Eldritch and I had continued to grow and develop more and more mutations in our battle with the garrison soldiers. Their ranks had broken and pockets of soldiers had split off to try and hide from me or repel the siege at the Arms Discovery. Eldritch and I had hunted them down, a mutation to detect life making it too easy to continue to feast and grow.
And then, the force field had erected.
My gut told me that my friends were in trouble. Something like this, it had to be Zellig’s handiwork. With the garrison soldiers scattered, I decided that we needed to save our friends; to my surprise, Eldritch had wholeheartedly agreed with me.
Our ability to detect life had guided us to the edge just in time to see Zellig nearly rip Beleth in half. That same stuff that Tol had used was literally lighting up the Trillodan commander. When Shockwave hit him one last time and he didn’t go down, he knew he’d won. Zellig rose, triumphant.
“No!” I roared, slamming my arm against the shield again. Again it repelled us, adding more energy to the well of Retaliation that we’d been saving.
Zellig looked at me, and he laughed. I slammed another massive arm against the shield only to lose nearly a hundred kilograms of mass as the force field pushed back. He shook his head, turning away, knowing full well that I couldn’t stop him, despite my immense size and power.
We can’t just bash through this.
I didn’t care, I brought both arms down on the shield, disregarding the two-hundred kilograms of mass I destroyed in the process. He was bearing down on Alexis and Murphy, with nothing left to stop him. Shockwave was trying to buy time with quick shots to batter Zellig, but it wasn’t doing much more than tickling the Trillodan warlord.
I roared and slammed my arm against the barrier again and again. Even with my plethora of mutations, I couldn’t break through. An adrenaline rush didn’t matter. Our elasticity to whip an arm down didn’t matter. I grabbed chunks of rubble to reinforce my limb; it didn’t matter. Even with a hardened exo-skeleton, it didn’t matter.
Chunks of flesh came free and exploded on the surface as a small bit of our Retaliate energy was spent but it only made the barrier shimmer. Every time I hit it was like hitting a wall that punched back. Eldritch was right: I wasn’t going to bash through this. I would destroy our body long before this ever gave way.
“We can’t let him take them,” I growled as I hit the force field anyway.
I could feel Eldritch’s remorse, but there wasn’t a solution it could offer me.
There was an extra tonne of material in my storage that I could consume, but what good would that do? We were already a six-hundred tonne behemoth. Adding another forty wouldn’t make the difference. If I could have quadrupled my size I might be able to just bash through, but there wasn’t enough to eat. With no immediate solution, I continued to wail away on the shield, wishing I could stop Zellig’s slow, methodical advance.
Nick, stop. You’re going to kill us before you kill him.
I had effectively shredded another tonne and a half of material as I mindlessly battered against the barrier. It was all in vain. It was a senseless gesture, a pointless exercise. This was never going to help them. We were so close to them and, with all this mass, Zellig was nothing more than a pest. We could swat him away with ease. I could have killed him by simply stepping on him like an insect.
Inside the barrier, Ragdoll was trying to help get Parasite and Dragoon away while Shockwave was doing his best to keep the Trillodan busy. Hydra was still trying to regrow a leg and crawling away. This fight was done with the only thing drawing it out being Shockwave’s stubbornness.
Zellig all but ignored my battering on the barrier.
Nick. You’re killing us. All this growth is temporary if we don’t continue to eat.
“I’m not going to lose my friends,” I insisted. “I’m not letting that psychopath take them! I let him put Murphy in a tube once. I’m not letting him do it again!”
Eldritch tried to wrest control away from me, but I was too bull-headed. Even though there was nothing sinister, I couldn’t abide by its cold pragmatism and self-preservation. To Eldritch there was only a single directive that mattered: protect the host.
I can’t let you kill us both. We have to survive.
“If they die, I might as well die with them,” I said, wishing I could force Eldritch to Adapt again. I needed a different power. Retaliate had served us well when enduring punishment from the garrison because we could continue to eat and fuel the gift. But, destroying ourselves in explosive fashion became less and less viable since the troops had scattered.
Besides, I could only detonate so much of our body before it threatened the little human core at the center. Even as the thought crossed my mind, Eldritch blocked the power from me, denying me access to our self-destructive super power.
We are winning the fight against the Trillodan. There are acceptable losses.
“They aren’t,” I insisted.
Dragoon gave us a task. We have succeeded.
“And Zellig always has something else up his sleeve!”
Nick, we have to let them go! Bashing ourselves until we are nothing but dust won’t help them!
“Then help me! Fucking Adapt again, get some kind of mutation for acid, something!”
We both know I can’t do it on demand any more than you could Alter and give us something else to work with!
I screamed again, frustrated. Inside the barrier, Hydra was trying to hamper the progress of Zellig with Parasite’s help; both were substantially outclassed and out of steam. Zellig, for all the abuse he seemed to have taken, had barely slowed down.
“Please,” I begged Eldritch, “I can’t lose them. I owe them everything. They’re all I have left. My parents are dead and I’m worlds away from my home. If I lose my two friends, what life do I have to return to?” I quit struggling and grappling with Eldritch for the Retaliate power, admitting defeat. I couldn’t overpower Eldritch and threaten us both. “I know you don’t think like me, I know you don’t feel like me…but please. I need to try and save them.”
I half-heartedly slapped the barrier one more time, knowing that I wasn’t going to get through.
Well, make it count.
My body moved without my approval, forced free of the immense figure. I fell to the ground with two-tonnes of material still glued to my body. I could feel all the powers Eldritch had accumulated but that innate balance and control wasn’t there.
Eldritch had split us and literally kicked me out. We had done this little gimmick in training several times, but never without some kind of warning or prompt. The monstrous form stepped forward, pressing its entire body against the barrier and started to glow.
“Hide,” Eldritch roared.
“Eldritch…” I said, staggering away, unsure of what to do or how to feel, “What are you-“
“Make it count,” my monstrous counterpart repeated.
The Neklim material I had been separated with screamed at me, feeling the massive swell of energy. I barely noticed I moved away, my gaze locked on Eldritch the whole time. That monster was supposed to be pragmatic, to be self-serving. What was it doing?
I wanted to hear an answer from the recesses of my mind, to hear anything from that beast I had shared a body with for the last few months. All I heard was the unintelligible noise from the Neklim sprouting from my skin. None of the consciousness that directed the hive mind came with me. There was none of that division of labor anymore.
And as the last of the energy reached Eldritch’s outer layer, I felt a sinking pit in my stomach.
I was about to watch part of me die. We were just finally understanding each other, finally getting along, finally working together. But it knew that I was simply going to wither and die if I watched Zellig take my friends. Eldritch was sacrificing himself to ensure his host’s best chance for survival; knowing that my own attachments was driving Eldritch only made this more painful.
“Goodbye,” I whispered as my body dragged me into a building, hunkering down behind a wall of stone.
Eldritch exploded, all the energy directed forward like the universe’s biggest shape charge. A blinding light washed over the whole city as the monster erupted and gore began to rain down on every building within eyeshot. A second wave of explosions sounded as the ground shook; down the street a few buildings went up in flames even though they had been behind the barrier.
The wall shimmered and then winked out of existence; Eldritch’s sacrifice had been enough to overload Zellig’s force field. Wishing I had time to mourn the loss of my friend, I centered myself and took over the mass of Neklim growths that I had been left with. Even though I retained all the mutations and the Adaptation that Eldritch had accrued, movement felt hazardous. With me having to battle back against the noise of all the tendrils fighting for control I felt sluggish and uncoordinated.
I felt like the original Eldritch, back when Rogue Sentries were first starting out. I was clumsy, fighting my body for control the whole time.
Before I had crossed the street, I had managed to wrest enough control to run again. I burned half of the tonne of storage I had remaining, willing another ten tonnes into existence. I didn’t need it to last long; I needed to be big enough to crush Zellig.
Building up steam, I charged the building that my friends had been backpedaling into. I reached the door and slammed through the frame, letting my anger propel me forward.
Several explosions sounded and the building collapsed. Metal and glass ripped into my flesh as I tried to calcify my outer layer and mitigate the damage of the building landing on my head. Still, the rubble crushed me despite my struggles.
I reached for the Retaliate power and tapped into that well of energy, detonating nearly a third of my mass to blast free. Before I got my bearings, Zellig leapt down off the neighboring rooftop, slamming into me and driving me back onto a pile of shattered glass. I raised an arm to shove him off and he fired a gun into my limb, shearing off half my arm. I grabbed a handful of twisted metal and wove it into my right arm; he blasted my hand off before it made contact.
Panicking, I tapped into my Retaliate and turned my outer layer into a bomb. Zellig leapt clear before I exploded. His ambush had taken me from two-tonnes of material to just over one. Even though I had tried to bulk up to ten-tonnes, Zellig had managed to set me back in size. He advanced with malevolence in his eyes.
“One more hurdle,” he growled, “One last little obstacle.”
I burned a hit of adrenaline and consumed the rest of my storage to speed up the growth; I needed to get some size so he couldn’t casually shear off limbs with that gun of his. In a match of pure brawn, I could take him. But as long as he had tools, I didn’t like my odds.
Zellig sneered and charged. For being a wall of muscle, he was remarkably nimble. He ducked under a swipe with my elastic appendages and dove away from me throwing a handful of shrapnel his way. Even with adrenaline flowing through me, he slipped in past my guard and grinned as he pressed the gun right up against my center of mass and pulled the trigger.
It punched a hole through the Neklim and the human flesh beneath it. I roared in pain but didn’t relent; I had regrown organs before. As long as I had mass to burn, I could recover from damn near any injury. Fighting down my self-preservation, I pulled my arms in to bear hug Zellig.
His eyes widened as he realized my ploy; a quick blast through one arm let him rip free but he couldn’t make the distance to protect himself from my Retaliate. The Trillodan went tumbling into a pile of debris; his immense frame crashed into a pile and triggered a small landslide that completely buried him. With a moment of reprieve, I directed my Neklim to rebuild the lung he had shot through. I reconstituted the parts of me I had blown off as I ran away from the rubble, trying to catch back up with my friends.
While I was glad he had stopped chasing them to deal with me, I wanted to see them with my own eyes. I had to be sure that Eldritch hadn’t died for nothing.
I did my best to split my attention, looking forward and back simultaneously. While I could hope that Zellig would stay buried, I knew he wasn’t down for the count. If we had learned nothing else about the warlord, he was seemingly impossible to kill. He’d let Adamant crush his heart and had managed to survive somehow. He’d been in a fistfight with Infinite and survived that too.
More and more tendrils continued to sprout from my body as I focused and tapped into my ability to detect life. The builds seemed to fade out and I felt five figures running frantically. I could see one being carried; it looked like Alexis had been paralyzed or something and couldn’t walk. This had to be them.
“Guys!” I shouted, letting the Neklim amplify my voice. “I’m-“
Behind me, another figure was sprinting at me full bore.
I rounded and let the adrenaline flow as Zellig raised the blaster; one arm was blown in half as I charged forward, aiming only to get a hold of the gun. Another explosion ripped into my torso as I finally got a hold of it, crushing the metal framework beneath my tendrils. Zellig growled and charged forward like a demon unleashed.
Heavy blows landed against my torso, each one crushing several kilograms. When I tried to grab hold of him, Zellig would use his claws to hack away at my limbs to keep from getting ensnared. But, without the firearm to take out entire swaths of my body at a time, he wasn’t able to destroy me faster than I could grow.
And I could tell from that frustrated look on his face that he knew it.
Zellig and I had clashed on Tso’got; that time he had ripped me out of my Neklim suit. But now, I was too evolved for him to brawl with.
Even though I endured twenty hits for each one I answered with, I was still going to weather the storm. Zellig was hurt and starting to falter, fatigue finally starting to show. Even though I had eaten through three-quarters of my supply, I could outlast him. Exchange after exchange warred on, the whole while he couldn’t reduce me below two-tonnes of mass.
All the while I continued to store energy for my Retaliate. I held out, waiting for a good opportunity to dump all the energy he’d gifted me.
Sure enough, I found an opening. Zellig stayed close for a split second too long as I had a renewed burst of adrenaline; my left arm flared open and I grabbed around his torso, dumping energy into my limb and detonating it. My opponent went flying backwards, his body flipping through the air and crashing down with a horrible crunching as his bones snapped from the impact.
I waited a moment, but he wasn’t moving.
“Eldritch,” a haggard voice said, surprised. Emerging from an alleyway, Hydra limped forward. She had done away with the wings she had earlier and was still trying to regrow the leg that Zellig had blown off earlier. “We saw-“
“You saw the monster die,” I replied, my voice hollow. “It sacrificed itself to overload the barrier.”
Before Hydra could reply, there was a scraping sound of claws against stone; Zellig rose, some of his flesh burned and eroded. Where there had been grey flesh over much of his chest, now there was red muscle exposed. “You are, tiresome,” he growled as his skeleton corrected itself, “And the fact that you now developed a penchant for self-sacrifice is so ill-timed. All I needed you to do was just be that dumb animal.”
I had run out of storage but I still had two-tonnes of growth to fight with. Did Zellig still think he could fight me? Even I could tell he was on his last leg. Even though he was built to win a war of attrition, he had been battling half a dozen very capable Adapted.
Did he just have a death wish?
“Over and over, you just keep getting back up. No matter how many times I break you down, Eldritch, you just refuse to submit.” He rolled his neck and sneered, “All you’re doing now is prolonging the inevitable.”
“The inevitable? We have you on the run. I broke the ranks of the garrison soldiers!” I shot back, furious.
His sneer turned into a smile, “Of course you did. I fed them to you. I needed you to be menacing, to tower above everything and be a monster. And for some reason, the monster decided to have a heart.”
I seethed. I let that anger guide my footsteps as I lumbered forward; I was bigger than him, stronger than him, more durable than him. Without his fancy weapons, I outclassed Zellig. My rage boiled over and I started to sprint at him, roaring as I gained speed.
And then Zellig’s veins glowed an ominous color of red; that same mechanical steroid that Tol had used to beat us into submission on Vuuldar. The same steroid he’d used a moment ago to butcher Beleth. Before I could stop my momentum, Zellig sidestepped me with renewed speed. I turned as he shot forward, lifting me off the ground and carrying me like I was weightless. We crashed through a wall into a massive entryway with ornate columns and tile floor that cracked with every heavy step Zellig took.
He seemed oblivious to me slamming him in the back; I tried to grind my feet against the ground to stop him, but he slammed me into one of the columns and I felt dozens of kilograms die. More damning was that I felt my ribs break underneath the Neklim.
Stunned for a moment, I didn’t get to prepare myself for the frenzied onslaught. An electronic whirring screamed as Zellig somehow continued to speed up, his claws ripping into me, gouging out massive chunks of flesh as he tried to carve into my chest and dig me out. My innate toughness and skeletal armor didn’t even slow him down. His face was twisted in a manic smile, the normally composed and commanding Zellig was replaced by a deranged villain.
A villain that was eviscerating me with frightening speed.
I dug into the well of energy and empowered my left hand with Retaliate. Right before it made contact, Zellig ducked under it, twisting and kicking me like a mule to throw me backwards.
The explosion ripped off half my arm and hit nothing but air.
Before I could even sit up, Zellig was back at it, ripping fistful after fistful of Neklim away, going at speeds that made Parasite seem sluggish.
I wasn’t going to beat him in a fight, not trying to run at him with brute strength. That steroid made him overbearing and I had given up too much mass with the whiffed use of Retaliate. As wounded as he might have been, pain seemed done away with for now.
I tried to push him off and get up to my feet; Zellig drove a knee into my side and sent me sliding across the room with a cackle.
The steroid, it was driving him insane. He could still fight so well because it was muscle memory, he’d been doing it for literal centuries. There was no way to counteract that, but I could take advantage of him being deluded. My only bet was to try and outsmart him, to lure him into some kind of trap. My only real trump card was Retaliate and I had spent it recklessly. I steeled myself; the only chance I had to make it out of this alive was to endure enough of a beating to knock him flat with a final application of Retaliate. It was a shitty gambit, but I couldn’t try and hold out for more mutations to level the playing field between us.
I did my best to guard, to keep my arms in front and protect my real body. Zellig didn’t care what was put in front of him; it was just one more obstacle to rip to shreds. As my arms fell to ribbons, Zellig swept my legs out from under me. I hit the ground and roared in anguish as he stomped on me over and over and over.
“No more fight in you?” he cackled as he danced around me, dropping to his knees to continue raking flesh off away, “Pathetic!”
I tried to shove him away, but I held back. It wasn’t enough, not yet. I still had eight-hundred kilograms of material left to spare.
Emboldened, Zellig picked me up, launching me into a pillar and crushing a few dozen more kilograms of flesh. I rose and immediately endured another flurry of blows that knocked my total mass down to six-hundred kilograms. With another mechanical whine, he shot a hand forward and dug into my shoulder, ripping down the length of my sleeve.
I screamed as his claws stripped away the skin on my real arm as well.
He smiled and avoided my weak attempt to push him away; his follow up strikes hit me hard enough to actually concuss me. I toppled, doing my best to see straight as a massive foot slammed on top of my chest.
As my vision cleared, I could see the red tint was gone from his veins. I had managed to live through the steroid, but I was down to just over three hundred kilograms of material. All my size and strength advantage had been ripped away.
“What a pity,” he said, his mania replaced by frustration. “Your friends, they understood what a display of tenacity was. They fought and planned on the fly. You, you’re just a reckless child emboldened by a gift he doesn’t deserve.”
I let all the stored adrenaline flow through my tendrils and had them rapidly migrate to one arm. My panoramic vision faded as the massive limb shot up and engulfed his torso. I was completely exposed, but he wasn’t going to claw his way out of this fast enough. The whole limb glowed and it was finally my turn to smile as his face fell.
A column fractured as Zellig’s body shot across the room as the force of the Retaliate pushed me away. I groaned as I rolled to a stop, my entire body feeling like it was on fire. The heat had burned all of my torso and some of it was already starting to blister. Worst off was my right arm: most of the skin had been cooked off and exposed a torched layer of muscle with bone visible in a few places. I didn’t feel it yet, the adrenaline numbing the worst of it for now.
“Fuck you,” I panted as I forced myself to sit up and look at the battered warlord. “How’s that for a display of tenacity?”
My eyes widened as Zellig’s head lifted.
No fucking way. He was still alive?
His whole body was blackened from the blast. Most of the muscle had been stripped away leaving charred bone showing. Dark blood was seeping from his torso but still, he staggered to his feet. Zellig took an awkward step forward, his equilibrium shot. As he recovered, he raised his head to glare at me.
“Oh shit,” I gasped, wishing I had the strength left to stand. “Someone, help me,” I croaked, my throat felt it was crushed. I couldn’t cry out to my teammates. I couldn’t scream for help.
And I had no mass left to grow. I had no more strength gifted to me by the Neklim.
Zellig had withstood. He had done exactly what he was built for.
“No,” I begged, my heart hammering, “Please, no.”
The Trillodan commander took a few more steps forward, still uncoordinated and slow. As I watched my death approach, I did my best to take solace in the fact that I had at least robbed him of his dignity. I had pushed him to the brink.
It offered little comfort.
His head snapped to the side as a green-scaled figure hobbled into the room. Zellig tried to turn to respond, but Hydra threw her weight into him and sent both toppling over. The Trillodan commander roared and found a second wind, shoving both hands into Hydra’s chest and tossing her away. He turned back to me, dead set as he started to bear crawl forward.
A bolt of kinetic energy hit him in the side and knocked him over. “No, no,” Shockwave said as he sprinted in, “None of that.” Zellig roared and tried to rise, but a quick pair of hits knocked him back down. Hydra threw herself forward and grabbed one arm and pulled him to the ground. Before Zellig could try and shove Hydra away again, Ragdoll flipped through the hole in the wall and drove a fist into Zellig’s chest before grabbing the other arm.
Shockwave fired a pair of kinetic bolts into Zellig’s legs, dropping the warlord to his knees.
Finally, the defiance in his eyes faded.
Shockwave moved aside as Murphy walked in, carrying our friend in his arms. She only had a single sleeve of her power armor and her railgun. With a grunt, Murphy helped her stand up. She had to throw an arm over his shoulders while he grabbed her waist, but she wanted to do this while standing.
An intense silence fell over the room as Hydra and Ragdoll held Zellig down. Dragoon raised her arm, her railgun aimed square at Zellig’s head. “I should hate you,” she said, her voice quaking, “You’ve done so much awful shit. Not just to us, but to so many people. You’re responsible for more deaths than all of us put together. You’ve captured us, hunted us, tortured us, and experimented on us. You’ve chased us across the stars and flattened a few cities because we had the audacity to hide from you.” She took a shaky breath and a nervous laugh slipped out, “But as I look at you, I don’t hate you. You fucking paralyzed me, and I still can’t hate you! When I look at you, all I feel is pity. I just feel sad for you. I look at you, and I see someone who is just as broken as us.”
Zellig looked up slowly, his face affirming Dragoon’s assertion.
“You spent all this effort, all this time, trying to make sure that none of the Trillodan could feel as shitty as you do every day. You killed people, just so your people wouldn’t have to feel the hurt and misery you do every waking moment, didn’t you?”
Slowly, Zellig nodded.
“You could have just… tried to talk to us! You could have tried to be reasonable! You have Skaberen; he could have helped fix the damage done to the Trillodan genome. You could have tried to work with other people so everyone lived.” She took another shaky, deep breath. “All you do is spread that misery. And the shitty thing is that I get it.”
“Dragoon,” Zellig said, his voice a rasp, “What are you going to do to my people?”
“Your people? Do you mean the violent, psychotic horde you allowed Vaneel to experiment on? Do you mean the army you threw at us just to keep Eldritch busy?”
“Soldiers fight. Soldiers die.”
Dragoon seemed confused for a moment; her face screwed up as she fully realized his implication. “I want nothing to do with your people. We aren’t genocidal tyrants, not like you. We didn’t start this fight. I’m not going to kill innocent people because of yours and the Immortal Matron’s crimes. We are nothing like you, and we never will be.”
I expected Zellig to be offended, but he smiled. Not his usual self-assured smile that seemed to follow him into a fight, but a soft expression that betrayed some actual joy and relief. Hearing those words almost made him seem… kind. Like hearing that his people were going to live was all he needed to be content with life. He could do away with the facade of the warlord and instead just be a regular person. “Thank you.” He lifted his head again, “I have a final request, Dragoon.”
“I would like to die on my feet.”
She glanced at Shockwave; he started to charge his hands. “Let him go. Zellig, you do anything stupid and Shockwave makes it hurt. But, I don’t think you’re one for being sneaky.”
A low chuckle escaped him, “No. I’m hardly subtle.”
She took another deep breath, “You can’t stop the ship can you? You automated it, just in case you died down here, didn’t you?”
“You wouldn’t stop it even if you could, would you?”
He hesitated but finally shook his head, not bothering to lie. He slowly rose to his feet, shaking his head slowly, “I’m sorry. I believe it is what is best for my people.”
Dragoon grit her teeth, “I appreciate your honesty.” She raised her railgun, but her hand was shaking. She tried to hold it steady, but her uneven breathing betrayed how nervous she was. “This should be easy. I’ve dreamed of killing you, but now that it’s time, I-”
“Let me help,” Zellig said slowly.
Dragoon tilted her head, “Wha-”
Zellig yanked his arms free, catching Ragdoll and Hydra off guard. The Trillodan rose and took a quick step forward.
Dragoon’s arm snapped up and took aim, muscle memory kicking in as she responded to the threat; a huge chunk of the warlord’s head splattered the wall behind him and Zellig fell down.
I wasn’t sure if I was angry that Zellig died with a content smile on his face or if I was secretly glad we had finally managed to put such a wounded person out of their misery.
With the barrier down, the battlefield expanded. Garrison soldiers began sweeping the area, but Adapted from the siege of the Arms Discovery joined the fray too.
Playlist found us and helped ferry us to a Relay point. Shockwave stayed out to keep fighting, but the rest of us were done. Shockwave gave us a nod as we were whisked away; I got the sense that he simply wanted to exorcise his rage at losing Beleth. Even though we had avenged the dreaded mobster, Shockwave couldn’t cope with the loss quite yet.
Even though he knew we were all likely to die in the next half hour or so, he wanted to spend the last minutes of his life drowning in blood and adrenaline; none of us could offer a better use of the time.
Back at our little camp, I was seen too by Organelle. She repaired enough of the damage on my right arm so I wouldn’t bleed out, but she couldn’t do much more beyond that. There were too many other wounded people who needed her help. Lightshow was directing two copies of Organelle and even so was having trouble keeping up with the demand for a medic.
Dragoon was laid down and given the prognosis that Zellig had told her: he’d shattered the vertebrae to the point it couldn’t be repaired. Short of a miracle, she was never going to walk again. Organelle couldn’t simply create a disk, try as she might.
Our captain shrugged off the news and asked for a new communicator and then tried to get a hold of Interface or Infinite. Our only hope now rested with those two above us. Despite Organelle’s protest and insistence that Dragoon relax, our captain snapped back and insisted that her work wasn’t done. A flustered medic finally relented and obliged her.
I leaned against a wall, my adrenaline fading and the pain of the burns setting in. My best friend was a pleasant distraction as he plopped down next to me, his face remarkably pale. It was a peculiar contrast to his smirk.
“You okay? You’re normally more tan than me,” I pointed out.
“Blood poisoning,” he said casually, “Abusing my gift makes me look pale as crap. Besides, being in space for so long kind of fucked up my tan. I’ll need to take it easy for a few days, but I’ll be fine.”
“Sure, but why are you so happy?”
“We finally got him,” he said with a weak laugh. “More importantly, I’m not going back into a tube.”
I shook my head, “Yeah, instead we’re going to be flattened by a runaway spaceship.”
“Better than being used. I’ll take a dignified death over exploitation, thank you very much.” He looked up into the night sky, “Besides, let’s not count them out yet. This is Infinite and Interface we’re talking about. If anyone could pull through, it’d be them.”
I smiled a little, “Are you being optimistic? That seems like a stretch for you as of late.”
“Don’t be an asshole,” he shot back, “If you keep calling me out on daring to have an emotion that isn’t immediately corresponding to my PTSD, I’ll make a point to just be a negative bastard all the time. Mark my word,” he threatened.
The absurdity got to me. I laughed. “You’re fucking stupid.” Despite all the pain I was in, I reached an arm around my friends shoulder, “I missed you buddy.”
“Me too,” he said, his voice soft.
I opted to ruin the heartfelt moment. “This isn’t going to make Ragdoll jealous, will it?”
He pushed away from me, “You prick.”
Before I could reply, I saw Alexis waving at us. We moved to her, taking a seat around our captain. “I just talked with Interface.”
“Zellig’s plan is already in action. The software has locked them out of the system; our technomancer has no control over the Crimson City anymore. To make it worse, Zellig found a way to prevent Infinite from teleporting around everywhere.”
I raised an eyebrow, “Why does that matter?”
“Because apparently half of the ship was rigged to blow. Interface is trapped behind a small mountain of metal, alone, and unable to reach out and get Infinite’s attention. During the fight with Zellig’s lieuteants, Infinite lost her earpiece.”
“So even though we fought out of hell to pass the message along,” Murphy said, his smile falling, “the one person who can actually do something about it is still oblivious?”
“About sums it up,” Alexis said. A tear started to form at the edge of her eye. “We were so close.”
Beside me, Murphy took a deep breath and put on a sad grin, “Well, it may not be much consolation, but there is no one I’d rather die with than you two. We got into this mess together, and we’ll be leaving it together as well.”
“Maybe Interface will find a way to relay the message to Infinite,” I suggested, knowing I was being stupidly optimistic.
“Maybe. I mean, weirder shit has happened,” Murphy conceded. “But, live or die, I’m glad to be together. The Rogue Sentries are at least going to go out like a bunch of legends. Nothing the Trillodan can do will take that away from us.”
The three of us joined hands. Our contribution to this mission was done. We had done the damage to the Trillodan that we could.
All we could do now was wait for the sky to come crashing down.