In the Void: Adrift

11/26/80 (Dragoon) 

Two days after being dosed with that obnoxious stimulant Chemtrail made, and I was still feeling the same pounding headache as I tried to sit up.  The first try was too quick and the sudden shift in blood flow made me see stars; I let out a groan and alerted Murphy to my plight. 

“Still the same?” 

“Still the worst hangover ever,” I muttered, “help me up?” 

With a steady arm to balance on, I eventually found my feet but had to grab the edge of a bunk bed until my head stopped spinning.  

“Where’s Nick?” 

“Getting some breakfast.  You wanna-“

I nodded, regretting moving my head so much, “And there’d better be coffee.” 

“It is a hot commodity,” Murphy muttered as he hopped up next to me and offered and arm, “You aren’t the only person who wants a dose of some familiar.”  

“Pffbbt, fuck familiar.  I want caffeine. It helps take the edge off this damn migraine.”  

“You know,” Murphy muttered as we left the little dorm room, “I’m pretty sure Chemtrail can just make a few caffeine crystals and let you spike a drink.”  

The idea evoked a desperate groan, “He’d better.  Otherwise I’m gonna kill him for his stupid drug. God this sucks.”  

While the ship that Multitask and Repository had made over the last three years was huge, things started to feel small when there were 80-ish people on board and many people wanted to keep away from one another.  Even though we had all fled here in a panic with Titan acting as a shepherd, old grudges hadn’t faded; Titan had basically tossed a bunch of warring tribes in together and told us to get along.

If we didn’t keep the peace, Titan and Forest warned us that retribution would be swift.  No one wanted to figure out what that veiled threat entailed.  

The central hub had been turned into a strange mix of lounge/kitchen thanks to Collector procuring furniture and–for some reason–and entire industrial kitchen set.  No one asked why she had it, but we were all grateful. Most of our food came from Repository since his power could produce an ‘unrefined meat’ as he called it; while having most of our meals be repurposed protein paste wasn’t exactly glamorous, it was certainly better than starving.  Chemtrail at least helped make spices to add flavor and try to make us think we were eating something else.  

It was surreal seeing so many Adapted in one space, coexisting.  Around the hub, there were a handful of tables with chairs surrounding them and a number of couches scattered around.  What was perplexing was seeing Shockwave, Beleth, Hive, and Toolkit all sitting around one table together; a few weeks ago those guys would have been trying to kill each other on principle alone.  Now it looked like they were playing cribbage.   

I was in luck, there was still a cup of coffee waiting on the chow table.  Taking that and a plate of edible paste I sat down next to Murphy.  

“Thank fuck there was a mug left,” I mumbled as I drained half of the lukewarm black liquid in one gulp.  It was awful coffee, but I could already feel some of the throbbing behind my eyes abate. Food admittedly helped a little, even if it just tasted like sad quality beef doused in salt and pepper.  

Now able to entirely open my eyes without risking sensory overload, I scanned more thoroughly for Nick and didn’t see him anywhere.  “I thought you said he was out here.”

Murphy shrugged, “I’m sorry I lost track of him.  Maybe I’ll get a collar for our troubled behemoth of a friend.”  

I shook my head, “Maybe a bit too soon?”  I still vividly recalled cutting him out of that thing.  It was…unpleasant. 

Murphy shut up and looked at the floor, a bit ashamed.  I knew humor was his go-to defensive mechanism but joking about Nick losing control seemed like a faux pas.  I was glad that Nick had confided in us about his Adaptation seeming to grow and seem to be trying to claw free, to gain influence over him, but that didn’t make it comforting.  If anything, him being scared enough to disclose about it made it all the more worriesome.  

The unleashed Eldritch had fought half the people on this ship on his own…and he’d won.  Even Titan, the guy known being an unstoppable offensive force, had needed help to cut him free.  What was more daunting was knowing that we hadn’t even seen a ceiling for Eldritch. In theory…there wasn’t one.  Our only saving grace was the fact that Forest had been willing to lose 20% of her mass to help keep food away from him.  

When the three of us had started our Reckoner group, we’d wondered what his maximum size might be.  Seeing what he was truly capable of was somewhere between awesome and petrifying.  

Still the bigger question mark in the room was this Infinite character that Titan introduced.  She was oddly non-threatening. A short red-head like me, though with a better tan and bigger rack.  Even though our first introduction was watching her teleport us and the ship nearly 20 million kilometers, ever since they she seemed strangely docile, almost timid.  

I didn’t have to attempt the math to know whatever she’d done required a crazy amount of energy.  Doing any kind of warping or faster-than-light travel was something only the Trillodan seemed able to accomplish; she’d done it on her own in the blink of an eye.

As if she’d heard my thoughts, Infinite stepped into the common space and started walking towards Murphy and me.  

“Did you order the overpowered babe?” he asked softly.

“No…” I muttered, equally confused.  What would she want with us? She spent most of her time palling around with Titan or Forest, kind of segregated from the rest of those onboard.  

She walked up to our little round table and shifted from foot to foot awkwardly, clearly nervous.  “Can, I um, sit here?”

I waved at the chair, “Please do.  What, um, what’s up?” I asked, a bit nervous as well.  As timid as she was, I made a point to tread lightly.   

She blushed a little, “I um…” 

Murphy and I glanced at each other, both confused as she squirmed like a scared kid in school who had been called on.  “You…what?” he finally asked. 

“Your friend,” she finally whispered, “Eldritch.”

I straightened in my chair, “What about him?” 

Infinite leaned away from me, startled, “I um, I wanted to know about him, about his gift.”

Murphy seemed less hostile, more genuinely curious.  “Why?”

“It was super strong…and I wanted to know more about it so I could replicate it,” she whispered, looking at the table, refusing to meet my scrutinizing stare.  

“Replicate it?” Murphy asked, “What do you mean?” 

People onboard had been speculating what exactly Infinite did;  now seemed the best time to ask. “Infinite, what exactly is your Adaptation?” 

“I create powers that I want,” she replied.  When Murphy and I glanced at each other, equally unsure of what that entailed, she continued.  “I don’t just say ‘I want to copy Titan’ or something like that, but I create power components and string them together.”  

I shook my head, “I’m still not entirely following.”  

She concentrated for a moment and little arcs of electricity began to chain between her fingertips.  

“Holy shit,” Murphy muttered, “You just made Shock’s power.”  

“If I want to copy most powers, it takes between four and six of my allotments.  To mimic Shock, it requires: electrical manipulation, power storing, power collection, extension, and amplification.  I have to be able to draw the energy from the air around me, store it, and redirect it like he does. If I copy Projector gifts, I have to create a way to store energy.  If I don’t have a way to gather the electrical charge, there’s nothing to use except the electricity in my body. I learned that the hard way once and almost shorted out my heart.”  

One thing stood out to me as she described how she recreated Shock’s gift.  “Five allotments. How many do you have?” 

“Thirteen,” she muttered, “But I don’t use more than eight if I can avoid it.”  

Nick had mentioned seeing Command—the Projector who controlled mental process—Overexposing when she had relocated the ship into space.  And if she could create Shock’s power with five of thirteen…what did using it all look like? “Why don’t you use more?” 

“It starts screwing with my head,” she whispered, looking around at the Adapted present, not wanting anyone to overhear.  “The more I use, the less I recognize who is friendly and what I’m supposed to be doing. More wild and chaotic.”

“I heard you said you needed eleven to move the ship,” Murphy said quietly, “Doing that was more than doubling Shock’s power.”

“Exponential growth,” I intuited, “the more you turn on, the more volatile you get, but the more overwhelmingly powerful you become?”  

Infinite nodded, “Yeah.”

“So why do you want to copy Eldritch?” 

“He fought Titan,” she said plainly, “Titan takes eight powers to replicate and if I could make improvements on Eldritch since I could add additional power-“

Murphy shook his head violently, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”  

Infinite paled and shrank in her chair, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

“It isn’t that,” he assured, “But there is a mental tax that comes with his gift.  Those tentacles he spawns, they aren’t just mindless lumps of muscle tissue. The more of them there are, the harder it gets to control because they tug back at his mind and fight for control.  The whole reason that the Feast Day happened was because he lost control and started gobbling up everything in sight. Our friend would never do that, but the stuff he made had two directives: eat to grow, and survive.  And, no offense to you, but I don’t want to see you given a gift that has the ability to go nuts when you already are…obscenely powerful.”  

“And when you have a gift that comes with a mental tax on its own,” I added.  “Eldritch isn’t a pushover, but do yourself a favor, don’t copy him. I’m not sure if you’ve talked to him since we left-“

She shook her head, “I’m too nervous to.”

It finally dawned on me: she had crippling social anxiety.  Everyone who Adapted was broken down on some level, damaged; regardless of how powerful you were, that quirk and flaw didn’t just go away.  Even though she was the biggest A-lister here, she was just as scared of us as we were of her. “Hey, Infinite, you know you don’t need to be afraid of us, right?  You literally saved all of us.”

Infinite offered a weak smile, “Thanks.  It’s um, yeah, you know.” 

Murphy raised an eyebrow, “Why do you, of all people, have anxiety issues?” 

I reached over and hit my teammate, “Don’t be a dick,” I snapped, “She doesn’t have to explain herself to you.”  Of course he didn’t move or even flinch, his passenger just took this hit in his stead.    

“Your thing,” Infinite muttered, leaning forward and closer to Murphy, “How does it work, Parasite?” 

Ever since we had all boarded the ship, it seemed easier to just address everyone by their Adapted moniker; learning our actual names seemed to almost detract from who we were and what exactly we were doing.  Everyone on board was Adapted and it just somehow seemed more apt to use the monikers we had chosen for ourselves after we changed. The only exceptions for me were Murphy and Nick, but only because I’d known them before Adapting.  

“Well,” he muttered, “I’m not totally sure.  I can tell you what it does though.”

Murphy moved all of his passenger into his arm and showed what it did, even letting me cut him so he could show off its regeneration.  Infinite touched him and closed her eyes, concentrating for a moment before something rippled under her skin.  

“Feels really weird,” she muttered as the organism slid into her fingers and then slid back out and made her shoulder swell.  “But I feel…kinda strong.”

“Sounds like you’ve got the right thing going on then,” Murphy said with a smile.    

With all the time we spent talking to Infinite, Murphy and I hadn’t noticed someone in a black coat making his way across the room to us, and we hadn’t noticed the rest of the room growing reverently quiet as the head of this whole operation joined us.  

No one objected to Titan sitting down beside Infinite, though now Murphy and I were the ones stricken with anxiety where Infinite seemed much more comfortable to have him close by.  There was something about Titan that made him daunting, even before considering the fact that he could turn us to dust with just a thought. He had a way of being commanding, in charge, absolutely sure of his authority and none of us dared to call him on it.  

I was especially grateful that he wasn’t a mean bastard.  

“Umm…hey, Titan,” Murphy said nervously, “What can we, uh, do for you?” 

What might have been the most unsettling about him was the fact he had red eyes.  He wasn’t an albino and the rest of his physiology was completely normal except for the color of his irises.  Even though his smile was genuine, it was hard to not assume there was something sinister and malicious driving him.  “Parasite, there’s nothing I need from you, for now, but I was hoping to borrow Dragoon for a few minutes and run something by her.”  He glanced at me, “That is if you’re migraines have faded.”  

“For now, I’m pretty functional,” I replied, mostly honest.  The throbbing in my head hadn’t totally abated, but the caffeine and some breakfast had seriously taken the edge off.

“Well then,” Murphy said, getting up, “I’ll leave you all to it.”  

As my friend left, I noticed Infinite edging a little closer to Titan, her cheeks betraying the slightest blush as she gave him a warm smile.  Titan wasn’t as obvious, but he didn’t shift away from her to keep the respectable distance between them either.  

Talk about a fucking power couple.  

“Whatever you’re about to ask for,” I mumbled, “It better not involve any more of Chemtrail’s drugs.  That stuff is a nightmare.”  

Titan shook his head, “No.  Not at all. But more like I have a proposition for you to consider.”

I raised an eyebrow, “I’m listening.”  

He glanced around at the Adapted in the room, most of which had moved on from the initial shock of him showing up, “Everyone in this room has limited avenues to be stronger.  And, quite frankly, your suit is limiting you.”  

I scowled, “Hey!”  As soon as the word escaped my mouth, I recoiled, terrified of some drastic consequences for interrupting him.  

Titan raised his hand defensively, “Dragoon, you made a very functional suit of power armor.  No question. But how long have you been forced to use limited tools, limited equipment, and limited raw materials?”

“I guess…basically all the time I’ve been Adapted,” I muttered. 

“You had to be hidden, be secretive.  We all did on Tso’got. For some, that mattered much less than it did others.  For example, your friend, Parasite, only needs to exercise to heighten his gifts potential.  Clemency is limited by population, Eldritch by mass, Awe by electricity, etc. But you, you’re limited by quite a number of things.  You need space, material, planning time, tools, and time.”

I frowned, feeling helplessly outclassed by everyone else around me.  “Thank you for reminding me that I’m one of the most useless people in the room.”  

“You misunderstand me.  See, we aren’t on Tso’got anymore, we don’t have to play by the Zari’s rules.  In a few hours and under incredible pressure, you designed drones that did spot welding on a spaceship you’d never seen before.  When you were given material and tools, you were a one-woman factory. You might think of yourself as useless, but I would argue quite the opposite.  But, you’ve never been given the chance to strut your stuff like so many others.”

Infinite smiled, “You have a power I wish I could copy.”

“Wait…you can’t copy mine?  Why not?” 

“I can’t mimic Cognate powers.  I can’t really adjust the way I think unfortunately.  You and Big Picture are the two I wish I could copy but…alas, no dice.”  

Titan cleared his throat, pulling the conversation back to him, “Right now, we have nothing but time on our hands.  Every Adapted wants something to do, like we are hardwired for conflict. Not necessarily violence, but we want something to conquer in a metaphorical sense.  And giving several people something to do would help bolster morale around here…even if just a little. It isn’t going to be long before cabin fever sets in and issues begin brewing.”

“Several people?” I asked, suddenly a bit wary.

“You’d need Repository to produce you raw materials.  Well, him or Infinite can mimic him or Spectre can simply clone the gift I suppose.  Armorsmith can reinforce anything you create as finished product, and Toolkit can aid in refining your new suit.”  

“Why can’t I just upgrade my old suit?”

Titan sighed and leaned forward, his hands spreading as if he was laying cards on the table.  “The Trilodan aren’t going to play nice…and honestly your old suit isn’t engineered well enough to take the beating that is going to come around.  The man hunting us, Zellig, he stood up to half of the Surface Dwellers and won, handily. Clemency had serious trouble putting him down with the entire city in an uproar.  Do you think your armor could stand up to anything like that, even with Armorsmith reinforcing it?”

I shook my head, “No.”  Nick had watched that fight unfold and told me all about it.  While the Trillodan as a whole were enigmatic and impossible to pin down, their Expedition was a known entity since it gifted Awakened planets with Universal Common.  There were a few names of specific Trillodan that people knew and Zellig was one example as the leader of the Trillodan Expedition.

He’d disemboweled Goliath, withstood Shock’s lightning storms, caught Awe despite his obscene speed, and torn Nick out of a three-tonne suit…all without his insane arsenal.  Even before Trillodan technology assisted him, he was stronger than most of us. Titan was right, he’d shred through my armor like it was made of paper. And he was someone who had been engaged in conflict for centuries; there wasn’t a way that we were avoiding fights from here on out.  

If my armor wasn’t made up to snuff, there was no way I was going to live through this campaign that Titan was leading.    

“Okay,” I muttered, “I like your idea.  But, with all due respect, I want another day before I start tapping my power and think of making an upgraded suit of armor and renewed arsenal.  I don’t care to refresh the duration of this migraine.”  

Titan chuckled, “I suppose that is fair enough.” 

As he pushed the chair back to leave, my curiosity nagged, “Um, Titan,” I called after him, “What is the plan?” 

Our lead in this had been awfully hush-hush about what we were doing going forward; all anyone knew was that we were going to Vuuldar, one of the other refuge planets.  A few of the Adapted who were higher on the pecking order had asked and none had been given a straight answer. 

I was admittedly a bit scared when he frowned at me, “It depends on what happens when we arrive on Vuuldar.”  

“But, you must have some idea of what we’re going to do.”    

He sat back down, “Alright, Dragoon, do you think that other Adapted will be willing to join our cause?”

I shrugged, “Maybe.  They won’t likely don’t have the Trillodan breathing down their neck right now so they won’t be as motivated as we are.”  

“And you don’t think Zellig isn’t going to figure out where we’re going?  He is a cunning Trillodan commander who has been fighting for decades or maybe even centuries.  He’ll expect us to go hunting for reinforcements.”   

“Are you sure he won’t assume we’re going to just rush them directly?”

“Big Picture is pretty damn sure that he’ll follow us in good time.  And as it stands, the Adapted on Vuuldar will likely no want any part of war with the Trillodan; if we bring them to their doorstep, they have no choice but to join us.”  

I frowned, “Doesn’t that kind of go against your usual thing of wanting Adapted be as free as can be?”  

His face fell, “I think for once I can’t be as altruistic as I want to be.  In this case, I think pragmatism and kicking people out of inaction is going to serve us all better.  This time we already have a mode of transportation ready to go and a solid force to work with. I’m not starting on my own to recruit for a crazed fever dream.”

“Vuuldar might not survive us showing up though,” I pointed out.  

“As long as they don’t understand how we operate, Zellig isn’t likely to slag the planet.  If their goal was to kill us, he would have enacted Protocol.”  

While part of me didn’t care for his cold and calculated logic, I could see the value in his pragmatism.  Even though we had Infinite, she was an unrestrained canon; letting her really open up meant we risked everyone’s life.  If we wanted to have a proper war with the Trillodan, we needed more troops.

The proposition of meeting other Adapted was enticing and a bit intimidating too.  It was strange to consider there could be other havens of Adapted, other people who were gifted with such strange and extraordinary gifts like we had.  But we were all the same generation of human…so why not? It also begged the question if there would be others of Titan or Infinite’s caliber.   

“But, details are still being worked out,” Titan said as he got up finally, taking Infinite by the hand, “Might I recommend that you consider the proposition that I gave you earlier.  I’m going to leave it up to you since it is your power to use after all.”  

Infinite got up and followed him.  It was odd watching those two walk together knowing what they were capable of; they both seemed almost inhuman with the amount of power they wielded.  

I grabbed another plate of spiced up protein mush and thought about Titan’s idea while being sure not to accidentally engage my gift.  Armorsmith I knew would help me without a second thought; she and I had been fast friends online and clicked the second we met in person.  Repository would likely be happy to conjure any material I might need since he seemed markedly easygoing…and was probably looking to do something more substantial than generate protein paste.  Multitask would likely be in the same boat as Repository and be happy to be helpful. Titan was right, we liked having some kind of purpose and obstacle to overcome. 

Unfortunately the last two I needed were Collector and Toolkit.  Both members of Imperium, the gang that my parents had belong to and that I directly opposed.  The same gang I had unintentionally helped bring down about two months ago.  

Even though he had made a strong suggestion to me, Titan wasn’t going to mandate how we used our powers.  He had spent years on Tso’got fighting Suppression and Snatchers so that we were free to use our powers as we saw fit.  The only way Collector and Toolkit would help was on their own volition and I didn’t expect to be well liked by either of them.    

A few days ago Toolkit had helped me make the drones but that was only because we had no time for petty squabbles and Chemtrail’s drug made it nearly impossible to think about anything other than the task at hand.  In some ways our gifts were very similar, and it meant that we were both subject to incredibly narrow focuses. Then we weren’t given the time to fight or bring up the past; now if I was going to work with her there was no way we could avoid the topic.  

I took a deep breath and made my way across the shared space and down one of the corridors where more of the rooms were stored.  The vast majority of the vessel was dedicated to being living space for those onboard. There were no weapons, no armories, no real medical wing, etc.  It was basically a flying hotel made of metal. I couldn’t exactly blame Multitask though, the poor girl had been told to make a spaceship and had done the best she could.  

The fact that it functioned at all was pretty impressive.  

I rapped my knuckles against the door for Toolkit’s room, caught a bit off guard when Shockwave opened it.  My initial reaction was to try and turn to run, knowing full well that he could paint the wall with me if he felt like it.  

But there was no aggression, he just turned and waved me in wordlessly.  

Toolkit was sitting on the other end of the room, wearing shorts and a tank top that likely belonged to Shockwave.  I hadn’t seen her out of costume, but she was markedly pretty with her hazel eyes and soft olive complexion. However, as pretty as some would find her, it was hard to ignore the scowl on her face.  

“What do you want?” 

“I had an idea…and I need your help.” 

She scoffed, “I’m sure you do.  And I’m sure that I want to help out a traitor.  I know you’re a petulant little bitch who couldn’t stomach what we used to do.”  

I shook my head, “Listen, that shit happened-”

“Yeah,” she interrupted, “You’re damn right it happened.  You personally fucked up Collision. You guys got Vermin involved and that got Ironclad killed.  That shit wasn’t that long ago that we forgot. And not to mention what your friend did the other night.  A fucking brick hit Shockwave in the ribs and collapsed one of his lungs. If Organelle didn’t fix him up, he probably wouldn’t have made it.”

“I-”

She shook her head and got up off the bed she was sitting on, marching up and stopping an inch from my face.  “I’m not gonna start nothing, but I’m not gonna help you with shit! We’re only playing nice because Titan said to get along.  Now, time for you to play nice, and get the fuck outta our room.”  

I tried to open my mouth, but I could practically feel her rage and frustration pressing against me.  My cheeks burned with shame as I turned around and shambled back out, the door closing behind me with a metallic slam.  

Toolkit didn’t make anything, but damn did she improve whatever she could get her hands on.  She made engines more fuel efficient, firearms more precise, armor stronger, etc. With the drones that night, she had made their spot welding pinpoint accurate and reduced the energy consumption by nearly half.  

The only way I could make a bigger suit and managed to make it operate at all was with her helping reduce energy requirements.  As it was, my suit only lasted a couple hours if it wasn’t being stressed. Making something larger demanded exponentially more energy and thus large battery packs which only made it harder to move.  

I felt my power click on as I mulled over the mechanical issues and slapped myself.  “No. Don’t you fucking dare,” I hissed to my Adaptation, willing it to stop functioning, “You will not refuel the headaches.  Fuck you.”  

I took a shaky breath as a flood of memories about my family and Imperium came rushing back.  All the fights with my mom, all the good times with my dad, and then the night where they’d discovered my identity…

Were they even alive or had my friend killed them on accident?  Had he eaten my family?  

The walls started to feel tight around me as I stumbled backwards, my knees buckling beneath me.  My breath went shallow as my vision narrowed and my hands started to tremor.  

I hadn’t had a panic attack in weeks…and of course I’d find a way to be all alone when it happened.  Fingers clawed at the fabric of my shirt as my heart raced and I looked around, wishing there was someone who would come help me.  Of course no one did…why would they? I was all alone. I’d abandoned my family without the courtesy of even saying goodbye.  

“My name is Alexis Trent,” I hissed, doing my best to center myself, “And I’m-”

My mantra failed me as I fell onto my side, my whole body shaking.  I wasn’t sure how long I convulsed or how long I laid there in the hallway afterward, perfectly still.  I must have looked like a corpse because eventually someone found me and nearly jumped.  

“Holy shit!  Alexis!”  

Familiar hands heaved me up and got me back into a sitting posture, my limbs all hanging limp.  Nick was there, his face deathly pale as he stared at me, horrified. “Alexis, holy fuck, what happened?  Are you alright?”

The person I needed to help me make a suit that would ensure I survived hated my guts, I was a terrible daughter who had abandoned her family millions of kilometers away, and I was so out of my depth that I didn’t have a clue about what to do.  

All I managed to whisper was a pathetic, “No.”  

Previous Chapter – Next Chapter

Exodus: This Means War

11/24/80 (Zellig Ak’aan)  

They thought I didn’t notice: the shifty glances, the wary looks, and the subtle turns to make themselves less visible to me, even the little drops of the head. 

These soldiers were intimidated by me. 

Even as battered and marred as I was, they were terrified.  I towered above the rest of my species, and I was the only Trillodan who could tolerate the surface of this planet with no armor.  Tso’got had bred a markedly tenacious people in the Zari; we weren’t so fortunate to be as durable and immune to the elements as they were. 

Walking back was challenging since my bout with Clemency had earned me a hip that was shattered into dozens of small fragments, all too damaged for my body to try and reconstruct.  As a result, every step was a reminder that my leg was being held together by muscle tension and nothing else. 

 I refused assistance and showed no pain as I shambled forward; I would not be seen as weak by these soldiers. I was Zellig Ak’aan, commander of the Expeditionary arm of the Trillodan army.  I was a living weapon that had been fighting for centuries; I refused to show weakness. Even if they feared me, I would be the unyielding pillar my soldiers could rally behind. 

 Still, my lack of functional joint had made my inspection around the Adapted build site take much longer than I had hoped.  Even as thorough as I was forced to be, there was no lingering energy signature and no evidence of a power supply.  Faster than light travel had only been attained by the Trillodan in the form of a Void Door, but those required an enormous amount of energy. Somehow, without one, the Adapted ship simply vanished.  We had scans out as far as the two moons of Tso’got, and nothing triggered a sensor. 

 These Adapted had mobility that none besides the Trillodan should possess.

I lumbered back onto the dreadnought I had arrived on, forcing my left leg to work for me a little longer.  Soon enough Vaneel would be able to put me back together. Once onboard, I felt my skin drink up the moisture from the air; even though I didn’t need to remain wet like the rest of my kind, my skin still appreciated the humidity.  Other soldiers were glad to be able to strip free of the armor and show off their colors now that they were finally free of the harsh atmosphere. 

 Vivid green, blues, even a few red skinned individuals chattering amongst each other, a harsh contrast to my lifeless grey.  While I knew they didn’t mean to regard me like some kind of crime against nature, they failed.  

 Fortunately there was one person aboard who would treat me like something other than a freak.

 It took a few minutes of dragging my charred body down the corridors that I came to a science suite most of the soldiers lacked clearance to enter.  As I drew close, the slabs of metal slid open, welcoming me inside to where my best friend was waiting.  

Vaneel, chief researcher for the Immortal Matron, the brilliant mind who had assembled me, and my best friend.  

He turned to me, his purple skin brightening in surprise as he was greeted by the sight of his thoroughly damaged friend.  “What the fuck did you do?” 

“Gave your work a stress test,” I replied as I dragged myself over to a gargantuan table and fell on top of it.  Agony screamed through my body, every fiber of my sensitive nervous system painfully aware of each and every injury I had sustained over the day.  

Vaneel dropped what he was doing and rushed over to me, glancing down and letting out an exasperated sigh, “What the fuck did you do?” he repeated, no longer flustered; now the scientist was annoyed.   

Thanks to the work Vaneel had performed on me decades ago, I was as much machine as I was Trillodan.  He had sought to create the perfect mix between metal and flesh, a soldier that would never tire nor be left at a profound disadvantage should there be need to fight off world.  None were brave enough to be his test subject so I volunteered. When he inevitably succeeded, my decorated military history would help give his research the credit it deserved. 

As an unfortunate side-effect, it robbed me of my color and my smooth skin.  While I had been made so much more functional, I was quickly branded a freak and a monster.  The council cancelled the project believing that the preservation of beauty and our culture was more important than creating super soldiers.  After all, we regularly turned planets to inhospitable wastes. What use was there for high-powered foot soldiers?

Vaneel pulled over a workbench that hovered a meter off the floor, a myriad of tools specific to fixing me strewn across the top.  “You’ve done a lot of damage to yourself,” he grumbled, “Even managed to break two nanite housings.  So, you’re going to be vomiting metal in a few hours once some of the machines fail and drop out of your bloodstream.”  

“Nothing I haven’t experienced before,” I replied.  

While it was true that Trillodan seldom fought a proper war, the Expedition was often involved in small skirmishes.  Our primary responsibility was locating Awakened planets-those who had discovered they weren’t alone in the universe-and providing them with Universal Common. Even though we refused to let other people possess our ability to travel faster than light, we encouraged community between worlds.  However, there were some relatively advanced species who took it upon themselves to rebel if they found one of our mining settlements scattered through the stars. Despite any kind of statement they might try to make, we made sure no one ever learned about their opposition. As far as the rest of the cosmos was concerned, no one could or would stand up to us.   

Unlike other Trillodan commanders, I fought alongside my troops even before I was enhanced.  I would never dare hide behind my soldiers like a coward. Being turned into an unstoppable brute only made me more eager to lead the charge.

“Just because you know you can survive a lot of punishment doesn’t mean you should go seeking it,” Vaneel sighed as he hooked a few sensors to my skin and took a look at two screens displaying both my biological and mechanical readings.  “Remind me why I bother letting you out at all if you’re just going to break my work.”  

I smiled as he grabbed a scalpel shimmering with energy; Vaneel had to design specific tools to carve me open for maintenance as my skin reflexively hardened if threatened.  

“So, Zellig,” he said as he cut into my leg, pulling muscle and skin apart to reveal the non-existent chunk of hip, “What are we even doing on Tso’got anyways?” 

I winced as he dug around but I didn’t let him see my discomfort.  “The Matron didn’t tell you?” 

He shook his head, “She sent me to provide care for her investment and to see to my project.  But she didn’t exactly tell me why you came down here. And as expected, soldiers aren’t willing to talk to me, so no. I have no idea why we are here.  All I’ve really heard about is some irregularities with some of the exiles here.”

“Humans,” I informed him, “And some of them are displaying remarkably unique abilities.”

Vaneel looked up from his work as if checking to see if I was kidding.  “You’re telling me that a human did this to you,” he asked with a laugh as he dipped my wrist into a gel solution; it began taking the form of my missing hand and I refrained from wincing as nerves reconnected.  “How would that even be possible?”  

I reached over to the workstation and grabbed one of the tailor made devices; as it slotted into a small nook on my head, a screen lit up and played out my fight with Clemency as I had seen it.  My friend gawked as he watched Clemency destroy the Gauss cannon and subject me to the entire explosion. I removed the device after it showed Clemency throwing me through the air before he and the other Adapted ran off.  

“How-“

“Not sure,” I confessed, “That is why we’re here.”  

“But they’re…so ordinary!  He’s making hard light constructs.  Those…those take extraordinary amounts of energy!  How can he do that without any kind of access to a power grid?” 

“No one is sure,” I replied with a grin, “That’s what makes them so fascinating.” 

Vaneel looked back down to his work and I felt a burst of pain as he dug around, fishing out shattered fragments of my skeleton.  “I heard some whispers about casualties over the day. Over three hundred around Ciel.”

“Yes,” I replied, “Three-hundred and twenty-eight total that I’m aware of.”  

“Those kind of losses with little to show for it would almost always warrant Protocol, right? I mean, we are Trillodan, we don’t lose right?”  He looked up at me, “Why haven’t you ordered it yet?”  

I smiled, “Oh my shortsighted friend-“

“Stop with the posturing.  I solve the problems in front of me; right now that is fixing your annihilated hip.  Tell me what you’re planning and don’t be snide.”  

Despite his agitation, I smiled.  It was refreshing having someone snap at me and call me on my quirks.  “I took the fight with Clemency on purpose. For the last week we’ve been monitoring the surface and I took it upon myself to dig around for information about the Adapted.  As luck would have it, Zari and humans alike were all in favor of the violent spectacle that was watching the Adapted fight. A few stood out above the rest.”

“Like this Clemency fellow?” 

“Yes.”

Vaneel rolled his eyes, “And your thought is to fight him on his home turf?”  

“It went perfectly as intended.”    

“You were reduced to an invalid,” Vaneel scoffed, “That was your intent?”  When I didn’t answer, he tilted his head to look up at me. “You really did mean to lose?  Why?” 

“Let me ask you something, Vaneel, do I ever lose a fight?” 

He stopped fishing bone out of the surrounding muscle tissue for a moment to ponder the question.  “No, you don’t. You are willing to take risks if I’m nearby to fix you, but even when you took a rocket to the chest you didn’t let yourself lose.”  

“I took a risk, clearly.  But I knew I was walking into a losing fight once Clemency arrived.  He even offered to let me stop and opt out.”

“You chose to fight instead, even though you knew you weren’t going to win?”

I propped myself up on my elbows, watching him work and straining to keep my face neutral as he finished snagging the last few pieces of my shattered hip free.  “Correct. I took the fight and recorded it.”

My friend cocked his head to the side, “You deliberately recorded yourself losing.  Not exactly a good bit of publicity for my work.”  

“But it does set a frightening precedent.  For all the flack your work has taken, it has never been about the efficacy.  Even Councilman Baarl can’t argue with your results; his only gripe with your work comes from a cultural point of contention.”  

Vaneel turned aside and spat on the floor, “Fuck Councilman Baarl!  He should know he’s holding us back with his precious ideals. But, what does this have to do with us being here?” 

“You don’t understand how Clemency was able to create hard-light projections, correct?” 

He nodded.

“But we have concrete evidence he can, and that he can do it to a degree that he threatens the strongest Trillodan alive.  Regardless of the Eternal Councils thoughts on the morality of your research, there is no denying its efficacy,” I said with a sweeping gesture.  

The scientist grimaced, “But they’d insist that you proved the existence of a threat that would warrant a use of Protocol.  Why haven’t you?” 

My smile extended, showing rows of dangerously sharp teeth, “Why have we used the Protocol in the past?” 

Vaneel opened a drawer on the workstation and pulled a block of blue tinted metal out, setting it on a forming plate; after a few commands input to the computer, laser cutters began carving me a new hip.  “Historically we have used Protocol to quell anyone who is hitting a critical point in technological development. Usually it has to do with cracking faster than light travel since that kind of mobility brings about the most potential for retaliation.  Still, we have done it simply to exterminate those who drew blood from us. People who can fight the Expedition are generally quite advanced.”  

“But those are threats we are familiar with since they always rely on technology.  Technology is something we can acquire, study, and ultimately understand. But Clemency wasn’t using any kind of mechanical means to bolster himself.  So, how exactly did Clemency create hard-light projections?” 

“I…I don’t…,” he said aloud, realizing my plan.  “You want to study them.”  

“I want YOU to study them,” I corrected.  “I might have a mind for strategy, but you’re the scientist.  I want you to figure out what makes them tick.”  

Vaneel shook his head, “While what they did is remarkable, we both know that Councilman Baarl isn’t going to allow this sort of research.  He would simply say that there must be some kind of hidden machination that allows him to accomplish this feat. It wouldn’t be the first time there was technology developed in secret that caught our military a bit off guard.”  

“I figured you’d say that,” I replied, pressing the device to my head again and procuring two more segments of memory.  The recording of Eldritch growing and fighting off waves of Adapted, and then the Adapted’s unwieldy vessel simply vanishing.  

“How…how can either of those be possible?  That’s…they used a Void Door. But there was no energy signature or power surge.  And he..he made so much material from so little. How…”

“I’m hoping you can tell me,” I replied with a grin.  

Vaneel reached back over to the workstation and grabbed the chunk of recreated hip.  It took him a minute to move aside muscle before eventually jamming it back into place.  

My façade wavered and I grunted in pain.  

“Your pain is still on,” Vaneel hissed, “What the hell is wrong with you?

As he reached over to workstation to override my nervous system, I shot a hand out to stop him.  “I will not be a machine,” I insisted, “I will not feel nothing while soldiers under me suffer.” 

“And I’m not going to carve into my friend while he feels every last bit of sinew giving way!  I have to basically replace organs, Zellig! Do you think I want you to experience that kind of pain?  I can’t drug you like I could any other Trillodan. The machines in your blood, they filter out anything I can give you for the pain!”

I glared at him, unyielding.  “You will not turn it off. I won’t give them the satisfaction.”      

“I’m not the Eternal Council,” Vaneel pleaded, “I just don’t want to hurt my friend.”  

“You built me to endure so much worse,” I promised, flashing a smile, “Cut away.”  

He didn’t share my smile.  “Dull the pain at least. Please, for my sake if nothing else.”  

Every bodily system was operated via neural impulse; Vaneel had set me up for fine control over how acute my sensory input could be and pain was its own unique sense.  When my friend had proved the efficacy of his work to the Eternal Council, Baarl had been the first voice of opposition, proclaiming that it wasn’t right for someone to do away with sensations, that doing so was an affront against nature.  He claimed I would abuse my newfound ability and essentially do away with being made of flesh and bone, that I would be simply ‘other’.   

It was the one setting I never adjusted.  I endured because I knew I could. As much as this hurt, I knew I would survive.  

But for my friend’s sake, I dulled my pain by about half.  

“Fifty percent disabled,” I informed him.  

Vaneel nodded, still upset.  I didn’t need to be able to hear his heartbeat or breathing to understand how livid he was.  It was written on his skin.  

In so many ways, the Trillodan were an inferior specimen in terms of physicality.  If we were left on Tso’got, we would die off in a matter of days. The arid climate would leave a trail of shrivelled amphibious corpses to be cast to the wind.  We weren’t necessarily that strong either. The humans, were physically stronger than most of us when we were without mechanical help.  

What we did have that set us apart was our skin.  

Our ancestors had survived extinction by using our ability to change the pigment of our skin as a means of camouflage and a way to communicate with one another.  Relaying basic information about danger had allowed our species to survive to a point where technology could start giving us an edge. Since there was no more biological necessity, our skin was no longer a means of stealth, but a means of personality.  

Every Trillodan had gorgeous coloring across our wet skin.  Having been to many planets, I could attest to how few amphibious species attained sentience and as such, the Trillodan took pride in their distinction.  While its historic function had faded, our skin was still a measure of emotional response. Colors would brighten with happiness and contentment but they would darken with stress and anger.  

To date, there was only one of my kind who didn’t have such display: me. 

“I’m not angry,” Vaneel eventually muttered, “Just frustrated.  You’re enduring things for no reason. You have endured enough pain for several lifetimes; why let yourself experience any more when you have the option to not?” 

“Because others aren’t so lucky.  I will not ever diminish my soldiers’ suffering by suppressing my own.”  

“They aren’t subject to the ridicule and judgment that you receive simply for existing.  It isn’t like you can go back to being a normal Trillodan; there is no clean way for me to remove all that I put inside you, Zellig.”  

As if to add emphasis, he cut a slit in my side and removed a sphere of metal that had a massive fracture along the side.  Retrieving an undamaged duplicate from the workstations, he plunged his hand back into my side and clicked the new nanite housing back into place behind my ribcage.  Even with my pain cut by half, that was excruciating. Doing it a second time didn’t make it any more bearable.    

The last thing Vaneel insisted on looking into was my spine where Clemency had broken me against the building; to his surprise it had actually the nanites were already repairing the damage inflicted thanks to the resurgence from the two renewed housings.  

Eventually I was given the go-ahead to rise from the table and performed a few quick tasks to show Vaneel that all was working as intended.  Motor functions were fine, skeletal system was holding, and my sensory inputs were all up to snuff.  

As my friend turned back to his lab, I grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.  “Come along, I have something for you.”  

My friend followed me without another word; as soon as I showed him what we had managed to snag off the planet, his mouth hung open. 

In the other science wing aboard this dreadnaught there were a series of stasis cells I had asked for deliberately.  Seven of them were holding the limp body of a captured Adapted, floating in a light green solution. “I figured you could use an early start.” 

Vaneel stalked forward and looked into a few of the holding tanks, scrutinizing every detail about them that could be gleaned from appearance only.  “Even on closer inspection,” he muttered, “They seem ordinary. You’re sure it isn’t some kind of technological phenomenon?” 

“None.  I fought with half a dozen of them up close and personal.  No tech to enable them,” I insisted. 

“I’m going to need samples.” 

I laughed, “This whole wing is yours.”

“And the Council-“ 

I shook my head, “The Matron has already promised to protect us on this.  Let me handle the Eternal Council and what might come of our taking prisoners.  For now, you do what you do best,” I invited with a sweeping gesture to all seven prisoners.  Even before I was out of the room, Vaneel was completely ensconced, dictating details regarding any sort of minute abnormality in appearance.  

Now I had to make good on my promise.  It was true that the Matron had given me a promise to protect us from the Councils inevitable backlash, but she hadn’t counted on me losing so many soldiers.  Trillodan lives were precious since we procreated a tragically slow rate.  

Losing as many as I had for seven prisoners would be a hard sell as something worthwhile.  But the proof of the Adapted’s power would help balance the consequences and warrant the drastic actions.  

I marched through the halls of the ship, my massive frame occupying most of the space as men made way for me and bowed in recognition as I made my way back to the bridge.  With the Adapted vessel vanishing, there was limited reason to be on Tso’got. While I was sure that Titan didn’t get nearly all of the Adapted to follow him, the Adapted respected identity; until we knew what set them apart physically, we had no way to rapidly locate them.  Sticking around to go on a wild chase was pointless.  

There were a few officers of the vessel onboard who all rose when I entered, all bowing respectfully.  One man approached with a solemn expression, “Commander Zellig, how may we serve?” 

“The other search parties?” 

“No additional results, sir.  The ones you told us to look out have all either gone to ground or left with the rest of the Adapted.”

I nodded, unsurprised.  Titan, the man coordinating everything, had years to plan and had been clever enough to hide a great number of his tools.  The man who could teleport everyone around, the woman who could extend the tree roots and listen in on an entire city, and whoever was able to conjure enough power to pull off that vanishing act.  He’d taken advantage of the Trillodan writing off humanity; it was not a mistake he would be able to exploit further. Ultimately, his preparation overcame our military might. But wherever he was heading to now, he wouldn’t get nearly the same head start.  

“We return to Xalanni then,” I informed the bridge, “There is nothing left for us here on Tso’got.”    

The captain stepped aside as I approached a console and input a command to start the charge on a Void Door.  

Even to move a vessel this size, it would take nearly a full hour to power.  Someone under Titan’s command had the capability to move that unwieldy vessel in an instant without being in a zero gravity environment.  I glanced around the Trillodan officers on the bridge; they were competent soldiers but I was going to need my legion back for this fight.  

I had lacked a proper reason to call back all twenty of them in nearly a century but this would provide enough impetus to get the Matron to approve my request.  

I glanced back down at my hand that was still reforming, adding definition and detail; a smile crept across my lips as I looked back out into the emptiness of space, excited at the thrill of a proper campaign.  

“Round one goes to you, Titan,” I whispered, “But you’re new to this game, and I’ve been playing a long time.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Exodus: Desperation

Clemency stared down his opponent, refusing to flinch or show any kind of weakness.  “If you’re willing to let us go, we can avoid this.”  

Zellig laughed, “I am Trillodan and you talk to me about preventing the bloodshed?  I was made to be a war machine; why would I deny myself?” 

“Made?” 

“Look at me,” Zellig invited, “Do I look like a normal soldier to you?” 

Clemency shook his head, “I suppose not.  Still, this isn’t a fight you can win. As strong as you are, you’re fighting me in a city that is on fire and suffering upheaval.”  To add emphasis, the chain of energy stretched out and coiled on the ground at his feet like some kind of snake. “If you fight me, I will cut you down.”  

The Trillodan commander leaned forward, glaring, challenging Clemency.  “Tell me this, Clemency, do you have what it takes to ‘cut me down’? I know how much energy you expended earlier fighting Eldritch.  Are you sure you have enough left in the tank to come out on top? They didn’t,” he said with a gesture to Shock, Awe, and Goliath respectively.  

I slowly got to my feet and took a few steps away from Clemency, not wanting to be anywhere near this conflict.  It was going to happen eventually and I was a seventeen year old without even clothing to shield myself from the astonishing levels of power both of them wielded.    

Despite his incredible gift, Clemency wasn’t known for being overly aggressive.  He was a defender, a protector, someone who chose to be reactionary as opposed to instigate a fight.  Even though tonight he was at his most powerful, you could tell he was still trying to seek out a more peaceful resolution, even with this violent monstrosity. 

“Stay back,” Clemency warned as Zellig took a challenging step forward.  

“Or you’ll do what?  Be specific,” he taunted with a grin. 

The man clad in cobalt didn’t answer, waiting to see what the commander would do.  I kept edging away, knowing that inevitably one would make the first move and it would be one hell of a fight.  Clemency was a Projector, and the strongest alive except for Titan. Some might argue Shockwave would be more powerful, but with how much emotional charge there was in Ciel, Clemency would be at his peak.  However, Zellig had proved he was designed to withstand harm, to win out in a war of attrition. Beyond that, he was clever, well-trained, and alarming fast for someone his size. Any hesitation would be punished and any slip up could prove fatal from my would-be savior.  

Zellig was first to move, lunging forward and quickly rolling to avoid the chain lashing out; Clemency strengthened the glow on his right hand and a wall of purple fields formed around Zellig, immediately stopping his progress.  

“Hard-light constructs,” the Trillodan said with a grin, “Now isn’t that something.”  He slammed a fist forward and shattered the field that faded to nothingness. As it shattered, more sprung into existence and boxed in Zellig, collapsing in on him and limiting his movement.

“I told you,” Clemency said as he slowly twisted his hand, lifting the light prison he had bound Zellig inside of, “that you wouldn’t win this.”  Swiping his hand to the right, the hard light prison and its occupant flew into a mound of rubble. As the Trillodan crashed, Clemency whipped around his left hand, throwing the chain forward, finding nothing to snare as Zellig leapt away.  

Before he could land, Clemency constructed a hard-light wall and pulled it forward, shoving Zellig back into the terror chain that wrapped around his torso.  

The Trillodan growled and seized the chain, trying to yank Clemency forward; Clemency lashed his arm and the chain echoed his motion, slamming Zellig against the ground hard enough to crack the pavement.  Flicking his limb up at an angle, Clemency tossed his opponent into the side of a building that caved against his weight. Dragging his arm back, the Projector smashed Zellig back into the street, making this look like a decidedly one-sided fight.  

As he crashed against the pavement, Zellig slapped his hand against the side of his armor; the metallic vest seemed to part for a split second and scales of metal ran smoothly over his hand, almost flowing as it constructed a familiar looking glove.  

“Clemency, look out!” I shouted as Zellig raised his hand and flexed his fingertips; the kinetic energy was stopped by a hard light barrier being hastily erected, but it had cost Clemency the hold he had over the Trillodan juggernaut.  

Zellig shouted something in an alien tongue and the surviving soldier scurried back towards the prisoner transport.  As Clemency tried to look past him, Zellig raised his hand again and fired another few kinetic blasts, refusing to be ignored.  Despite being whipped around the place, the commander wasn’t any slower, charging forward at an absurd pace.  

Clemency tried to create the hard-light barriers to imprison Zellig, but this time he had an easy answer.  The purple walls of light shattered and the commander didn’t even break stride, shifting himself to avoid a purple spear that came hurtling forward.  Another kinetic blast came, this one forcing Clemency to actually use his power of desperation defensively and conjure a barrier; the continued charge from Zellig prompted him to soar into the air, ensuring that he wasn’t within reach.  

The Trillodan leapt onto one of the mounds of rubble and pivoted, again emitting that whirring sound before launching himself directly at Clemency with a velocity that rivaled a speeding car.  

Instead of trying to avoid him, Clemency clenched his right hand and several sheets of hard-light shoved Zellig back down to the ground with a profound slam.  Clemency lashed the chain down, being repelled by a particularly well placed blast from the glove as Zellig leapt away, back towards the prisoner transport and where the last Trillodan soldier had vanished to.  

The soldier clambered from the wreckage with a massive black block in hand; he set it on the ground and gave it a herculean shove towards his commander.  Clemency tried to make a construct to sweep the box aside, not wanting to find out what it was, but Zellig predicted his action and fired another blast of energy to shatter the manifestation of Clemency’s desperation gift.  

As Zellig touched the box, the sides popped open, as if a lock had been released; from the now open container, he procured a massive gun that was glowing orange.  It had two distinct barrels stacked on one another: the top looked like a dense cylinder of steel that filed down to a point while the bottom seemed more like it had been made with the idea of firing grenades.  Both barrels were fused to a glowing chamber where you would have expected a firing pin to be. All in all, the thing was nearly the length of my arm, and almost as wide as my torso.  

It was so large and unwieldy that it was almost surely custom made for Zellig alone. 

As the chain came lashing down again, the Trillodan commander seized the massive cannon and rolled away, throwing himself back as Clemency swung the chain again, not giving him a moment to aim with that colossal firearm.  The third time, Zellig feinted, buying him a split second before Clemency could redirect the tether; he heaved up the immense cannon and the larger barrel screamed as a massive globe of orange liquid fired.  

The Projector hastily made a wall of hard light barriers in front of the projectile; the second it touched one, it exploded violently, blasting apart the projections and spewing globs of what looked like molten metal all over.  

Clemency was thrown backwards from the explosion, unable to immediately correct his flight as Zellig raised the cannon and launched another sphere of superheated material.  He did his best to insulate himself against the blast wave, but Clemency was knocked away again, tossed through a window of a nearby high rise.  

Zellig smirked, proud of himself and flicked his wrist, getting the glowing compartment to turn over and change color.  It had been a fiery orange before and now was a lethal and intense crimson. Raising the cannon, the narrow barrel let out a laser that he dragged along the base of the building; it carved through everything in its path and the building groaned as its stability was immediately compromised. 

A blast from the golden glove was the last straw and the building began collapsing.  

“And out we come,” Zellig replied, flick back to the ‘grenade’ launcher and firing a globe of material at the closest corner.  He couldn’t see his target, but as if he knew the future, Clemency darted out, hastily escaping the collapsing structure.  

Even though he managed to contain the globe of material in a hard-light box, it didn’t stop chunks of molten material from blasting forth.  Clemency was tossed backwards and a globule of superheated liquid found his thigh, burning a hole straight through his armor. As he screamed in pain, Zellig raised the glove and fired a localized kinetic blast, keeping the Projector on defenseive.  Unable to focus to raise a barrier in time, Clemency let himself fall to avoid the kinetic blast. Right before he touched down, Clemency hovered to avoid breaking his legs on touch down.

The Trillodan commander swapped the mode of his cannon and fired a laser at Clemency, knowing full well he couldn’t fly fast enough to avoid that.  The Projector grit his teeth and created a blinding cone of purple hard-light; it split the laser and one of the defracted beams started boring through the mound of debris that I was just a few meters from.  With a determined cry, Clemency drove his cone forward like some kind of drill.   

As fast as the projection went, Zellig was quicker to get out of the way, immediately raising the cannon and letting fly another globe of molten material.  Clemency flew as quick as he could to the side, enduring another sliver of orange material impacting his armor and burning a hole through it. Setting his jaw, Clemency shoved his right hand, driving a myriad of walls forward, driving Zellig back, even as he dug his feet into the pavement, gouging a trail as his talons carved through the concrete.  

As I watched Clemency’s right arm light up, I knew he was stressing himself too hard to push back  the Trillodan commander. I wasn’t even sure if he knew he was starting to Overexpose himself. As the Projector continued to drive the hard-light constructs forward, Zellig’s body literally started to glow at several junctures as that whirring sound screamed from his body, like a winch being stressed.  

And then the purple wall driving Zellig back faded out of existence in a blink.  

Even with all his uncanny ability to control his movements, Zellig had been exerting so much effort forward that he was thrown off balance for a split second and lurched forward, swinging the massive cannon forward as he tried to catch himself.  

The chain from Clemency’s left hand swung down, not aimed for Zellig, but for the powerful Trillodan weapon.  His chain lashed against the side, cutting a gash in the metal along the side of the chamber that was brimming with energy.  Zellig’s face betrayed some alarm as he went to throw the cannon away as orange electricity arced around the outside of the weapon.  

It smacked against a new wall of purple light; Clemency twisted his right hand and the hard-light construct expanded, turning into a cube with one side cut out.  The energy seeking to escape took the path of least resistance, right into Zellig.  

The Trillodan commander was launched into one of the mounds of debris faster than my eye could properly follow, the force of the blast pushing him easily half a meter deep into a mound of brick.  Clemency, still wasn’t done. A flick of his arm sent the chain after Zellig, and a yank pulled the grey-skinned monster back out with the chain around his ankle. While Shock seemed to able to inflict a little damage, none of it was lasting; the blast from the destabilized weapon had ripped chunks of muscle and skin out of the Trillodan, ripping apart much of his armor.  Fist sized chunks were torn free of his abdomen and larger muscle groups, much of the skin on his cheeks were gone and revealed the silver bones beneath, and his entire front was charred black.  

In a decisive motion, Clemency swung and dragged Zelling into the corner of cement pillar, hitting square on his spine.  The massive humanoid bent in half, his whole body ragdolling after the sickening crunch that heralded his spine snapping; it was the last sound before a strange calm fell over the little arena. 

Touching back down, Clemency gasped for air, leaning against the side of a discarded truck to support himself.  He looked over at me, his breathing haggard, doing his best to give me a smile. “Help me with-”

Another sickening snap shattered the stillness as Zellig’s spine corrected itself and he sat upright, raising the glove; Clemency’s body bent the truck’s door as a kinetic blast slammed him against it.  My jaw dropped as Zellig stumbled up to his feet, groaning and resetting a number of bones that were out of place.  

While the burns weren’t fading this time, the only thing that seemed to slow him down was Zellig’s left leg dragging.  Even with chunks of his body missing, Zellig wasn’t bleeding, at all.  

“What… what are you?” I whispered as he dragged himself towards Clemency, his quarry in his eyes.  

“I am the best we have to offer,” he said, glancing to me smiling and showing off his metallic jaw.  “And I’m a monster you’ll never be rid of,” he added in English before turning his attention to the still form of Clemency.  

Stop standing there.  There are dead bodies nearby and he’s wounded and doesn’t have his gun!  Fight!

I turned to move and I saw Zellig’s attention snap to me, “Don’t do what you’re thinking of doing.  I warned you, I will use your carcass to study if I can’t take you alive.”  

We will not be lab rats for this asshole.

I agreed with the voice and started running anyways, regretting my choice as I saw Zellig raise his hand.  There was no trace of emotion on his face either; earlier he’d seemed to be enjoying himself, but now Zellig was all business.  He was a professional, and I was an obstacle who needed to be removed.  

And right before the glove fired, the output tinted purple.  

Zellig roared as it exploded, ripping away most of his hand with it.  Clemency’s chain shot forward and snagged Zellig’s intact arm; the Projector rose and yanked, but he wasn’t expecting the Trillodan to fight back.  

That mechanical whirring filled the air and Zellig sneered as Clemency’s arm began to shake, the signs of fatigue clear as day.  While Clemency had so much more offensive power, Zellig had managed to weather the storm; if the Projector was out of ways to dish punishment out, the fight was over and Zellig wouldn’t need both his arms to seal the deal. 

And from the bloodthirsty smile that crept up the Trillodan’s face, he knew it too. 

But then his head snapped to the side, as if he’d heard something, right before a bolt of electricity hit Zellig square in the chest, throwing his balance off.  It gave Clemency enough of a window to pivot and drag, launching the massive mound of muscle towards the skyline, crashing into a building halfway down the block.  

“I don’t think that’s going to quite do him in,” Shock muttered as he staggered forward; Awe walked alongside, helping support his sibling.

I ran forward and caught Clemency as he threatened to fall over, blood starting to seep through his side and thigh.  “How are you-”

“Armorsmith reinforced my stuff before I left,” he panted as he patted the cobalt colored plate, several of them cracked, “Without it, I think I’d be dead.”  

Awe helped Goliath and his brother back around the corner as I helped Clemency shamble into the little alley that Relay had marked as one of his stations.  Right before we asked for him to send us home, I was sure I saw a massive grey figure walk back out into the road, arms raised in challenge. 


I’d half expected Relay to take us to another mansion, but now we were teleported to a place in the middle of nowhere that looked more like a quarry than a buildiste, and there was no trace of the city being anywhere nearby.  Of course Titan would hide a build site way outside of Ciel; the wilds of Tso’got were teeming with horrific and alien creatures. No one would come out here looking for anything but most Adapted weren’t concerned about a passing Neklim or Eliphex.  

A little bit away, there was a gargantuan pit that was bustling with activity as dozens of copies of the same person kept running back and forth with squares of metal, tools, or messages for someone  else. Multi-task, the tomboy that Titan had recruited to his cause was a Peculiar capable of replicating herself up to 50 times per day, but all the duplicates could receive a single task. Though right now,  I could easily see fifty of her and I was willing to bet there were more. Titan must have given her some of that stimulant that Chemtrail designed as a power booster.   

As I looked down into the massive pit, I saw what Titan had kept her working on for so long.  

The ship was immense and structured like an old Nighthawk stealth plane that used to be on Earth.  It was easily seventy meters from wingtip to wingtip, probably 15 meters across, and easily 10 meters tall.  At the center was what seemed to be an observation deck with a huge glass panel dead center and the wings were tipped at the front with tons of storage space behind the hard edge that ballooned out. 

While I wasn’t too familiar with him, I knew Repository was able to mass produce unrefined materials, thinking them into existence in mass quantities.  Not a great trick for a fight, but he’d enabled Titan to hide such a massive undertaking and remove the threat of there ever being a paper trail. With Repository providing materials and Multitask as a one-woman work squad, he’d been able to essentially have a full workforce building a vessel for his place for…likely years given the size of this thing.  

“Holy shit,” I muttered.

“Maybe you should gawk after you get some pants on,” Clemency muttered.   

As we got closer to one of the tent clusters, a few Adapted pushed around us, taking Clemency off my shoulders, and someone directed me to a tent as the Surface Dwellers were steered away to their members. 

Inside the tent was a group of four very familiar people: Menagerie, Lightshow, Mutant, and Parasite.  While three were asleep, my best friend was still awake, still wearing his suit despite the holes burnt through it.  As I walked in, he stood up and took two steps towards me…and then promptly slapped me.  

I wasn’t sure if he bothered using any of the power that his passenger could lend him or if he knocked me to the floor with his own strength alone.  

“What the fuck is a matter with you?” he hissed, not wanting to wake anyone else.  “You said you were going to come back here! You said you were going to be okay! Next thing I hear is Collector and Pyre shouting about some big Trillodan bastard and how a bunch of people are in danger, my friend included.  You shouldn’t have even been there!”  

I raised a hand in defense as he threatened to slap me again, “I know, you’re right.  But, can you finish ripping me a new one after you hand me some pants? I’m fucking freezing.”  

Parasite grumbled but tossed me a duffel bag.  “It’ll be big on you, but it’s Geyser’s stuff.”

“Why am I-”  I stopped talking as it abruptly made sense why Menagerie had sent some of her creations out with Shock and Awe to help rescue people.  She didn’t care about helping Goliath rescue Pyre, she’d sent her creatures for another reason entirely. “They took him.”      

He nodded, “She’s burned most of a notebook helping back up rescue groups.  She finally crashed an hour ago.”

“What about-” 

He shook his head, “Titan has her hopped up on that drug, and for her it’s like extra strength Adderall.  She doesn’t talk much, just keeps building drones and is passing it over to Toolkit to perfect. She’s helped make like sixteen drones that are helping to weld together the rest of the ship.  Even if you tried to talk to her, she wouldn’t really be aware of the conversation.” 

We’d both seen her when she flicked her power on and started to build and even without any kind of chemical stimulant she was tough to reach.  I couldn’t imagine how out of it Alexis was as she was working herself to death in the throes of a drug fueled haze. “Titan is making sure she’s fed and hydrated and stuff, right?” 

“Fortunately the man does genuinely seem to care about keeping all of us intact,” Murphy replied, still cold. 

There was an awkward silence that fell between us as my best friend continued to glare at me, infuriated for what I did.  “Listen, Murphy-”

“Don’t.  Don’t try to justify ditching me.”

“You don’t understand, Murphy,” I insisted.

I saw the passenger under his skin bulk up one arm, as if he was thinking about hitting me hard enough to knock my teeth out .  “No, you don’t understand. We finally got my best friend back, we got him out of that horrifying suit, that fucked up situation, and then he doesn’t get to the Relay station.  He abandons me.”  

“It wasn’t-” 

“Don’t lie to me.  You weren’t planning on coming here, were you?  You weren’t going to come with us. Fuck, you weren’t even going to say goodbye, were you?” 

My silence was damning.  

“So you were going to ditch us?  You were going to fucking abandon me?”  A tear started to roll down his cheek as he let out a nervous laugh.  “My best friend, my teammate, was going to ditch me, just like fucking everyone else in my life.  Were you gonna go shoot up with my parents too?” 

His words felt like a kick in the gut.  “Murphy, listen, please.”

“I’d love to hear your fucking explanation for this,” he snarled. 

I didn’t want everyone knowing, but I knew that Murphy of all people would be able to keep a secret for me, “When I grew, when I was overwhelmed, it was like my Adaptation reached into my head and took a sample of my brain.  It…it talks to me now. It has wants, demands, and it is dying to get loose again.”  

For a second, Murphy was almost on the verge of laughing at such an absurd answer; when my face didn’t waver, he sobered up immediately.  “You’re serious.”

I nodded.  “It doesn’t like being a spectator in my head.  It wants control, it wants to be able to express itself and move around.”

“But-but you came here naked.  You turned it back on.”

“Yeah.”

“Holy shit, if it’s fucking…talking, why the hell would you let it loose?” 

“We both agreed that being a lab rat wasn’t in our best interest,” I said plaintively.

My friend ran his hands through his hair, “Holy shit.  But wait,” he muttered, “Shock and Awe were out to save you, along with Goliath.  Why did you need to use your power? What was so fucking horrifying that Clemency had to show up?” 

As quickly as I could, I let him know about Zellig and what had happened to me; about how Zellig found me in the bar trying to hide, how he’d kept us docile and moved us as bait, I told him about the beating that Zellig could bring, and then about how he’d almost gotten the better of Clemency despite being blown up and having his spine snapped.  

When I was done, he didn’t look angry anymore, just worried.  “Well, you’re here now. And, Nick,” he said quietly, “Don’t run away from us again.  Isolating yourself, that’s how people break. I don’t want to see you snap and turn into Psycho or one of his cronies.”  

“Yeah.  You’re right.”  He was right: I’d only endured a Snatcher lab for a little while and the isolation was crippling.  I thought I was doing everyone a favor but God only knew what the hell I would be like if I Altered like Psycho or Bargain.  

“I’m always right,” he replied, the hint of a grin at the corner of his mouth.  “Now, come on, get some sleep. It’s like five in the morning. I think Titan is hoping to leave in about six hours or so, but it might be sooner if things go sideways.”  

I obliged, laying down on one of the spare cots, the weight of the night hitting me like a ton of bricks.  It’d only been about twelve hours since Feast Day had started, since I’d consumed my parents for material, since I’d lost control and made enough spectacle for draw the Trillodan to us.  

But dealing with that all would wait until I could get a little sleep.

As soon as I closed my eyes, the world immediately faded away.  


It only felt like a few seconds before I was quickly roused by a pair of rough hands shaking me.  Mutant stood over me, a panicked expression on his face. “Get up, we need to go!” 

There was only one reason he’d be waking me up like this.  

Adrenaline hit me like a train as I threw myself up, grabbing the duffel bag that Murphy had given me last night as we slipped out of the tent.  Outside, it was dawn, and the breaking light was enough to see a trio of massive ships descending from the sky.  

The Trillodan had found us.  

Adapted were all surging forward, moving as quick as they could for the ship, all of us fighting to get up the ramp and get onboard, none of us actually considering how the hell we were going to fly away from the Trillodan that were bearing down on us.  Even if we could get this massive thing off the ground, it isn’t like we’d be instantly at light speed.  

Zellig’s ideal was likely echoed by his underling; if they couldn’t keep us grounded, we were going to get shot out of the sky.  

Once people were getting onboard, people flooded towards the observation deck, all of us looking up as our impending doom slowly dropped down on us, circling like vultures.  As we watched, smaller transports separated from the massive Trillodan ships.

They weren’t going to risk sending a main ship closer, likely because of Titan; they wanted us alive to study, but they weren’t about to throw away hundreds of Trillodan lives because one man could turn the whole ship to slag with a snap of his fingers.  I was aware of people shifting out of the way as the man himself passed through the crowd with an unfamiliar red headed woman in tow. He was still clad in black and wearing an expression that was strangely calm despite the most powerful race bearing down on us en masse and the panic of the crowd around him.  

“Titan,” Multitask shouted, coming in behind him, “I’m telling you, this thing might be able to survive space, be we haven’t had time to slim it down enough that we can reliably get it off the ground.  And, and this thing is probably gonna fucking come apart if we run it at the fucking atmosphere! I’m telling you, we aren’t ready for this.”

“Multi-”

She raised a hand, agitated, “You’re going to get everyone killed or captured by pretending it’s okay.  So just-” Multitask stopped arguing when he turned and stared her down, his red eyes piercing through her.  

Titan took a deep breath, “Command, I need you!  Forest, buy us time!” 

At the corner of the room, the girl clad in white grinned; outside, roots erupted from the ground, ensnaring some of the ships that were getting close to us, and ‘devouring’ some of the foot soldiers who had been unlucky enough to set foot near our build site.  

I’d been told that I’d only managed to kill about 20% of Forest despite all the time she tried to stop me earlier.  Seeing what I assumed to be all of her in one place was both amazing and horrifying. The whole ground around the ship was reduced to a canyon, almost a living moat of vines and gnarled growths that were flailing around like an octopus’ tentacles, seeking out something to grab onto.  Spires of twisted wood sprang up, towering over the ship, easily reaching up fifty meters to dissuade the Trillodan from coming closer. While they started using laser cutters-much like the one Zellig had-to hack away at her form, there seemed to be no end to how much material she could procure.  

I turned back to Titan as he started talking to the redhead who was wearing a plain white shirt and jeans.  “Can you do it?” 

“Of course I can,” she replied, “but it’ll take…a lot.”

“How many?”

“As we are now, eleven.”  

Titan grit his teeth, “Command,” he said to the Cognate, “hold on tight.”

The blonde Adapted stepped forward and laid a hand on the girl, his eyes turning completely black before he nodded to the leader of our cause.  

“Do it,” Titan insisted to the mysterious red-head. 

The whole room had been teeming with nervous whispers, people muttering and murmuring, scared and rightfully so; everyone stopped talking and turned as we all felt the same surge of power through the air.  I can only assume this was what it felt like to step into a thundercloud, but we could all tell it was coming from this one girl.  

I was close enough to get a good look at her as her veins lit up bright blue, and her eyes changed.  They were like a reflection of the night sky, dotted with stars and swaths of emptiness between. She raised a hand towards the heavens and started sighing, almost remorseful.  “If only you all could see what I see.”  

The world around us started to shake, and my gaze fell to Command.  The Cognate was shaking violently, as if he was trying to lift a weight that was far too heavy for him.  

And then we weren’t on Tso’got anymore.  

Where there had been the rising sun on Tso’got through the immense pane of glass before, now there was just the void of space with stars littering the backdrop of never-ending darkness.  There was no more Trillodan blockade, no more alien tyrants coming down from the sky to apprehend us, no more Zari chasing us, nothing familiar left anywhere.  

In a blink, whoever this girl was, she had moved the entire ship God only knew how far from Tso’got.  

Who the fuck was she?  

As her eyes returned to a normal color of brown, Command collapsed behind her, comatose and shivering.  He was an Adapted who helped control mental impulse and thought; what the hell had gone on with her that he’d Overexposed himself trying to control a single person?  Why had he even need to control her in the first place?  

“Titan,” Shockwave demanded as he stepped to the front of the throng, “Who the fuck is she?” he demanded, asking the question everyone had on their mind. 

He put a hand under hers as she started to waver and the electricity faded from the air.  “Everyone, this, is Infinite. The most powerful person in the universe.”  

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Exodus: Ambush

  Run you idiot.

     I knew that the voice in my head was right, that I should turn and run as fast as possible away, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do that.  Zellig even had the audacity to tell me the exact mechanism the cuffs used to induce this stupor and still I couldn’t break away.

           All he had to do was nudge me forward and I felt obliged to comply. 

           He was quiet as he led me forward, back towards downtown, near a building I had entirely thrashed.  There were plenty of Zari clustered around, watching a few Adapted being herded onto a ship that looked like a silver plated slug with a metal ramp leading into the foreboding transport.  Dozens of the Ciel natives turned and whispered to themselves as Zellig moved me through the throng; I’m sure some wanted to throw a rock at me or try to pummel me, but the presence of the imposing Trillodan commander prompted everyone to stand down. 

           As I got closer to the barge, there was a hint of my body protesting going onboard. As if he noticed, a gentle nudge from the immense Trillodan behind me quelled any thought of rebellious behavior.  Even if I had tried to run, Zellig had proved he could catch me again in an instant. There was no winning this for me. 

           Onboard, I was sat down on an uncomfortable metal bench and pushed back against the wall. As I put my back to the wall, a gel seeped out and hardened around me, locking me in place.  Out of my peripheral vision, I spotted one figure who was actually familiar. 

           Pyre.  The pyrokinetic woman who usually fought alongside Goliath.  Until tonight, we were diametrically opposed, but now I just wished I could muster up the willpower to help her go free; I might deserve every horrifying test that the Trillodan would inflict on me, but she didn’t.  To her side was a figure I knew tangentially as Collector. She was a Conjurer who pulled inorganic items from and could send items to her own pocket dimension, much like how my gift consumed flesh and stored it for later use.  Collector was a dark skinned woman who looked like she had spent far more time at the gym than I did. Given how rough being an Adapted working for Imperium had to be, it made sense.  

    All I could make myself do was strain against the gel l that encased the majority of my torso.  When it held, I quickly gave up. After all, there was no need for me to fight this; going against Zellig and the Trillodan was futile.  

You will not let us die.  We will not be lab rats again.  

I didn’t answer aloud and instead assumed that my empty feeling would suffice as an answer.  

Get free.  Feed me. We can fight.

“No,” I muttered in reply to my Adaptations demands, “It’s over.”  

Some machinery within the metal slug of a prisoner transport hummed to life and we lifted off the ground, coasting along, above the throng of Zari and away from the catastrophic wreckage I had inflicted.  

In the hour that I’d been an unstoppable monster, my fight with Forest and search of food supply had claimed miles of cityscape.  All I’d left behind was a wasteland, picked clean.  

They are going to use us to make this happen again and again.  Fight.  

To humor my Adaptation, I tugged against the gel prison and was once again unsuccessful.  Still, my shifting got the attention of several of the guards onboard, and Zellig himself.  It seemed that he didn’t quite trust the complacency cuffs to keep us entirely pacified and would make sure that we were taken to our destination with no hiccups.  

Even if we’d had access to our Adaptations, I didn’t like our odds fighting ten armed Trillodan and their monstrous commander.  Their technology put them on an even playing field with us, and the way that the soldiers looked to Zellig made it clear that he was a cut above and not just because of rank.  

So, instead of fighting such an unwinnable contest, I sat still.  

For as technologically advanced as the Trillodan were, it was a little perplexing that they made a little barge that didn’t seem to go very quick.  Through the windows, I could see buildings pass lazily by as we continued to glide forward, propelled by some feat of engineering that Alexis might be able to appreciate.  

But…why?  Why were we going so slow?  Surely the Trillodan ship could go more than 40km/h.

Of course it can.  We’re bait.

“You’re using us to draw others out,” I muttered aloud, my brain hazy as I tried to break through the fog.  I should be outraged, furious, fearful, something. It was a strange feeling to know that I should be more emotionally reactive, but feel so very little besides a little dose of contentment.  

The common Trillodan soldiers didn’t catch my comment, but Zellig smiled and revealed his twin rows of dangerous looking canines.  He didn’t need to say anything to let me know that was exactly what he was doing.  

And I could do nothing more than sit, limp.  

The commander perked up and turned, shouting something to his fellow Trillodan in a language I couldn’t understand.  Something was happening, and somehow he knew. He had mentioned hearing me when I was talking to myself behind the bar, even breathing.  Zellig definitely had enhanced senses. Even if he didn’t, this was the Trillodan. They had technology that might as well have been magic.  

The commander snapped right about the time a thunderous boom sounded; the ship lurched to the right as a hole was blasted through the hull and we plummeted down, crashing into the side of a large concrete structure.  The transport skidded to a halt on the curb with a horrible metallic grinding setting my teeth on edge. While the other Trillodan soldiers were thrown around the inside of the ship, Zellig barely moved and stayed upright the whole time.  

Whoever came for us, they had no idea what they were up against.  

Again shouting in a foreign language, Zellig beckoned for his troops to follow as he shoved open a door and stormed out.  I was facing the wrong way to watch, but the sounds of combat filled the air, and one sound in particular was distinct: the crackle of electricity.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed it either; Pyre perked up in her restraints, knowing full well that sound was only generated by one Adapted on Tso’got. 

Shock.  And wherever he went, his sibling came with.  Of course it would be them, they had a teammate to save.  

A thud was heard against the hull of the ship and a moment later a familiar figure filled the open doorway.  Clad in a blue tracksuit with a white bolt down the center and slim helmet, Awe filled the doorway and stepped in.  He did have a new accessory, one that was oddly familiar to me in particular. Where he used to wear kevlar gloves, he now had on sophisticated metal gauntlets, ones that were already fixing cosmetic damage around the knuckles. 

“Why do you have those gloves,” I demanded, calling his attention to me.   

“Eldritch and Collector to boot.  Looks like I scored the big one,” Awe said with a little laugh, “Come on, we got to go.”  He glanced at me, “Your friend, Dragoon, she gave me a few tools to help out.”    

Awe stepped forward, slamming his fist against the hardened gel around Pyre, his hand acting like a jackhammer as it slowly cracked through the substance, the gloves keeping him from shattering his fingers.  It took him a little bit, but eventually he ripped Pyre free. Procuring a little drone from his pocket, it set to work cutting through the cuffs that kept the pyrokinetic complacent.  

The second they fell off, her eyes widened and she seemed to snap out of a trance.  “Oh, fuck,” she muttered and almost fell over, having to steady herself against a wall of the transport. 

“We don’t have much time, we got to get them out and get the hell out of here.”  

His teammate nodded, a bit shaky, but she used her gift to help weaken the gel so he could better hammer through and free the other two Adapted present.  He gave me a wary look as the drone cut free my restraints.

I understood why both Pyre and Collector nearly fell over after being released from the complacency cuffs; it was like suddenly feeling every bit of stress and mental strain that you’d endured for the last hour in the blink of an eye.  

“Eldritch, you going to try and eat everyone?” Awe asked as he kept a fist clenched, “Do we need to worry about you going off the reservation?”

I shook my head, “No mass to burn.  I’m harmless.” I waved outside, “The big guy–the grey one–Awe, he’s way more dangerous than you think.”

The Enhancer exhaled and nodded, “Well let’s help out then.”  

Awe led the way back out to a warzone.  Four of the Trillodan soldiers had fallen, three of them clearly victim to Goliath, the monstrous brute that worked alongside Shock and Awe.  The only thing that seemed out of place was the number of monstrous creatures, all seeming to be twisted animals or monsters laden with far too many spikes or teeth.  

Another bit of handiwork I was very familiar with.  Menagerie was lending aid to the Surface Dweller rescue group and had sent them with nearly a dozen pieces of her living artwork.  Shock was hidden behind them all, threading bolts of electricity through and blasting back a number of the Trillodan soldiers; their power armor kept them well insulated from his assault though and but apprehension was keeping them behind cover.  More concerning for me was Zellig. The mountain of grey muscle was leaping from animated one animated drawing to the next, dispatching it with a frightening efficiency. 

Watching him for a second, it was clear the commander had a clear target in mind as he ripped his way across the field: he wanted to pick a fight with Goliath and get some kind of payback for the Enhancer literally flattening his troops.  While the armor could withstand the electricity from Shock, it couldn’t withstand his super strength. The gloves the Trillodan soldiers had weren’t doing enough to push him away, and he was simply growing more muscle to heal over the holes punched in him by the laser pistols.  

“Pyre, can you fight?” Awe asked.

She shook her head, “Not much fire stored.”  

“Collector, get over to Shock.  Eldritch, stick with them and eat something.  I don’t think I want you growing, but we may need it,” he muttered as Zellig leapt forward and engaged with Goliath.  Zellig was a bit shorter than Goliath, but the Trillodan commander didn’t seem concerned over a few inches of height disparity.    

Goliath blocked the first strike and replied with a straight jab, but it was like Zellig could see everything a second before it happened.  His easily moved his head to avoid it and stepped forward, striking forward into Goliath’s chest and pushing him back a step; before he could recover his balance, Zellig raised a leg and drove his heel into the Surface Dweller’s gut and launched him back into the middle of the road.  As Goliath scrambled to his feet, the Trillodan commander didn’t relent, leaping forward and opening his hands.  

The bit of illumination provided by the street lights showed the glint of metal claws that had sprung from his fingertips.

Around us, the standing Trillodan turned their weapons on us, but Collector worked to buy us safe passage, pulling various walls and piles of rubble to literally wall them out.  From behind them, we heard the horrific screeches of Menagerie’s monsters helping force the Trillodan soldiers back.  

At the end of our conjured alley, Shock came into view with his own white and blue suit, the inverse of his siblings.  “You two,” he snapped at Collector and Pyre, “Get back to that alley there, it’s a Relay station. Go back and ask for backup.  And you,” he said to me, “Eat something. Now.”  

I followed his gaze and saw Goliath continuing to fight against Zellig, and it was going incredibly poorly.  While Goliath was incredibly strong – and could likely do some serious damage to Zellig – he seemed to be moving in slow motion compared to Zellig.  Nothing Goliath could do was able to land against his opponent; it dawned on me that it was like when I had tried fighting Murphy in the past. It wasn’t just that Zellig was faster than Goliath, he was simply better at this.  The Surface Dweller strongman had never needed finesse since no one could stand in front of his overwhelming might.     

Zellig wasn’t worried, letting his martial mastery negate Goliath’s inhuman might.  He was even smiling while he continued dancing around, ripping out chunks of muscle from the Enhancer.  

“Shock, your brother needs to help Goliath!” I shouted to the Projector beside me. 

“I know!” he panted, “But we need you to suit up too.  I’m still not nearly strong enough for this after what you did earlier.”  

Use me.  We need to fight. 

“I…I can’t,” I said softly.  

Shock didn’t hear me as he let loose another trio of bolts, driving back two of the remaining soldiers.  His brother swept in, pummeling them before they could take aim at Shock. Even now, it still boggled my mind how well these two worked together.  

“Awe!  The big guy!” the Projector shouted to his sibling.  

There was no hesitation from Awe as he sprinted over.  Right before he made contact, Shock hit his brother with a bolt of electricity, fueling his absurd speed and strength.  

Compared to the massive forms of Goliath and Zellig, Awe seemed tiny, but Zellig was smart enough to respect the new challenger.  A metal gauntlet found the side of his arm and left an opening for Goliath to finally land a blow into the Trillodan’s midsection.  Even so, it only drove him back a single step, even with all of Goliath’s strength.  

Awe continued to burn through his charge, zipping behind Zellig; the commander spun around, the metal talons demanding that Awe take a step back.  Still, it was two versus one, and Goliath was not going to be outdone by his newfound teammate. Goliath’s strike found its target and sent the Trillodan reeling; Awe followed up and stepped in, ducking under the claws and unleashing a quick flurry of blows on Zellig’s midsection.  Awe was smart enough to back out and avoid being grabbed. Goliath knew he could take advantage of his opponent having his back turned to him.  

A fist drove into Zellig’s side, but the Trillodan spun with a burst of speed Goliath wasn’t expecting.  Claws flashed and Goliath staggered back, four gashes carved into his chest. This time it was Zellig to push the advantage, darting forward, jamming nearly his entire hand all the way into his opponent’s stomach.  Goliath shook, but then let out a battle cry, swinging and driving the Trillodan back; Awe sprinted forward and slammed a fist forward into Zellig’s spine, managing to evoke a grunt from the behemoth.  

But Goliath wasn’t able to follow up.  He stumbled backwards, clutching his stomach in an attempt to staunch the blood flow.  Zellig had nearly eviscerated him, hitting the actual man hidden under all the excess muscle.  

Shock let out a bolt of electricity to charge his brother as Zellig turned his attention entirely to Awe now.  While Awe was extremely quick, he was having trouble finding an opening without the assistance of Goliath.  

“He needs you to he-” I was cut off as a searing pain tore through my side.  On our flank, one of the Trillodan soldiers hadn’t stayed down after the assault from Menagerie’s monsters.  Shock turned and endured a hole being bored through his shoulder before he could return fire and blast the Trillodan soldier hard enough to throw him off his feet and back into the prisoner transport.  

The whole world seemed to go quiet as I put my hand to my side and looked at my palm, coated in blood.  Slowly, I sank to my knees, queasy, starting to shake in disbelief. There was a hole in me, cutting straight through me just below my ribcage.  The edges of my vision began to blur as I sank to all fours, trying to get myself to relax and breathe.  

A rough pair of hands grabbed my shoulders and hauled me back up to my feet.  Shock ripped his helmet off, revealing a pasty white young adult with short blonde hair and brown eyes.  “Eldritch, listen to me,” he snapped, “Eat one of the Trillodan bastards, bulk up.” He glanced down at my side and shook his head, grimacing.  “Your power, it heals you, right?” 

I nodded, unable to speak.  

“Then here’s what is going to happen.  You’re going to eat, bulk up, and help kill this big bastard.  If that thing takes my brother, if he gets taken to some alien lab somewhere, I won’t leave enough left of you for him to get samples.  Understood?”

I nodded again, caught off guard by his desperation.  Shock pointed me at a corpse that had fallen in the no-man’s land between Shock and the rest of the melee and he shoved me forward, stepping past me to use the walls and debris provided by Collector so he couldn’t get blindsided by another blast from a laser pistol.  

As I lurched forward, I watched the duo square off against Zellig.  

The first arc of electricity curved around the Trillodan commander and reinvigorated Awe as he rolled, narrowly avoiding a punch.  With a new charge, Awe darted forward and drove a fist into the solar plexus of his opponent, making Zellig slide back on the asphalt.  Shock charged his fingertips and let fly an orb of electrical energy that exploded next to the Trillodan and left scorch marks on his armor and across much of his grey flesh.  His sibling took advantage of the temporary lapse in his focus and went low, slamming a fist into the side of Zellig’s knee, bending his leg entirely the wrong way and forcing him to kneel.  

I got close enough to the first dead invader and removed his helmet, and placed my hand against his skin.  

Seventy-seven kilograms of material to consume.

Shock drove another few bolts of lighting into the Trillodan hulk as Awe danced around him, delivering what blows he could land safely.  Maybe I didn’t need to consume this mass and risk unleashing the monster I kept locked up inside of me.

Maybe these two could put him down.  

As if he heard my suspicion, Zellig suddenly turned the tables.  Awe dashed forward and targeted the Trillodan’s face while he was low enough to be vulnerable; in a snap, Zellig shot out an arm and seized Awe around the bicep, making sure to grab above the gauntlet so he couldn’t wriggle free.  “Enough running for you,” he said with a laugh as he turned and pitched the Enhancer. Awe’s body went flying across the street, completely demolishing the side of a small car. He didn’t get back up.  

“Alexei!” Shock screamed, hastily launching a bolt of electricity into his siblings body as if he could force him to heal.  “Alexei, get the fuck up!” 

Zellig stood back up, a twitch of his leg violently setting the knee back into proper place.  He didn’t even test the reset limb, Zelling just started walking again like nothing had even happened.  As he stepped into a more illuminated spot, I could see the burn marks fading, like a stain being washed off his skin.  He sneered at Shock and spread his arms, welcoming the abuse. Shock scowled and accepted the challenge, firing a trio of blasts into his chest, but it barely made Zellig flinch.  There was no real harm done, nothing that he wouldn’t heal through.  

Consequences be damned, someone needed to make this bastard hurt.  

I burned all the mass, making three tonnes of Neklim growth as fast as I physically could, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.  The instant my skin sprouted growths, Zellig turned to me, his smile fading. Shock noticed too, immediately raising his arm and pulling charge to his fingertips.  

Zellig had been so sure about fighting everyone else, but he wasn’t entirely confident he could beat me.  

The Trillodan’s initial move forward was halted by Shock releasing a renewed electrical salvo, keeping Zellig still for a moment.  As I grew, there was a blur of blue and white as Awe rejoined the fight, glowing as he hastily burned through all the charge that his brother could give him.  Zellig was forced to stall a moment as Awe sped around him, striking whatever he could get a shot at: knees, torso, and the spine. While one brother ran around him, the other was contributing all the electricity he could, wearing away at Zellig’s guard, ensuring he couldn’t retaliate and fight back.  

At once, the Trillodan moved with blinding speed.  A quick jab hit Awe hard enough in the head to crack his helmet and disrupt his balance. As he was rattled, Zellig pivoted and kicked him square in the torso, launching him into the debris that Collector had conjured.  Shock roared in rage, releasing a massive blast of electricity, but the Trillodan brute dropped onto all fours and literally dug his claws into the street, holding him still while he endured the assault.  

As soon as Shock had to stop and catch his breath, the mountain of grey muscle got back to his feet.  The Projector tried to fire again, but Zellig reacted faster, grabbing a hunk of rock and launching it like it had been fired from a gun.  Shock keeled over, holding his ribs and gasping for air as Zellig lumbered forward, his body already mending the burns inflicted.  

But they had bought enough time for me to grow three tonnes of Neklim mass.  

While I had been dwarfed earlier, now I towered over Zellig, 

I felt the aggression from my Adaptation, rage from the Neklim and I let it burn as I lumbered forward, in harmony with the voice in my head.  

Raising a massive arm, I swung down and hardened the edge, using it like a massive club; Zellig moved a foot out to widen his base and raised an arm, absorbing the blow without much trouble.  I curled the limb around his arm and tried to dig in, rip the flesh away from his bones and consume it.  

Except, I couldn’t.  It was too durable, too tough for me to find any purchase and sink my teeth into.      

The Trillodan commander smiled and lunged forward, driving a fist into my midsection.  For a moment, there was dissonance between myself and the Neklim suit as I felt pain in my person, despite the wall of flesh between us.  Pressing the attack, Zellig’s claws sprung out from his fingertips again and he slashed across my midsection before attacking the arm I was trying to hold onto him with.  

He cut through me with alarming ease, ripping away a few dozen kilograms in an instant.  

Reallocating muscle to maintain my grip on his arm, I turned and dragged him with; even though he dug his claws into the road, my sheer weight pulled him along for the ride.  I let him go and he flew into the side of the prisoner transport, the dense metal folding around him. Even though he was large, he was much heavier than he looked, like the bastard was made of lead or something.  

Zellig only stayed down for a second; as he got up, he convulsed and reoriented an arm that had broken when he crashed against the hull.  

Beside me there was a thudding as Goliath lumbered closer.  While he had finally overgrown the numerous gashes and pair of incredibly deep perforations that had been inflicted, Goliath was looking worse for wear.  His breathing was labored, he was moving slow, and it almost looked like he couldn’t pick his arms up anymore. “I may not be much help, but if I can get a hold of this bastard for you, I’m pretty sure I can keep him still for a moment.”  

“Okay,” I acknowledged.  

Zellig looked at us and smiled before leaning down like a runner readying on the blocks.  His running was similar to the way Goliath could move, with immense strides, an overwhelming amount of muscle and strength carrying you forward.  Except, as Goliath charged to match him, Zellig pivoted and sidestepped. Claws slipped through his toes and he literally dug into the road to stop.  Goliath couldn’t adjust as quickly and had to take an additional step forward, Zellig using the opportunity to swipe and come away with a literal handful of Goliaths side.

The Enhancer sank to his knees and a heavy blow to the jaw from the Trillodan made sure he wasn’t getting up any time soon.  

I roared, enraged as I swung down and was met again with his ability to simply withstand my blows.  As I grabbed one arm, he stepped towards me and kicked a leg out from under me. Even though my legs were dense, it folded and my balance went with.  However, I dragged him with, refusing to let go. I wasn’t about to let him get free use of those claws he had hidden in his fingertips.  

Leveraging my mass, I pulled his arms to stretch him out, to isolate his limbs and see if I could do any lasting damage.  As I pulled his arms apart, Zellig yanked himself forward and drove a heel against my midsection, hitting about where my pelvis was underneath the suit.  The moment of dissonance gave him a window to dig his foot in and push, ripping one hand free. Once one arm came free, he quickly shredded the mass holding the other.  

Frustrated, I reached both arms forward and engulfed his torso, squeezing down, trying to crush his chest entirely; before I managed to grab hold, Zellig reached forward and pushed back against my massive arms.  For a little bit, there was a stalemate as I struggled forward and he grunted, holding his ground. And then, there was a strange, electrical whirring that heralded him actually pushing me back.  Zellig roared and shoved me backwards; before I could find my balance, he leapt forward, literally tackling me to the ground and reaching forward, ripping a patch of growth away.  

My eyes opened as he exposed my actual face.  Seeing everything from the Neklim input as well as my own was overwhelming and nearly made me scream.  As growth tried to reallocate, to protect me beneath the mass, a massive hand came down and grabbed around my head.  

“Dismiss the growths, or we see how well your Adaptation works without your head attached.”  He bared his fangs in a sinister sneer, “I’d rather bring you back alive, but your carcass will still be a useful thing to study.”  

I could feel the reluctance of my Adaptation, but I released the growths, letting them crumble to ash.  

Zellig rose and once again loomed above me, looking over the battlefield.  The Trillodan commander looked remorsefully at the scattered Trillodan corpses, his gaze lingering on the one whose flesh I had stripped away.  Three of his men were gathering around him, survivors of the encounter with the Adapted.  

“I wasn’t intending to lose those two,” Zellig said with a sigh, “But getting Shock and Awe, as well as Goliath, I must say that is decided-”

He stopped and threw himself to the side as a truck swung through, bound by a massive glowing chain like it was on the end of some kind of flail.  The three Trillodan soldiers weren’t nearly so fast to avoid and two were swept aside as the chain disconnected and let the momentum of the truck carry them into a completely innocent building.  

“Are you alright?” a gentle voice asked as a man in cobalt colored armor landed beside me.  

There was no mistaking that getup, or the authority that Clemency wielded.  His hands were both glowing, fueled by emotional charge in the air around us.  One of his gloves had a white glowing chain wrapped around it and the other glowed a deep purple.  The white chain was terror, and the purple was desperation, two of his most powerful weapons in his arsenal; thanks to the Trillodan’s arrival and my rampage earlier, there was no shortage of emotional charge around Ciel for him to utilize.    

“I’m…I’m okay.  He…he’s-”

Clemency looked at the carnage and seemed to understand how dire the situation was, and how dangerous the massive Trillodan in front of him was.  

Zellig on the other hand, looked excited at the prospect of fighting one of the most powerful Adapted in existence.  “Now, here’s a proper contender,” he laughed, clapping,“Come on then, Clemency, show me exactly what you Adapted are capable of!”   

Previous Chapter – Next Chapter

Exodus: Isolation

            It was a bit surreal being in the same room with a Trillodan, let alone seeing one in the flesh.  For everyone in the cosmos, the Trillodan were these tyrannical monsters…but as Soliloquy continued to talk to them, they looked docile.  Even the one that still had his helmet on clearly wasn’t intending to fight anymore. Instead, he was content to simply sit and be present, his head turned our way, watching the exchange that had started between Soliloquy and the Trillodan soldier who was apparently named Karak.

             Parasite and Ragdoll had taken interest in the discarded helmet and were the first two people to get their hands on any kind of Trillodan technology in recorded history.  As Parasite picked it up, his face twisted and he yanked his hand away. “Soliloquy,” he called out, “Ask our friend why his suit is wet.”

              “It’s wet?”

              “Yeah,” Ragdoll confirmed, “It’s like the inside is coated in some weird gel.”

              Soliloquy turned back to Karak, “Your armor,” he said, gesturing to the rest of the suit still on the Trillodan, “It’s wet.  Why?”

            Part of the reason Karak was hard to communicate with was his limited knowledge of universal common.  “Trillodan…need wet,” he said, clearly trying to find another word. 

            “Do you dry out?”

            “Skin crack, bleed.  Air,” he waved around, “Hurt.”

            “For being planetary conquering militants, it seems a little odd that Tso’got has an atmosphere that is too harsh for them,” Transport muttered.  “Shouldn’t they be the best beings in existence?”

           “Their technology-“

            “Hush,” Soliloquy snapped as Karak started to look towards us and away from our inquisitor.  “Karak,” he said, getting the Trillodan’s attention again, “You said you want to catch all of us.”

             He nodded. 

             “Why?”

             “Take…” he curled his lips, agitated at his lack of term.

             “Our powers?”

             “Yes.  Use them to make weapons,” Karak replied.   

             Ragdoll sighed, “That’s not good.”

            Soliloquy shut him up with a glare before continuing, “How many Trillodan soldiers are here in the city?”

            Karak shook his head, “I do not know.  Many. Most here of anywhere. Zellig brought us.”

            “Zellig?”            

            “Commander.  Strongest weapon.”

            All of us looked between each other with concern on all of our faces; if this soldier had a smaller version of Shockwave’s power in a glove and a laser pistol, what did the ‘strongest weapon’ look like? 

            “Is Tso’got going to be destroyed?”

             Karak tilted his head, confused. 

             “Protocol 37?  Will that happen?”

            “Do not know.  Not important enough.  Zellig decides.”

             “Where is Zellig now?” Soliloquy asked politely.  Unlike the rest of us, he did a good job hiding his dismay and concern; for him to do this well, he had to look in control, keep the two Trillodan under his influence that he was in fact in control of everything and that the fight was over.

             “Do not know.  Commander Zellig… I think he hunting.”

            All of us in the room tensed at his word choice; being hunted by someone who had the authority to call in Protocol 37 and was described as the strongest weapon was extremely unsettling.  

He’s coming for us, he has to be.  We must have caught his attention earlier.  

I wanted to scream at the voice in my head, but I abstained, not wanting to reveal how much I was losing it or to interrupt Soliloquy’s interrogation.  

“Above us, how many Trillodan are there?”

             “Many.”

            “How many?”

             “Do not know.”

             Soliloquy sighed, clearly wishing that he wasn’t trying to work against a language barrier on top of Karak’s lack of information. 

             “What about the Zari,” Parasite asked, “What is going to happen to them?” 

             Soliloquy repeated his question and Karak smiled, revealing his daunting fangs again.  “Zari with us now. Zari afraid.”

             “Zari already went Sycophant,” I muttered in dismay.  In less than twelve hours I had demolished a swath of downtown Ciel, brought around the Trillodan invasion, and prompted the Zari to turn Sycophant which made Tso’got a hostile planet for all Adapted. 

             “Nowhere is safe anymore,” Ragdoll thought aloud, “time to get the hell out of here before it gets any worse.” 

             “Karak,” Soliloquy said, getting his attention again, “What do you do with Adapted when you capture them?” 

    “Take to ship.  Vaneel study there.”  

    Joshua, the Snatchers twisted practitioner, had been bad enough, and he’d been limited to human technology; none of us wanted to know what the hell this ‘Vaneel’ character would do to us.  

    “How do you get people there?” 

    Karak opened his mouth, unsure how to articulate what he was after.  “Small ships. Take to big ship.”

    Mr. Magnificent groaned, “They’ve likely set up shop on the West side of town where you didn’t break everything.  It’s likely why the Zari didn’t show up to come after you; they had to answer to the Trillodan.”

    We scared them all.  The most powerful people in the universe are here for us. 

    I clenched my fists until my hands hurt and quietly told myself it was all in my head.  My Adaptation couldn’t work without me, I was in control.  

    “Karak, how long are the Trillodan going to be on the planet?  When will they leave?” 

    “Until job done,” the soldier replied, very matter of fact.  

    Parasite snapped his fingers, clearly having an epiphany.  “Soliloquy, a blockade.”  

    Our grand inquisitor turned back to the de-helmed alien, “Are the Trillodan guarding the planet?”

    He shook his head, confused.

    “Can anything leave Tso’got?” 

    “No.  Ships in sky, kill others.”  

    Transport groaned, “We might not have a ship that is going to be fit to escape the atmosphere; it sure as fuck isn’t going to be able to battle a Trillodan armada.”  

    “We have to trust Titan,” Ragdoll said with a drawn out sigh.

    “I’d rather not trust that bastard.  He’s crazier than I am thinking all this will work,” Psycho muttered.  

    “You have a better idea?  All you ever manage to do is show up and make a mess,” Parasite shot back, “But hey, maybe you want to take your chances with more guys who are casually using powers like ours.” 

    “Shut up,” Soliloquy hissed; the Trillodan seemed agitated, less docile, as if our discord was helping to snap him free of the Projector’s suggestive stupor he had coaxed them into.  

    The one with the helmet still on abruptly raised the golden glove at Soliloquy, not managing to actually fire it before Transport teleported the glove on his own hand.  He turned it to Karak and flexed his fingers, his elated expression quickly betraying annoyance.  “How the hell do I even use this thing?”

    “Not for you,” Karak hissed as he got to his feet, glaring at Soliloquy, knowing that the Projector did something to him.  “Human can not use.”  

    “What do we do about them?” I asked as Psycho, Ragdoll, and Parasite stepped forward, all ready for a fight.

    Parasite answered my question, stepping forward and bringing his staff around in a blur, knocking the Trillodan both unconscious with a few deft strikes.  Transport ditched the glove and we quickly ascended the stairs, wanting to get out of the hellhole we had been stuck in for the last few hours.  

    The stairs led up to a rather mediocre looking hotel.  Another bland concrete building that no one would think twice about in passing.  It made me nervous to think that there could be, and likely was, several of these hidden around Ciel and we’d never known.  

Even so, as soon as we stepped out of the building, I almost missed the security of the Snatcher hideout.  In the handful of hours we’d been hiding below ground, the world above had turned hellish. Zari had flooded back into downtown, a mob literally flowing through the street as fire continued to remain unchecked leaving a number of buildings smoldering.  In front of the mob, there were people running away and not making it far before a few Zari would streak out and attack them, pulling them back into the throng of bodies.

Soliloquy turned to run, but Ragdoll grabbed his arm and kept him still, “They don’t see us yet,” he insisted.  “If we bolt, the movement might draw their attention. We need a car. Transport, can you hotwire something?”    

“Fuck me,” Transport muttered, “They’ve gone beyond hunting Adapted, they’re just hunting humans in general.” 

“Transport,” Ragdoll hissed, “Can you hotwire a fucking car?” 

“I’m not sure-“

“Do it,” Ragdoll snapped, “Don’t think, just make it work.  We aren’t all outrunning a fucking Zari mob, not without Magnificent boosting all of us and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have the juice for that.”  

He shook his head, apologetic, “Sorry Rags, but after earlier and all that tonight-”

Ragdoll shook his head and waved, dismissing his teammates disappointment.  “It’s been a long night and you’ve done a lot. No one is blaming you.”  

I felt my blood pound in my ears as I watched the mob closing in on us; only two blocks separate us from the angry mob, and the only reason they hadn’t started charging us down was the lack of street lamps illuminating right where we stood.  

“Parasite,” Psycho muttered, “Get that staff of yours ready.  I think we’re about to have a fight on our hands.”

“Are you nuts?” he whispered, “If we try to pick a fight with that many people, we’re dead.  Even we couldn’t hope to overpower two hundred Zari.”   

Right on cue, the mob caught sight of us, and a war cry was let out: “Humans!” 

“Transport,” Ragdoll yelled as people began charging us, “Get that fucking car running!” 

As the gap between us rapidly closed, a sedan sputtered to life.  “Get in, get in,” Ragdoll shouted. I threw myself in alongside Mr. Magnificent and Soliloquy as Transport hit the gas.  Ragdoll launched himself and caught the passenger side door while Parasite leapt and landed on top. Psycho slipped into his manic state and ran alongside the car.  

“On the right!” Soliloquy shouted, pointing at a truck that came barreling from a side street.  A blur of orange darted in front of the oncoming truck and Psycho turned himself blue at the last second.  A Zari was cast from through the windshield as the entire front of the truck warped around Psycho, the front end nearly folding in on itself as it encased the Peculiar.  An orange figure phased through the side and dashed back up to us.  

“Holy shit his bi-polar power is handy,” Mr. Magnificent muttered as Transport turned a corner and put the mob out of our line of sight.  

And instead welcomed a blockade comprised of several parked cars.  

“Phones.  Instant communication,” I realized aloud, “The second anyone sees us, everyone knows where we are.”  

“Unfortunately that includes assholes with guns,” Transport growled as he slammed the car into reverse and stomped on the gas.  From around the edges of the blockade, a handful of Zari poked out with automatic weaponry and began peppering the vehicle. While I thought we were done for, Transport began quickly teleporting slabs of cement and metal by the side of the car, making shields as we went along.  

All of this mayhem, all for us. 

Despite his best efforts, a bullet still managed to find our front left tire; trying to use his power and drive meant that he wasn’t prepared to deal with the sudden and violent lurch of the vehicle as we suddenly veered.  Transport abandoned making shields for us, and was gifted with a bullet in the shoulder which caused him to jerk one way, and then overcorrect for his reflex.  

A nasty crunching of metal filled the air as we slammed straight into a concrete pillar on the corner of what looked like a shopping mall.  Ragdoll and Parasite had the good sense to clear the vehicle before we had crashed. Even though they chose the more dangerous modes of travel, they were actually the least harmed.  Mr. Magnificent opened the door and staggered out, propped up by Ragdoll as the rest of us clambered out. We didn’t get much time to try and recoup: the mob was still coming in full force and those who set up the automotive blockade were getting in the cars to chase us.

“We’ve gotta run,” Parasite shouted as he helped Transport up to his feet, “Come on, we can’t let ourselves get picked up by a fucking crowd of Zari.  We are not going out like this.”  

The leader of the Flag bearers shook his head, “We can’t run, not from this,” he realized with a grimace.  “Soliloquy,” Ragdoll snapped, “Do it.” 

The Projector grimaced, “That’s a lot of people, Rags.”

“We’ll carry you away if we need to.  We need space.”  

Drawing a deep breath, Soliloquy turned to the crowd and shouted, his voice unleashing his gift.  “Run forward if you want to die!” For being a guy with a slight built, it was amazing how well his voice carried, and how immediate the reaction was.  Psycho’s display, and the fact he was glowing orange helped solidify the fact that we were Adapted and that we were dangerous. With Soliloquy’s emotional push of fear, the mob came to a screeching halt, all of them suddenly debating whether or not they should actually be attacking a group of Adapted.  

“We don’t want to resort to violence, but we will if necessary!” 

A glance showed Soliloquy’s arm trembling as he propped himself upright on the trunk of the car; affecting this many people in such a profound manner was taking a massive toll.  He had halted a mob of probably two hundred people in an instant. Now it was just a question of how long his effect could hold.  

“He can’t do this for long,” Mr. Magnificent hissed, “We are going to need to run.”  

If we fought, we could beat the whole mob.  

While I didn’t agree with the voice of my Adaptation, it did make me realize one thing.  “How about we split up,” I suggested. “With Soliloquy’s influence, it will take them a minute to get a full head of steam again.  They have trouble chasing with us split up.”

Parasite looked at me skeptically, “That sounds like a terrible idea.  If a group gets isolated, they die. None of us are able to fight this many people at once.”  Parasite caught himself as he looked at me, regretting his thought.  

“What if they all chase one person?” I said softly.  “What if we just let them all chase me?” 

“Nick,” Parasite whispered, “What are you thinking?” 

“If we tell them who he is,” Transport thought aloud, “They all chase him.  Mr. Magnificent can’t give us all a boost, but he could grant you a boost for a little while.  You book it for the Relay station while we take a longer route and steer clear of the crazy. It might work.”

Ragdoll shook his head, “Too much can go wrong and we can’t lose Eldritch, not after what Titan did to get him back alive.”

“Ragdoll,” I replied, “Let me bait them away.  It’s because someone spotted me that the incident with the Snatchers even happened.  We shouldn’t be out here, and if you let me do this it means you can get your whole team away safe.”  I took a shaky breath in, “I need to do this. Please. I need to stop relying on everyone else to save me.  Let me return the favor.”  

He frowned but reached into his pocket and fished out a phone for me.  “Take it. Call if you have any problems. I meant what I said, Eldritch.  We really can’t lose you.”  

I took the phone and nodded, silent; Ragdoll didn’t need to know that I disagreed with him entirely.  

The leader of the Flagbearers helped steady Soliloquy and whispered into his ear, giving me one last glance to make sure this was what I wanted.  “The one you’re after, the one who devoured downtown,” Soliloquy projected to the crowd before pointing a finger at me, “Is him. There’s Eldritch, in the flesh.  He’s the one you want.”

It was not a hard sell for him to make; the crowd was practically gifted their perfect villain to crucify.   

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Mr. Magnificent said as he closed his eyes and focused.  I felt every fiber of my body strengthen. Even with a small dose, I felt like a world class athlete; with a full dose of his power I felt like I could conquer the world.  Even with the injuries from earlier, I could run so much faster than the Zari could dream to. I had to slow down initially to make sure they kept chasing me, to make sure that the other Adapted would be able to get away.     

Once I had run for a minute, I sprinted with all that my legs had to give.  

I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t care.  Regardless of what Titan thought, regardless of what Ragdoll believed, regardless of what Murphy insisted, I was too dangerous to go with them.  Whatever had happened to my Adaptation earlier tonight, whatever mechanism had given my Adaptation the ability to start thinking and speaking to me, that was too much.  

If I came along, I became a liability whether or not I used my gift.  The instant I got any amount of extra mass, I would become nigh unstoppable. If I left without the use of my Adaptation, I would be a liability.  Even the Cognates who couldn’t fight at least had value. I’d be a bigger handicap than Big Picture and that guy was basically wheelchair bound. It was better than I take my chances on Tso’got, that I do my best to hide and wait until the Trillodan quit searching and rounding up Adapted.  It was better I only put myself at risk than everyone else.    

I was not going to continue to be a burden.  I’d nearly cost Ragoll everything with the Snatchers and that was not a mistake I would make again.  

My legs started to ache as Mr. Magnificents power started to fade.  Before it gave out completely, I ducked into a little bar. The place was still abandoned, and the door was unlocked; when people all ran from my rampage, the last thing on their mind was locking the door.  

I stepped over a number of overturned chairs and tables, making my way to the bar and hopping over.  Reaching over the shelf, I grabbed a bottle of vodka and sat down, pressing my back against the metal wall.  As I gagged down a gulp of the fiery liquid, the thunderous approach of the mob filled my ears. Shouts of discord and rage could be heard, people were furious that I had given them the slip.  Still, I was cautious as I heard some footsteps poke in the establishment.  

One pair of footfalls started coming right towards me with a second set close behind.  

As quietly as I could, I shuffled along the concrete floor and slid around the edge of a metal cabinet behind the bar, drawing my legs into my chest, hoping that whoever was coming wasn’t going to look too closely.  Even though the place wasn’t particularly well lit, there was enough light that I wasn’t able to hide entirely in the gloom. Blood thundered in my ears as a pair of feet landed on the close side of the bar; they were only two meters away from me and I was sure they could hear my heart hammering my chest.  Gripping the neck of the bottle, I readied myself to go down swinging.  

And then, there was a laugh and a clinking of glass as a pair of young Zari swiped some of the liquor.  I almost laughed; the bastards nearly gave me a heart attack and all it had been was a few delinquents swiping booze.  As I heard them leave, I let out a sigh of relief and let my legs stretch out.  

They are persistent.

“They want you, not me,” I muttered back, positive that this was what it meant to go crazy.  “You’re the one who ate so much of the city. You’re the one who ate all those Zari.”  

You’re the one who consumed your parents to start it all.

I took a huge swig, as if that would help make it shut up.  “For something that lives in my head, you’re a fucking asshole.  Aren’t I like your host or something?”

Or something.

“Just… stop talking.  You’re the entire reason we’re in this mess.  Mom and Dad wouldn’t have wanted me killing anyone, let alone everyone.”

But we’ll never know what they wanted, will we?  Beleth deserved what he had coming to him.

“But it isn’t Beleth!  You went ape shit and ate everything!  Everyone!”  

And I should let myself die instead of feeding?  I should just relinquish my body and go back to being a figment of your mind?  Fuck that. How you felt, like a passenger, that’s how I feel constantly. I was never able to articulate it until you gave me control, until you lent me access to your brain.  

“Maybe you should go back to being that: a nice, silent passenger,” I grumbled as I took another swig.  

Maybe you should just admit you need me.  Without me, you have to hide. Without me, you don’t have a place among your friends.  Without me-

“Shut up!” I snapped, “Shut up!  Shut up! You’re a parasite, a disease, something that my brain has concocted to help me cope!  Something! Anything! You aren’t real!”  

I expected a reply, but there was nothing.  Instead, silence.

Was this what being crazy felt like?  Had I completely lost it and snapped? Adapted could withstand tremendous amounts of psychological trauma with limited side effect, but I’d seen my parents die.  I’d eaten their flesh…literally. I’d lost control and killed hundreds of people. If that wasn’t enough to cause some kind of mental breakdown, I didn’t know what was.  

“But if that’s the case, and I can actually control my powers, I just bailed on my friends for no reason.  All because you, you fucking prick!” I glared down at my hands, half expecting them to somehow erupt in black tentacles and attack me.  Of course they didn’t though, I didn’t have mass left to burn. I shook my head and took a third swig of vodka, shuddering as it went down rough.  I couldn’t take the risk being around people; if Titan wanted me alive, he would want me to use my power again and likely to do something huge. 

I was never going to be that monster again.  

“Never again,” I said to the gloomy bar.  “No more Feast Days. No more Eldritch.” I had a sobering realization that came with, “No more Sentries.  No more Reckoner.”

My whole body felt numb as I pressed the bottle back to my lips and finally appreciated why people tried to drink their troubles away.  One night was all it had taken to strip everything away from me. I had no home, no friends, no identity, no money, nothing. I was a fugitive who would be executed by any sane individual, and I totally deserved it.  To top it all off, I’d fucked over everyone I gave a shit about and brought the most dangerous race of alien conquerors to the planet. More innocent people were being attacked and dying because of me.  

“Nicely done, Nick,” I whispered as I tried to clear the lump in my throat.  “Nicely fucking done. You’ve really messed it all up, haven’t you? This is rock bottom, isn’t it: drinking vodka from the bottle, hiding for your life, all alone.” 

Not all alone.  

As much anger as I felt, there was a strange relief hearing something else talking to me.  “Oh great, welcome back.” 

I’m never really gone. 

“Of course you aren’t.”  I sighed and pressed the bottle to my lips, feeling the effects of the alcohol coming on as my cheeks started to burn.  “So, if I’m going to be stuck with you, I might as well know exactly what you are.”

The Adaptation.  

“Great, my super power talks to me.  The coolest thing in my life is also a fucking muderous cannibal.” 

You need me to survive, and I don’t want to be held back.  

“And so you think the solution is destroying my life entirely?  Did you fucking think about what might happen if you ate half the city?  Did you think about who might look at you going ape-shit and think, ‘oh wow, that looks neat.  How about we poke him with a stick and see how he works?’ No. You didn’t. You ruined my life.  And you’ve probably killed us both.”  

If we die, it is because you won’t consume anything.  

My head slammed against the metal cabinet as I growled in frustration.  I couldn’t exactly look inside my own head, so I opted to glare at the ceiling.  “I’m not letting you loose. I’m not letting you kill anyone else.”  

And when someone tries to kill you?  When someone tries to kill both of us?  

“You aren’t a person.”

But I am alive.

“That’s debatable.  You’re a Neklim parasite…thing,” I replied, my speech starting to slur.  “The only-”

I stopped talking as a heavy thudding approached the door.  Something walked in, the ground shaking under its feet. I held my breath as whatever it was approached the bar and stopped.  A drawn out sigh made the hair on my arms stand on end as adrenaline flooded my veins. “Humans brought alcohol here with them, a last little relic of their home and when life made sense.  Not quite up to snuff with what we’ve managed to do, but I must admit that you all did quite a bang up job making a diverse array of options. What I do appreciate was mixers. Humans were masters at mixology.”  Whoever was waxing rhapsodic had a sweet baritone voice, but something felt off about it. Whoever was talking was working to sound gentle and nice, but only as a front for something dangerous.  

I stayed perfectly still, doing my best not to breathe and hoping that this was just some wistful intruder.  

“Gotta admire the tenacity of humans all this time, don’t you?  Coming to a planet as exiles, and managing to preserve part of their culture.  Hell, more than preserve, they even managed to proliferate parts of their culture.  Zari were a great host world for the exiles, it is such a shame that Feast Day had to happen and demolish that balance, isn’t it?”

My blood ran cold.  Did he know I was here?  How could he? 

“Oh, come on now, let’s not pretend you’re doing that well to hide from me.  Even if I couldn’t smell you, I could hear you breathing from outside. And you were talking to yourself earlier, though you only held up half the conversation.  At least now you have someone more corporeal to talk to, yes?” When I didn’t respond, there was an annoyed huff, “I remember humans being big on hospitality; be a good man and make me a drink, will you?”

I could barely feel my legs as I slowly got up, my eyes going wide as I looked at the monster waiting patiently for me to serve him a drink.  

He was massive.  The only thing I could think to compare him too was a bulked up Goliath, but he didn’t look awkward and overburdened by muscle.  He was clearly Trillodan and had many of the amphibious features like Karak had in terms of facial structure with the nostrils as slits and the double eyelids, but that was where the commonalities stopped.  His skin seemed almost dry, more like leather. Where Karak had been vividly colorful and pleasing to look at this mountain of muscle was desaturated, his skin a decrepit grey. As lifeless as he looked, there was a certain noble quality to him in the way he held himself.  Even without the massive bulk he wielded, something about him commanded respect, demanded attention. As I dared look him full in the face, I almost recoiled as I noticed that even his eyes were a lifeless grey color.  

“I-um-”

“I know it must be your first day on the job,” he said calmly, “So I’ll make it easy.  A rum and coke. A classic back on Earth.” Where everyone else tonight had been frantic, this monstrosity was patient.  There was no rush, no concern, no reason to not enjoy himself a little.  

I nodded, shaky as I reached for a glass and put it up on the counter, fishing around for a few ice cubes and pouring half of the cup full of coke and a third with rum.  “Oh come now, everyone needs someone to drink with.” He looked around the bar and turned back to me, “I don’t think you’ll get in trouble if you share just one with a patron.”  

My body moved on its own, not wanting to dare anger this monstrosity in front of me.  I poured vodka into a cup with some ice and tonic water.  

He extended his glass, “A toast!” 

I gulped, “What to?” 

“To a successful night!”  He clinked his glass against mine and swallowed the whole drink in a gulp.  Sharpened teeth were bared as he hissed and shook his head. “I really should drink more often, I’ve never quite gotten used to the burn of alcohol.”  He looked at my full glass, “Don’t make me drink alone.”  

I complied, sipping politely, the ice rattling against the glass as my hand shook.  

He set the empty glass down and pushed it back to me, “A second please, if you don’t mind.”  

I nodded and looked him up and down again, noticing how much less bulky his armor was.  Karak said that their armor kept them wet, like some kind of life support system to keep them safe from the air.  It only looked like he had an armored vest and green trousers on. His arms and head were completely exposed to the elements and he didn’t give a damn.  

He took the drink from me and sipped this one, watching me intently as he did it.  “Let’s get into it then and address the elephant in the room.” He chuckled to himself, “I must admit, I love some of the idioms you humans came up with.  They are so much fun to say.”  

“What are you?” I managed to whisper.  

“I’m sure you discerned what I am by this point.”

“Well, yes, but you…you aren’t wearing armor.  Not like the others I saw.”  

“Ah good, you’re ahead of the curve a little bit.  Yes, the overwhelming majority of my species has to wear those suits of armor when we are off world to preserve our skin.  The atmosphere of Tso’got,” he clicked his tongue, “It is really a nasty one. The air so dry, so polluted, so hostile. My kin are quite susceptible to it.”      

“But you-”

“Are not,” he concluded for me.  “Clearly.”

“And you speak common.”

His rows of sharpened teeth showed again in a cruel smile before replying, “And even English.” 

My eyes went wide; the only person I had ever spoken English with in my life was my father.  “How do you…how could you-”

“I love to pick up elements of cultures from the planets we destroy.  I like learning about religion, history, language, etc. Earth had a great wealth of such interesting and diverse culture.  One of the great things about you was your lack of homogeneity.”  

“You…you helped destroy my home?” 

“Oh, I did so much more than participate.  I was the one who oversaw it,” he said with a grin.    

It finally dawned on me that I knew who I was talking to.  “You’re Zellig, aren’t you?”

“Give the man a prize,” he said with a nod, “I must assume Karak said something that gave me away.”  

I gulped, how did he know who had told me?

“Cameras,” he replied, answering my unasked question, “The helmets are all equipped with them.  However, thanks to the depth of the Snatcher hideout, we lost his live feed for a while, otherwise I would have found you earlier.  But all I did was follow the mob and sniff around. You weren’t too hard to find; most Adapted seem to have a distinct scent. And you, you smell a bit like blood: metallic, violent, dreadful.”  

“You’re here to take me, aren’t you?” 

He nodded.  “There is no rush though, it isn’t like they will leave without my say so,” he said, nodding to my unfinished drink.  “After all, you were the one I really wanted to meet.”  

“Whatever you think you’re going to get from me-”

He smiled and held a hand to stop me, “I appreciate your concern, but I am Trillodan, not Zari.  I respect your power and the threat you pose, believe me.” Despite the immense size discrepancy now, I knew he wasn’t lying.  Zellig was sincere, he did legitimately appreciate what I had to offer. “It’s why I’m here, now, in person. I wanted to see the kind of package that such a magnificent and destructive power came in.  And I am glad to see that big things do come in small packages, Nicholas Weld.”  

“You-you know my name!” 

He laughed, “Of course I do!  And I know about your friends too.  Murphy Pell, Alexis Trent, both people I am very much looking forward to meeting.”  

There had to be something I could say, something to detract from how intent he was on his hunt.  “Adapted, you don’t know what happens when you experiment on us for days on end. They can-”

“Alter? You think we weren’t aware of people like ‘Psycho’ as you call him and his band of merry misfits?” he asked with a laugh, “Eldritch, do please stop.  Whatever argument you want to make to convince me that taking you for experimentation is a bad idea, stop now. We have been watching so much longer than you think.  And any objection you might present, I’m going to ignore, especially since you have no way to fight me right now.” 

“I can-”

He raised his hand to silence me.  “If you had mass to burn, you’d have done it already when I mentioned your friends.  But so far, not even a first layer under your clothing. Even if you started growing right this second, I’d rip it away.”   

He was so sure of himself, so confident in his superiority that I believe him.  But he was close by, and there were plenty of things I could use to try and inflict some damage.  After all, I was still an Adapted, and Adapted fought.

I reached for the bottle, but one of his massive hands beat me to it with speed not matching his immense frame.  Zellig laughed as he tossed the bottle in his hand to get a feel for it. “With this? That’s what you’d try to do?  Here, let me try for you.” In a blur, he broke the bottle on his face and didn’t even blink. “And, then what was the plan?  To stab me with the broken glass?” Turning his wrist, he jammed the jagged neck of the bottle into his throat; the glass didn’t puncture but instead broke on his skin.  Zellig dropped what little bottle was left to the floor and stood up straight, towering over me. He had to be seven and a half feet tall with a frame that wouldn’t fit through a standard doorway.  “What was your next move, little Adapted?”   

Run!

For once, the voice and I were in agreement.  With the prompt, I turned and bolted, throwing myself over the counter and through a door to the storage room.  There was an exit out into a dank alley that smelled of cigarettes and exhaust where delivery trucks likely pulled up.  I shoved the door shut behind me and started to sprint away- 

And a rending of metal demanded my attention.  Zellig hadn’t opened the door, he had simply hit it off the hinges and sent it flying across the alley.  “Don’t tell me you plan to make it a footrace. Even with Mr. Magnificent helping, there is no chance you outrun me.”  Once again, he didn’t seem concerned; he was confident that nothing I could do would let me escape.

Even if he wasn’t somehow made to be quicker, his height alone would make him substantially faster than me.  But still, I had to try. Pushing through the pain from the biopsies, I ran down the dark alley and willed myself to go faster than I ever had-

Three massive strides and one huge leap literally had him soar over me.  Zellig landed a few paces in front of me and abruptly stopped by digging his toes into the road.  Before I could try to turn, he shot forward and grabbed my shirt, lifting me off the ground as if I weighed less than a paper bag.  “If you had material to burn,” he said with a disappointed sigh, “Tonight would have been much more interesting. I was hoping to have a go with you at about the five-tonne mark and see how I could fare, but I’m sure we’ll get a chance later.”  

I kicked against his arm and tried punching his hand, but his damned fist was the size of my chest and hitting him was like hitting stone.  He dropped me and let me land on my ass before kneeling down to seize my arms. Two metal bands clasped around my wrists and a powerful magnet snapped my hands together.  

“Hey, what the fu-” I didn’t manage to finish that last word as I felt myself lose any will to retaliate.  “What the…what did you do to me?” 

“This, Nicholas, is Trillodan technology.  Those restraints, they inhibit your sympathetic nervous response and drastically reduce the production and interaction of cortisol in your system.”  Zellig reached around my shoulder and nudged me forward; I walked willingly, unable to think to do anything else.  

“I don’t want-” I started to protest, my brain fogging and body feeling strangely relaxed.  

“Shhh, enjoy the little dopamine and serotonin influx they’ll give you to ensure you’re a docile prisoner,” Zellig insisted as he led me out of the alley and back towards the main drag, “Now please, relax,” he said with a triumphant smile, “You will be of great use to the Trillodan empire.”             

Previous ChapterNext Chapter

Exodus: Mania

It’s hard to keep track of time when you’re trapped in a room with no clock, window, or other person to talk to.  

The only thing I could do was look up at the light or one of the bleached walls and contemplate my grotesque failure that might have cost Ragdoll and Transport everything.  I should have probably just let myself die; Flagbearers had come along with Murphy and I as a gesture of politeness more than anything and we had gotten them captured by Snatchers.  

All because you won’t feed me. 

“I can’t feed you,” I muttered, “Even if I wanted to.  Which I don’t.”  

I pushed myself up from the corner and limped forward, the muscle still swollen from where Snatchers had taken chunks of muscle for a tissue sample.  Since then, I’d been alone, but I had no idea for how long. All I knew for sure was that our deadline until the Trillodan’s arrival was getting closer and no one had any clue where we were.  

Except maybe Almanac; one of Titan’s Adapted that he’d deliberately kept hidden from the world to avoid attracting the watchful eyes of the Trillodan.  And as far as we all knew, Titan had succeeded in keeping his trump card safe. Odds are if the Trillodan knew that we had someone who could find their home world, they wouldn’t take the time to survey and study us.  

Instead, they’d probably exterminate us and Zari in one dramatic display of power.  No one beat the Trillodan, and anyone who could start to posture and present as a threat were quickly culled.  

Since we weren’t boiling in our skin, we were in the clear, or so I hoped.   

However, being stuck here wasn’t allowing me to really celebrate our continued survival. 

At least my best friend had managed to sneak away.  Even though he harped on his own power, the passenger in his body kept him from this horrendous fate.   

“At least Alexis will get to keep one friend.”  

My head snapped to the immense metal door as I heard the lock snap open.  While the promise of interacting with someone was a blessing, knowing it was likely someone coming in with a needle to take more samples of my body put a damper on things.  

As it swung open, I pressed myself further into the corner and glared at the trio of men who walked in.  Of course Josh-the bastard who’d drawn blood from me earlier and likely the lead researcher of this installation-was at the forefront; what did admittedly pique my interest was a seeming lack of medical tools or devices for collecting samples.  

All they were holding was what looked like a plate wrapped in tinfoil.  

“What are you doing?” 

Wordlessly, he dropped the plate on the ground and kicked it over to me.  Without looking away from his intense glare, I ripped the tinfoil away and saw a massive slab of meat on the plate.  

Two and a half kilograms.  

“Eat.” 

I could feel my skin crawl as I looked down at the slab of protein I’d been provided; did they know what the hell they were doing?  

That could give you a hundred kilograms of mass.  Those tasers wouldn’t be enough to bring us down. Eat it.  

I shook my head, both to my Adaptation and to Josh.  “No. I won’t do that.”  

His frustration was palpable as he stomped across the room, grabbing the lump of meat and literally slapping me in the face with it.  “I said, eat!” He slammed it against my face and held down, nearly smothering me. “You will use your fucking gift, you will let us take samples of it, and you will make up for what you did tonight by being useful to us.  Now, chow down!” He stood up and let me catch my breath.  

Shaking, I managed to get up to my feet and gaze back into the fierce glare of Josh.  “You don’t know what is gonna happen once I eat that. You won’t be able to control me, and you won’t be able to sample me either.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

I raised my hands defensively as he took a step closer, invading my personal space.  “When the stuff is disconnected from me, it turns to dust!”

“All night we saw you throwing out those growths that chased people down.  Try a different lie,” one of the enforcers replied as they stepped closer, boxing me into the corner.

“Mutations,” I said quickly, “Mutations develop the longer that I get to hold the Neklim and the larger I get.  I’d need more meat than this to hold any amount of size for long.” I looked back at him, pleading, “Don’t do this.”  

 Josh glared at me, “How about you shut up and comply?”  With a full body swing, he hit me upside the face with the slab of meat.  Under a lot of other circumstances, that might have been a hilarious joke or something that I could have seen Murphy having a laugh about.  

For as ridiculous as it seemed, it fucking hurt.  

However, it was nothing compared to the pain from the two enforcers being given the go-ahead to rough me up some more.  I was too weak to stand up for myself against two grown men with kevlar-reinforced gloves; a few hits left me on the ground with blood oozing from my lips and bruises already taking form across my midsection.  

I slumped down into the corner, the edges of my vision blurring as my body tried desperately to settle its equilibrium.  “Let’s try this again,” Josh whispered as he knelt down beside me, “Eat up.”
Do itI can heal you if you eat.  

“N-”

Josh jammed the slab into my mouth, using his free hand to pry open my jaw; I tried to squirm and push him off me as I started seeing spots in my vision.  “I’m sorry, but maybe you don’t understand the time crunch here,” he snarled. “Will your power engage to save you before you suffocate?” he asked as his enforcers pinned my legs and pulled my arms away from their bosses’ face.  

Let me eat!  We can kill these idiots before they can make it to the door!

For a second, I debated it even though I knew if I used my gift and killed the men, I would devour them too and start a second Feast Day.  The voice whispering to me was essentially begging for it, only thinly veiling the want to be unleashed again; it couldn’t be worse than this, could it?  Right before I let the consumption happen, alarm klaxons began sounding and the loudspeaker turned on.    

“Joshua, honey, I’m home!” 

All three of the men accosting me froze; Josh ripped the steak away and took a nervous step away from me, spinning around and looking towards the door.  Why did that voice sound so familiar?  

“Did you really think you were going to get away with the shit you’re doing?  I mean,” whoever was on the loudspeaker stopped to let out a manic laugh, “Abducting people off the street?  That’s some sloppy shit. At least when you grabbed me it was slick.”

“Sir is that-”

“It’s him,” Josh affirmed.  He had immediately gone from authoritarian and malevolent to scared and anxious.  Who could possibly be that frightening to him?

“But hey,” the man on the speaker continued, “Thanks to you, I’m awesome now!  I mean, you practically made the Altered a thing, and you made me the craziest one.  Don’t you want to see the real outcome of your group of shithead scientists?”

I knew why that voice was familiar and why Josh was suddenly scared shitless.  One man had broken free of an Asylum before and freed everyone else there. One guy had managed to make himself so threatening that the heavy hitters around Ciel were afraid of him. 

Psycho.  

Murphy had said he would get help; who better to get help from than the guy who had broken free of an Asylum before?  

“Boss?”

“Lethal force,” Josh stammered, “Kill him.  Kill anyone he has with him. I don’t care who it is.  He can not be allowed to-”

He was cut off as a motor came to life outside my cell.  Thanks to them leaving the door open I could see the stairs being lowered from the ceiling.  I slowly got up, following the security members to observe the spectacle, drawn to the promise of seeing an Adapted in action just like everyone else.  

As the stairs finished lowering, there was a figure visible at the top; while he had ditched the lab coat and settled on a plain black shirt and shorts, the bit of black fabric with the red neon teeth was still firmly in place.  “Come on, Josh, you know you missed me!” he said with a manic laugh as men swarmed out, all armed to the teeth. Where it had just been riot shields and tasers before, now there were automatic firearms.    

Psycho changed powers whenever he slept and he likely hadn’t gotten any shut eye since he had helped tether me to the ground so Dragoon had been able to literally carve me free.  Today was Bi-polar, but I’d only seen half of it.  

When I’d seen him earlier, he was glowing blue, now he was glowing orange.  

“Such a good roll turn out!  I knew you’d missed me!” As men took aim, he threw himself from the stairs and zoomed across the room, nearly as fast as Shock would when fully charged.  One man took a swing and his fist passed straight through Psycho.  

“You’ll have to do so much better than that,” he cackled as the orange aura faded from his arm for a split second,  just long enough for him to hit the man.  

This was the flipside of his immovable depression: an uncontrollable mania.

Psycho was a blur around the room, and whatever armaments the men had were worthless when they literally couldn’t make contact with the apparition that his manic state allowed him to become.  The only times he was corporeal at all was the split second before he hit someone, his sheer speed and momentum giving his hits enough power to do some real damage.  

He was no Ragdoll, but he was still making quick work of the room as he bounded around from victim to victim, laughing the whole time.  

After chaos began to reign among the Snatchers, a second form dropped from the control office above, landing on top of a guard with alarming acrobatic ease.  Clad in a costume with a grey and red pattern, Parasite extended his staff and began leaping around the room to assist with Psycho’s rampage.  

“Boss,” one of the guards said with a nervous gulp, “What do we-” 

“Found you!” the manic laugh of Psycho rang out as he literally stuck his head through the wall.  One man took a shot, but there was nothing to hit as he pulled himself away.  

The next instant the whole form came through, darting forward and smacking aside one man’s gun.  He retaliated with a punch forward, his arm phasing through Psycho who just howled with laughter.  

“This must be so frustrating for you!”  In a blink he was behind the man, jamming his heel into the back of the man’s knee and pushing him to the floor before planting a firm punch into the man’s cheek.  

Out in the shared space, Parasite was a blur of muscle and metal as he danced around, beating down security guards left and right, occasionally stumbling when a bullet found its mark.  But bullets were too small in scope to do any real damage thanks to the passenger under his skin taking the hit for him.  

Josh snapped me back to the more immediate as he turned and grabbed me, seizing the gun one of his employees had dropped.  Psycho rounded as Josh grabbed my collar and pressed it to my forehead. “Not another step!” 

The doctor pulled me around, putting me between the Lunatic and himself, as if I would somehow do well as a shield.  “And, what are you going to do?” Psycho laughed, “Are you going to shoot a kid? You’re gonna hurt your precious samples?” 

“If you’re here for him, he must matter an awful lot to you,” Josh spat, “Are you going to risk him?  You might be fast, you freak, but you’re not faster than my trigger finger!”

Psycho shook his head, raising his hands and clenching his fingers in clear annoyance.  “I…I hate that word. Freak. That’s…that’s not the term you gave us, was it?”  

“Psycho,” I panted, “Please don’t get me shot.”  

For some reason, I could just tell he was smiling under his mask.  “Don’t you worry, Eldritch, you’re gonna be fine. Josh,” he demanded, looking past me, “What was the term you gave us?”

“I-”

“SAY IT!”

“Altered!  You and all your fucking misfits!  Altered!”  

Psycho clapped his hands together and laughed, “That’s right!  You managed to break Adapted people a second time! You managed to do more damage than life could!  And you did it often enough that you needed to come up with a name for us!” He turned his attention back to me, still giggling, “Do you know who this is?” 

I shook my head slowly.

“The man with the gun against your cheek is Joshua Vasquez, one of the lead scientists and study contributors for the Snatchers.”  For a split second, Psycho changed color to the blue, depressed variant. “He’s the reason that the Lunatics exist, at all,” he said, the unadulterated glee replaced with soul-crushing despair.  As soon as it had come, he swapped back to orange, “But I was really hopeful that when you went ape-shit and ate half the city that you’d pull the big names! I wasn’t sure whether or not you’d actually get this guy to resurface, but thank you.”  

“So you…you weren’t really after Beleth, were you?” 

Psycho’s manic smile stretched farther across his face, “While I have a score to settle with that bastard, the guy holding a gun to your head is the real reason I came back to Ciel.  I heard he’d been spotted.”  

For a moment, I almost forgot about the gun against my head, “You used us as bait to live out your vendetta.”  

He swung his arms wide, “Of course I did!  Did you really expect anything better from me?” 

Joshua cleared his throat, “Empath-” 

“NO!” Psycho screeched, his eyes going wide with rage, “EMPATH DIED! You, you oversaw him dying!  You left a fractured mess of what used to be Empath!” A tense moment was made worse by Psycho dropping his head into his hands and giggling, “But you know what, it’s okay!  Thanks to you, I can do this now! Parasite, right shoulder,” he commanded with a laugh.  

Through Psycho’s right shoulder, a four kilogram hunk of metal came flying through.  It slammed into the doctor’s upper chest and threw him back against the wall; the gun went skittering to the floor as he let go of me.  

Parasite hopped out from behind Psycho, a bit bloody but his smirk flashed back onto his face as he saw me still breathing. 

The leader of the Lunatics, however, was not satisfied with the compound fracture of Joshua Vasquez’s collarbone.  He zipped forward and got a grip around the man’s neck, changing from orange to blue in a blink.  

“You turned me into this,” he whispered slowly as his fingers closed down.  Struggle as he might, there was nothing to be done to displace Psycho. I’d been nearly fifteen tonnes of muscle earlier tonight and I couldn’t move his depressed variant.  Desperate, Josh reached for the gun and managed to pull it back into his clutches.  

“Psycho!” I shouted in warning, but the Peculiar didn’t even blink as Josh put the barrel against his temple. 

“Go ahead,” Psycho said calmly, distant, uncaring, “It won’t do a damn thing.”  

As the scientists face began to turn purple, he pulled the trigger; as promised, nothing happened beyond a puff of smoke exiting the barrel.  Josh pulled his hand away and a shattered bullet clinked to the cold floor.  

“That’s enough,” Parasite insisted as he kicked Psycho, trying to get his attention, “We’re here for them, not for him.” 

“You might not be,” Psycho replied slowly as his victim became much more frantic, squirming and pounding against the Peculiar’s chest.  “But this man has a debt to pay. Doesn’t he, Eldritch.” Psycho turned to face me, completely disregarding the man repeatedly hitting him in the face.  

I’d only been here hours; Psycho had been subjected to weeks of torment and torture in the name of ‘the greater good’ all thanks to men like Josh.  “Parasite,” I said, a bit shaky, “I’m with Psycho on this one. That man, he deserves to die.”  

Thanks to him not wearing his mask, there was no misconstruing the horror on my friends face.  “Nick, we’re Reckoners.”

I swallowed a nervous lump in my throat as Joshua looked over at me, pleading.  “I know, but…but that man is a monster.”

“Monster or not, that doesn’t mean we execute him!  We’re Reckoners,” Parasite insisted.

“I’m not,” Psycho replied, “And even if you wanted to stop me, Parasite, you couldn’t.  That stick of yours would break long before I budged.”  

He looked between me and Psycho, his gaze lingering on me, hoping for some kind of change in my answer.  I shook my head, knowing that if I said anything else I’d be lying. Bargain had told me about how screwed up the Snatchers were; if this was the guy who had fractured the identities of Adapted and create the Lunatics…this man deserved to go.  

Parasite couldn’t stomach watching the life being choked from the man and turned around, snagging a security key off one guard who was still down for the count.  As the life faded from Joshua Vasquez, one of the cell doors opened and a skinny man with a mess of black hair staggered out, doing his best to avoid treading on one of the many incapacitated guards present.

I followed my friend away from Psycho’s execution; even though I didn’t regret condemning Joshua Vasquez to death, it didn’t mean I wanted to watch it in real time.  About the time I joined alongside Parasite and Mr. Magnificent, our other conscious rescuer joined us, his colored tint gone for now.    

“Mr. Magnificent,” Psycho said in a strangely normal voice, “I don’t think we’ve met.” 

“I’ve heard about you though,” he said, minding his distance as Parasite went to free the rest of the Flagbearers.  “I’ve heard you’re a bit of a monster. Literally and metaphorically.” 

He shrugged, “Depends who you ask.”  

“Hey, Magnificent,” Parasite shouted, “I need a hand.”  

I was a bit relieved to see Ragdoll fairly uninjured, but Joshua hadn’t been kidding about keeping him asleep indefinitely; according to the monitor that he was hooked to, his heart was barely beating.  

“Even if we take the IV out, he’s going to be unconscious for a while,” Psycho noted.  “They really wanted him kept asleep.”  

“I can deal with that,” Mr. Magnificent replied as he removed the needle from his leader and pressed a hand to his chest.  Initially, I was worried that whatever Mr. Magnificent was doing was proving useless.

And then the machine monitoring Ragdoll’s vitals added a frantic chiming to the alarm klaxons that were still sounding.  From 20 beats per minute, Ragdoll’s heart rate endured a tenfold increase.  

“I suggest moving away!” 

We all listened to Mr. Magnificent and were damn happy we did as Ragdoll’s eyes snapped open and he sat up, swinging.  A poor use of his gift meant his wild haymaker dragged him off the table and he thudded to the floor, ripping free of the sensors as he shouted.  The second punch was much more coordinated and aimed straight for Psycho’s head; his fist connected with a blue tinted Peculiar and Ragdoll yanked his arm back, swearing.  

“Fuck me that hurt,” Ragdoll swore as he turned and took in his surroundings.  “Bi-polar, can’t be moved; you were not kidding. How did you find us?” 

“Because of him,” Psycho said, returning to a normal color and tipping his head to Parasite.

“I followed you guys over rooftops and shit, keeping an eye to see where they would offload you all.  I went to the Relay station and got what help I could.”

“And they sent you back with this asshole?” Ragdoll muttered as he put his hands to his temples, glaring at the speakers in the ceiling. 

“Titan isn’t there, and most people aren’t down to play with Snatchers.  Bargain would have come, but he is still fucked up from beating the piss out of Shock and Awe before Eldritch went a bit off the reservation.”  

I winced but didn’t say anything; it wasn’t like I could disagree.  

You weren’t off the reservation, you were just finally free. 

“Either way, can we get the fucking ALARMS TURNED OFF?” Ragdoll shouted as he put his head in his hands, “Being forced to wake up like this is like a migraine on steroids.” 

“Controls will be in the security station,” I muttered, “Back upstairs.”

Parasite nodded, “I got it.”  Given how quick he bounded away, I could tell he was looking for any excuse to not being standing next to Psycho.  As he walked away, a few guards started to stir; a quick hit with the staff ensured they weren’t going anywhere.  

Ragdoll turned to me, “What happened earlier,” he said, as he steadied himself on his feet, “I’m not angry.”

“Still I’m-” 

Above us there  was a shout as a figure slammed into the far wall, falling nearly three floors to a heap on the ground.  All of us looked up at the guard station as a trio of figures in black mechanical suits stepped onto the stairs, the one in front wearing what looked like a golden glove that was causing the air to shimmer in front of it.  

I’d seen something like that before: it looked just like the distortions that Shockwave caused with his power.  And the suits they wore, it looked like a refined version of Dragoon’s armor. No Zari technology was anywhere near this which only left one option for who that could be.  At a glance, the power armor made them look almost human in terms of size and frame, but there was a certain amount of dread I felt that I knew it couldn’t be a human in those suits.    

“Holy shit,” I whispered, “It’s them.”  

“Magnificent, give me what you got left,” Ragdoll demanded, immediately switching to a fight-ready mentality.  “Eldritch, get Transport and Soliloquy out of their cells and wake them up. Psycho, help me out with those three; let’s keep them on the stairs away from Magnificent and Eldritch.”

Psycho turned orange and snickered, “Whatever you want.”  Bolting forward, he jumped and phased through the steps, getting a note of surprise from the Trillodan soldiers.  The one in front flexed his fingers and the distortion shot from the glove, going straight through the manic Psycho.  “Guess again, asshole,” he said with a cackle as he struck forward, changing himself to his depressed variation.  

The Trillodan soldier, seemingly irritated, swung back and smashed his gauntlet against the side of Psycho’s head, pulling back and swearing in a foreign tongue.  One of the armored figures behind him raised a golden glove and blasted Psycho, but no amount of force was going to move him back.  

Ragdoll took a deep breath and charged forward, throwing himself forward into a roll and then leaping forward, getting an inhuman amount of acceleration from throwing his hands forward.  One hand caught the edge of the staircase while he swung the other, doing an awkward cartwheel that put his whole body completely vertical and let him get a grip on the handrail.  

As one Trillodan turned to him, one of Ragdoll’s legs slammed down and kicked a hand with a golden glove down so the kinetic blast went directly into the staircase, straining the cable that were connecting it to the ceiling.  Ragdoll turned in a moment of confusion and backhanded one of the soldiers, hitting him hard enough to toss him over the railing and down the four meters to the floor.  

The Trillodan point-man snarled and yanked a sidearm made of some grey metal and took aim at Psycho’s midsection; as he fired, a red beam shot out and pierced straight through the Peculiar who was blocking the way down.  Psycho’s blue tint to his skin dissipated as he lurched to the side and grabbed the railing for support, his face immediately paling. The point man struck forward and sent Psycho tumbling down the stairs, his body landing in an awkward heap at the bottom.  

He’d been built to endure any amount of strain or pushing against him.  Enough heat however was something he was not built to withstand. Then again, how many things were meant to weather a literal laser pistol?  

As Psycho came to a halt, I came to my senses and grabbed the keycard that Parasite had swiped to free Ragdoll.  Charging across the room, a pair of hands grabbed me; a few of the security guards were coming.  

“What are you doing?” the man holding me hissed, “What did you idiots do?” 

I didn’t get to answer as the man Ragdoll knocked over the railings got up and fired his own laser pistol.  A fist sized hole appeared in the center of the guards chest as the Trillodan shifted his head to inspect me.  

Shouting something in another language, he waved the pistol and beckoned me closer.  I obliged and walked forward slowly, petrified. These were just common foot soldiers presumably.  They had technology that gave them power similar to Adapted; what other sorts of tricks did they have?  

Above me on the staircase, the leader of the Flagbearers was between the two soldiers and knew he needed to change his position.  Grabbing the handrails, he threw himself back and made his legs substantially more dense right before connecting with the soldier; the point-man was launched off the steps and just avoided squashing the human mound that was Psycho at the foot of the stairs.  Some poor security guard wasn’t so fortunate and was squashed flat as the Trillodan point man landed on him. With one down, Ragdoll made his hand heavier and punched the laser pistol away from the last Trillodan on the stairs before wrapping one of his arms under his opponents.  

In a flourish, Ragdoll threw himself off the stairs, pulling the Trillodan soldier to the railings.  As the soldier reached forward to pull Ragdoll off his arm, the Enhancer used his gift and made his legs incredibly dense; the abrupt shift in balance yanked the pair over the railing.  Ragdoll managed to land well and roll, diminishing the impact; the Trillodan soldier landed flat on his back with a pitiful groan.  

The soldier holding me at gunpoint turned to fire his laser pistol at Ragdoll as he hopped back up to his feet: the first shot missed, but the second clipped Ragdoll’s side and carved a small chunk away.  Without thinking, I rushed forward and slammed my shoulder into the soldier, making his third shot go wild; he retaliated by lifting me and throwing me against the wall, the power armor making it all too easy.  As I looked back up, he aimed his sidearm at my knee and then immediately dropped it, lurching forward as a hunk of metal clanged against the floor behind him.  

He turned as Parasite ran forward and drove his heel into the soldiers knee, forcing him to stumble.  Parasite took a split second he had bought himself and scooped up his staff from the group, extending the weapon and bringing it down upon the soldiers arm as he tried to use his golden glove.  

Instead some poor guard was crushed against the floor as the shockwave went off target.  

Parasite twisted and brought the staff around with alarming speed, cracking the soldier’s helmet and sending him down to the floor with a clatter. “Take a cheap shot,” he snarled, “Hurt my friends?”  He vented his rage and stomped down on the Trillodan’s midsection, hitting him hard enough to crack the armor plates.  

“Parasite!” 

He turned just in time to endure a blast straight to his chest from the laser pistol of the Trillodan point man at the foot of the staircase.  I gasped as I expected to see a hole appear in my friend’s torso…but none did. The Trillodan fired and clipped Parasite a few more times, but none of the shots seemed to just tear through him like they had with everyone else.  

“What do you know,” Parasite said with a wry laugh, “the passenger can diffuse heat too.  That’s handy.”  

Barking in another language, the man changed tactics and raised the golden gauntlet to blow Parasite back against the wall; as he raised his hand, an orange blur reached straight through the Trillodan soldier and grabbed his palm.  Right before it could fire, Psycho changed himself blue.  

With no outlet for the energy, the Trillodan’s arm exploded as if he’d held a hand grenade.  Turning around, he swung wildly and hit Psycho, but he took more of the punishment as he hit an immovable object.  As he went for his laser pistol, Ragdoll threw himself across the room and spun around, building up his momentum for a massive kick.  

A kick that literally ripped the Trillodan’s head off.  

Metallic grinding heralded the soldier Ragdoll had dragged off the stairs getting up, but a soothing voice seemed to stop him from reaching for his pistol.  “No, no, I think that won’t help anyone, friend,” Soliloquy insisted softly, reaching forward and nudging his arm down. “I think the fight is long over, don’t you agree?” 

He nodded and slowly sat down, not deliberately surrendering, but just giving up.  Soliloquy was able to coax emotions and nudge sensations; this man just watched an Adapted endure being shot and his comrade literally beheaded by a kick.  It wasn’t hard to sell that the fight was over.  

At the back of the room, Mr. Magnificent grinned, panting as a keycard dangled on a lanyard between his fingers.  I’d been held at gunpoint, and fortunately the member of the Flagbearers took advantage of no one paying attention to him.  

“They shouldn’t be here yet,” I muttered, as I looked down at the Trillodan’s power armor, “They weren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow.”

Psycho staggered forward, clutching his side and grimacing, “Hate to break it to you, but it is tomorrow.  It’s two in the morning; Clairvoyant doesn’t get all the details and we are technically in his time frame.”  The leader of the Lunatics looked at the two surviving Trillodan and grimaced, “Snatcher hideouts all share a network for distress calls.  My guess, the Trillodan found us because the alarm had been tripped.”  

“Great,” Ragdoll muttered, “Just fucking great.”  

“Griping about it won’t help us,” Mr. Magnificent muttered as he walked by me into Transports room, giving him the same treatment that he’d had to give Ragdoll earlier.  Fortunately, Transport took the alarming wake up in better stride.  

“So, what do we do now?” Parasite asked as he looked down and put his fingers through the holes in his suit.

“First things first,” Psycho said, reaching into his pocket and procuring a pair of golden vials, “Rags, drink.”

“How did you-”

“Titan has them stockpiled as a bit of preparation for emergencies.  I deemed this a worthwhile occasion.”  

Ragdoll didn’t object as he drank the tincture from Organelle.  It was a little unsettling to see tissue literally grow around the hole and rapidly undo the damage that the Trillodan firearms were able to inflict.  

“And now that I don’t have a gaping hold in my side, what do you suggest?” Ragdoll asked Psycho.  

“We run.  We get to the Relay station and get the fuck out of downtown.”

Soliloquy shook his head, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.  If we bolt now, we have no idea what we’re walking into.”

“And you suggest?” 

“We have hostages,” Parasite thought aloud, “And a guy who can convince them to talk.  Let Soliloquy see what information we can get.”  

All of us went silent as the man Parasite had bludgeoned senseless started to laugh as he pushed himself up to his feet, leaning against the wall for stability while he removed his helmet.  

From what I knew, we were the first humans to ever see a Trillodan in the flesh.  While it was clear they were bipeds and had the same approximate size of a human, the Trillodan had amphibious features.  He had moist and almost rubbery blue skin with white spots in a symmetrical pattern across his face, multiple eyelids closing as he blinked, and nostrils flush with his face.  In truth, there was almost a strange beauty to the soldiers appearance and the vivid color of his skin contrasted with the black power armor he was wearing.  

However, all of that was quickly forgotten as he began to speak in broken common with a harsh and raspy voice.  “Trillodan, capture you,” he said with a sweeping gesture, “Tso’got,” he slammed his hand to his chest, “Ours.”  

We all glanced between each other, even Psycho’s arrogant demeanor was absent.  Parasite finally said what all of us were thinking.  

“Well, that’s not good.” 


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Exodus: Captive

I felt myself pale; a literal mob was coming for me.  Zari were prone to violence, but this seemed over the top, even for them.  More concerning was how quickly this was coordinated.  

              And I wasn’t the only person who had this thought.  “How in the fuck did they get enough people so fast?” Ragdoll demanded.  “The city is on fire, homes have been evacuated, but people still group up to make a mob within an hour of him being spotted?” 

              “It isn’t just a few people either,” Transport said, “It’s like a hundred.  Some are even armed, but at least no formal firearms. Instead a lot of people with pipes, pieces of wood, and blades.”  

             “We could stand up to them,” Soliloquy suggested.  “I could quell the unrest a bit and instill some fear if you smack a few around.  We might be able to get them to disperse before it can get too big and start doing serious damage.”

            Murphy shook his head, “We’re Reckoners, and these people aren’t guilty of anything other than being swept up in a huge mess.  People are afraid and angry, they aren’t thinking straight.”

              Ragdoll and Mr. Magnificent nodded.  “But, what do we do about them?” the leader of the Flagbearers asked. 

           “I think we run,” I replied to Ragdoll.  “If we stand our ground, someone will figure out you’re all Adapted and that will only make things worse for the lot of us.”  There was a solemn silence that fell over the group; even though I was the reason for the rage, it wasn’t unlikely that all Adapted as a whole would end up blamed for Feast Day.

            “You guys have Mr. Magnificent,” Xana pointed out, “Can’t he make you all run, like, way fucking faster than normal?” 

            “Hard to do it for five, and I can’t give myself the boost.  Someone would have to carry me.”

            My best friend shrugged, “You aren’t too big; I could do it.”  

              “What about her?” Transport asked, “I don’t think Titan is planning for us to bring a plus-one.  Not trying to be a dick or anything but-”    

              “I get it.”  I turned to Xana and felt my heart drop.  “Xana, I-”

              “I know, it sucks.  But I guess my parents will finally get their wish and say ‘I told you so’ about me being too good for you.  And I suppose at least I got to date the most notorious bad boy in Ciel’s history, so I’ve got that going for me.”  She seemed awful cavalier, but I could see the cracks in her chipper facade.   

              A weak laugh escaped my lips, catching me off guard.  “Not how I imagined our relationship would end. I really thought-”

              Xana put a finger to my lips, shushing me.  “I got to date a super cool Adapted, piss off my parents for months, and I don’t regret it for a second.”  She hit me in the shoulder, “So stop being so damn morose, I’ll be fine. Now, get the hell out of here.” Her head turned to Murphy, “Take care of this idiot for me?”

              He grinned, “Of course.  And I’ll try not to steal him from you.”     

“I’m not too worried,” she said with a roll of her eyes.  Xana gave me one last look, “Go.”

Before I could open my mouth, Ragdoll put a hand on my shoulder, “She’s right, we need to bail mate.  I’m sorry.” He was right; the mob was getting awfully close now. A glance over my shoulder showed me Xana running across the street, trying to distance herself from us to avoid being caught up in the frenzy.  

And just like that, one more familiar staple from my life was gone.  

I wasn’t given much time to dwell as Murphy grabbed my arm and dragged me away, reminding me that there was an angry mob headed after me, intent on claiming my head.  As we ran, I was abruptly aware of something: running was amazing.  

Normally it felt like work and a bit of a struggle, but for some reason it was like I was getting an instant and extreme runners high.  My eyes turned to the man Murphy was carrying; even through the mess of hair that his Mr. Magnificent’s face, it was easy to tell that he was concentrating on diverting his power to all of us here.  

For us, outpacing the mob was a breeze.  We were probably running faster than I could normally sprint and it felt refreshing.  The lot of us ran easily two kilometers in five minutes, getting us close to our relay station and lifeline back to Titan and his makeshift army.    

“I need to take a breather,” Magnificent said with a wheeze.  A sudden wave of fatigue crashed over me as the power drained out from all five of us.  “Sorry, but granting speed to five after tonight, I can’t hold that for long.”  

“It’s alright,” Ragdoll insisted, giving his teammate a pat on the back after Murphy set Mr. Magnificent down, “You got us here and away from an angry mob of Zari.”

“That’s still bothering me,” Soliloquy said with a shake of his head, “How the fuck did a mob form?  Not the why, that makes sense. Eldritch crashed half of downtown flat.”

“Not intentionally,” I mumbled.

He raised his hands in apology, “I know, and we know that, but not everyone else does.  You have to admit there is a decent enough reason for them to form. My question is how.  Someone had to be giving information to everyone to guide enough people towards us.”

“But who would even be able to do that?” I replied, “There are probably some Adapted who could do it but-”

“Government,” Ragdoll said with a snap of his fingers.  “Think about it, who didn’t show up at all to try and help put you down?”

“Suppression,” I realized, my eyes opening wide.  “Do you think they’d really turn the whole city on its head looking for me?” 

“Absolutely,” Mr. Magnificent replied, “After what happened tonight, they probably got approval to send mass messages to everyone who owns a mobile phone.  The only reason they probably don’t have boots on the ground over here is because you fucking demolished a lot of the roads and caused more traffic accidents than Ciel sees in a whole year.”

Since the government was predominantly run by industry moguls, Mr. Magnificent’s idea was not far fetched. “Great, every Zari on the planet is likely looking for me.”  

“Well, at least for now we’re all alone,” Murphy said in a feeble attempt to brighten the situation.     

We had taken a bit of a roundabout way to circle towards the city and move slowly out of the more residential area; the shops and sidewalks all still being empty was all the more unsettling.  Though as I looked down the street, I swore I saw someone looking at us. I blinked a few times and what I thought was a possible hallucination became a clearer outline of a person.  

Was he wearing a gas mask?  

“Um, guys,” I said, nervous, “Anyone else see that guy down there?” 

“Magnificent, vision,” Ragdoll demanded with a snap, staring down the road.  

Mr. Magnificent raised a hand towards Ragdoll and closed his eyes in concentration; the leader of the Flagbearers recoiled as he was given a better view down the road.  “Snatchers!”  

The man we’d spotted waved his arms and a faint whistle was heard for just a moment; a canister landed just in front of us and exploded, leaving a cloud of blue smoke that quickly engulfed us.  From across the street, several men in gas masks materialized from behind cars or showed up in the windows of the nearby store fronts. There was easily twenty people surrounding us.  

If there were reports going out about us to everyone in Ciel, of course the Snatchers would have the information too.  The general discord and chaos of the city would make it easy for them to move around unnoticed and unhampered; all they had to do was set a trap based on which direction we were running. 

We had even stopped for them to make it easier. 

All of us ran into the road, making distance from the gas cloud; we didn’t know what it would do, but there was no way it was beneficial.  One man on a rooftop wound up and pitched another metal sphere into our midst, spawning another blue cloud of smoke that quickly spread, forcing us to scatter.  

Mr. Magnificent was slower than the rest of us to get out and sank to his knees, shaking uncontrollably before finally keeling over onto his side.  Transport paused for a split second to use his gift of displacing inanimate objects and put a metal bat in his hand as people started closing in, the Snatchers armed with what looked like cattle prods or riot shields.  From a few blocks down, what looked like a reinforced van started driving our way, likely packed with more goons. As Transport readied himself, a pair of Snatchers charged him; while one took a heavy hit from a pipe, the other found his mark with the prod.    

Soliloquy opened his mouth to try and calm the crowd, but another canister landed beside him and Ragdoll, giving each of them a heavy dose of the gas.  Ragdoll managed to stay on his feet, albeit shaky but his teammate went down quickly. Several men with the prods rushed Ragdoll; despite being drugged, Ragdoll managed to mount a decent counterattack and swing himself around, hitting two of the Snatchers hard enough to break teeth before someone made contact.  As the prongs touched skin, he went down, twitching.  

People started circling around Murphy and myself, the last two Adapted standing.  

Even though I wanted to help, I had no mass to burn.  Functionally I was just a regular human. Still, people were a bit hesitant to get closer after Ragdoll knocked two people out cold and instead opted to throw another trio of gas canisters our way.  I took one last big gulp of air and turned to Murphy, horrified as my vision began to swim.  

But as I collapsed to my hands and knees, he knelt down in a controlled manner beside me.  

“I can still breathe,” he whispered as I did my best to stay awake.  “My passenger is keeping my lungs free of this shit. I’m going to get help and come back for you guys, okay?” 

As my vision swam, I nodded and fell to the ground about the time the van pulled up and another six men jumped out to begin carting people away.  There was some outcry and shock as Murphy vaulted over people, sprinting away with alarming speed, but there was no chase given. The Snatchers had caught eighty percent of their quarry.  

And given how I saw so many people looking at me, they had gotten the big ticket item of the bunch.   

____________________________________________________________

“…subject one-one-six, AKA, Eldritch.  Subject has demonstrated the most variability in furthering the power, and subject seems only bound to mass of consumed material.  As evidenced by the events of Feast Day, subject one-one-six is unbound by restriction of Overexposure. Question: Does the ability to avoid Overexposure also affect his capacity for chronic stress and Alteration?  Procuring initial tissue samples now.”  

I was barely conscious, but a needle stabbing into my elbow snapped me to full alertness quite quickly.  Looming over me was a middle aged man with a turtleneck, lab coat, and surgical mask, his eyes betraying a little surprise in me waking up on the table.  On instinct, I tried to pull myself away but the leather cuffs around my wrists and ankles kept me held good and tight.  

“Where am I?”

The man drawing blood reached over and killed the mic he was recording with before turning back to me.  “You lot call them Asylums.”

I felt my blood chill; even before we’d met the Lunatics every Adapted was horrified of Asylums, but after having them defined by Bargain these institutions were the things of nightmares.  “You’re making a big mistake.”

“Attempting to gain the power of the Adapted for all humanity to use?” he said with an eyebrow raising, “That sounds like a mistake?” 

“If you’re trying to make more people like me, yes.”  Taking a moment, my eyes flitted around the room, finding nothing in the sterile medical suite that would tell me anything about where I had been carted to.  From what I knew about Asylums, I was likely underground and well hidden. 

“I think now of all times it is especially important to have more people like you.”

Something about the way he said that sounded desperate, like he knew there was a timer on the Trillodan coming.  But, how could he know that without being put in the loop thanks to Clairvoyant?  

“How do you know?” 

He didn’t reply as he finished taking a blood sample and then removed the needle from my arm.  “We keep tabs on Suppression. As much as they want to dispose of all Adapted on the surface of Tso’got, we want to harness their gifts.  The Zari government is scared and prone to take drastic measures that might ruin our precious samples.”

“We are more than samples,” I said, aghast at his callous description.  

“Lately there has been a lot of chatter about the Trillodan scout vessel that has spent the last few weeks in orbit, observing, inactive.  Tonight, thanks to you,” he said with a sneer, “There is movement from the probe. We can only assume that means the owners are going to come and take a closer look.” 

“Then you need to let me go,” I insisted, “Please.” 

“You’re too valuable a specimen to not study.  Someone who can stand in front of Titan and endure his fury; why the hell would we let such a valuable sample go?  Imagine if we can unlock what makes you work.”  

The prospect of multiple versions of Eldritch running around was a horrifying one.  “You really don’t want more than one of me…if even that many. Whatever you think you might benefit,” I cautioned, nodding towards the vial of blood on the metal tray, “I can guarantee that it’ll be so much worse than anything you can imagine.”  

“Anything I can imagine?  I don’t have to imagine the worst thing ever, I lived through it.”  

I was familiar with this particular brand of rage; my father was particularly prone to anger and resentment about what had happened to humanities home. “Listen to me-”

“No, you listen you insolent boy,” he snapped as he ripped the surgical mask away from his mouth, “You listen to your elders.  For the first time in history, there is a power that the Trillodan are worried about enough to actually take a closer look. I want to turn it on them and make them pay for what happened to our world.”

“So you want to be responsible for Tso’got being subject to the same treatment?”

He curled his lip, “At least we’ll finally prove that the Trillodan can bleed.”

How could he be so shortsighted about all of this?  “You’ll get everyone killed! Is that really your master plan?” 

He didn’t reply but instead took the blood sample and walked out of the room, leaving me bound to the operating table and stuck staring up a bright fluorescent light.  It didn’t take long for a panic to start setting in.  

The Trillodan were coming in mere hours and I was shackled to a table.  I was the one they were looking for; they wouldn’t just quit until I was aboard one of their ships and then no one knew what would happen to me.  Most people didn’t even know what the Trillodan looked like, let alone what kind of technological marvels they posses. While the Snatchers might be able to conceal these installations all over Tso’got and keep them hidden from the Zari, I wasn’t going to hold my breath that the Trillodan wouldn’t be able to find me.  

And all because I lost control.  None of this would have happened if I was able to control my power and contain the growth.  

But you wouldn’t be here without me.   You’re nothing without me. You need me.

My blood turned to ice as I heard that voice, clear as day in my head.  The same voice that had before only relayed information about how much mass was available.  The voice that told me what mutations were developing while I maintained the Neklim suit. The voice that, until now, I had only heard when I was tapping into my gift.    

“You’re not real,” I muttered, “You’re just in my head.  You can’t speak. You’re just a byproduct of my Adaptation.”  

That’s what I used to be. 

“You’re not different.  Feast Day didn’t change you.  You’re not real,” I insisted, becoming more unsure by the second.  

Tell yourself what you need to.

I was suddenly taken back to being in the mass of Neklim, the monster that I was nothing but a battery for; I remember feeling myself drift away and feel something creep into my brain.  The Neklim wasn’t smart because of some kind of mutation but instead because it took advantage of my presence. It incorporated my human intelligence into the hive mind.  

“You dug into my brain,” I realized aloud, “You took advantage of the human brain you were plugged into.  You copied me.”  

I wasn’t sure whether the silence that followed was comforting or more daunting.  

“It’s okay,” I promised myself vainly, “It is just your Adaptation.  As long as you’re in control, it can’t dictate your actions. As long as you don’t have mass to burn, it can’t do anything to you.  It is at your mercy.”  

Testing the restraints, I gave up and did my best to relax, though it was difficult to do on the unforgiving operating table.  Craning my head back, I could see the door and just barely see through a small window dead center of the block of metal. Given how sturdy that door was, this operating room was to double as a holding cell for me.              

It figured that the Snatchers weren’t going to let us stick together.  

I tried to concentrate and pull what information I had about the Snatchers from talking with Alexis and Bargain.  Their whole goal was to unlock exactly what made Adapted tick, find a way to replicate and then mass produce the powers for all to use.  It made sense that their overarching goal would be to see the Trillodan bleed. In a twisted sense, they had the same goal that Titan had, but their way of going about it was founded on inhumane experimentation.  From what I knew about Adapted as a whole, none of us had ever been manufactured by Snatchers either.  

Did they really think that they could suddenly succeed and mount some kind of offensive when the Trillodan arrived in just a few hours?  Were they really that delusional?  

Footsteps approached my door and I craned my head just in time to see it open and let in half a dozen men  in lab coats and gas masks. Each of them were holding what looked like a biopsy needle, except they were a much larger gauge than you’d typically see.  

“What are, what are you guys doing?  Someone already got a blood sample.” 

“No anaesthesia?” one asked, completely ignoring me, “Are we out or something?” 

“Apparently Josh really didn’t like this guy,” one replied, giving a glance to the last man who came into view.  It was the same bastard who had drawn blood from me earlier. “Did he stepped on your apartment or something.”

Josh didn’t reply, content with glaring down at me.    

“Up first, liver,” a third said as he stepped forward and palpated my midsection.  He was the first to look at me and talk to me as a person, but it was only to tell me, “Don’t fucking move.”  

I nodded, doing my best to brace myself.  I’d actually had a medical biopsy performed once in the past, but this hurt so much more.  The larger needle with lack of pain killer just made it feel like he was jamming a knife into my torso.  A tortured scream echoed around the room as I began to struggle and was immediately pinned by three of the men present.  The needle was kept in for a little while before it was removed, a small chunk of my liver coming with.     

“Next up, deep muscle tissues.  One from the quad and one from the glutes.”  

Despite my protests, my pants were pulled free and the process was repeated as a small chunk of muscle was harvested for study.  They didn’t even bother to sanitize the area, clearly hurrying to get the job done and move on.  

“While we’ve got his pants off, let’s do the bone marrow, yeah?” 

“No, no, please!” I begged, my whole body on fire from the three biopsies.  

“Here we go,” one of their order replied, grabbed a large blue needle, feeling around before shoving it into my hip.  My fingers curled in pain, but he didn’t even seem to notice as he removed a small tube from inside the need to let the marrow flow free into a collection vial.  

The process was repeated for my lungs, my kidneys, and a lymph node.  At the end, the only blessing was that I wasn’t really feeling any more pain, I was just numb.  

Samples of my body were put into foam lined cases and piled into a crate labeled ‘subject 116’.  To them I wasn’t a person, or even a Reckoner anymore; I had been reduced to a number within hours of capture.  

I did perk up when one of the doctors suddenly wasn’t wearing his gas mask.  

“What the-” 

Josh, Transport is awake!  He was in a room close enough to see a security tablet and he swiped it!  He can see all the cameras!”

From beyond the door, a thunderous slam rang out through the facility.  Then another, and another in an almost rhythmic fashion. All six men looked between one another, alarmed.  “Who drugged Ragdoll?” Josh demanded.

“We gave him a full dose of propofol-”

“Goddamn Mr. Magnificent must have done something to him.  And now he probably has a mask too! You want to explain to people why we can’t just gas down one of the more dangerous Adapted in the city?  And which idiot let Transport get access to a window?!”

I felt a small glimmer of hope; the Snatchers were scrambling just like everyone else in the city and Ragdoll was good at thinking on his feet.   

“Transport nabbed his own security key and a gas mask as well.  No one can get in there and we can’t smoke him out either.”  

Josh huffed, “If there was ever a day to not cock everything up it would have been tonight.  We can’t afford to let these guys get back out. Unless you want to go run out into that warzone and try to procure more samples, we need these five!” 

One of the other five dared to talk back, “Well, we weren’t expecting to have to do a rush job with five different Adapted, especially since one of them was the guy responsible for Feast Day.  I’m sorry if we gave less attention to Ragdoll’s crew.”    

As they argued, I almost cried out in shock as a scalpel materialized in my hand.  Glancing up, I could see a camera pointing down. As long as he access to security feeds, Transport was able to cause plenty of chaos and help facilitate an escape by moving tools around.  Doing my best, I finneagled the scalpel to press against the leather band holding me against the table before slowly drawing the edge back and forth.  

Beyond my cell, the repeat slamming against metal changed to an immense thudding; given the alarm that all of the six men in my room showed, Ragdoll had broken free.  

“He needs to be contained!” one hissed.

“You’re supposed to be head of security, Bradley,” Josh spat at one, “This is on you to fix.” 

An alarm sounded as I managed to cut my first restraint free.  Making as little movement and noise as possible, I moved to the other cuff and undid the clasp.  I was glad that all six of them were mesmerized with the damage that Ragdoll was inflicting and assumed that I would be unable to much on my own.  Both hands free, I started to unbuckle my ankles, and then one of them finally turned back to me.  

“Hey, what the fuck!”

Hastily ripping myself free, I seized the scalpel from the table and swiped at Bradley.  “Fucking stay back!” I shouted.  

All six raised their hands, all hesitant to irritate the desperate man armed with a scalpel.  “What are you planning to do with that?” Josh asked slowly.  

“I’m gonna make you to let me out, or I’m gonna fucking cut someone’s throat.”  

Bradley shook his head, “If we open the door, Ragdoll won’t leave us alive.  And, there are six of us and one of you. And since you haven’t grown yet, I’m pretty sure you’re not able to produce any Neklim tissue.”  Extending his hand he beckoned for the scalpel, “So, how about you give that to me and this goes nice and smooth.”

My mouth dropped, “Are you serious?  You think I’m going to just assume you’re willing to talk to me?  You just stabbed me and took samples of my organs without consent and without the courtesy of some fucking painkillers.  You are fucking Snatchers; you’re lucky I can’t use my power otherwise I’d fucking rip you guys apart.”  

Through the door, there was audible screaming and I saw a blur as Ragdoll threw himself around, attacking whatever security forces had been dispensed to put him down.  

“Or, if I just wait, there is a decent chance Ragdoll will just break down the door.”  

Badley shook his head and grinned, “Josh, I think I have a solution for our Ragdoll problem.  I wonder if a hostage would stop his rampage.” Without another word of warning, he charged forward, shooting a hand forward to restrain my wrist to keep me from jabbing the scalpel deep into his side.  For an unassuming looking guy, Bradley was surprisingly strong and had no problem isolating the scalpel. Being stabbed repeatedly left me feeling weak and I stumbled before the second man approached to grab my other arm.  Both limbs restrained, I kicked frantically to struggle free; one of the other men hit me in the face half a dozen times to stop my lashing out.

As I was getting pummeled, Bradley stripped away the scalpel and passed it over to Josh.    

“Whatever you think you’re doing, whatever you think you’re going to accomplish, it’s high time you kids let the adults take over.  Open the door,” Josh snapped to one of his cronies. “Time to clean up your mess.”

Bradley glared at his superior but didn’t talk back.   

I was steered to the door and the metal slab opened to reveal an open room with massive doors lining the wall around the floor.  Above us, there was what looked like a control room that oversaw this little commonspace and likely had control over the flight of stairs that had been pulled up to the ceiling thanks to a network of cables.  One of the doors had been knocked off its hinges and around the room there were handfuls of security guards who looked like they had been in a car accident.  

In the center of the room was the man himself, clad in only pants, a gas mask, and his hand wraps; around the periphery were more men in black body armor with plexiglass shields and tasers or clubs, but all were clearly reluctant to go against the leader of the Flagbearers.  

Ragdoll was an Enhancer who seemed to be super strong, but the truth was he could manipulate the mass of his limbs.  While on the surface that didn’t seem like much, hitting someone with a hand that weighed sixty kilograms would do enough damage to kill people.  His ability to selectively adjust his mass also gave him a peculiar means of movement where he could just use the momentum of one limb to launch himself around like a drunk acrobat.  

Hence the name Ragdoll.  

“Ragdoll,” the lead Snatcher called, “This stops now.”  

He stared down the Snatcher and then looked to me and saw the unbridled panic on my face.  I had no tools to get out of this, no power to draw on. Despite being the most powerful person in the city hours ago, I had been reduced to the weakest man in the room.  As Ragdoll looked at me, his face fell. “You don’t look so hot, Eldritch.”  

“Hey, stop talking!” Bradley snapped. 

Ragdoll looked up from me and glared at the head of security, “You might be able to kill him, but do you think you’d be able to stop me.  Tight spaces, and no way to gas me this time. I could kill you and everyone else in here.”  

“But you won’t,” Josh replied with a frightening air of authority.  “You’re a good man who wouldn’t want to condemn a fellow Reckoner to his death.  Or, was I wrong about your character?”   

“You’ve got a big pair of balls on you, I’ll give you that.”  

Josh ignored his comment, “On your knees, hands behind your head.  Don’t move as the men approach.”  

Ragdoll obliged, glaring past me at my captor, an intense fury boiling in his blue eyes.  “Just so you know, even if you lock me up, I’m going to break out again.”

“That’s if we let you wake up again.”  Josh waved Bradley forward who snapped his fingers.    

Six security guards blitzed forward and grabbed Ragdoll, putting his arms to his sides and injecting something into his arm.  

“I’m sorry,” I said meekly.  

“Me too,” was all he managed to get out before his eyelids closed and his body went limp.  He was scooped up and dragged into a different cell as the rest of the security force visibly relaxed.  I had the opposite reaction as it dawned on me that Ragdoll was our only ticket out of here. While Transport could get us things, he couldn’t deal with the dozens of security guards present.  Mr. Magnificent could help close the gap, but if he went down, his gift would fade quickly, and Soliloquy was likely kept in a soundproofed room so he couldn’t influence people.

“Now, override  Transports fucking cell door and get him sedated, now!” Josh shouted at the remaining security guards.  “I will not have him trying to enable another break out.”   

My heart fell as I saw a handful of guards approach the cell and get the door open; five men stormed in and I knew there was no way that he was going to stand a chance against them.  He had started a decent prison break but it had all gone wrong because he’d tried to free the most powerful person in the city.  

“Come on, Eldritch,” one of the guards muttered, “Up we get.  Back into the cell. We’ll have more tests for you soon enough.”  

I let myself be dragged away; even though I was the second strongest Adapted according to Titan, I had never felt so damnably powerless.  

It was made worse when an all too familiar voice chimed in: 

I told you that you were nothing without me. 

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