like fun.”
Ari blinked in confusion.
Mithra tapped her temple and smirked. “I betcha couldn’t tell what I was thinking.”
Medusa made an annoyed gurgle and walked off.
Ari chuckled. “Clever girl, I’m going to have to be careful, soon you’ll be reading my thoughts.”
Mithra squinted. “I already am.” She forced herself back into her body before Ari could say anything.
Her eyes snapped open. Her body felt heavy once again, she grunted as she fell back in a kneeling position. Laverne looked over from his spot at the campfire, as did the others, they felt it was best to wait and not try and move Mithra unnecessarily. Mithra swished some leftover biomass in her mouth and swallowed it.
She looked into the night sky and took a deep breath. “Consider that last half hour repressed!” she shouted into the sky.
Cass crouched beside her, her feet cracked through the dried layer of grey sludge releasing the smell once more. “How do you feel?”
Mithra looked at her, eyes wide. “I would actually kill for a non-liquid diet.”
Laverne chuckled. “We can remedy that, we have some leftover swamp hares from making the biomass, we can cook something up for you.”
Ari chuckled maliciously. “And if I hijack your body at the right time I’ll get the joy of eating that rabbit.”
“It’s a hare Ari, not a rabbit, there’s a difference.”
Laverne raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like they’ve reverted to their usual chattiness. How’re they holding up?”
“Well, we’ve hit a snag. It seems I truly am the reverse of Ellie, to the point where I inhabit their brain instead of them being in mine. That’s led to a problem.”
Ellie leaned forward. “How so?”
“There isn’t enough power going to the board for them to do more than maintain their old forms, they can’t do what Katrine can do in her brain. No bedrooms, no ballrooms, and no pool, and call me crazy but I think Ari wants a bit more than a plain white void to live in.”
Ellie leaned back. “Indeed, your accommodations were rather dour when I was over there.”
“Even Medusa is going stir crazy.”
Cass chuckled nervously. “Well, that just sounds dangerous.” She looked over at Marge, “Are there any of your type power cores in the ship?”
She shrugged her eyes were glued on the baby, it had finally fallen asleep. “They’re a fairly basic piece of equipment; most of the larger systems use them as backups, probably a bunch still hooked up in the cockpit.”
Mithra had a sudden thought. “How big are those cores?”
Marge shrugged, distracted. “Large enough to swallow with difficulty.”
She shrugged. “Better than surgery.”
Laverne stood up and made for the cockpit, palm light in hand. “You guys stay here, I’m going to do some snooping in the cockpit,” he looked over at Ellie, “you didn’t damage it too much?”
She shook her head. “I stayed away from it, good salvage.”
He grunted in approval as he shifted off through the darkness.
Mithra looked up. “Ari do you want to go get decorating ideas?”
“Yes!” she cried.
Cass crossed her arms, and side-eyed Ellie. “I think it’s time I reunited with a few more of my kids.”
Ellie visibly winced. “Ooh, Vee’s gettin’ excited.”
All the Indra gathered around Ellie, Mithra desperately hoped she wouldn’t have the guided tour of Ellie’s memories again. There was a flash of white and the apartment door faded in, she was standing next to Ghost, resplendent in a flattering blue sundress and Kid in her eye-sizzling pajamas. Cass was nowhere to be seen.
Ghost looked down. “Oh that’s right; I forgot I was wearing this.” She poked her stomach and pouted. “Perhaps a bit too form fitting.”
“Too many sugary drinks!” Kid was already scrambling toward the door, she threw it open and it smashed into something throwing it closed again. Kid’s chin smacked into the door and she sat down heavily. There was a small groan from the other side of the door.
Vee poked her head around the door; her forehead was a large red mark on it. “Seems I pulled a you, Kid.”
Kid rubbed her chin. “I don’t appreciate copycats.” She leapt to her feet and slid through the crack in the door.
Mithra and Ghost approached at a much more reasonable speed.
Vee peeked her head around the door, eyebrows scrunched in confusion. “Where are Ari and Cass?”
Mithra shrugged. “The first time I came in here was a bit traumatizing, she’s probably stuck in Ellie’s memories right about now. As for Ari… no clue.”
Vee sighed. “I can be patient.”
Mithra and Ghost entered the apartment, it was the same as it was when they left it, Kid was already sleeping in the bed and Katrine was lounging in the tiny kitchen. Ghost let out a happy sigh and made a beeline for the fridge. Katrine intercepted her and forced the fridge door closed.
She waggled a finger. “Moderation.”
Ghost pouted. “I was just going to get an Algeaon Swirly.”
Vee raised an eyebrow from her perch at the door. “The spicy stuff already? You’re going to pit out that dress.”
Katrine raised a dubious eyebrow and let Ghost into the fridge. It was positively full of bottles of all shapes and sizes. Ghost pulled out a slim red bottle and placed it gingerly on the counter; she rifled through the cabinets and withdrew a positively tiny glass.
She looked over at Mithra whose face was bent with curiosity. She smiled widely, her perfect white teeth flashing. “A little bit goes a long way.” She poured what couldn’t have been more than a tablespoon of liquid into the cup and poured it down her throat.
She gently placed the cup on the counter and leaned against it, she sighed happily. Mithra slowly watched her demeanor shift from relaxed to stressed, to pained, to agonized. Sweat dripped from her forehead and her breathing grew heavy. She whooped down huge gulps of air as her face grew red.
“Whoo! Yeah!” Her voice was little more than a guttural howl.
Ari poked her head through the open door. She threw a look at Katrine. “You let her at the alcohol already? It’s been three minutes.”
“It’s just an Algeaon Swirly; this is just to wake me up! Yeah!” She collapsed to the ground.
Katrine looked over at Mithra. “I’d recommend against trying that one, not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.”
Ari stepped inside; she hesitated and looked behind her. “Come on, don’t be shy, you’re completely harmless in here.”
Vee peered around the door and immediately recoiled in shock. It wasn’t Cass that was standing there, it was somebody completely different.
Ari placed a hand on her hip a deadpan expression on her face. “I’ve never known you to be shy, or is it perhaps you’re embarrassed to be seen by all the people you’ve failed to kill.”
An angry whisper shot through the doorway. “Don’t taunt me; I am simply unaccustomed to this limited form.”
She held out an exasperated hand. “You have fingers! That’s the opposite of limiting.”
There was a dispassionate grunt from the doorway and Medusa stepped inside. She looked identical to Ari down to the last detail. All that differed was the sour expression curdling her features.
Ari crossed her arms and nodded. “I was just as surprised as you when it turned out to look just like me.”
“I came first, you look like me,” Medusa’s tone was defensive.
Mithra pointed at Medusa. “Does this mean I’m going to have to think of and refer to Medusa as a she now?”
“Yes-s-s,” Medusa hissed. It sounded weird in Ari’s voice.
Everybody in the apartment cringed.
“No hissing in human form please, it makes my skin crawl.” Ellie barged through the door, knocking Vee to the ground; she looked down at her, confused. “Isn’t that Kid’s thing?”
“I’m excited!” Vee cried.
“Be excited no longer!” a woman’s voice droned from behind Ellie. “For I have returned!” Cass lifted Ellie by the shoulders and tossed her into the apartment.
Ellie rolled to a dramatic and graceful stop. Cass stood outlined in the doorway. She was as thin as her Indra form, with long black hair and a perpetually exhausted look on her face. She looked young, almost as young as Mithra. A smile was stretched wide across her face as she looked around at the Indra. A wad of clothes smacked her square in the nose. Katrine hefted another bundle and aimed it square at Medusa; she hurled it as hard as she could. Medusa stretched her hand out and caught it effortlessly.
She looked at the clothes, her lip curled. She sighed in resignation and slipped the shirt and pants on. Cass puller her shirt on too, it fit more like a dress with how low it went.
Katrine shrugged. “Sorry, only Pixia is as petite as you.” She tossed a smaller wad of cloth at her. “I’ll see about getting something a bit better fitting.”
Cass caught it and unfurled it, she nodded approvingly. “Briefs, classy.” Before she could slip them on she was knocked over by Vee who tackled her in a flying hug. “Wagh! Down honey! Let me get decent first!”
Mithra smiled as she watched the two roll across the floor in a giggling whirlwind, she suddenly cocked an ear. “I do believe my sixth sense is telling me that Laverne is standing over me with a grim expression on his face.”
“Don’t break contact with Ellie, we’ll get sucked back, and I’ll complain at you about it,” Ari called as Mithra stepped out of the door.
Mithra’s vision faded in. Her sixth sense was in fact correct. Laverne stood over her, a stern expression on his face and an object the size of a lemon in his palm. It was a small silvery sphere with several loose wires and connectors dangling from it.
“I assume that is going to be my hard-to-swallow pill?” Mithra asked.
Laverne jumped slightly. “How did you know I was standing here?”
“My Elgin alarm rang; it tells me when you’re standing over me with a grim or terse expression on your face.”
He exhaled heavily through his nostrils and rolled his eyes. He offered her the power core.
Mithra huffed and pouted. “This isn’t what I meant when I said I wanted a non-liquid diet.” She took the core and popped it in her mouth. She had a moment of panic when she realized she had to swallow it, it looked smaller in his hand. She maneuvered her tongue to the front of the core and basically forced it back, she was surprised at her lack of a gag reflex. She swallowed it. She picked at her teeth. “Well now I’m just more hungry.”
The shadowy woman swept down the brightly lit beige hallways. Her eyes were wide as she drunk in the strange environment. The red cloud that seemed to hang over her life was absent in the strange underground world. She wove through the corridors mindlessly; she savored the stale pollution-free air. She skimmed her hands along the wall, the painted brick was smooth and cold and oddly welcoming.
She took a deep breath and felt a small smile tug at the edges of her mouth. For the first time she felt happiness, a small joy, a tiny candle of warmth in the icy void that seemed to reside inside of her. She never wanted to leave this place again, her love always wanted her to be happy and this made her happy.
She wandered down the hallways gleeful smile affixed firmly to her face. She closed her eyes and listened to the click of her shoes on the shining tiled floors. Suddenly something inside her compelled her to stop. She opened her eyes, she was stopped at one of the heavy wooden doors, she turned to look at it. Her smile fell away, replaced by confusion. Memories itched at the back of her psyche, tiny flashes of remembrance shot across her mind. She reached out and gently took the door handle. She turned it down but it wouldn’t budge, it was locked.
She scoffed and rolled her eyes, she began patting down her pockets. She froze, why did she scoff? Why did she instinctually feel her pockets? It was the first time she’d ever seen that door but her actions seemed so natural, so familiar. She hesitantly kept feeling her pockets, her love had given her these clothes before he left, he said they used to be her favorites. There was a small lump in her back pocket, she fished her hand inside and pulled out a small silver key.
She slipped the key into the door’s lock, it slid in perfectly, she twisted it and the door silently swung open. More memories flashed, some solid, others vague wisps. She saw faces, she remembered names. She saw a child running around in a field of grass, arms outstretched, laughter rang in her ears. Names flashed through her mind. A stern woman with the same red hair and the same stern face looked down at her, an eyebrow raised.
She walked into the room, closing the door behind her. Bright white lights lit up a workshop, piles of machinery and wires and scrap metal littered the overburdened worktables. There was a tall stool pushed over in the corner of the room situated in front of a communications terminal that was haphazardly bolted to the wall. She walked over to it and ran her hands over the small keyboard, the tight knit keys rattled slightly, she looked at her hands, there wasn’t a speck of dust. She unconsciously flicked a switch at the top of the narrow monitor. The machine spun and wheezed into life, the screen slowly fading in. A small jingle issued from the thing’s internal speaker and a message flashed onto the screen
“JJ it’s late… you need to get back to the hospital.”
The woman squinted nefariously and typed back.
“I’m fine… MArge.”
She smirked to herself; she knew her sister hated it when she called her that, she swiveled the floating cursor and hit send. Her smirk faded. Sister? Her mind spun, more images, more faces, more names. She lost track of how long she sat there in a swirling stew of half remembered memories.
A gruff voice spoke from behind her. “Welcome back to the land of the living Missus Fitsch.”
“Juvinea,” she said, not turning around, “that was my name…” She slowly turned about to see her visitor.
It was a Shalthar, visually identical to the rest, perhaps in slightly better condition than most. It had all of its limbs intact and its bare torso was free of the ugly skin grafting. It lounged against the doorframe, watching her intently.
“You can speak English?”
“The Common Tongue as it is known now… yes, among many other things.” It pushed itself from the door and walked inside, they stood a good foot over her. “I am Tash, I occupy the same position that your esteemed sister did many years ago, and I desperately need your help to destroy the Monarch.”
“I can hear water up ahead!” Wulf roared as he and Wall continued hacking away at the obscenely tall grass.
The group was still recovering from their attack the previous night by the mysterious Indra Woe and Fear. Their cuts were just beginning to heal and their spirits just beginning to rise once more. Wulf’s call put some much needed hope into them, from then on it was grassy flatlands with little in the way of cover, nowhere for the new Indra to hide.
Pixia limped at the rear of the group with Xypia and Bolt acting as her guards in case the two decided to launch a sneak attack. She was hit far harder than the rest. After a quick inspection it was determined that the wing had indeed taken and was in the long process of healing back to her body, but the process would be slow. Her legs had also been pretty badly hurt when Bolt knocked her over to get at Fear. She was beginning to regret not staying behind with her wife.
She stumbled slightly as her feet caught on a particularly solid chunk of grass stalks. “I bet they’re all living it up around the pool, drinking, and having fun. And here we are… surrounded by grass!” She let out a frustrated groan.
Bolt looked up at her, oddly reminded of how she used to act. “You’d really stay behind with the baby?”
She didn’t even hesitate. “If it meant not having my wing torn off… yes!”
“The baby coupled with Marge?”
Bolt gave her arm a gentle squeeze. “C’mon, where’s that chipper attitude you’re renowned for?”
“I left it with Marge and the baby!”
The sounds of rushing water could be heard in the distance.
“If I had my wings I could fly up and see how far we were, but no, I’m stuck down here, blind,” Pixia’s voice was woven with depression. “It might not heal properly, then I’ll be grounded forever…” She stopped and sunk into a crouch, head buried in her knees.
Bolt sighed in resignation and looked to Xypia, he was radiating concern. “Alright buddy, carry her.”
Pixia moaned in despair as Xypia carefully scooped her up, deliberately steering clear of her back. The grass was only getting thicker as they approached the river, soon the roar grew to be deafening. With a few definitive swings the last of the grass barrier was hewn away revealing the Shalti River.
She felt a well of conflicting emotions well up inside her. “But he is my love!” She tried to push past the treacherous Shalthar, somebody needed to be told.
Tash put a calming hand on her shoulder. “Please sit down, I have much to explain.”
She looked up at them, their eyes betrayed no malice, they almost seemed pitying if a Shalthar could express such complex emotions. She resigned herself and walked over to the stool. She crossed her legs and hunched her back, awaiting Tash’s explanation.
They cleared their throat and their eyes grew rather sad. “Let’s start at the beginning shall we… you: Missus Juvinea Fitsch. You died many thousands of years ago from an aggressive form of dementia. According to medical records you passed in a matter of months, all areas of the brain were affected and no treatments were effective. Your husband Lethe was working on a digital form of preservation for the human brain, similar to what an exploratory group from the twelfth cycle found in an expedition to what was once known as the Sampras dig. Also very similar to what was used on Laverne T. Schultz, the previous owner of this building. He was too late to save you or your memories.” Tash paused; he seemed to be juggling several thoughts for a moment. “Your husband loved you very much, at your moment of passing he stole your body and took it to his workshop, this room; you worked together here for many years. He submerged your brain in biomass to preserve it and fled the city taking your brain with him. He set up deep in the sprawling cave systems of Brull and labored for hundreds of years to resurrect you and your memories. He failed.
They paused as they saw Juvinea’s eyes narrow. “You’re no doubt wondering how I know this.”
Juvinea nodded slowly.
“Your sister’s creation Marge never bothered to delete the ancient records, they were just sitting waiting to be discovered.”
Juvinea scoffed at Marge’s laziness, typical.
A hint of a smile pulled at Tash’s brutish features. “Indeed, the slothfulness of Marge has been a running theme with the Shalthar for many years. But let’s get back on track, shall we? It was not long afterward that your husband encountered and entered into a working relationship with our esteemed leader, the Monarch.”
Juvinea interrupted. “Are you saying that my husband Lethe, the man I love, and the Monarch are different people?”
Tash nodded solemnly He continued though his speech was somewhat halting as if he couldn’t quite find the right words. “If there is one thing that is forever constant with the Monarch it’s that he lies. He too was in a similar situation as your husband, losing the life of someone he cared about and desperately wishing to resurrect them. Instead of continuing with Lethe’s research he instead used your husband as a study, tore him apart much like the others he got his hands on much later. The Monarch knows the Indra better than their own creator; they are putty in his hands. He set your husband loose after a thorough study, making sure to wipe his memories of the past few hundred years for good measure. As far as your husband is concerned he watched your death then woke up several hundred years later in the middle of a field. The Monarch continued his experiments on you, working to bring back the memories lost to the dementia. Even he, with his admittedly brilliant mind could make little headway.” A wolfish smile broke across his face. “You became an obsession, I have no doubt that the Monarch has grown feelings you at this point, but this is where I come in.” He nodded his head, pride evident. “In the process of studying him the monarch drained and copied all of your husband’s memories, he spent very few moments away from you before and after your marriage. I isolated all of the memories containing you and spliced them into the remnants your preserved memory.”
Juvinea raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Bullshit.”
Tash shrugged. “Brains are child’s play; all new clones go through several rounds of uploads before they’re sent off. They get lifetimes worth of information crammed into their brain in minutes; it’s infinitely quicker than teaching them the old fashioned way. I was hoping that whatever was left of your personality would be able to assimilate the memories and through the human brain’s natural ability to warp information swap the perspective while recreating the observed personality. I simply used a few triggers here to spur the process along. The message in the terminal was your final test. That message from your sister was the final one you received before you were confined to the hospital, Lethe was not present for that moment and yet your response was identical to the one from when you were alive, right down to the extraneous capital.”
Juvinea wiggled her fingers. “Well I’ve always had fat finger disorder.” She looked at Tash; they were looking intently at her. “So have I just been a stubborn science project for the past thousand years? How’d I get this body?” She tsked a few times and she buried her chin in her open palm. “Oh there are so many questions, where do I start?”
Tash nodded understandingly, the smile finally cracked their brutish features. “Yes, you’ve been incredibly stubborn, perhaps more so than you were in life. As for your body you can thank the vanity of Marge she enjoyed testing the limits of her robotic bodies so we had many spares. You are very much like Laverne T. Schultz except your mind is entirely organic housed inside of a robotic body. I did the modifications myself just before Marge was banished for releasing some old friends of yours, a part of me wished I could have gotten you up there to meet them.”
Juvinea nodded, considering her next question. “So… why do you want to destroy the Monarch?”
Mithra retreated back to the cozy confines of the apartment; while she enjoyed the long hallways and tall ceilings she found the cramped coziness far more appealing. She opened the door to a strange sight. It was Lethe, she assumed, sitting in front of the futon surrounded by papers, his expression was stormy. Mithra approached him cautiously; he looked up and smiled warmly.
“Hey there, don’t mind me, I’m just reminiscing.”
Mithra looked down at the papers surrounding him; they were covered in sketches, all of the same person. A woman with large wide eyes, magnified by a huge pair of glasses, her face ringed with a sprawling mass of curly hair. Lethe was occasionally with her in the drawings, in both human and Indra form, playing out scenes or just looking happy. As she scanned the sketches the woman grew older and older while Lethe remained unchanged but the smiles on their faces remained the same.
His warm smile turned cold. “My wife, Juvinea. I’m sure you were told of my… rapid departure from Alcadon and my family, she was why.”
“She’s beautiful,” Mithra whispered.
Lethe looked up at her, his eyes betrayed his grief. “In the religion Schultz made about us Indra I am known as the God of Logic and Wisdom, and for the most part he was correct in giving me that title. I have always seen the benefits of planning out one’s actions before acting upon them, except once. Loving her was both my greatest decision and stupidest.” His voice was hollow as if he’d told himself the word’s many times. “Immortals should never get involved with mortals, it only leads to sadness. I watched the love of my life wither and die in front of me; I could do nothing but watch. All of the others had to good grace to stick amongst themselves but I, the planner, the one who always thought ahead simply could not.” He sighed in frustration.
Mithra sat next to him and put an arm around his shoulder. “She’s not truly dead, as long as you keep her alive in your mind and in your heart. I know its cliché to say but it’s true. As long as she’s alive in your memories she’ll never truly be gone.”
Lethe let his head slump. “Thank you.”
Tash’s face soured, their entire demeanor seemed to shift towards aggression. “The Monarch is a sick puppet master entirely keen on keeping himself in power. Now that you’ve been proven a success I have no doubt that when he returns he will do the same on the one he lost. I desire to break the cycle and throw the Monarch from power hopefully destroying him and returning this sad world to a semblance of peace.” Tash thought for a moment. “The Shalti, you were acquainted with them?”
Tash pressed a hand to their chest. “I am also Shalti, my forbears were forced to return to cloning after our genetic code spoiled and returned us to a painful existence of mutation. The scientists of this city worked toward resetting our genetic code and returning us to a comfortable existence. They were on the verge of solving the issue but the computer Marge set everything back, I’ll explain the details later. The research sat untouched in her memory for millennia, the Monarch had the tools he needed to fix us but instead opted to continue to clone us into oblivion then splice together a new code every time we got too twisted.” Tash went from bitter to excited. “The research is complete but we have no way of deploying it in this cycle, we have to wait to contaminate the next code. As you can probably guess the Monarch wouldn’t be too happy if his clones began to conspicuously have discernable genders once again, he would dash the code and create a new one.”
Juvinea nodded. “At the risk of sounding cliché, how do I fit into all of this, it seems to me like I’m a side project that got accidentally finished.”
Tash grimaced. “An unfortunately apt analogy. You can still help us though. The Indra trust you, and you could help convince them to join our cause. From what I’ve seen they are bent on the destruction of both the Monarch and the Shalthar, we need it only to be the Monarch.”
Juvinea chuckled as she began rocking the stool. “Tash… I’m dead, to all of them I’m little more than a memory, I think it would only garner suspicion to see me suddenly walking about.”
Tash grimaced further. “And dangerous… the Monarch’s creations have already infiltrated their ranks. Indra created by the Monarch himself: Anguish, Woe, and Fear. There is a reason he was able to follow every movement the Indra have made, he’s already among them.”
She looked at Tash, growing confused. “If I can’t talk to them then how do I convince the Indra to only fight the Monarch?”
“There are three that the Indra have not awoken and that the Monarch has ignored. Three of the Four Horsemen.”
Juvinea narrowed her eyes. “Do go on.”
The Indra were gathered on the bank of the Shalti river.
“Well that wasn’t there before!” Anon exclaimed incredulously.
Across the swift river, nestled right on the fork where the Shalti split was a large town.