‘‘Would you please give me a hand with this?’‘ Tetlekar was trying to pry open the panels in his leg and failing.
Whatever alloy Tetlekar was made of, it seemed to become completely feather light whenever it received electrical charges. When it didn’t however, it was heavier than basalt. He was having a very hard time moving his malfunctioning leg, but when Cole tried to help him push it, he couldn’t even budge it an inch.
The flow of sparks coming between the plates of his shin shone in green and purple colors, like the back of a CD.
‘‘Does it hurt?’‘ Cole jammed a screwdriver between the plates as he asked.
‘‘I have no pain receptors, but the constant surges and power spikes generated by this damage are disrupting my motor system. It makes me feel… disoriented.’‘ Replied Tetlekar as Cole pried out one of the plates, revealing a set of crystalline, colorful wires connecting to many odd-shaped grey boxes, each of them marked with a tiny diamond-shaped crystal.
‘‘Whoa, mind telling me what should I do?’‘ Cole was a bit overwhelmed by the strange technology.
‘‘Look for a cracked crystal, or one that’s turned red.’‘ Explained Tetlekar as he leaned onto the wall.
‘‘Haudrica, fill me in with the situation.’‘ He added as he turned his head towards her.
‘‘Haah… Not much to say. Mizelle’s safe back at the collector, the mutt is faithfully waiting for us on the observation tunnel, Zalura lost her weapon, the savage got a few new toys and we’re now stuck in this locked room with no supplies, weapons or any way to escape alive.’‘ Said Haudrica with a sigh of pure exasperation.
‘‘A real optimist, aren’t ya?’‘ Snarked Cole.
‘‘I am just stating the facts, savage. Can your mind process such a simple thing?’‘ Retorted Haudrica in a loud, disdainful tone.
Cole just let out a sigh of exasperation as he continued to work on Tetlekar’s leg.
‘‘Is that what I believe it is?’‘ Inquired Tetlekar as he noticed the Access Key hanging from Cole’s neck.
‘‘Yeah, although it hasn’t been working well so far; it only worked once to open a door but-Oh! I think I found it.’‘ Cole didn’t finish his phrase as he pointed to one of the many diamond-shaped crystals. It had indeed turned reddish.
Strangely enough, Tetlekar smiled at this revelation.
‘‘Far less complex than I expected. Leave the rest to me, I can finish this by myself.’‘
With these words, he pulled out the crystal, which was about as long as a spark plug and replaced it with another one from another component.
Cole just left him to his own devices.
‘‘Anyway let’s see what we can do here…’‘ He said as he moved towards the consoles under the window.
This console’s layout was far more complex than that of the previous control room; aside from the gauges, knobs and lights from before, there were also a couple of small monitors and a larger one in the center with a sort of semicircular key panel under it. All its keys covered in strange characters. However, unlike the previous control room, everything seemed active and functional. For him, it was a bit overwhelming.
‘‘Hrrk….’‘ He groaned.
His complete illiteracy regarding those symbols made him feel that perhaps he had bitten far more than what he could chew.
‘‘Maybe this one?’‘ He didn’t think too much; he just pushed a lone, squarish blue button on the lower left of the console, which made a distinct blip.
A sound like that of a sealed room depressurizing followed shortly there after.
‘‘Eeek!’‘ Cried out Haudrica in a strangely girly tone as she dashed away from the wall that had just opened and what had fallen from inside it.
Emerging from the opening in the wall and plummeting down as it fell apart, the moldy carcass of some animal almost fell upon Haudrica.
‘‘Y-Y-You… you…’‘ She was shaking, both with anger and because of the fright. Cole remained speechless, although in his face there was a clear expression of ”Oh shit!”.
‘‘YOU NUMBSKULLED MORON!!’‘ Cried out Haudrica as she moved in that lightning fast speed and reached for Cole’s neck, lifting him from the ground.
‘‘I’ve just had it with you! You go around poking and tinkering with all the machines and dangerous stuff that could kill us all like a child searching for something to play with! Machines whose most basic components your primitive mind can’t even fathom, yet you act as if you knew all about them!’‘ She fumed up so much she might as well had been breathing fire.
‘‘If I am going to die here, I’ll do such knowing that I squeezed the life out of you!’‘
‘‘I… can’t breathe…’‘ Cole’s face was starting to turn blue. She was serious.
‘‘Haudrica, this is not the time for that. Put him down, now.’‘ However, although he maintained his usual neutral expression, Tetlekar’s voice was far more terrifying than Haudrica’s.
‘‘Tsk, fine. Why are you always protecting this maggot?’‘ Replied Haudrica as she let go off Cole’s neck.
‘‘Maybe because I don’t spend most of my time badmouthing everyone.’‘ Thought Cole as he regained his breath while trying to get up.
But, as he did so, he accidentally pushed another button in the console.
‘‘Oh man…’‘ He thought as he expected something bad to happen to Haudrica again, having him end up with her strangling him AGAIN.
However, it didn’t happen; no secret doors opened or skeletons fell from closets.
Instead, a sort of hazy holographic projection emerged from the console.
At first, it gave out a few flashes of white, but before anyone could react to it, a masked figure appeared on it, and it began talking. Although more than an actual mask, it looked like some sort of hazmat suit.
The figure spoke in a soft and rather intellectual-sounding voice, yet not a single one of his words made any sense to Cole. He couldn’t even tell where a word started and where another ended. It was like hearing a documentary tape spoken in a foreign language while it was being re-winded.
‘‘Do you guys get any of what’s he saying?’‘ Asked Cole as he looked back towards Tetlekar and Zalura. Both shook their heads in denial before replying.
‘‘None of my language protocols match it.’‘ Replied Tetlekar as he looked at the projection with a rather scrutinizing gaze.
‘‘DEsri wOUld knOw.’‘ Zalura sounded a tad melancholic.
‘‘Could you guys shut up! I’m trying to listen here!’‘
Haudrica lashed back at everybody all of a sudden, which was when they noticed she had been listening to the projection attentively.
And after a brief silence, she began speaking, or more precisely, translating.
‘‘”This is Cador Phon, Assistant Xenobiologist speaking from the main control room of the Organic Collector where I’ve locked myself into. I am recording this log so it might serve of help to whatever sort of rescue squad or scavenger team ever comes for us, although I dearly hope that no one will be that unlucky.”‘‘
‘‘”It’s been almost a week now since the issues first began. The systems have gotten erratic and glitchy to the point we feel lucky the whole station hasn’t broken apart. Systems under the direct control of the Mainframe either don’t work as they should or refuse to accept our commands entirely, yet both Main Command and the Bridge Crew have maintained total silence with us. Some of the guys at the Science Teams believe they might not even be alive anymore. Systems under the control of local Overseer Units seem to work without issue, although they seem to have problems in communicating between them; no issues to report on Automated Maintenance.”‘‘
‘‘”The Crew’s morale is not doing so well, however; fights have broken between the Security Detachments and the Engineering Teams over access to the storages; the Engineers want to cut a pathway to the Bridge through the old maintenance tunnels, but for that, they need better equipment, but the Security guys don’t let them as they fear mutiny. It has been nothing but bickering and shouts so far, but given their highly trigger-happy tendencies and their lack of common sense that Security Commander Irmaugh has shown so far, it won’t be long till someone gets shot. We, on the Science Team, are feeling the pressure as well, but we’ve managed to keep it together so far.”‘‘
‘‘”As for myself, the reason I’ve locked myself in this control room is due to the Gyenmel we extracted from a world about last month having a sudden bout of explosive growth, accompanied by-.”‘‘
The recording freezes and the image starts looking fussy, as if someone had paused it.
Everyone remains in silence for a moment, expecting the recording to continue, but it doesn’t.
‘‘Just what was that about?’‘ Commented Cole as he approached to the console, taking a better look at the frozen image.
‘‘It was Jyakxue, and a very fluent speaker of it.’‘ Haudrica’s reply showed a newfound interest.
‘‘Jiak… juak… cui?’‘ Cole’s tongue failed to repeat that alien word.
‘‘A dead language belonging to long-gone Jya folk. I am more surprised by fact that you understand it than by the fact that crewman spoke it.’‘
Widening his eyes in surprise, Tetlekar spoke to Haudrica, whose reply was accompanied of a wide, pride-clad grin.
‘‘Let’s just say that Irisonian Border Fleet has many a way to codify secret orders, Jyakxue being one I’m good with.’‘ She boasted mockingly, puffing her chest. It was quite strange to see her so proud of something.
However, just as she was about to add something, the projection twitched to life again, and it did so with a shout.
The camera was now pointing down, looking at the keypad, as if it had fallen from whatever was holding it. And more shouts can be heard in the audio.
‘‘”Control that damned thing.”‘‘ Haudrica translated.
More shouts were heard, although these sounded rather distorted and muffled. Then a hand was seen pressing some keys, and the projection disappeared completely.
‘‘What did it say?’‘ Asked Tetlekar.
‘‘I couldn’t make it out; something ”air duct”, then ”breach” and ”power failure”. Everything else is all jumbled.’‘ Replied Haudrica, rubbing her chin ponderously.
‘‘Maybe that creature happened.’‘ Cole pointed to the Regenerator outside, still thrashing around.
‘‘Could be, but right now, I’m more concerned about how do we get out of here. Zalura, do you think that-’‘ Tetlekar turned his head around as he said his second sentence, only to notice that Zalura wasn’t anywhere in the room.
‘‘Zalura?’‘ He called out.
‘‘BAck hEre.’‘ And her reply sounded from the hatch which the carcass had fallen from.
On the other side of the hatch was a rather cramped room, which was featureless save for a rusty ladder going into a hole on ceiling.
‘‘Did you find something?’‘ Asked Cole as he approached Zalura. Haudrica and Tetlekar following behind.
‘‘TheRE iS An aIr cuRrENt cOmINg frOm hERe. MIghT bE aN eXIt.’‘
With these words, she tried to climb the rusty ladder.
Only for it to practically crumble under her weight. The bar she stepped on snapped, and the side she held on bent effortlessly.
Had her skin not been so red already, her face would had reddened with shame.
‘‘Don’t worry about it. It was already quite rusty, so it was pretty prone to collapsing.’‘ Replied Cole as he advanced towards the ladder.
‘‘Hmm….’‘ He muttered, as he turned on his Zap-Light and aimed at the hole where the ladder led.
The metallic gleam of the tunnel’s roof was rather far away; it was tall enough for one person to walk in without having to kneel. However, there was also a rank smell on the air coming from it; like a mixture between the smell of wet dog and the stench of a long-dead roadkill.
‘‘Zalura, lift me up.’‘ Cole pointed to the opening as he said that.
Grabbing him from his shins and knees, Zalura raised him slowly into the tunnel.
The tunnel was like a ventilation shaft, but about ten times bigger than what he had expected; there was enough space for a compact car to go through unhindered.
Looking around, however, revealed something unnerving; footprints, bloody foot prints, long since dried up, heading into the tunnel.
‘‘Maybe it was that crewman from the video, he could had been hurt by that beast back there.’‘ Thought Cole as he looked down at the entry hatch.
‘‘There might be a way out here! Come on.’‘ He said as he motioned everyone to climb up as well.
Other than the clangor of their own steps and darkness, there was absolutely nothing within the ventilation shaft.
The bloody footprints grew thinner and thinner as they advanced, until they vanished from the floor. The only thing that didn’t go away was the rank smell of wet roadkill.
‘‘Just how far does this damn thing go?’‘ Complained Haudrica as she stood next to Cole in the lead, this fact alone being the source of most of her annoyance.
Even without a clock, he could feel like they had been already walking for at least one hour, and other than a couple turns, the tunnel showed no exits at all.
‘‘To be completely honest, I believe anywhere will be a better place to be than next to the Regenerator.’‘ Commented Tetlekar as he made some adjustments on a panel under his wrist.
‘‘As long as we don’t end up surrounded by Units, yes. But given how far we are going, the chance of running into a Security Unit, or worse, a Keeper Unit, grows by every step we take into uncharted tunnels.’‘
Although she was doing her best to hide it, there was a tinge of fear in her words.
‘‘Hey, look!’‘ Cole was about to reply her, but something ahead drew his attention.
On the floor not far from them was a hole with a ladder, and with a tenuous light coming from it. It wasn’t too different from the one that had led them to the tunnel.
‘‘Maybe this is our exit.’‘ Said Cole enthusiastically as he headed down the hatch. Fortunately, the ladder didn’t break.
‘‘Hm… a storage room?’‘
The room down below was rather unassuming; only a couple empty shelves, a few small metallic boxes, and what seemed to be a tall sack leaning onto the wall on a far corner. On one end, there was a broken door, leading to a vacant corridor.
‘‘Come down, everyone. Here’s our way o-oh damn.’‘ Cole’s call was cut short the moment he noticed what the ”sack” on the corner was.
‘‘Is something the matter?’‘ Inquired Tetlekar as he landed on the floor.
‘‘See for yourself.’‘ Replied Cole as he aimed his Zap-Light at the corner.
Sitting on a pool of dry blood and leaning onto the wall. His hand clutching a wound badly bandaged over his protective suit. His legs looking as if something chewed on them, but the color and design of his suit made it easy enough for him to be recognized.
‘‘It’s that crewman from the recording… Cador Phon, huh? Poor bastard.’‘
It was Haudrica who made that comment.
‘‘A tragic end, undoubtedly.’‘ Added Tetlekar as he scrapped a bit of dry blood from the floor and pressed it against his thumb and index finger, a few tiny lights crossed his eyes when he did it.
‘‘…. Qauranite…’‘ He muttered.
‘‘Although I cannot quite ascertain how long has he been dead due to an apparent malfunction, I am certain he was a Qauranite. He must bleed to death here.’‘ He added as he wiped his hand.
‘‘Heh, serves him right, slaver bastard.’‘ Said Haudrica as she spat on the corpse disrespectfully.
Cole wanted to say something back to her; this ceaseless scorn of hers towards almost everything and everyone was starting to get on his nerves. The only thing that stopped him from doing so was being well-aware of his own ignorance.
He was, after all, a stranger in that universe; conceptions and biases that were probably common knowledge to all his companions were, in the most literal sense, entirely alien to him, and if there was one thing he had since long learned, was that giving out opinions without truly knowing was one good way to get trouble.
‘‘… Anyway, let’s go out and see if we can get our bearings. We need to go back to Desri.’‘ Said Cole, as nonchalantly as he could.
The old dog practically charged towards Zalura the moment he saw her, his tail waging happily.
‘‘Geez, we’re all here, y’know.’‘ Jested Cole as the overly happy Desri.
The storage room they had ended up at hadn’t been that far away from the Organic Collector’s entrance, which made Cole think that maybe the tunnel had gone around in a circle.
Desri himself had merely gone back to the Organic Collector’s lobby, waiting for everyone to return. And he had used that time to gather some meat from all the aberrations that Haudrica had sliced. Not the most pleasant pastime, but that was the main reason they had all gone there after all.
‘‘Jyakxue!? Yer pullin’ my tail, dude.’‘
Surprise, amusement and disbelief washed over Desri’s face.
Haudrica and Tetlekar had gone to secure the way to the NVSC9 as Cole, along with Zalura and Desri, carried all the meat-filled rucksacks.
‘‘I’ve known o’ some folks who could und’rstand a few words o’ it, maybe write a basic sent’nce or two, but listenin’ to a whole convers’tion o’ it an’ understandin’ it? Not even ma mentor could pull ‘dat one out, an’ he was a fella who knew his stuff. I think Haudrica’s playin’ ya guys for fools.’‘ Continued Desri as he passed one of the rucksacks to Cole.
‘‘Well, I really don’t know enough to fully confirm or dismiss her skill. But I’ve seen many people pretend they can translate something they can’t even read, and you can usually tell them apart quite easily.’‘ Replied Cole as he put the rucksack on his back begrudgingly; the meat inside smelled quite bad and was still soaking both the rucksack and his back on blood.
‘‘It iS tHE tRuTh DEsri. HaUdRIcA dId nOT LoOk likE A LIAr.’‘ Added Zalura, who was also burdened with many of the leaking rucksacks.
Desri’s reply was preceded by a sigh.
‘‘Suit y’self, guys. I’ll hafta see this t’believe it.’‘ His tone of voice made clear he didn’t believe a word of it.
The return journey to the NVSC9 was fortunately uneventful; the only significant happening being Cole’s jumpsuit getting soaked in smelly fluids.
‘‘Heyo! Open up!’‘ Cole bashed the entrance shutter brusquely. The only thought on his mind being how glad he was that he had previously fixed the RV’s shower and water pipes; he just wanted to take a good bath.
‘‘Understood.’‘ Tetlekar’s calm voice echoed from the other side of the shutter as it opened.
‘‘Welcome back. The preparations are ready. Today, we shall eat meat.’‘
With an expression worthy of a proud chef serving his best dish to a wealthy customer, Tetlekar pointed to the boiling stewpot with the spoon he was holding.
Cole, however, wasn’t too excited.
‘‘Here you go, be right back.’‘ He practically threw his rucksack at Tetlekar, whom stared back at Cole with a confused expression as the latter ran towards his RV home like a rabbit.
‘‘Feelin’ better? Saved one bowl o’ ab’rration stew fer ya.’‘
This was Desri’s greeting to Cole when he arrived at the stew pot after almost an hour of back scrubbing and clothes washing.
‘‘I’ll be once I’m back in my own clothes; these ones smell of dust.’‘ . He replied as he took the dented bowl that he was being offered. And while the stew wasn’t half bad, but Cole did an extra effort just to not think about the ingredients.
He was wearing a musty pair of jeans and an orange shirt that was way too big for him. But until his jumpsuit and undershirt dried, that was all he had.
‘‘So, where’s everybody else?’‘ Asked Cole as he noticed only he and Desri still sat by the pot.
‘‘Zalura’s gon’ wreck-divin’ to see if she can find a new weap’n, Haudrica’s tending Mizelle’s wounds an’ Tetlekar at his place, patchin’ h’mself up. Just ya ‘n me for lunch.’‘ Explained Desri as he finished the stew he had left.
‘‘I see, and I take you’re feeling better too.’‘ Inquired Cole as he continued to eat his stew.
‘‘Whatcha talkin’ ’bout? I haven’t felt bad at all.’‘ Replied Desri with a smile.
But Cole hadn’t forgotten of how depressed Desri had gotten back at the control room, so it felt really strange to see him so upbeat; there had to be something wrong.
‘‘I was just asking because you looked pretty bad when we got trapped. Like you had… given up on life?’‘ He pressed the issue as politely as he could.
Desri almost dropped his bowl when Cole said this, but managed to catch it before it fell down.
‘‘Haaaah… Guess ya do pay att’ntion.’‘ He said remorsefully with a sigh, turning around to face Cole as he did so.
‘‘Say pup, d’ya have relatives back home? Parents or children whom may worry ’bout yer dis’ppearance?’‘ Asked Desri as he looked at Cole in the eyes.
‘‘…’‘ Cole’s expression became rather grim.
‘‘Relatives no; I’m a runaway, I fled home when I was much younger to carve myself a life. My parent’s didn’t even bother to look for me then, so I highly doubt they even think of me.’‘ Said Cole bitterly.
‘‘However, while I had no relatives, I did have a family.’‘ He added, his expression now taking a more melancholic look.
‘‘It’s the same thing, pup.’‘ Stated Desri with a hollow smile.
‘‘No it’s not!’‘ Interjected Cole rather brusquely, making Desri lift an eyebrow in surprise.
‘‘Your relatives are imposed upon you, and often come with a sense of entitlement that they own your life just because you crawled out of one of their orifices. Your family, however, is the people you choose to bring into your life; those friends who’ve proven they’re more than just casual acquaintances, and that will sometimes stick out their necks to help you out.’‘
There was rage in his words; an old, contained rage that wasn’t directed at Desri.
‘‘Your race is strange indeed.’‘ Commented Desri amusedly.
‘‘Well, speaking those terms, what I had back home were indeed a family…’‘
With this words, he turned to the side, gazing upon the corrugated metal wall that stood not far away. He looked at it in silence, as if he was trying to see the stars that shone beyond it.
‘‘It’s been four, a’most five, years since I left m’home planet of Khadri in the miss’on that brought me to this damn’ble place. It might not seem much time t’ya, but my kind lifespan ain’t very long; we mature fast, we grow old an’ weak, and then we finally die, rarely past our second decade.’‘ He explained.
‘‘Thing is, I left my two young sons and a newly born daughter back home, along with my wife, my brothers and their own children.’‘
‘‘Most o’ the time, I try to not think ’bout it; mopin’ aroun’ won’t bring food to m’plate or make ’em Units go away, so I instead focus at the problems I have at hand, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think ’bout them.’‘
‘‘Now an’ then, whenever I find m’self in a s’tuation I b’lieve I won’t walk from, I start feelin’ regret an’ melancholy; what if I hadn’t taken dat job? What if I had told the nav’gator to take ‘nother route? Would I be back home with ’em? Seein’ my pups grow and agin’ along with m’wife? The mem’ries som’times get unbear’bly wrackin’…’‘
As he spoke, Desri seemed to sink into himself; a strong sense of guilt oozing from his every word. He made a small pause to sigh and to wipe away the tears that had made their way to the corners of his eyes.
‘‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pried in.’‘
Cole lowered his head penitently as he spoke.
‘‘Don’t be, lad. Don’t burden y’self with the sorrows o’this old dog.’‘ Replied Desri with a strange form of encouragement.
‘‘But in da end, I only got two choices; I can spend me ev’ryday mopin’ around, bellowin’ and cursin’ like a certain Irisonian bitch while makin’ the lives o’all those ’round me miserable, or I can just tough it up, smile, and keep walkin’ forward while I hope that, at the end, I may see m’family again.’‘
He rose from his seat as he spoke in a manner that could only be described as solemn.
‘‘So, if there’s any lesson y’can learn from my failin’s, is that y’sometimes oughta listen to yer guts and emotions instead o’ your brain an’ common sense. Even if ya don’t see the results ‘mmediately, sometimes ya just gotta do what ya b’lieve is best, wh’tever this may be.’‘ Added Desri as he once again sported that somewhat smug smile often found on his face.
He was back to his old self.
‘‘Haah…. This is getting nowhere…’‘ Frowning his brow with indignation, Cole wiped away the sweat that clung to it.
He was quite proud of his skill handling machines, but now and then, something would prove to be too much of a challenge for him.
In front of him laid a power generator, or at the very least, that had been the idea behind it.
Having given up on using any sort of ”Alien Power Source”, he tried to build an old-fashioned electric generator using what had at hand. But despite having more or less all the parts he needed, the lack of a working gas engine and fuel to make it work or at least a decently sized electric one and enough car batteries was making his efforts futile.
‘‘These batteries are all dry, and I’d sooner find a whole tanker worth of gasoline than any sulfuric acid here.’‘ Muttered Cole as he removed all the caps of a car battery and turned it upside-down. Only rust fell from the orifices.
A meek yet polite greeting. Cole didn’t even have to look back to realize who was there.
‘‘Heyo Mizelle! How are you feeling?’‘ He put down the battery he was holding and turned around.
She now looked far better than she had two days ago; her wounds were many, and some of them quite deep, but under Haudrica’s intensive care, she had healed in no time.
‘‘Much better. Now I can finally walk again by myself.’‘ She hopped a bit to the side to show her legs’ full mobility, although some scars were still visible.
‘‘What about you?’‘ She added.
‘‘I’m OK; more than anything I got plenty of big scares. But its thanks to you that both me and Desri are still alive, so thanks.’‘ Said Cole as he flashed a genuine smile.
‘‘…. Huh?’‘ Mizelle leaned her head in confusion.
‘‘B-But I didn’t do anything.’‘ She said, sounding somewhat guilty.
‘‘Eh? But Haudrica said she had gone to help us because you asked her to.’‘
Now Cole was the confused one. But strangely enough, Mizelle suddenly smiled.
‘‘I fell unconscious; my last memory after I got back is that of Haudrica healing my wounds, and when I woke up next, you were all gone already. So if Haudrica came to your rescue, it was something she herself wanted to do.’‘ There was an odd sense of happiness in her words.
‘‘But… why would she lie about that?’‘ Asked Cole amusedly. His words heavy with both surprise and disbelief.
‘‘Haudrica is a good person, but… she’s afraid of other people. She has suffered a lot at the hands of many people, even those who claimed to be her friends. That is why she tries to keep others away; she’s just afraid that you might hurt her.’‘
There was sadness in Mizelle’s words, and perhaps also a feeling of powerlessness; she clearly cared a lot about Haudrica, maybe even more than what she cared about her.
‘‘Geez, that’s just-’‘ Cole shook his head before speaking those words, but his sentence was cut short before he was done saying them.
‘‘Hey! Mizelle! Where are you?’‘ Following a loud cry, the aforementioned person made her presence known.
‘‘Haudrica.’‘ She called her out.
‘‘Ah, there you are. Are your legs feeling better? You shouldn’t walk too much or-’‘
Her initial expression had been quite friendly, and maybe even cute in her own way, but the moment she saw Cole, her face twisted back into that bitter frown Cole already considered as her ”Default” face.
‘‘What are YOU doing here?’‘ She asked menacingly, quickly hastening her walk to come between Mizelle and Cole.
‘‘I live here, as you may remember.’‘ Replied Cole sarcastically as he patted the wall of his RV house.
‘‘I couldn’t care less.’‘ She retorted.
‘‘Let’s go Mizelle. If you stay close to him for too long, you may catch one of this savage’s diseases.’‘
She reached for Mizelle’s hand and tried to pull her away, almost like an overprotective parent.
‘‘Hey Haudrica, what have I done to deserve so much of your hatred?’‘ Cole cut to the chase and spoke his mind; he was tired of keeping quiet.
‘‘I know I am not the best kind of person and that I have plenty of faults; I don’t mind being hated. But at least, I’d like to know why. Or at the very least, give me a chance to earn your trust.’‘ Continued Cole defiantly.
‘‘I don’t need to give any reasons to an animal. You are-’‘
Her words were as vitriolic as usual, until Mizelle cut her short with a shout, brusquely shaking away her grip on her hand.
‘‘Why do you keep doing this? Why do you keep loathing and hating everyone who tries to be nice to you!? It’s not fair!’‘
Cole’s eyes widened in disbelief as, for the first time, he saw Mizelle’s anger. Yet Haudrica’s shock was far greater than his.
‘‘Mizelle, why are you acting this? Did this savage’s lies poison your mind?’‘ Haudrica was at the edge of a panic attack.
‘‘Y-You’re the… only one who lies…’‘ Mizelle was starting to cry.
‘‘I was born knowing nothing… nothing but how to serve… yet you, you didn’t treat me like a servant, like a slave. You… were nice to me… you treated me like I was someone… you gave me a name… and I loved it…’‘ She was speaking between sobs.
‘‘Even if I fail… I want to get along with everyone… I want everyone to know you as I do…’‘
Although her body was shaking, her words were brimming with determination.
‘‘…’‘ Haudrica’s mouth opened a few times, but her words didn’t come out.
Cole also wanted to say something, but he felt like it wasn’t his place to intrude in their conversation.
‘‘I… I… I’m sorry…’‘
With those words, Mizelle ran away, leaving Haudrica in an utter state of shock.
A minute after a minute passed; the silence reigned for what seemed like forever.
Haudrica looked practically paralyzed; like when that Unit had ambushed her and Cole at the vaults.
Taking one step forward, Cole tried to say something.
‘‘Stop!’‘ But she didn’t let him.
‘‘I… I don’t want… your pity…’‘ Haudrica hissed out these words.
‘‘You know nothing about me, and nothing about Mizelle either. So whatever you say, it’ll change nothing.’‘ She didn’t have the strength to even look menacing.
Cole breathed in deeply before replying. Steeling himself for what could come.
‘‘Then give me chance to know you both.’‘
‘‘I understand you have your reasons to hate me, and I won’t blame that. But like I said, I’d like at the very least a chance to prove you that I’m not what you think I am. That’s all I ask for.’‘
He wasn’t bluffing or pretending to be tough; those were indeed his honest feelings. And even if he didn’t share Mizelle’s hopes of being friends with everyone, at the very least, he wanted to avoid hostility.
‘‘Hehe… Fair enough.’‘ A sarcastic grin formed on Haudrica’s downcast face as she raised it and looked away, never allowing Cole to see her expression.
‘‘But bear in mind that I’ll be a very hard judge, and if I ever even suspect that you might be lying to me or Mizelle, there won’t be threats or warnings-’‘ She vanished from where she was as she said that, reappearing right in front of Cole, with both scythes at his neck.
‘‘I’ll simply loop your head from your shoulders.’‘
She had done that so many times that Cole had started to get used to it.
‘‘I will keep that in mind.’‘ Replied Cole unwaveringly.
His expression as calm and collected as he could possibly be.
And with those last threatening words, she turned around and ran away, most likely to find Mizelle as soon as possible.
An odd bit of silence went by after she was gone from his sight, and a feeling he couldn’t quite describe overtook Cole. However, it was gone almost as fast as it came.
‘‘Haaah…. Anyhow, let see if I can find a way to make one of these fossils work.’‘ Said Cole to no one in particular as he turned back to his chimera of a power generator.
‘‘Everything in this place is almost ten years old, and these batteries weren’t new at that time either, I wonder if…’‘ He mumbled to himself as he grabbed yet another battery. It felt really light; clearly it had dried up too.
‘‘That was most certainly a fair display of boldness.’‘ These words came out of nowhere.
‘‘Yikes! Man, don’t sneak up on people! I almost dropped this battery on my foot.’‘ Cole almost jumped out of his skin.
Tetlekar was standing right behind him, sporting his usual calm and collected demeanor.
‘‘My apologies.’‘ He bowed a bit as he said that.
‘‘So, I take you saw that heated exchange back there. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not as idealist as Mizelle.’‘ Explained Cole as he picked up another battery.
‘‘While I understand that her intentions are noble, life isn’t a fairy tale; you can just ”befriend” everybody and hope that they return the feeling. But at the very least, I’d like my interactions with Haudrica to not come out with harsh words and sharp objects at my jugular vein.’‘ He added as he uncapped the battery.
‘‘That is a fair goal.’‘ Replied Tetlekar nonchalantly.
‘‘However, I came to deliver you my also fair warning. Do not underestimate Haudrica’s grief; I do honestly believe that she’s beyond the point where she can be reasoned with, but I have been wrong before, and I wouldn’t mind to be so again.’‘
His words were a tad menacing, but also clad in hope.
‘‘Tch! Dry again.’‘ Grunted Cole as he tossed the battery away.
‘‘Say, since this place is the ninth Salvage Collector around, doesn’t that mean there are others as well? I heard from Desri that there was a NVSC5. Would it be possible for me to go there. There are some parts I wanna look for. ‘‘ Asked Cole as he sat on the pile of discarded batteries he had gathered there.
‘‘Yes, there are twelve in total, but I would not recommend going to most of them.’‘ Tetlekar brought his hand to his chin as he replied.
‘‘The 1st, 3rd, 7th and 12th ones are locked. The 2nd one is empty as well as a death trap; the Phylactery’s management system is malfunctioning there and sometimes the airlocks open without warning. The 4th one is filled with noxious substances. The 6th and 10th ones have hull breaches, hence they lack breathable air or gravity. And the 11th one has… undesirables living on it.’‘
His explanation was rather fast-paced, as if he was reading a document on his mind more than actually speaking.
‘‘What about the 5th and 8th ones?’‘ Asked Cole. Tetlekar remained silent for a moment before speaking.
‘‘There is… nothing particular about them. But no one has set foot on either in years, so there’s no telling about what manner of dangers may have taken residence on them so…’‘
Tetlekar stopped talking when he noticed that his warning was lost on Cole; he was already grinning from ear-to-ear. The fiery curiosity already burning in his eyes.
‘‘… Just, if possible, try to not die.’‘ He added one last warning before turning away. He wasn’t going to stop Cole on this one.
<End of Chapter 5>