Adrift – Chapter 3

Part 1

Buddhist Monks claim that, with enough concentration and meditation, one can abandon the boundaries of the flesh and ascend to a state where the mind and the world are one… or something like that.

The way Cole was focusing on his notebook was akin to that of a monk trying to achieve a state of Zen.

“Hrmmmmm……………..´´ – A humming sound emerged from his lips as he pushed them with the eraser of his pencil. His eyes staring hard enough into the paper to bore a hole into it.

Suddenly, he burst into action; like a coiled spring being released.

“There are 32 sockets, but only 11 jacks, and of these, just 6 remained in place. Which leaves me with only 7 jacks to place, but the number of combinations is still too large for wild guessing, and keeping in mind that if i- ´´ – He sketched like mad as he spoke; drawing line after line of his schematic.

He was trying to figure out how to alter the behavior of his Caretaker Unit and how to do so without Tetlekar jettisoning him and the Unit if the later went on rampage.

“Um…. Hello…?´´ – The sound of a meek voice outside his RV suddenly broke Cole out of his thought reverie.

“Y-Yes, one moment.´´ – He arose from his seat enthusiastically and ran towards his RV’s door, which he opened rather brusquely.

“Eeek!´´ – Mizelle leaped back in a bit of a fright.

She stood there silent for a moment, as if gathering the strength to speak.

“What’s up, Mizelle? What brings you here?´´ – Cole was in such a state of mind that he didn’t even realize how nervous Mizelle was; he was on full ”Working Mode”.

“T-Tetlekar asked me to tell you that he’s already done with that machine you gave him. You can pick it up whenever you can.´´ – Said Mizelle nervously.

She seemed strangely fidgety for such a simple message.

“OK, cool. Tell him I’ll be with him in a moment.´´ – Replied Cole along with a thumbs up.

“A-Also…´´ – Mizelle’s voice trailed off as she looked to the sides and surroundings of Cole’s RV.

“Did you see Haudrica around here?´´ – That seemed to be the question she was having such a hard time to say. The mention of that name caused Cole’s over-exitement to vanish.

“N-No, not at all. Why do you ask?´´ – Now it was he who was feeling nervous.

“I haven’t seen her in the whole morning. S-She wasn’t in her bed when I woke up and I thought I had felt her smell around here. G-Guess I was wrong.´´ – Mizelle seemed very embarrassed about what she was saying for some reason.

“Okay, if I see her, I’ll tell her you came looking for her. Although I doubt she’ll even let me speak.´´ – He scratched the back of his head in a bit of embarrassment as he spoke.

“Uhm… Cole…´´ – Mizelle’s eyes became downcast; she looked like she was struggling to say something again.

“Hm?´´ – Cole lifted an eyebrow in expectancy.

“P-Please, don’t hate Haudrica. S-She’s a very good and friendly person, i-it’s just that…. that….´´ – Her voice seemed to die out as she reached the end of her sentence.

“N-Nevermind.´´ – With these cryptic last words, Mizelle ran away, leaving Cole with more questions than answer.

He stood there, watching her run away, in a mild state of confusion. But that didn’t last long.

“… Okay, guess I’d better finish this last sketch before I pick up the-´´ – He turned around and closed his door, but the moment he looked back, there was an all-too-familiar chitinous blade at his neck.

“…´´ – Haudrica’s composite eyes were landing a glare on Cole almost as sharp as the blade at his neck.

“H-Hello…´´ – Rising his arms in a surrendering gesture, Cole stuck to the wall like a cornered rat.

He could feel the fear overtaking his body and his knees starting to shake. And yet, Haudrica didn’t utter a single word; she just stared him menacingly.

“… Why…´´ – This word came out of her mouth almost as a ghastly whisper.

“… Why did you save me back there…?´´ – Haudrica cast her stare down. Her emerald-colored bangs obscuring part of her face.

“Huh?´´ – Cole’s reply to it was one of confusion.

“WHY DID YOU SAVE ME BACK THERE, DAMMIT!?´´ – Roared Haudrica as she lifted her head and pushed her blade into Cole’s neck, which caused him to retreat even further into the corner he was trapped at to avoid its sharp tip.

“You could had ran away. You could had left me behind and ran away. Ran away to save your miserable existence….´´ – Her whole hand and body where shaking as she spoke.

“… and yet, you fought against that accursed machine with nothing but a scrap of metal and a berserker’s zeal…´´ – Shaking with anger? That wasn’t too clear.

“Answer me, dammit! Tell me why did you do it or I’ll cut that lying head of your shoulders! Tell me now!!´´ – Haudrica lifted her head as she shouted this last sentence; her teeth clenched with anger and desperation in her voice.

It was then when Cole saw them; gathering in the corners of her scarlet, composite eyes, and trickling down her pale cheeks as they reached her chin and dropped to the floor.

Tears.

“I-It was instinct.´´ – Replied Cole as he looked at her in the eyes.

“I didn’t think; I just acted. I don’t know what made me do it.´´

“If I told you it was courage or bravery, or something like that, then I’d be the liar you claim I am.´´

“If you want to put the blame on something, then call it an act of madness. Because that’s what I think it was.´´

Cole’s words were filled with terror, but also with unwavering resolution. Haudrica’s eyes widened upon this answer, and the shakings of her hands became stronger.

However, just as fast as they increased, the shakings ceased. And Haudrica retracted her blade while her face took an expression that was hard to describe; like a mask put upon a mask.

“I think you are nothing but mindless savage; a beast capable of speech and of comprehending it.´´ – Haudrica looked away from Cole as she said these contemptuous words.

“However, you have proven your usefulness. And given the situation we are all in, we cannot spare to waste anything which might be useful. That’s why I am letting you live.´´ – Cole couldn’t see the face Haudrica was making, but he was pretty certain that if he saw it, his head would roll.

“T-Thanks y-´´ He didn’t get to finish his words of gratitude before he found her blade once again upon his neck. Her left arm, which had been severed before, had fully grown back again, although its chitin still was of a paler green than that of her shoulder or neck.

“Keep your empty thanks to yourself.´´ – Said Haudrica in her usual furious manner.

“Do not ever forget that, from now on, I’ll be watching you; waiting till that moment in which you’ll reveal your true colors to us all. And mark my words, that when that time comes, it’ll be my scythe the first thing you feel on your lying throat.´´ – Despite the content of her words, her tone didn’t sound as murderous as it did a while ago.

“Now move! I can’t stand another instant inside this dirty hovel.´´ – She motioned Cole to move away from the door, which she pushed as she marched away at a hasted pace.

“Whew…. what a woman…. I don’t know if she’s crazy or just hates my guts…´´ – Cole collapsed as he closed the door and leaned onto it from inside. His knees still shaking like jelly.

···

“… You’re here, I see…´´ – His voice sounded distant and hollow; as if he had gone through a Herculean ordeal.

That was indeed a rare sight; despite all Cole had seen him do, this was the first time Tetlekar had shown any sign of tiredness.

“So… was it possible?´´ – Asked Cole with an eager smile. Tetlekar rubbed one of his eyes before replying. Cole felt that, had he been human, there would surely been bags under his eyes.

“This device of yours is not old; it’s ancient. In all of my one hundred and twelve years of existence, I had never interacted with a machine so old, so primitive… and so begrimed.´´ – Said Tetlekar in a mixture of tiredness and irritation as he put his hand on the keyboard or Cole’s laptop, which laid open on top of a rusty plate of fuselage.

“Was there any reason for you to keep such a sheer quantity of…… explicit imagery showing female members of your race engaged in such a plethora of genitive and venereal acts, most of them clearly not meant to function for any kind of reproductive purposes?´´

Cole didn’t knew what made him more ashamed; the fact that Tetlekar had found ”those” or the way he had worded it.

“S-Sorry, I thought I had erased that…´´ – Cole covered his eyes as he spoke; he couldn’t deem to look at Tetlekar, let alone at Zalura, whom was also there, as he was well aware that many of the pictures in his ”collection” catered to certain unique fetishes of his.

“I had never sullied my receiving arrays with such morbid material. I am seriously starting to see the truth in Haudrica’s claims.´´ – If Tetlekar’s forehead had any veins, they’d be popping out in anger.

“Sorry…´´ – Cole apologized yet again.

“S-Still, did you manage to do it?´´ – Perhaps he was just trying to change the topic, or maybe Cole really wanted to know if his theory had been on spot.

“Despite that grisly incident, I was able to repurpose your terminal for what you plan to use it.´´

“However, keep in mind that what I did was but a shot in the shadows; I am not certain it will work as you intend or if it will ever work at all. It should be able to parse the signals, but I cannot tell you if what you will obtain will make any sense to you, or even me. And once again I tell you; please be cautious with what you do if you do not want a deep breath of deep space.´´

Based on his tone alone, Cole could notice Tetlekar was ”back to normal”.

“It’s worth a short, as it’s all I’ve got. And don’t worry, I have no intention of taking a dive out there.´´ – Stated Cole as he closed his laptop and took it with him.

————————————————————————————-

 

Part 2

“Hmhmmhm~. ´´ – Hummed Cole tunelessly as he carried the Caretaker Unit outside his RV.

Despite being barely 80 centimeters tall, the Unit weighted as if it were three times larger, which made Cole wonder just what kind alloy was its body made of.

“There! Now let’s set up these christmas lights.´´ – Said Cole as he put the Unit down next to a tall crate which now served as table for his laptop.

A colorful band of wires extended from where had previously been one of his laptop’s USB jacks, and now hung lazily at the side of it.

If both his theory about the Unit’s method of operation and Tetlekar’s modifications to his laptops workings were effective, this hack job of a robot rewiring of his could perhaps work.

“If this goes well, it’ll become my very own RJD2, if not, it’ll resurrect as a full Dalek…´´ – Muttered Cole to himself as he began bridging some of the Unit’s wires with the ones from his laptop.

“Heyo Cole! D’ya already did somethin’ worthy o’gettin’ thrown over the airlock?´´ – Desri’s usual accented voice made itself heard behind Cole.

He seemed to be in unusually good mood, and strangely enough, was in company of Mizelle.

“Hey, it’s so rare to see you two hanging together.´´ – Said Cole as he gave them a fast ”Hi!” salute before turning his hands back to his thicket of wires.

“Haudrica and Zalura are out scavengin’ right now. Ya might not b’lieve it, but they work pretty well t’gether.´´ – Replied Desri in a merry tone. He was, indeed, in an unusually good mood.

“Heh, guess she only hates me.´´ – Thought Cole as he twisted the end of two wires together.

“So, what brings ya guys here?´´ – Asked Cole noncommitantly; he was about to enter ”Working Mode”.

“Nothin’ really; just came to check o’ya to make sure weren’t doin’ anything that might doom us all.´´ – Desri’s words didn’t sound true, but Cole was too busy to press the issue now.

“And since that Unit o’ your isn’t killin’ me, I’d say we’re cool. Be seein’ ya later, water monkey.´´ – Added Desri as he turned around and headed back. It had been a while since he had called Cole that name, but it didn’t feel angry or despective this time.

Yet, his departure left Mizelle and Cole by themselves, and both remained silent until Mizelle broke the ice.

“Y-You sure know a lot about machines…´´ – That was an awkward comment, but it still made Cole happy.

“Hehe, thanks. I’m really nothing special; just a grease monkey with too much free time on his hands. There were many others more skilled than I back at my home world.´´ – Said Cole with a smile.

Yet, his smile was pretty short-lived. The mention of home brought many friendly faces to his mind.

His burger-chomping co-worker Conrad, his boss with his handlebar-stache, that bunch of friendly choppers who often came looking for spare pieces for their Harleys, that old man from a nearby city’s museum who liked to dig around for anything of historical value, the scary cop squad who had brought in the ”haunted dodge”.

Despite being far out of the city, the scrapyard had no shortage of visitors, and since his boss was almost always away during weekdays and Conrad had trouble lifting his own ass, it was Cole who often attended all of these visitors, which while not always pleasant, it was often an interesting experience.

Remembering all of this brought the dreaded questions back to Cole’s mind: Was there a way to return? Would he be able to do it? What had those he was close to done upon his disappearance? Were they sad? Did they search for him?

Before he had even noticed it, his expression had turned to one full of glum and melancholy.

“I-I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to make you sad…´´ – With these words, Mizelle bowed her head apologetically.

“It’s okay, it ain’t your fault or anything. I just… want to return home.´´ – Cole said those dreaded words; those he so earnestly tried to not think about.

“What about you; what kind of place was your home? Do you ever miss it?´´ – The ambience between them had suddenly become rather grim, so Cole tried to improve that a bit. Aside from that, he was a bit curious.

Mizelle smiled faintly and denied with her head before replying.

“I never had one; I am a Qauranite Artificial Homunculi, I was created as a multi-purpose slave.´´

*Thunk!*

Cole dropped the clipper he was holding when he heard that. She had said it so naturally it had been downright terrifying.

“W-What?´´ – He stopped all he was doing and turned around to face Mizelle.

“I don’t know the details, but I was not born by natural means.´´

“”The Qauranite Regime has some very advanced technology, but still relies on a very outdated slave-dependant feudal system.”, that’s what Haudrica told me.´´ 

“”They capture other sentient races and use them as slave labor, yet the richest and most powerful landlords have their own slaves custom-made for their own specific needs. Be it mining, farming or simply as breeding slaves to have more powerful offspring.”´´ – The way she spoke clearly indicated that she didn’t understand the meaning of what she had just said. She was just repeating those words blissfully unaware of their meaning.

Just the last part of her sentence was enough to make Cole want to puke.

“That’s why, I’m happy here. With Haudrica, with Desri, with Zalura and with Tetlekar, and of course, with you too, Cole.´´ – Declared Mizelle with a bright smile. Yet, after all she had said, even such a smile felt sad and pained.

“Mizelle…´´

“Unyah…!?´´

Perhaps it was fueled by simple protective instinct, or by a simple desire to console her. Whatever had been the reason, Cole hugged Mizelle softly, as if fearful that she would break under the pressure of his arms.

Her body felt tiny and powerless under his arms, and yet this was a girl capable of lifting an RV in the air with the power of her mind alone and that cried when others tried to get violent.

There were no ulterior motives or hidden agendas to his actions; they were fully honest and caring towards Mizelle. She seemed confused by such a sudden gesture, yet she did not seem in any way disgusted or scared of it.

“It’s okay, we’re not going anywhere. Specially me; I’m not even sure that there’s a way for me to return home so don’t worry, I’m gonna be staying here for a long while.´´ – Cole said that with a reassuring smile.

“O-Okay.´´ – Still not fully understanding what had just transpired, Mizelle replied with a smile of her own.

*Tlunk, tik*

*Bzzap!*

A long screwdriver that was sitting on the table, next to the laptop suddenly rolled out of it. Falling to the ground and shorting two wires that were still not connected.

*Hummm….*

The Unit’s pentagonal eye, which had been brown all this time, it became bright red yet again.

Cole and Mizelle’s ”Panick-o-meter” was about to show a prominent spike, until they noticed that, other than humming back to life, the Unit wasn’t doing anything at all. Even its arms, whose all parts and components Cole had gathered there, remained in the ground, unmoving.

/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Taskmaster command
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Overseer feedback
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Taskmaster command
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Overseer feedback
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Taskmaster command
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Overseer feedback
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Taskmaster command
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Overseer feedback
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.

In the black and white command screen on Cole’s laptop, these words began to repeat over and over, like a software stuck in a sub-process.

The messages went on an on for a while, filling about three screens with the same lines while Cole and Mizelle watched motionlessly. Upon certain point, however, it changed.

/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Taskmaster command
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/Caretaker Unit 317281-9 requesting Overseer feedback
/ERROR! Commlink not found or damaged.
/WARNING! Maximum number of communication attempts reached.
/Engaging Standby Maintenance Mode

/Disabling Automatic Response System…….
/SUCCESS!

/Disabling Taskmaster Adjoining Link…….
/SUCCESS!

/Disabling Overseer Dependence Override…….
/SUCCESS!

/Disabling Mainframe Hierarchical Interface…….
/SUCCESS!

/Standby Maintenance Mode Engaged
….
/External Control Interface Detected
/Awaiting Direct User Command
….

With this last words, the Caretaker Unit remained unmoving, and while Cole was no master hacker or even consider himself a ”code monkey”, he knew more than enough about computers and code to know what that last line of text meant.

“I-It worked…!´´ – His grin was so wide his mouth was starting to look like Haudrica’s.

However, as he was about to reach for the keyboard, he realized he had no idea of what to do; he didn’t even knew where to start, and one wrong command could possibly re-enable the Unit and ruin all he had accomplished, or more precisely, the screwdriver had.

“Mizelle!´´ – Excitedly, he looked at the still dumbfounded Mizelle and spoke.

“Go fetch Tetlekar. Tell him the hijack was a success. Quickly!´´ – Cole was almost drooling with overexcitement.

···

“Once again, your methods are highly unorthodox, but also fully effective. Although to be honest I am not even certain it was because of your methods.´´ – Said Tetlekar in a rather cryptic fashion as me moved his hands away from Cole’s laptop, which he finished checking.

“What do you mean?´´ – Asked Cole as he lifted an eyebrow.

“This apparatus, and this box.´´ – Replied Tetlekar as he picked up the screwdriver from the ground, it still had a pair of blackened marks on the places where the sparks flew.

He used it to aim at a tiny box where three cords converged. The box’s corners also looked a bit blackened, and they hadn’t been like that before.

“When this fell and shorted the wires, the resulting surge overloaded and destroyed this particular circuit module. Seems this was the Unit’s commlink; the part of it which relayed information to its Taskmaster, and from which it received its commands.´´ – Explained Tetlekar as he pointed to the blackened corners.

“In other words, ya cut the leash that link’d it to its master. Good job ‘dat one.´´ – Added Desri amusedly. Cole couldn’t help but chuckle at him using the words ”leash” and ”master” like that.

“It also may be worth mentioning that this Unit had no AI to speak off. Else it would had continued to function even after its commlink failed.´´ – Commented Tetlekar in what seemed to be a despective tone.

“Meaning it wasn’t an autonomous robot, but a remotely controlled drone, huh. We have those in my world, too, although they’re much more basic.´´ – Said Cole as he put his hand on the ”head” of the Unit. It was warm to the touch and it vibrated slightly, like a refrigerator.

“So, what can we do with it now? Since my original idea of rigging its AI to open up storages won’t work as it lacks an AI to rig up, what uses could this Unit still have?´´ – Cole seemed to have lost quite a bit of enthusiasm upon learning the Unit was closer to a remote-controlled car than an actual sentient robot.

“On the contrary, even in this current state, it remains versatile for a variety of purposes. However, with the right know-how it could be, shall we say, repurposed for what you had originally intended to make use of it for.´´ – Now it was Tetlekar whom remained substantially interested in the Unit.

“And just how do we do that? For such a thing I would need to have some very detailed schematics of how its systems work, and I highly doubt that those are lying around.´´ – Said Cole in an analytic manner.

“Actually, I can solve that. Now that it’s active, I could use my sensors to map its inner workings and create a set of schematics that, while not one hundred percent exact, should be more than enough to figure what need to be changed and/or replaced in it.´´ – Commented Tetlekar as he rubbed his chin.

“Well, that sounds like a plan to me. Get me those schematics, and I’ll do the scrap diving to find whatever we need and install it.´´ – Cole had just gotten his motivation back.

————————————————————————————-

 

Part 3

The anniversary of Cole’s first week on the Phylactery had a rather dull arrival.

Not being able to work with his Unit until Tetlekar had mapped out its schematics and not being able to do any mild-to-heavy work as his arms had yet to fully heal.

In the meantime, he began to do his own mapping; not of his Unit, but of the NVSC9, which had more stuff than he had imagined. As knowing the ”where was what” would most certainly help in many of his future projects.

“Electronic scrap, usable glass panels, heavy metal plating, weird wash machine-shaped thingie, some functioning lights, old tires….´´

Cole walked around the piles as he wrote down a few descriptions about them on a crude map he had sketched on his notebook.

There were many strange, unrecognizable artifacts amongst the more mundane junk. However, he was starting to classify those as ”Oddities” and merely marked their location to check on them later, hopefully with the help of Desri or Tetlekar.

After a few more piles, Cole considered his daily mapping done, closed his notebook and began to walk back to the RV, until the sound of an unusual conversation reached his ears.

“ToH’dOaH, iTA uaL. KUra iT taKLada’eR.´´

It was those familiar but still-incomprehensible words. Which had been the first friendly gesture he had received upon arrival.

“Cha, kura ed’sala. Taklada’er sri ual’lala.´´ – Speaking in the same dialect but a different accent, Desri replied to whatever Zalura had said in a rather upbeat manner.

Sprawled in the ground in front of them was a square of what was either tarp or some similar material. Countless parts and components were laid upon; some rusty and tarnished and some smooth and clean. All of them but one completely unrecognizable to Cole, and that one was the barrel of Zalura’s gun.

She was on her knees, polishing it dutifully with a dirty rag. It then became rather obvious what they were doing.

“Hey guys! Doing weapon maintenance?´´ – Said Cole as he made his presence know.

*Beep*

There was that sound again as both Desri and Zalura manipulated some sort of pin they wore on the neck of their shirts.

“Maint’nance? Nah, more like reducin’ the chances o’ it blowin’ up next time she fires it.´´ – Remarked Desri amusedly.

“NOT enOUgH sParE parTS fOr proPEr maInTEnancE.´´ – Zalura’s statement showed considerable concern.

With this last words, she put the rag down and began to assemble her weapon with a considerable speed. Having four hands certainly made this kind of job easier.

“TEtlekAr aND ZALura goiNg tO danGEroUs plACe nOW. WEapon caN’T FAil thERe, ELse DeAd.´´ – She added as she slotted the last part of her gun into place.

To Cole, Zalura’s weapon looked like the bastard lovechild of a flamethrower, a bazooka and a light machinegun. A wide barrel on a long stock and set with four ”tanks” on the sides, along with many other mechanical and electronic parts. According to Desri, that kind of weapon was called a ”Thermosupressor”; a sort of heat ray meant to make the victim faint from internal overheating rather than actually burning them, although Zalura had modified it to be an effective killing weapon.

“Where are you going?´´ – Cole asked that with both concern and curiosity.

“To a place ya already know well; the O’ganic Collector 73. We need some real meat.´´ – It was Desri who replied.

“… Real meat?´´ – Those words made Cole rather nervous.

“Despite the fact the flavor is emulated accurately, the meat made by the synthesizer lacks some important components found in real, organic meat. Proteins, for instance. And long periods of not ingesting protein can lead to some undesirable medical conditions, and such must be prevented at all costs.´´ – Sporting his usual proper way of speaking, Tetlekar made his entrance, accompanied by Mizelle, whom reacted to Cole’s presence with a warm yet silent smile.

“TEtlekAr, aLl reaDY.´´ – Stated Zalura in a very soldier-like fashion. Tetlekar gave a nod of approval.

“So, y’can ‘spect some real exotic supper today, hahaha.´´ – Continued Desri rather amusedly.

With no further exchange of words, Zalura, Tetlekar and Mizelle headed out. Leaving only Cole and Desri behind, and Haudrica, who was sleeping.

“Uwaaa… Nothin’ t’do but wait and waste time till they all get back.´´ – Said Desri with a yawn.

“Say, mind if I ask you something?´´ – Cole spoke after a brief pause.

“Shoot.´´ – Retorted Desri nonchalantly as he climbed onto a wreck and sat atop of it.

“What is that language you and Zalura often speak with? I haven’t seen anyone else speak it and you don’t seem to use it when talking to anyone other than Zalura.´´ – Cole asked that question that had been puzzling him for a while now, and Desri seemed rather happy about this inquiry.

“It’s called Uluk; it’s the native tongue o’ Zalura’s hom’world. Very hard to speak for many races as it relies strongly on the c’ntrast in the sound o’ the syllables and the wave these produce when spoken.´´ – Replied Desri in a rather savvy tone.

“She comes from a tiny planet called Uluthazcia. Place’s rather warm an’ almost entirely cov’red in dense, rainy junglelands and deep bogs which are ripe with dang’rous predators. However, it also has one o’ the largest d’posits o’ rare minerals and fuels on its quadrant, so it soon b’came a target for the greedy minin’ guilds o’ the Oularnian Plutarchy.´´ – Desri motioned Cole to sit down nearby as he was in for a long story.

“How’ver, ’em fools would soon find out that comin’ un’nvited into som’one else’s planet and startin’ to remove large chunks o’ soil would inev’tably attract the hostile attention o’ the local natives, and d’spite their technological inferiority, ’em Uluthazcians gave the Oularnians a sound ass beatin’. So, after a few disastrous campaigns, ’em guildmasters had to swallow their pride an’ make peace with the Uluthazcians.´´

“Still, the tales o’ their ferocity an’ tactical genius found its way to the high c’mmand of the Plutarchy’s military, and they soon b’gan to pepper their planet with recruitment stations. That’s the part where I come in, haha.´´ – Desri raised his muzzle boastfully.

“Da lingustic barriers were b’coming a serious trouble; there were even a few skirm’shes due to simple misunderstandin’s. So, the Plutarchy gath’red the best linguists their fat pockets could cost to study and learn their tongue, m’self included. There we spent ’bout two years makin’ sense of it and teachin’ it to ’em Plutarchy’s officers. From there we-´´

For almost an hour, Desri continued talking almost non-stop; about his adventures in Uluthazcia, the people he met there, the Uluthazcians customs and culture, their real spicy food and many other things. Cole continued to listen attentively, only interrupting to clarify some particulars bits of information.

As he spoke, Cole couldn’t help but imagine how fascinating would it be to go such a place, or roving from planet to planet for a living like many friends that Desri mentioned did for a living. There was a whole universe out there; way from home at Earth, and away from the cage of the Phylactery, and he now wanted to see it.

“-and they have this sort o’celebration where their women dance ’round in skimpy clo-´´

*Blam!*

As Desri was making a rather obscene comment, an echoing bang resounded on the NVSC9’s exit shutter.

“Help…´´

As Cole and Desri came upon it, this word emerged from the other side of the shutter almost as a whimper.

“Mizelle!?´´ – She collapsed into Cole’s arms as Desri opened the shutter.

Her arms and legs were covered in cuts and scratches, many of them quite deep and bleeding.

“Cole… Help… Zalu.. ra… Tetle… trapped…´´ – Her weak words were barely leaving her throat. She was in grave danger.

“Get her to bed, quickly! I’ll bring Haudrica before she bleeds to death.´´ – With these parting words, Desri dashed away, and Cole did the same towards Mizelle’s home.

···

Mizelle’s home reminded Cole of a Type 2 Volkswagen, although it was clearly not from Earth, and unsurprisingly, it was just behind Haudrica’s wagon home. It had no door, so Cole just went inside and placed her on the collection of old pillows she called a bed.

As he carried her, her already tattered clothes had fallen apart, revealing a pair of modest, almost childlike, but well-formed breasts. However, Cole was so focused on what he was doing that he hadn’t even looked at them.

Her wounds were bleeding quite a lot, and there wasn’t even anything around he could use to give her a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

There was nothing he could do, so he left her there and went to look for Desri and Haudrica.

“She’s ready, where’s Hau-´´

“SCRAM!´´

He didn’t have to look much. As he exited Mizelle’s place, Haudrica came in running like a tornado, pushing him out of the way without any delicacy.

Her expression was of absolute terror and she also looked like she was holding back her tears.

“Move it!´´ – Now it was Desri whom went in, running on four legs.

Cole stood there for a moment, dumbfounded and unable to reacted.

“Mizelle…´´ – This had been too much of a shock to him; all he could do was to stare blankly at her blood, still on his hands.

“I’m here, is there anything I can do to help?´´

Coming back to his senses, Cole followed after Desri and Haudrica, and upon doing so, he saw something disturbing.

“Yes, shut up and let me work!!´´ – Lashed back Haudrica as she turned her head to look at Cole, which was when he saw it.

Despite its ear-to-ear length being plainly visible, Haudrica always kept most of her mouth closed, which made it look like an almost normal human mouth. However, now she had opened her mouth in full, and a pair of vicious-looking mandibles had emerged from within her cheeks. It was scary enough to make freeze Cole in his place, but that was just the start of it.

*Shwatch*

Without doing as much as flinching, Haudrica brought her left hand to her mandibles and chopped her pinky and ring fingers in half.

The liquid that came from her cut fingers wasn’t blood but a clear-green and viscous substance that reminded Cole of liquid soap. Yet, he was to terrified about the whole thing he didn’t even comment on it.

“Gggh!´´

Haudrica’s face contorted with pain as she squeezed her finger stumps like a tube of toothpaste, the clear-green liquid pouring into the largest of Mizelle’s wounds. When it entered in contact with her blood, the liquid began to harden like a crystal, sealing all of her bleeding cuts almost instantly.

“This… this will be enough. Her life isn’t in danger any more.´´ – This was perhaps the first time Cole had seen Haudrica’s look of relief. Her voice sounded a bit strange due to her mandibles.

“W-Will she be okay?´´ – Asked Cole as he recovered from his shock.

“As long as she eats well and doesn’t bleed any more, she will.´´ – Replied Desri, also in a relieved tone.

“Hau… drica…´´ – Mizelle spoke softly and weakly.

“Mizelle! Talk to me! Who did this to you!?´´ – Cried Haudrica in desperation.

“Zalura…. Tetlekar… trapped in… collector… please save… them…´´ – She breathed heavily as she said every word.

“What happened out there?´´ – Asked Cole in urgency. Mizelle breathed in an out a couple of times before replying.

“… A regenerating… aberration…´´

Her reply instilled fear in all those who heard it.

The prospect was now looking very grim.

<End of Chapter 3>

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