The rumble of distant thunder broke the silence as Neza stood face to face with his little sister. Saf stood vigilantly, waiting patiently for someone to clarify the situation for him. After a few minutes, Neza quietly spoke to him, “Saf, get him out of here.”
The Coming Storm
Saf didn’t question Neza, though he now wished he had. Bayna wasn’t waiting for them so they could have a chat. She was waiting to ambush them. He could tell by her aggressive stance, but the look in her eyes was far more telling. He hoped that Neza knew what he was doing.
Bayna’s legs were obviously more advanced than Neza’s. They were more compact and bore the look of a synthetic metal. Saf could tell they were more lightweight and energy-efficient just by looking at them. When she walked they made no sound at all, which put Neza’s noisy machinery to shame. She was probably much more powerful than her brother.
Saf could hear rain hitting the canopy, hundreds of feet above him. A few drops hit his shoulders as he pushed through the tree trunks toward the rendezvous point. Regan’s advice to take an indirect route seemed pointless now. Saf was determined to get to the clearing as quickly as possible to pacify his intense feelings of dread. He wanted to be there as quickly as possible so he knew which, if any, of his friends were still alive at the end of this mission.
As Saf marched, he suddenly sensed another being nearby. His nanomachines constantly surveyed his surroundings and fed him data about other large biological entities. He hoped it wasn’t another angry cyborg-Felni this time. As he got closer, he received more data and realized it was a Canis. When he got close enough, he shouted out to it, “I know you’re there. Come out.”
A large Canis Lupu with unique white markings stepped slowly from the brush. She took a passive stance in front of the enormous Rhin, with her head down and her eyes averted. “You’ve got good eyes for a Rhin” she said without looking up at him.
“I’m gifted. What are you doing here?”
“Tracking the commotion at the human city.”
“That was me.”
Montir snored loudly, as his head hung upside-down over Saf’s shoulder.
“I can see that.” the Canis chuckled lightly as she motioned to the Felni draped over Saf’s shoulder. The Arc Technologies uniform was telling of his origin.
Saf was not amused. “Are the Canis planning a follow-up attack? I’m guessing you won’t try to stop me.”
“On the contrary,” she made eye contact with him for the first time, “now that I see what you’re up to, I’d like to help.”
“I don’t need any help.” After scanning the entire body of the Canis and finding no mechanical modifications, Saf was still suspicious.
“I disagree. This area is teeming with humans right now. They deployed their stealth team to find your rendezvous point. You won’t be able to see them until you get up close. Not with your Rhin sense of smell, that is.”
“You’d be surprised.” Saf was growing impatient. “How do you know all this?”
“I’ve been tracking them. They’re not looking for a Canis. They’re looking for a Rhin, a Felni, and a human male. All of whom are heavily modified.”
Saf realized what Security team he was up against. “They’re tracking our mechanical systems…” His heart skipped a beat as he felt hopelessness creep into him.
“Right. They keep referring to themselves as Silent Shade. I suggest you follow me around their line of sight if you want to make it to your camp. Once we get there, we can start looking for your friends and taking out some Shades.”
“O… Okay.” Saf’s need for her help didn’t remedy his suspicion, however. “Why are you helping me?”
“You should know better than that. If anyone’s going to fight the humans, you can always count on the Canis being there to help if we can.”
Saf nodded in acceptance. He wasn’t exactly in a position to refuse help from anyone. He could always take comfort in one thing: if things go wrong, he will probably survive. He was born and raised to be indestructible, and each day that passed made him stronger.
But it wasn’t his own well-being that worried him.
Scars of the Past
Neza’s ears and whiskers twitched when the rain hit them. At the edge of the woods, there was less cover to protect him from the cold water that trickled down his back. The water felt heavy in his fur, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
He had thought about Bayna and Keeri a lot since he escaped the lab. The thoughts captured his mind every night before he fell asleep. He longed for seeing his sisters again. They were the only family he had left, but he had no idea where to find them. His life had taken shifting directions since he last saw them. He had no control over where he went or what he did. He still didn’t.
“You don’t look happy to see me.” Bayna finally broke the endless silence.
Neza expected this moment to be one of great joy and comfort. Re-uniting with his little sister was one of his greatest wishes, and yet this was sour. Bayna had lost every trace of peace and innocence that he remembered. She stared at him with cold, sharp eyes that he could feel stabbing him in the chest.
This wasn’t all that was eating away at him. He felt an unmistakable, suffocating guilt. He couldn’t grasp the reasoning, but seeing his sibling’s monstrous mechanical modifications had brought it on.
He finally managed to choke a few words out, “What did they do to you?”
Bayna slowly walked toward Neza. “What do you think they did to me? The same thing they did to you!”
Flashes of spontaneous memory from his experiences in the lab assaulted his mind. He labored to shut them out, as they were far more painful when he thought of those things happening to Bayna. “Bastards…”
“Is that all you can say?” Bayna was visibly furious.
Neza thought he understood her anger, but didn’t know what he could say. “I… I don’t know what to say, Bayna.”
Bayna’s face contorted into a snarl. “You can’t even apologize?” She was in shocked disbelief.
“What? I don’t understand.” Short flickers of memories revealed themselves to Neza. He could feel that something was coming back to him, but it wasn’t there yet.
Bayna stopped a few feet away. “You piece of shit,” she drew a large High-Frequency Blade the length of her full arm, “you broke your promise!”
“You swore you would go! You swore you would protect us!” Bayna was screaming at the top of her lungs. The blade shook in her hand. Her face was soaked by the rain, but somehow Neza could tell she was weeping.
He formed the words slowly as he grasped the dark memory. “I promised that I would let them take me… so that they wouldn’t take you…”
“You killed Momma! You let them take me and Keeri!”
“Bayna, I couldn’t remember…” Neza felt trapped in time. The world around him moved rapidly, but he could barely breathe. His heart felt like it had stopped. “I’m… so sorry”
As Bayna’s blade slashed toward him, time returned to its normal pace. Neza’s heart beat. His lungs pulled in air. His body moved.
Faces of Loved Ones
Neza pushed himself backward, away from the blade, but his shoulder felt the sting of the strike. Bayna pursued his retreating form so closely that the first drops of blood from his cut hit her face before they struck the ground.
Adrenaline flowed through him and his mind focused directly on combat. Bayna slashed at his waist, but he fell to the ground to avoid it. When he hit the damp forest floor, the blade passed over him and he immediately jumped up into the trees.
There was no way Neza was going to fight his sister. He had to escape. He looked down, but Bayna was no longer there. In a panic, he swept the area with his eyes. His ears picked up the vibrations of Bayna’s sword and allowed him to dodge it a split-second before it decapitated him.
Neza jumped to a parallel tree and then again to another tree. He looked back to see Bayna had disappeared again. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a moment as he tried to find her with his BIOS. As he located her, the tree he stood in shuddered violently and began to fall. He placed a marker on Bayna’s form to assist him in tracking her before leaping to another tree.
He watched her slice through the seven-foot thick tree trunk beneath him in one strong motion. The routes of escape seemed to be closing quickly. He climbed the falling tree quickly and attempted to hack into her mind. The shaft of the tree fell deeper into the woods and he used its path to jump higher into another spire.
When he accessed her systems, he saw a maze of barriers and immediately disconnected himself just before he could be counterhacked. She made no attempt to attack him through the datastream, but her BIOS were easily powerful enough for her to do so if she wanted to. As Neza watched his baby sister effortlessly leap up toward him, he felt completely outmatched in his obsolete flesh and metal.
Bayna’s blade arced toward Neza’s face and the back of his head hit the branch behind him as he tried to dodge. His vision went red and black and he felt the hot sting of a gash go through the bridge of his nose.
She kicked her sightless brother hard in the side, knocking him off the branch. He fell, blindly flailing his arms until he grasped the limb of a neighboring tree. He pulled himself onto it and wiped the blood from his eyes as Bayna jumped down to him.
He caught her wrist with one hand and grabbed her torso with his opposite arm. As they lost their balance and fell, she wrestled with him for her blade and they exchanged kicks and headbutts. Neza concentrated on holding her body as tightly to him as possible. If he never let go of her wrist, she would have limited ways to attack him.
The two fell nearly a hundred feet before crashing to the ground with Bayna underneath Neza. The impact knocked the blade from her hand and it struck her in the side. Her body contorted and Neza could hear her panicked breathing.
Neza loosened his grip and wiped more blood from his eyes. She coughed blood onto his chest. Her eyes had the same coldness to them, but terror caused them to widen. He rolled off of her quickly and checked her wound.
The gash in her side had punctured her lung, which could be fixed by a basic med kit, but she also landed on a large jagged rock. Her back was broken just below her ribcage.
Her arms waved toward him and he moved closer to her, so she could touch him. She struggled to hold her arms up, but when she did her hands found Neza’s throat. She coughed violently and her last moments of life were spent weakly trying to strangle him.