In the Void: Schism

It had been three days since the build had started for my suit, and it was coming along great, even better than I could have dreamed, especially considering how I’d been a few days ago.  

Conjurer had tools stored that Toolkit had kitted herself that made everything a breeze.  To think I had made the first suit without a properly calibrated laser cutter almost made me sick to my stomach.  Sophisticated gadgets had sped along the process, especially since my Adaptation helped me intuit exactly how best to utilize them.  With such magnificent toys at my disposal, I hadn’t needed to silence my gift as often, leaving it on and churning out ideas, guiding my process as I continued to power ahead on my design.  Especially since Multitask had decided to help out the last two days, the work had sped up tremendously. Who would have guessed that having someone dumping literally 400 man-hours my way would accelerate things?     

In truth, making the armor had been a cinch.  Thanks to Conjurer’s accumulated workshop, designing most of the armored plates had only taken a day or so.  It has almost twice as dense as the first version of my suit and with Armorsmith’s blessing on them, they would be able to take a hell of a beating before my countermeasures couldn’t fix the damage.  Even with all the added weight though, I hadn’t felt limited in mobility at least thus far in our tests. Admittedly, we had yet to try it as a whole since we had just finished installing some of the locking measures last night.    

With the thickening plates, the issue had become the joints being so weak comparatively.  To help avoid any edged weapon finding the inside of my arm we installed a sleeve of metal scales that would stack and fan back out as the joint extended and collapsed.  A similar treatment was given to my knees, and thus far the range of motion afforded both was magnificent.  

But the truly fun part had been designing the weapons.  

My old suit had been markedly rudimentary when it came to offensive measures: zip gun—albeit with a good ability to create ammunition—an electrified sword, and a rudimentary laser.  The restraining compound was something I had used as well, but that was hardly limited to use of my suit. Outside of those, there were a few non-lethal measures but I had the feeling those were going to be less and less important as Titan’s campaign went forward; we had Almanac and he could tell us exactly where the Trillodan homeworld was.  Why would we bother taking prisoners for information if we could get all the information we needed from our own people? This was no longer a fight between Reckoners and Scoundrels, there was no backing out of what we started. Now it was time to start playing for keeps so I might as well be ready for it.     

To that end, over the last thirty-five or so hours, I had allowed my imagination to run wild and added as many aggressive components to my suit as I could.  

The first thing was to up the amount of actuators for my suit.  While the magnetic actuators I used weren’t giving me nearly as much output as hydraulic ones might, I wanted to remain mobile and bogging down my joints seemed like it would be a downside in the long run.  As long as I could power the electromagnets, I could effectively output twelve times my own strength. Even though the suit came with extra weight, the extra strength would mean that I could still run comfortably and would be able to roll over a small car should it be necessary.  

Toolkit had tinkered with the laser and managed to nearly triple its efficiency, making it similar to the weapons that the Trillodan had been using; while it couldn’t cleave through buildings like Zellig had somehow done, it would do serious damage to organic matter and likely be able to bore through armor given enough time.  

A more unique item we made was a directional magnet in the glove.  While it was damn hard on my power supply, it created a strong enough pull to rip things out of people’s hands, or I could use it to stick to metal surfaces.  While not a lethal measure, being able to disarm or at least wildly skew the aim of any Trillodan soldiers we found ourselves matched up against would prove very useful.  

Last thing I had made was a proper gun for myself.  Thanks to the strength granted by the suit, I was able to ostensibly use a firearm with as much kick as a fifty-caliber rifle pretty reliably.  However, to keep it mobile and not make me lug around a gigantic canon, Toolkit and I had made myself a small railgun instead. It would draw from my power supply on the suit, but we had agreed that trying to make it a fully functional railgun would be absurd.  If I was to try and fire off projectiles going 3km/s I would only be able to fire once and then be out of juice for the rest of the suit. Instead, we engineered it to fire a three-hundred gram piece of metal at 1 km/s. While it wouldn’t have the same speed that some high-powered firearms did, the extra weight of the projectile would provide more than enough punch through for…basically anything.   

Still, it was an energy hog.  Each shot would consume seven percent of my overall battery life.  While the rounds could rip a hole through a couple of cars, there was no way to let me be both mobile and trigger happy for long.  I would have to be sure to better with my aim and make sure that each round counted otherwise I’d be reduced to a sitting duck before long.     

This morning I was putting some finishing touches on the gun and the rounds that we had crafted for it.  I had kept the scrap gun, giving it a little more juice so it might have a chance of penetrating weak points in the Trillodan’s armor; even though it wasn’t likely to do a lot of damage in the long run, it was a gun that was never out of ammunition.  The new gun had very specific mandates for the rounds it fired. If they were inappropriately sized, it was likely that the gun would rip itself apart as the magnetic track pulled it too far one way or the other.  

Considering how much time it had required to make, I wasn’t eager to rebuild.  I hadn’t installed any kind of reconstruction protocols in the railgun; with how precise and nuanced it was, I didn’t trust my reconstruction to work properly.  I didn’t want to fuck it up and have it explode in my hand.    

Since I started the project, this morning was one of the few times I had been able to work in relative silence.  Everyone who could lend a hand had offered to do so, and even those who had nothing to contribute wanted to check in and see how the project was going.  Members from groups I didn’t recognize asked questions about the suit and how I was doing. The comraderie and common interest in my work had afforded me chances to meet other Adapted group cliques and learn about a number of  the people on this ship. Inevitably we’d end up fighting side by side; might as well know what they can all do before I have to bank on their ability.    

While empowering, it made me more frustrated at Titan and Forest: if they had predicted that such a phenomenon was going to happen, why hadn’t they helped me get started?  Why had they made me deal with Toolkit myself instead of intervening and explaining it to both of us? If their aim was to create a social linchpin and beacon for common interest why hadn’t they intervened?   

I wanted to believe that Titan had some kind of skewed reasoning, but I was thinking more and more than he was just as dizzy in this whirlwind as the rest of us.  

“Have you slept?” a groggy voice demanded from across the common space.  

Repository, my source of materials and some engineering insight.  Before he joined up with Titan, he had been a total gear head and still loved all things mechanical.  Even though he couldn’t wrap his head around what I was told by my Adaptation, he had pointed out tricks here and there that had allowed my ability flourish.  The entity in my head feeding me ideas took his advice and ran wild, refining and implementing everything that it seemed to deem appropriate.    

“Not really,” I confessed, finally taking my eyes off my work, “Kind of nice to keep working while I’m alone.  Just me and my thoughts.” 

He took a seat next to me, clad in grey sweats and a grimy hoodie.  Water was something he and Infinite had to produce with Chemtrail helping purify, but it made laundry a very limited necessity since disposing of waste was a bit of a chore for us.  While Multitask had managed to make a functional spaceship, she hadn’t managed to put a few of the finishing touches on it…like convenient ways to dump waste; she agreed that the second we touched down on Vuuldar she would make a functional air-lock to alleviate such complications in the future.  The poor girl had been expecting to have an extra week or two to iron out the finished product and she’d been flying blind.  

To her credit, she had still made a markedly functional spaceship.  Even though Armorsmith had helped to reinforce a large chunk of the hull, it would have probably held up without her blessing.        

When someone suggested Infinite do it, Titan slashed the idea.  For her to rapidly cycle powers was dangerous, and she had been useful as our jumping system.  Command had finally recovered from the Overexposure when we had evacuated Tso’got and now he and Infinite would regularly work in tandem to warp us through space.  Apparently moving our entire ship wasn’t too bad for Infinite, only requiring nine allotments of her power. Without having to fight gravity, zipping through space was simple for her.

I debated doing the math regarding how much energy she was commanding, and then decided against it.  It was easier to accept that Infinite was simply overpowered and take it at face value. Still, every time they did the little exercise, Command was exhausted afterward from keeping her in check.  If he wasn’t around, what would she be like?   

He shook his head, taking a look at my gun, “That thing is going to be devastating, isn’t it?” 

“As long as we didn’t fuck it up, it should pack a hell of a punch.” 

Repository chuckled, “I’ll be sure to let you try it out first then.  How are you powering it?”

“Conducting plate through the glove.  The second it meets with the handle,” I reached into the metal gauntlet and wrapped my fingers around the handle of the rifle; it thrummed to life dramatically as the magnetic coils primed.

“And you’re in business,” he said with a bit of awe in his voice.  “Well, you might be the scariest lady on the ship now.” 

“At best I can get about nine shots off,” I replied, downplaying his praise, “Even though this will pack a hell of a punch, I’m not the best shot.”

He looked over the rest of my armor, reaching forward to get a feel for the handiwork before turning back to me to ask more questions.  “Where is your battery?”

“On the back.  Basically runs parallel to my spine on either side for uniform weight distribution.”

“Your charge time?”

“Three hours,” I replied happily.  “Basically two hours with serious toil, but fortunately Toolkit helped make it more accepting to change sources.”

Repository thought about it for a moment and then laughed a little, “So Shock can charge you up?” 

“Exactly,” I said, stifling a yawn. 

He looked over my armor with a bit of amazement, running his hands over each individual component, “Amazing you managed to get all this done so fast.”

“Hardly just me.  I just pointed for a lot of it and Multitask donated a dozen copies to consistently work.  Many hands and all that. All I really built were the maintenance protocols that all my tech has.  Small plate of armor underneath the meat of the suit with hydraulic pistons to reshape the metal. That with a few automated drones to spot weld stuff, this baby should hold up well.”  

Repository looked at my design and pursed his lips, “If you can fit in the wiring, a dynamic feedback generator would help your power consumption while you’re just walking around.”

I gave him a thumbs up, my eyes starting to swim as fatigue started to get to me, “You make a good point.”

“Maybe play with electrical wiring when you have a little sleep?” he suggested, noting my fatigue.

“You might be onto something.”

He laughed and gave me a pat on the back, “Get to bed, I’m going to start printing breakfast.”

I turned to face him, “Repository, you’re a good guy, but you need to figure out how to print something that isn’t just protein paste.  It’s…really getting old.”

“It’s super simple and that’s why I can print it en-masse.  Printing something like wheat is much harder than you might think; I could make it for maybe 10 or 20 people, sure as shit not eighty.  I’d love if Infinite or Powerhouse would help me, but they’re spoken for.”

Powerhouse, the Adapted who could gift additional Adaptations to people for a limited time.  She had been regularly lending power to Organelle so that our onboard medic could print a vast reserve of her blessed tinctures.  She had also supposedly been donating power to Command to help him recover over the last week and a half, but that was entirely speculation on our parts.  Titan had kept the nature of Command’s work and relationship with Infinite very hush-hush. From a point of leadership, he wanted to keep a panic from erupting; if we all knew she was unstable, we’d all want off this ride.   

But if Powerhouse had been helping him recover, it begged the question how bad would it have been if Infinite used eleven allotments without him helping to control her?

Repository got up and wandered back towards the “Kitchen” that Collector had put together, but he turned around and offered me a hand.  

“Come on, Armorsmith found you on the floor yesterday morning, let’s at least get you onto a couch.”

I wanted to protest, but I knew he was right.  I’d probably been awake nearly twenty-four hours and had spent most of it working on fine tuning my new suit; the last thing I needed to do was try to push farther and end up screwing the whole thing up.  

As soon as he got me on a couch, I was out cold.  

It was jarring being woken up by teleportation. 

As we snapped back into existence, my whole body lurched, like experiencing a quick bout of free falling and abrupt stopping as we appeared another vast distance further.  

I sat up and staggered to my feet, adrenaline coursing through my veins as I looked forward.  

At the front, there was Infinite with a hand extended towards the void, Command standing beside her with a hand on her shoulder, concentrating.  

Another disorienting shake later, and the view had shifted some.  

Most of the Adapted onboard had gathered to watch this spectacle.  Just as people had been fascinated by the progression of my suit the last few days, people were excited seeing displays of Infinite’s extraordinary power.  

It was interesting that sheer wonderment kept people appeased.  As I took stock of the crowd, I saw opposing factions standing shoulder to shoulder, admiring the stars as we lurched ever forward.  It wasn’t fear that kept everyone tame for now, it was unadulterated Awe. I even caught a glimpse of Psycho in his enlarged narcissistic form looking on in admiration.  Even with all the pride and ego that form of his came with, he had to respect the otherworldly influence she commanded. 

The jarring leaps forward stopped after the tenth, Command telling her to stop there.  He fell on his ass out of breath; unlike when we had evacuated Tso’got, Command looked like he’d gone for a hard run as opposed to suffered a drug overdose.  

People realized the show was over and people started going about their business after a few appropriate cheers and hollers. 

For me, I was more interested in how Infinite behaved.  While she was in front of people, she was confident and took control of the room.  When she had herself juiced up and with gifts allotted, she was in full control. The instant she let go of them and turned to the room, she blushed and made herself as small as possible.

“Hey, Dragoon,” a familiar voice called out behind me.  

I turned to see Mutant and Lightshow, both looking a little out of sorts as they stepped forward.  “Hey, what’s up?” 

Lightshow wrung her hands together in a rather out of character display of concern and anxiety.  “Listen, Drag-“

“We want you to patch shit up with Eldritch and Parasite,” Mutant filled in.  While he was typically quiet, our shapeshifting Enhancer was, at heart, a pragmatist and a problem solver.  

I shrugged, “Murphy started the issue and neither he nor Nick have bothered to make any real attempt to talk to me.  Why should I be the one to go groveling to them?” I replied.  

“Dragoon, do you have any idea how awkward it is without you acting like a foil to me and Parasite joking around?  Do you know how weird and foreign it is when Mutant has to be the fucking voice of reason?” Lightshow grimaced, “Part of the only reason we worked as a team was because you were the sensible glue that helped hold us all in place.  Without you, we’re coming apart.”

Mutant sighed, “Especially with the loss of Geyser, Menagerie isn’t doing well.  With you growing detached, she doesn’t have a good confidant and we aren’t sure how long before she quits on us altogether.”  

I wanted to argue, but Mutant had a good point.  I’d seen Menagerie drawing and she was setting herself up to Overexpose if she decided that she should empty a notebook.  The one time she had emptied a notebook to save us from Beleth and the Surface Dwellers it had nearly killed her; with what she was drawing, she wouldn’t be so lucky.  

But still, I felt something churn in my guts, disagreeing with my comrades.  “It still doesn’t answer my question why I have to bite the bullet and start the fix between us when they are the ones who cut me out.  Why aren’t they the ones having this talk with me?” 

Mutant and Lightshow looked at each other nervously.  “Dragoon, they have tried to talk to you. But, you sent them away.  You told them to talk later.”

I blinked a few times in surprise; I had no recollection of either of them approaching me.  But then again, I had been in a building frenzy and surrounded by people while working extremely unhealthy hours.  It wasn’t outrageous to think I had completely forgotten something small. But, would I really overlook my best friends like that?  I hadn’t felt as dissociated as I had when I was given Chemtrail’s drug, so surely I would have noticed, right?  

“We need you back at the helm, Drag,” Lightshow insisted, not comfortable with me standing there, silent, “I know you might not feel cut out to be a leader or some such nonsense, but trust us on this.  The team, Rogue Sentries, we fucking need you, now more than ever honestly.”

I shook my head, “In case you missed the memo, we aren’t a Reckoner group anymore, Lightshow.  We’re part of Titan’s big ass collective.”

Mutant scoffed, “You aren’t that short-sighted.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“We’re venturing to a planet in the hopes of recruiting other Adapted; do you think that we are all going to remain a big cohesive unit?  Titan is going to want to cover as much ground as possible. It makes the most sense that he’d split people up based on affiliation. Easiest for people to rely on those they have worked with before and it is the most likely way to make sure there is not backstabbing between factions.”

When we first met, Mutant had somewhat challenged my leadership, and I had almost forgotten why.  As quiet as he typically was, he had a strange sense for the flow of things and the way that people worked.  He likened it to a kind of primal ‘animal’ sense that his Adaptation bestowed on him. It was how he knew that Murphy was into guys and not girls when no one else had picked up on it in the slightest.  Mutant was good at knowing which way he could shove people and awful talented at predicting how they would react.  

The fact he was deferring leadership back to me was telling, and his read on Titan’s plan made a lot of sense too.  

“Alright, I hear you,” I said, conceding.  “I’ll talk to them and get things sorted out.” 

I could see a wave of tangible relief wash over the two of them, “Thanks.  I don’t know how soon we’ll get to Vuuldar, but I’d just as soon not have you guys at each other’s throats when we’re there.”

“I agree,” Lightshow added, “Plus, the awkward tension is killing me.  I mean seriously, who am I supposed to make fun of without you around to tell me I’m overstepping things?”

“Message received,” I grumbled, “Now just, piss off.  I’m going to check a few more things on my gear and then go find Parasite.” 

Mutant didn’t need another prompt and grabbed Lightshow by the shoulder, dragging her off in an oddly comical fashion as I turned back to my suit, giving it a look.  

Three days of intense work with a whole team of people helping me.  The chance to work to the best of my ability and prove that I belonged on this ship, that I could hang with the other people here, and that I was worthy of being part of Titan’s crusade.  

“And to think I used to work with scrap metal and had to make my own shoddy ass tools,” I mumbled to myself.  “We’ve come a long way, Alexis.”  

Trying to escape the common area was impossible to do as a small group of people gathered around to ask about my suits progress; it probably took me ten minutes to field questions and assure everyone that soon it would be getting a full test, that there would of course be a demonstration, and that I was quite sure it would be up to snuff.  

I hadn’t even made it out of the common space before I saw a figure that made my stomach drop.

Murphy.

I wasn’t sure if I was glad that he was smiling, but it was such a common sight for me that I likely would have been more concerned if he wasn’t.  We caught each other’s eye and he walked over, gesturing to a couch. He took a seat and I joined him, keeping a little space between us.  

“So, Alexis,” he started.

“Murphy.”

He ran a hand through his unruly hair, “Been a bit, hasn’t it?”

I nodded, finding myself more and more annoyed at that shitty grin he constantly wore.  Did he even realize how awful he had made my life for the better part of a week?

“About that morning, I really didn’t mean for anything to happen.  I wasn’t trying to drive a wedge between us, but Nick has been an exposed nerve as of late and hasn’t been sleeping which has made everything worse,” Murphy explained, “He misread things and that wasn’t what I meant to do.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “You aren’t wrong.”

His smiled faded a little when I wasn’t as relieved as he was, “That’s what I’m going to get here?  We can’t pretend to be a little more friendly with one another since this was literally a giant misunderstanding?”

I frowned, annoyed at his presumption.  “What exactly were you expecting, Murphy?  A goddamn song and celebratory fanfare that we were finally having this awkward ass conversation?  Were you expecting me to grovel in apology for being incommunicado the last few days?”

Now his smile was flattened completely, “We initially gave you space, and you climbed more into your shell initially.  And then, boom, you start building again. A promising sign given your stress and anxiety lately. Then we try talking to you and you hardly registered that your friends since childhood were trying to patch things up with you.”

I felt my cheeks flush with frustration; why was he accusing me, why couldn’t he understand what I had gone through?  Why did he feel this urge to point out how he was always the one in the right? Why did Murphy have to be such a jackass all the time? 

“And I’m supposed to just set everything aside right then and work with you?  My work isn’t important anymore?”

Murphy drew back in surprise, “What, no!  I didn’t mean that at all!”

“Then what did you mean, Murphy?”

He shook his head, “I only wanted to talk to my friend and help her sort things out.  I wanted our fucking team, the one we stated, to be a proper goddamn team again. We need you back, Alexis, more than we want to admit.”  Murphy let out a low sigh, “Alexis, Nick isn’t stable without you. We need you back. Whatever happened between you guys, we need to undo it.  I don’t like how he’s holding up, especially after what happened back in Ciel.”

At the mention of Nick, my brain went two different directions: there was a stab of remorse and sympathy for Nick, and rage at Murphy for trying to manipulate me through guilt.  “Clearly he is such a mess if he has only come to see me once,” I grumbled. 

I saw my teammate wince but the discomfort was washed away quickly.  “We tried to talk to you three different times. Once a day since you started building.  I’m okay with having to wait, but not noticing us is different, Alexis,” he said, his voice betraying a little frustration, “What the hell is going on with you?”

“Suddenly there’s something wrong with me?” 

Murphy clenched his fingers, getting more and more flustered; a sick part of me felt satisfaction seeing him squirm.  “Alexis, no. I didn’t say that at all. I understand you’ve been under an inordinate amount of stress lately, we all have.  We wanted to give you time to yourself, but then you cut yourself off, isolated yourself. We haven’t pushed too hard because you’ve been chummy with Armorsmith and we don’t want to come between a new friendship, but we’re your team.  We need you to come back to the fold.”

Again my brain warred between two dialectically opposed beliefs: Murphy was either being genuine and wanted me back, or he just didn’t want to deal with his own guilt over driving me away.  A sneer spread across my face, “Do you really want that, Murphy?”

I could tell from his look that he knew something was very wrong.  “What the fuck are you talking about, of course I want that! Why the fuck wouldn’t I want you to come back to us?”

“You’re little schmoozing session is tainted by your guilt?  You need me around so you can enjoy it again?”

Murphy’s eyes widened in horror, “Alexis what the-“

My blood boiled as I glared daggers at my childhood friend, “You couldn’t have at him if I was around, could you?  We both know you’ve had eyes for Nick ever since Mutant outed you. But maybe that guilt of driving me away has finally gotten to you, hasn’t it?”

There was a split second where my damning statement processed, as if Murphy couldn’t just accept it out of the gate.  And then, once it had processed, his face twisted in a way I had never seen.  

In all my times of knowing Murphy, I had never seen him fueled by hate.  

“There’s no fucking way you mean that,” he snapped, “Because if you did, you’re not the person I grew up around.”  

That should have debased me, it should have hit harder than a car crash, it should have shut me down completely, but it didn’t.  Instead, my rage boiled over, the train already having left the station. “Well it makes sense, doesn’t it? You shoving us together like that.  You like to play the fool, but we both know you’re so much more clever than that. You’re able to think three steps ahead, and just that little nudge would be so easy for you-“

“Alexis,” he growled.

I kept pushing, “So easy to engineer.  And you even gave yourself a convenient excuse.  I wonder, how long have you been waiting for the right opportunity to spring this, huh?  Now that Xana isn’t here, you have to make sure he stays on the market?” 

“Alexis-“ he hissed, “Shut-“

“No,” I snapped, “I’m not going to be shut up by you, not now, not ever.  You understand me, Murphy? Or maybe I should use the more appropriate name, the literal one we gave you: Parasite!” 

“Shut up!” he shouted, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.  While many had dispersed after Infinite’s display was over, there were still fifteen or so Adapted playing cards or conversing.  But now, there was conflict and that drew everyone in like a bug zapper drew in flies. “Fuck you, Alexis. I’m done. I don’t know what you’re fucking deal is, but I’m not about to entertain you being a fucking prick.” 

As he left, I got up, following him, my rage not sated.   I wanted Murphy to hurt for what he’d done. “Just leave then, you little bitch.  Drive me away so you can go fuck our friend some more. I wonder how long you’ll have him before you drive him away like you did your parents!” 

Murphy spun around faster than I could process; the air was shoved out of my lungs before I could comprehend that he had thrown a punch into my guts.  My eyes looked down as my body folded and I noticed his arm was normal sized; he hadn’t used his gift at all to punch me, this was just him fueled by rage and adrenaline.  If he’d tapped into his passenger, his fight might have gone through me.    

I sank to my knees, coughing, sputtering as everyone in the room got up to their feet, enraged.  I was the champion of the ship as of late, and Murphy had just assaulted me with seemingly very little provocation.  

As I hit my knees and gasped for air, it was like scales fell from my eyes.  It dawned on me that I had no reason to be horrible and spiteful to my friend.  What the fuck had I even been doing? Of course Murphy was concerned about me, and of course shit was awkward with us and the sudden absence of Xana.  He wasn’t trying to domineer Nick’s time, he was just being a supportive friend since Nick had lost his girlfriend a large source of emotional support.  

I’d been the one who had stepped out of line by daring suggest anything between us, and Nick had been still grieving when I tried to push.  Of course he had lashed out at me.    

All this rage and misplaced aggression, while it had worked wonders with people who I didn’t have personal baggage with, it had pushed me to lash out…and for what?  

But Murphy didn’t know any of that; he was still livid with my behavior and what I’d had the audacity to say.  As people started to take action to the attack, he leaned down to growl at me, “Say shit like that again, I use my passenger and I turn your fucking ribs into dust, you understand?”

“The fuck you will!”  From behind Murphy, Crash came bounding forward, shoulder-checking my friend and letting a ripple of energy expand between them; Murphy was tossed back against a wall.  He tried to get up, but someone new streaked forward, utilizing her momentum to drive a knee into his gut. As the mocha colored stopped for a moment, I recognized her as Blitz of Serpentine.  

At least the two gangs were working together for once, I just wish it wasn’t to batter my friend into submission.    

However, all parties involved stopped the fighting as a girl in white materialized in our midst, her face a bloodthirsty sneer, “You, fucking, idiots!” she shrieked, “What did we tell you?”

“Wait,” I managed to croak out, my body still burning with the need of oxygen, “Wait, Forest, please.  I initiated with Parasite. They were defending me. Please, don’t punish them for my mistake.”  

Forest stalked forward to me and no one dared to breathe as I found my feet, looking back into her eyes, doing my best to stay composed.  Whatever unlocked rage and unhealthy drive had been fueling me was gone now and fighting back my own nerves was troubling. The last time I had pushed back against Forest she nearly smothered me.  

This time, she backed away, “You get one, Dragoon.  Don’t make me regret it.” 

We all breathed a sigh of relief.  As soon as it faded though, I could feel Murphy’s glare at me, and saw the way other people were looking back at him.  “Murphy-“

“Save it,” he said, inconsolable.  He waved a hand and turned away, going back to his room, “Tell someone who gives a shit.”  

My jaw hung open as I watched, helpless to stop him from skulking away.  I knew he’d need distance for this to be something we could work out, but right now it stung.

However, there was a more immediate question: why had I done any of this? 

Even under the most stressful situations I never lost my cool like this.  Rage wasn’t my MO, far from it honestly. I felt some anger for my mother for years of neglect and abuse, but even then I didn’t lash out at her.  Even the night I was outed as an Adapted I didn’t pick a fight, she did.  

Toolkit had called me someone else entirely.  Murphy had said he didn’t recognize me. What if they weren’t wrong?    

I was on a vessel with dozens of Adapted and I hadn’t paused to consider that some of them were capable of adjusting my brain and how I think.  Psycho had been a guy named Empath before he Altered; his old power had been emotional manipulation. Who was to say that he was the only one?

But who would have reason to tinker with my brain?  Who would have even had the time?  

“Forest,” I asked as the girl started to dissolve, “Where is Infinite?” 

She turned to give me a curious glance, “In her room.”

I said a quick thanks and darted away, not bothering to explain myself as a new fire of anger caught blaze in my chest.  This wasn’t a rage that seemed to go against my better senses, this was a response to violation. There was one person who had spent a lot of time around me lately who wasn’t in any kind of normal circle, and one was capable of doing damn near anything.  She couldn’t adjust her brain, but who was to say she couldn’t adjust someone else’s?  

I was a cognate, I was someone who lived or died based on my ability to problem solve and out-think people.  Whatever she might have been trying to do, Infinite had fucked with my brain, and that was not something I would tolerate.  I didn’t give a damn how all-powerful she might be, there were lines that you weren’t supposed to cross. She had no reason to do something like that without telling me.    

I slammed my fist on her door; the red-head opened it, surprised when I stepped in, my whole body shaking with frustration.  

“Dragoon, whats-“

“What the fuck did you do to me?” I snapped, my voice cracking. 

Her eyes widened as she pressed herself against the wall, trying to make distance from the ball of anger that had burst into the room, “I don’t know-“

AS she made herself small and meek, I pushed in and loomed over her, “WHAT DID YOU DO?” I shrieked.  “Don’t you fucking dare lie to me! Don’t pretend you didn’t do anything!” 

“I only wanted to help,” she sobbed, “I never wanted to hurt anyone!” 

My fingers curled into fists as I shook.  I leered forward, slamming my hands against his shoulders and shoving her against the wall, “And your response was to tinker with my brain?  You can’t be a Cognate, so you affect another one? At least Titan allowed me to not take Chemtrail’s drug, but you didn’t even ask! You just did it!  What the fuck did you do to me?” 

“I just wanted to get rid of your anxiety, give you some drive!  I didn’t want to risk you worrying so I just didn’t tell you, I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt!” she insisted, tears now streaming down her face.  “Please, it should have just made you more assertive and commanding, something you would normally be!”

Something about the way she said it made me think she knew what she was talking about, like she had done this before.  But, I was a Cognate. Of course my brain didn’t respond the same as someone else. “Your drive turned into aggression once anyone pushed back, Infinite!  I just chewed out my best friend for something he didn’t do! And still, what the fuck were you thinking?” I put a finger to my temple, “The thing in here, that’s all I’ve got that makes me worthwhile to be on this fucking ship, Infinite.  I can’t zip us through the galaxy faster than light like you, okay? Why the hell do you think it would be okay to tinker with me like this? If you fucked me up, were you going to see if you could put the pieces back together, huh?” 

“I didn’t want to see my new friend in pain, okay?  I’m sorry, please-“

“How did you ever think this would be okay?  You thought it would be okay to effectively rape my brain?” 

The second those words left my mouth, Infinite’s eyes turned into black orbs.  From her mouth came a blood curdling shriek and I felt all my muscles go limp. I could feel my heartbeat nearly stop as the paralysis washed over me, leaving me a prisoner in my own body.  All conscious effort quickly turned into a war to draw breath since my diaphragm was trying to shut down along with the rest of my muscles.  

All the while, Infinite stood over me, shaking, her eyes seeing something entirely different.  Her breath was ragged, strained, like she was trying to hold something back. I tried to speak to apologize, to placate, something, anything to get her to shift back into the friendly redhead I had spent some time with recently.  

My only response was to widen my eyes as this monster stared back at me.  Even though she was shaking and tears were running down her face, there was something wrong about her movements.  It was like watching a bad puppet show as she stepped forward, awkwardly kneeling over me to put her mouth close to my ear.  

“I only wanted to help,” she whispered, her voice tortured “I’m so sorry, Dragoon, I’m so sorry.”

She placed a hand over my face and everything went dark.     

  
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