Chapter 5, Part I – The Void

Having yet to open her eyes, the breeze gave away Eremis’s present location mere moments before an all too familiar weight arrived, and perched himself on her head; “Back here already, am I?” She asked, her mostly rhetorical question going unanswered as Matthew lightly pecked at her temple; “Wait, wait… Wait, just a second…” She put a hand up, index finger raised, knowing exactly what was about to happen. She counted backwards; “Six, five, four…”

“… Three… Two… One…” Ever the witty corvid, he finished counting for her at the precise moment the explosion went off. Half-laughing, half-coughing, the ensuing shockwave knocked Eremis down on her rear end as Matthew fluttered up and over the dust cloud. Picking herself up, she wiped her dress and her hands off as best as she could, carefully rubbed her eyes, and slowly, one at a time, peeled them open. The raven settled on her shoulder, tilting his head at the newly formed crater on the side of a nearby hill; “I wonder who, or what, caused it this time.”

“I could take a guess, but I’m honestly hoping I’m wrong, so I won’t.” Eremis also examined the crater, oddly relieved there was no movement. No movement, no body parts, and no screaming. Whatever it was that had fallen, it had disintegrated on impact; “You’d think they would know better than to crash-land in here.”

“You would… But not thinking, and crash landing in here, seems to be working wonders for Klaus Hargreeves. You can’t blame the rest of them for trying.” Matthew said as she started down her narrow, barely visible path. Only she knew where she’d buried all her bombs. It was a top-level secret she would take with her to her third grave;

“Klaus not getting himself killed was mostly dumb luck. And over Christmas. Not to mention he left me an entire building full of alcohol, a bunch of free furniture, and…”

“You don’t need to say it.” Matthew interjected before she’d gotten carried away. Not that it mattered, as somewhere further down by her crumbling stone walls, another landmine detonated; “How many of those do you have left?”

Eremis’s face split into a grin; “Almost all of them, would you believe?”

“I most certainly would not.” He riposted.

“You sound like your Elders.” She chuckled; “Vivian Clarke destroyed a chunk of Klaus’s bar, but that was his problem, not mine. I know Five has an, “X,” marking his landing spot, and Ben…” Eremis paused to allow a dresser and a vanity table to float by; “Ben died first, he died a long time ago, and he tends to go portal surfing out of boredom.”

“Perhaps we should ask The Horror how his adventuring goes.” Matthew suggested; “Once he returns safely, of course.”

“But of course, my dear.” Eremis parroted as they reached the building; “Say, you don’t have a problem with cats, do you?”

“I honestly don’t remember.” He confessed.

“Because you’ve been spending too much time cooped up with your Elders.” Still grinning, she ignored his; “Endless, not Elders,” to press an ear against the door, listening for her typically vocal orange tabby. Not hearing anything, she pushed it open. Almost immediately, Artemis let out an angry yowl; sending Matthew flying to the top of the liquor shelves while the feisty feline darted outside, and ducked under a bed. Eremis stifled more laughter as she waited for the door to close; “Good thing I asked first,” she moseyed over to the bar, and stood behind it in lieu of the usual juice man; “Come along then, Matthew. We don’t have much time before they pile back in.”

“I very specifically recall you explaining to me time doesn’t exist in the Void,” The raven said, and rather pointedly, as he fluttered down to the counter.

“I did say that, yes. We were discussing the differences between a Void, and a vortex.” Eremis acknowledged, although she couldn’t remember how she remembered having that entire conversation with him.

“And, what ARE the differences between a Void, and a vortex?” He inquired.

“My Void is a subconscious hole, pretending to be a pocket dimension, hidden at the bottom of space-time. Time itself gets sucked up into those portals outside and ceases to exist. A dream vortex is a human being with the ability to cross dreams, destroy them, and eat talking birds like you for breakfast.” Eremis, her head propped between her hands, smiled an all-knowing smile.

“Very apt of you.” Matthew nodded.

“Thank you, it took practice… But that’s not why I summoned you here.” She stuck her thumb out towards the stage.

Matthew turned to face the immaculately white violin, gleaming in its glass case under the spotlights; “Ah, yes. The not-so-metaphorical atomic weapon in the room.” He quipped; “So much better than an elephant, don’t you think?”

“… Atomic wea-… You mean like another bomb?” Eremis was skeptical; “How? Did someone use a violin to blow up a city?”

“Her name was Vanya Hargreeves, and yes, she destroyed the moon with it. The corvid didn’t have much by way of facial expressions, but there was no attempt at humour in his tone.

“I remember Five saying they’d all been assholes to their sister Vanya, but I don’t think I’ve met her… How is Earth surviving without a moon?”

“It’s complicated, it doesn’t apply to you, and you may never. They confiscated her violin because she was already too murderously frustrated to keep it. She’ll be more frustrated now that she’s stopped existing altogether.”

Excusez-vous. I might have left Earth, but I’m still allowed to ask how it’s doing.” Eremis poked what she assumed were his ribs, ruffling up his feathers; “Tell me what happened to Vanya then.”

“The honest answer involves a suicidal alien, an awful family reunion over his funeral, a demented conductor, and ungodly amounts of social experimentation…” Matthew chose his words carefully;” ‘They broke half their timelines, and turned her into a boy,’ is the much simpler one.”

“And they can’t just fix their timeline, or bring her back from wherever she is, so they left her weapon here for me to babysit?” Eremis, her head still propped between her hands, peered down her nose at him.

“Bomb-sit, more like. And you have to admit, they picked a good spot for it.” She opened her mouth as though to protest, but Matthew kept going; “… Useless without its owner anyway. I’m not overly concerned.”

“Aww, and here I was about to thank Klaus for the extra Christmas present.” Her arms nearly slid off the polished countertop as she doubled over laughing, only stopping to catch her breath at the sound of something crashing outside. Clamping a hand over her mouth, she hiccuped as they both strained to hear what was happening;

“… Think you’d know how to use your feet…”

“… Shut up, you… Fancy mathematics…”

“Hey, I always stick my landings.”

“That’s why you ignored Dad, teleported to the future, and got stuck there for over fifty years?”

“Would you guys PLEASE stop arguing?”

Eremis took advantage of the sudden silence to glance at Matthew, who only kept staring at the trio of boys glaring at each other on the other side of the window; “We’d prefer it if you stayed, but we’ll understand if you’d rather not.”

“I’m a watch bird, not a meddle bird. This is as much help as I can offer.” The raven shook himself out of his daydreams and fluttered back to the top of the shelves.

“Alright, Matthew. Thanks for stopping by. Tell our SIRE, Ghost-Lady looks forward to tea.” But Matthew had long since gone away. Eremis smirked to herself as Ben, Five, and Klaus clamoured into the building. While Ben quietly took a seat at the far end of the bar, and folded his hands, Five teleported behind the counter from his position next to Klaus. Caught off-guard, the Séance tripped himself over, and landed on the ground for the second time that day;

“What the hell is going on?” He rolled over, and grunted, evidently high, and hungover as he slid himself into a seated position.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I think there might be someone blinking somewhere.” Eremis pointed at his bare toes; “You know most restaurants have a, “No Shoes, No Service,” policy, don’t you?” To which Ben snickered, and Five laughed;

“Is coffee not ready yet?” The latter asked when he noticed the empty pot, but moved down to Eremis’ left, and buried his head in the cupboards before she could reply.

“Oh good, it’s not just me then.” Ignoring her comment, Klaus creaked an arm up, grabbed hold of a bar stool, and dragged himself back up; “Here I was thinking I’d eaten too much speed again.”

“You ARE eating too much speed. That’s how you keep bouncing from Earth, to here, to Cirxci, and back… Maybe try the cupboard under the coffee machine, Number Five.” Eremis took a glass from the shelf directly above her, pressing herself against the counter, so he could squeeze past. The Séance, meanwhile, had stretched out, yawned, sat down, and thrown his feet up; “Did you check out what I left you on stage, by the way? I promise it’s not lemons, frogs or more centipedes.” She told him as she filled the glass with cold water. Klaus’ jaw dropped as he gawked… Both at the violin, and at Ben’s tentacles as they reached out for his drink; “What? No big, wet, sloppy kisses this time?” Eremis’ smile was thoroughly sincere.

“…Hey Ben-Ben, want to do me a solid, and hand me one of those?… Thanks…” Still ignoring her comments, Klaus waved a hand towards the liquor bottles. Ben very audibly rolled his eyes, but obliged his adopted sibling before gulping down half his water;

“Thank you.” He said once he’d set the glass down, and his tentacles had slithered back to where they’d come from; “… Um… Out of curiosity, why is Vanya’s violin locked up down here?”

Distracted as he was with his coffee, Five kept quiet. Eremis pursed her lips, and shot Klaus a knowing look; “Because she stopped being Vanya, and I’m a bit of a pyro.” She said, slowly, as they watched Number Four pop open his bottle, and chug down a third of it. Ben’s eyes moved from Eremis to Klaus, to Five, his domino mask doing little to conceal his growing bewilderment;

“What? What’s, “stopped being Vanya,” supposed to mean? I saw her here like half an hour ago.” He blinked.

“Who told you that anyway? Did Five leave you a note?” Klaus’s unexpected over-defensiveness threw Eremis for a loop, but she managed to bite her tongue.

“I did not!” Five decided he was participating after all; “How would have Vanya gotten here? And what did she say?”

“Five actually didn’t tell me anything. A little birdie did.” Eremis explained, mainly to Klaus; “And all he said was you broke your timeline, and your sister.”

Klaus took a drink, and grimaced while Ben kept talking to Five; “I don’t know. She was already on the ground when I came back. When she saw her violin was locked up, she said she deserved it… So, what happened to her?”

The awkward silence that fell over the room let Eremis know there was more to the story than anyone cared to tell her either, but chose to keep biting her tongue. Number Five, his filter full of ground coffee beans, topped the machine up with water, closed the lid, pressed the, “ON,” switch, then asked; “Did she say where she was going when she left?”

Ben shook his head; “No. She didn’t.” He tried asking Eremis instead; “Did your bird tell you anything about it?”

“Sorry. He’s not a gossip, and I’m really only here to make sure my Void holds up. And Artemis gets fed.” Struck by the thought, Eremis spun around, grabbed a pen from the holder next to the cash register, and scribbled herself another note for a later date.

“Don’t worry about it, Ben-Ben. We’ll bring her back. We have a plan.” Klaus’ feigned, drunken enthusiasm convinced no one. Ben, especially, looked as though he desperately needed to say something, but gave up, dropped his head, and mumbled; “… Now, why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” He drank his water.

Eremis stuck her note to the back wall, capped her pen, and put it back, absent-mindedly scratching her left wrist with her right hand. It was Klaus who caught what would’ve otherwise been a meaningless gesture; “Everything alright, Cirxci?”

“… I think…” She barely had the chance to utter as goosebumps rose and raced up her skin, making her hair stand on end; “… My aliens found me.” She whispered, rubbing her arms, and trying not to panic.

“Are you leaving?” He was tactful enough to whisper back. Eremis again raised a finger, closed her eyes, puffed her cheeks, and counted backwards from five. Nothing. No leaving, no pulling, no twisting, no buzzing or humming, and when she re-opened her eyes, it was to her Void… Only now her Void was smelling like freshly brewed coffee.

“I guess not.” She knew her itchy wrist meant Faustus had reached her; Vanya wasn’t the only one who needed a key to keep functioning. Eremis simply couldn’t understand why she wasn’t being forced back to her planet.

“Coffee, Ben?” An oblivious Five with his priorities in order had mugs lined up, and the brimming pot in his hands.

“Nah. I’m good. I’m going to head out. Thanks again for the water.” He stood from his seat.

“Hold on,” Eremis stopped him; “Five, is there a way for you to leave a spare key for the violin? In case Vanya turns up?”

Five poured himself a cup, put the pot back, and took his sweet time sipping at his beverage; “… I’d have to go find it first.”

“You lost it?!” They all exclaimed simultaneously.

“Oh, like you’re really one to talk. You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your shoulders.” Unfazed, Five shot back at Klaus.

Number Five…” Eremis said quietly.

“Sorry. No. I didn’t lose it. I left it with Delores.”

“How is that any better?” Klaus reached into his shirt for his cigarettes, stuck one between his lips and lit it, blowing smoke clear across the bar.

“Yeah, so, I’m leaving now. Come get me when you have Vanya.” Ben choked, coughed, and stepped out before anyone else could say anything.

“Seriously, Klaus?” Five, both hands around his mug, was not impressed in the slightest.

The Séance exhaled more smoke, and shrugged; “He said he’d be back.”

“What’s all this I hear, she turned into a boy anyway?” Eremis dared to pour herself half a cup of coffee as well. Mixing in cream, and sugar, she blew on it, brought it up to her lips, and took a drink, relishing the long forgotten taste of it.

“We heard there’s a bird that likes to tell you things.” Klaus was sounding far more drunk than annoyed.

“And are we going to get to meet this talking bird of yours?” Number Five stared up at her with both eyebrows raised.

No bueno. Not my bird, or my actual decision to make.” Eremis said bluntly; “I can put in a good word for you if you leave a spare key under the register, though. That’s plenty fair.”

“I’ll think about it.” Five’s super smug, tight-lipped smile gave her chills on top of her goosebumps.

“Don’t mind him. That’s his; “I’m a crazy, psychotic, sixty-year-old assassin,” face.” Sensing her discomfort, the Séance disarmed his other adopted brother.

“Sorry, what?” Eremis almost spat out her coffee.

“Yup. And don’t you go and forget it.” Five raised his mug in a mock toast, and downed the rest of its contents. Klaus improvised an ashtray out of his equally empty bottle, and also got out of his seat.

“… Safe to say, we’re all caught up for now.” He was wobbling as he went from bar stool to bar stool but, to Eremis’ surprise, didn’t fall over again.

“Why? Are you going to chase after Ben?” She joked.

“Of course not. I’m following you back to Cirxci.” He said without a shred of sarcasm or irony in his voice.

“That’s wonderful. You do realize our spaceship exploded, and the Maestro devolved into a swarm, right? He’s a thousand times worse than Viv.” Eremis, beginning to panic for real, didn’t budge; “There’s literally probably over a thousand of him flying around right now.”

Undeterred, Klaus finished rounding the bar, and waited for her to step up; “This is your Void first, Eremis. You know the rules apply to everyone. Even you.”

Speechless, Eremis glared daggers at him until, giving in, she took his outstretched hand; “I hate you. So very, very much.”

“No, you don’t.” Was all he said.

“No. I really don’t.” She waved goodbye to Five, who dumped what coffee was left in the sink, rinsed the pot, and his mug, put them away, switched everything off, and promptly teleported… Presumably to home base; “Alright, ready?” Klaus nodded, grabbing her other hand. In unison, they both opened up their channels; in a matter of seconds, the Void had fractured, and fragmented into millions of multicoloured cubes. Hanging in negative space, the cubes spun around on themselves, and reassembled into the Ezramatheia’s slanted vestibule;

“What a fantastic trip.” Klaus’ smile had widened; “Hallway’s a little cramped, though.”

“Told you the floor wanted to go on a date with the ceiling.” Her stomach in knots, Eremis hoped to make light of the situation; “I should be in there somewhere.” She gestured towards the Maestro’s suites; “I’m going to go reboot. You stay here… Just to be safe.”

“Just to be safe was why I fell into the Void, and followed you here.” Klaus was exaggerating and they both knew it, but he nonetheless turned his back while she crept through both sets of sliding doors, unsure of what she would find. A quick, preliminary examination revealed the Maestro’s dead host, and her unmoving frame… But not much else.

“… Hey… You know that bird you brought up?” The Séance’s voice floated up from behind her.

“Ten minutes ago, why?” She glanced back to find he was standing in front of the elevator.

“You might want to hurry it up, and come see this.”

“… Remember I also said the Maestro is a thousand times worse than Vivian?” Eremis mumbled to herself; “…Suppose I’m there with my key in my wrist because I’m not buggy…”

“… Eremis?”

“I’m… Going.” She called. She hastened towards her frame, sat inside herself, and proceeded to force her eyes open for real; “There isn’t a universe that exists where this wouldn’t suck.” She kept talking to herself. It did suck. Getting up was slow, moving was clunky, and everything above her neck felt stiff and sluggish. After what felt like half an eternity, she found her clothes laying by the fireplace, picked them up, put them on, and walked back out to the vestibule. Klaus did a double-take when he saw her; “You look different.”

“Thanks. Mordred built me how he wanted me to look, not how I actually look.” Her frame was shorter, skinnier, and had no discernible, “female,” attributes. Her chestnut hair was waist-long, her fuchsia eyes glowed red when she was angry, and self-regenerating nanotechnology meant she’d never have a single scar ever again. It was a relatively far cry from the twenty-something-year-old with the shoulder-length red hair, the blue eyes, and the noticeable curves she had while standing in the Void; “What about my bird?” Even taking steps felt heavy, and needlessly tedious.

“Take a look.” He moved away from the broken elevator doors. Eremis stood on the edge of the shaft, and stuck her neck out, choking back her shock when she realized who it was;

“Faustus!” She squeaked instead of screamed; “How the hell did you wind up down there?” But, understandably, received no reply. She turned to face Klaus; “Well, the good news is you have, “Bird,” mixed up with, “Plague Doctor,”…” She said; “That said, I am going to need you to close your channels, and plug your ears for a minute.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I’m not sending you home with tinnitus. Please? It’s just for a second.” She pleaded. Klaus didn’t seem too particularly pleased, but did as he was asked. Eremis waited until he had his fingers firmly attached to his eardrums. She then tuned into their hivemind, found Faustus’ plug-in, connected to his operating systems, and all but actually yelled; “WAKE UP!!!” The response was instant, with yellow dots appearing in the middle of both his thick lenses… But the microphone feedback loops their otherwise disconnected hivemind caused was more than loud enough to make even the Séance flinch with pain. She pulled his hand away from his face; “I am, really, super sorry, Ghost-Boy. I figured you’d be a little sensitive.” She kissed his cheek by way of an apology as they quietly watched the yellow dots expand until they’d lit up the plague doctor’s copper goggles. Faustus automatically got to his feet, readjusted himself, then swivelled his beak in their direction;

“You’re back.” He worded to Eremis through their hivemind as though Klaus didn’t exist.

“I am. Nice to see our Maestro hasn’t gotten to you either.” She felt genuinely happy he’d gotten through the explosive crash in one piece.

“His swarm is out for human blood. I need to go back for Hyde and Basha. Things are out of hand.”

“Understood. Good luck, and be sure to report back.” She saluted, a gesture that was lost on him as he wordlessly dropped into the hole he’d earlier lasered himself, and slipped out of sight; “I love him. He’s so easy to talk to.” She laughed at Klaus’ dumbfounded expression; “We’re not psychic. We’re androids. Imagine having a walkie-talkie embedded in your brain you can never, ever turn off.”

“I don’t have to imagine it. I heard what you said.” Curious, Klaus wandered over to the Maestro’s rooms; “This is super weird anyway. Why isn’t anything broken? And what’s that smell?”

“Nothing’s broken because our alien overlord has abilities no one understands too, and that smell is his dead host bleeding out behind the sofa. Lucky for you, it looks like you’ll be long gone before you’ll get to meet either of them.” The Séance was growing as thin as his waning superpowers.

“Good point. I might have to go back to Vietnam, and see a baby chimpanzee about televator blueprints. Or get Ben to go for me.”

“… Are you still high?” Eremis knew she’d heard him speaking in English, but the words he’d uttered in the order they were in made absolutely no sense to her. He didn’t get the chance to elaborate either, as their conversation was suddenly cut short by someone… or something… Climbing the elevator shaft.

“Sounds like you have more company coming. Want me to scare them off for you before I’m gone?”

“With your whole half a body, and your nerves of steel? I promise they’ll eat you first.” Eremis giggled; “Thank you for bringing me back, though.”

“Thank you for keeping Vanya’s violin.”

“Definitely. Kindly let me know how that turns out.” It was the last thing she told him. Klaus tipped his imaginary top hat; “Catch you later,” he said, and evaporated without a trace. Eremis quickly slipped into the lavatory, and closed the door behind her, unready and unwilling to deal with whatever was about to make an appearance. Faustus’ plan had worked out well enough, but she figured it wouldn’t hurt to make sure she had nothing crawling at the bottom of her own operating systems. She sat down on the cold tiles, arms wrapped around her legs, and rested her chin on her knees; “Better safe than sorry.” She reiterated from somewhere, firing up her debugging programs.

It had already been one hell of a day.

And little did she know it was only just beginning.

(To Be Continued…)

Venipuncturing; A Tale of More Dread

“… Didn’t touch your head or your heart. They didn’t touch your head or your heart. They didn’t. Remember…” Panting, Eremis repeated to her reflection. She had run the entirety of her debugging program without a single glitch. Thinking her business done, she’d stood from her spot on the bathroom tiles. Her fingers had been mere inches from the steel handle when the fluorescent bulbs had begun flickering wildly. More dazed than afraid, Eremis had turned her face towards the buzzing lightbulbs as they had dimmed to almost complete darkness… And suppressed a squeal when, after they’d turned up again, she’d caught her twenty-three-year-old self staring at her from the other side of the smeared mirror not half a foot off; “… Didn’t touch your head…” The memories; ”… My heart…” Eremis put a hand up to her chest, feeling it pounding against the layers of plating, synthetic skin, and nanobots. Her other self, experiencing a level of self-awareness she didn’t know she possessed, did not mimic her movements. No, Eremis from four years earlier, with her bright red hair braided on one side, and her dark, smokey eye makeup smudged down to her cheekbones, examined herself with a mixture of weariness, and disdain; “The hell is your problem?” And what was with the overwhelming déjà vu? The single, black, bathroom stall? The neon signs nailed to the wall? The kitschy decorations? Or maybe the door she’d dead-bolted?

All at once, and without further notice, it hit her like a ton of bricks. Eremis covered her eyes with her palms in an attempt to blot out what she was seeing, but it only worsened it. Now the inside of her head was throbbing in tune to the dance club music blaring up the stairs. She could taste her beer growing stale at the back of her mouth, and smell the smoke wafting from the smokers loitering around the back exit down the hallway. It had hit her like a ton of bricks, all right. Everything was still spinning too fast for her to keep up. She’d stumbled in here in a complete haze, amazed she’d had a mind to even lock the door before falling on all fours and crawling up to the toilet… Just in time for her stomach to race up her throat, and empty all of its contents into the relatively clean bowl.

“… Fuck… Me…” She groaned when she was done, wiping her mouth and forehead, then struggling to find, and pull the lever to flush it down. Still feeling like death warmed over, she braced herself between the tank and the wall to pull herself up to standing. She half slid, half dragged herself across the wooden partition, then the faux-brick wall, to the glaringly white sink with its obnoxiously shiny chrome faucet. There, she allowed herself to rest her forehead on the cool glass; “… Fuck up… Fucking shit-for-brains… Fucked with me…” Eremis breathed as she found the strength to turn the knob for cool water. She took a long drink from the tap, then splashed some over her face, and neck. She thought she knew who had done it too; the skeevy looking rat of a male human had peach fuzz covering his upper lip, blisters splattered across his cheeks, and had attempted to hit on her repeatedly. She’d turned him down with all the patience, and grace her tired, anti-social self had been able to muster… She’d only come in for a bottle or two after a nine-hour shift… But he’d kept hovering uncomfortably close to her seat at the bar; “… Waiting for the bartender to be distracted enough to slip me something for later… Well, have I got some news for you, shit-for-brains…”

She didn’t know where she’d learned to slip razor blades between her bracelet loops to make them look like harmless accessories, but it was a magic trick that never failed. Rather than head up the stairs for what could have been some murderous, skin slashing fun, however, moody, overtired Eremis stayed in the bathroom. She turned the blade over and over between her fingers, absent-mindedly running the dangerously thin edge across the tip of her tongue, and relishing the taste of metal before pressing it, horizontally, across her left wrist; “Remember. In case of emergency, turn the key.” She thought obscenely, even though the thought had no place; “See? Not my first fucking rodeo, either… Ro-Da-Yo…” She snorted, unable to decide if she wanted to laugh or cry, or both. All she could feel was death, and all she wanted was for it to stop; “So how’ bout it?” She knew she wouldn’t be bothered. She’d picked the spot because she had figured it would be empty. As were all four separate bathrooms lining up the basement hallway; “Sorry officer, seems there was no one home…” Eremis’ mouth turned into some semblance of a grin. Her eyes shone brighter than the sun as she pressed the corner of the razor blade into her flesh until her meridian, and some nerves next to it, gave out and began gushing blood. Eremis bit her bottom lip as she moaned, her eyes rolling far back into their sockets as the inch—long blade clattered to the bottom of the sink. It poured over her arm, filled her palm, spilled to cover the counter, and dripped in sheets to form a puddle around her feet on the floor; “… Christ, I needed that… Needed it… It… It word… What is it now?…” She couldn’t think, but she knew.


She blacked out then, and for real this time. She had turned to the door, thinking she had heard something… But had dropped back against the faux-brick wall instead. She had smeared blood up her legs, and halfway across the tiles as she’d slid to the floor, kept biting her bottom lip in pure, unadulterated ecstasy, as she had closed her eyes for a moment, she had imagined and…

(The End)

“Wake up, baby doll.” A male voice. A hand under her chin. Someone bringing her back to reality.

“No.” She grumbled like a petulant child, but opened her eyes nonetheless. She found herself looking up at a luscious, heavy mop-top of thick, curly brown hair, and what she honestly believed were the most gorgeous pair of glowing, deep-sea blue eyes she had ever seen in her short life; “Morning, space cowboy.” She smiled, tried to smile, as she slurred her words.

“You have to get up. The place is going to be closing soon.” No introductions, no explanations, but here he was in all his charismatic glory; her dear Mordred, all hopped up and ready to make her his bitch. Eremis didn’t know that yet, though. She was too far gone, and much too transfixed by his eyes, to think past the end of her own nose.

“Place can go fuck itself too. I’m not moving.” Instead of anger or impatience, which is what she’d expected, he smiled… But God was he ever charming when he smiled… And told her;

“Look, baby doll, I get it, I do… But if you were really going to go for the jugular, you would’ve gone for the jugular. Not pulled some drunken, half-assed, chicken-shit bull crap at the bottom of an empty dive bar. Hear me?”

“Sure fucking thing, officer…” But she let him grab her by her unmangled right arm, and pick her back up. Her face had fallen, and buried itself in his thick sweater; “… Fuzzy…” She’d mumbled.

“… Don’t be like that. I’m just trying to help. Here.” It had taken her a ridiculously long time to realize he was handing her a straw. It took even longer than that to spot the white lines, running parallel to each other, cut across the untarnished side of the sink’s counter, “It’s not much, but it should get you going.”

Eremis knew she couldn’t think. She knew she wasn’t. She couldn’t even remember when her mind had taken off without her, and she wasn’t about to go chasing after it to find out. She had completely ignored her spinning head, her palpitating heart, her pulsating, blood soaked arm… Her common sense. He’d reached under her grey, metallic, bomber jacket to wrap his left arm around her bare midriff, stopping her from falling again as she’d bent over. No sooner as she’d stopped feeling her gums, he’d been covering her neck in heavy kisses. His one hand had reached under her black crop top to cup her breast, while the other had dropped her black and purple plaid skirt—along with the flimsy excuse for underwear she’d worn that day—down to her ankles; “… Didn’t touch your head or your heart. They didn’t touch your head or your heart. They didn’t. Remember…” Panting, Eremis repeated to her reflection, her face heating up as his thick fingers now ran a straight line up her frigid thigh. She gasped at the burning hot friction that followed his massive invasion of privacy. She moaned as they slipped back to draw circles around her lips, and finally screamed into her jacket sleeve when he, very unabashedly, introduced his throbbing erection in their stead.

“… Oh…” Her knees buckled, forcing her to grab the chrome faucet with both hands as she all but fell down his shaft to his lap; “… Fuck me…” The strength of his next thrust pushed her lower half back up towards the counter. Laying into each other, her breath soon covered half the surface as he kept drawing circles over her lips, between her lips, at the top of her lips. Horrified, and disgusted, Eremis on the other side wanted to tell herself to stop, to cut his throat, to leave him dying on the bathroom floor and, get the fuck away from him, dammit!!… But how could she? She knew she wouldn’t listen. Especially when she was so fucking close to…

“… Coming…” Except it hadn’t even been that. It had been a drug-fuelled nuclear explosion that had resulted in a second puddle growing on the floor. The yet-to-be-introduced Mordred had let out a grunt that sounded like a chuckle; keeping himself firmly in position until he’d quickly followed suit with an explosive torrent of his own, adding to the growing list of things baby doll knew she’d be feeling for the next few days.

Voiceless, the female android could only keep wishing she’d screamed at him to go to hell. She wished she’d sliced him into pieces. Wished she’d never followed him anywhere. Already he was refusing to let her go without him; “How ‘bout that then, baby doll? Ready to clean up, and blow this stupid fucking pop stand?” He’d covered her small, left hand with his larger one, raised her forearm, and licked off some of the blood not yet dried to her skin… Now trickling from her wrist rather than gushing out of it. Eremis had winced… Still winced… But as lightheaded as she was hypnotized, she hadn’t said no. She couldn’t. He never gave her the option; “… Wish I’d buried him for real…” She thought.

You know, wishing won’t make it better, baby doll.” She thought she heard him whisper back through the hive mind. Without a razor blade, or a median nerve to sever, an infuriated, overwhelmingly frustrated, “EREMIS,” dol. slammed the side of her fist into the glass; shatteringly the illusion hard enough to send shards of it bouncing off the far wall.

“Listen here, fucking shit-for-brains.” Eremis said to the empty space. She knew Faustus had taken him somewhere after finding her, but didn’t know what had happened to him; “Better fucking pray I don’t find you. Ever.”

With that, she turned, switched the lights off, and left the room, remembering to close the door behind her.

Chapter 4 – The Plague Doctor

Even in the far-off corner of the backwards universe they were located in, most things on Cirxci had a place; a history, a reason for existing, a name. Most intelligent things knew where they’d come from, where they stood, and had a rough idea of where they were headed in life.

Faustus was not one of those things.

The alien android had rebooted under a pile of dummy robots, with no recollection of how he had arrived there. He’d sat up, and scrounged around the unfastened cargo crates, stacked low against the walls of the small, dimly lit, storage area. Initially overwhelmed, he’d found himself strangely inspired by the overabundance of yellowing photographs he’d pulled up. After much examining and deliberating, he had hidden his decidedly unmatching face behind green-tinted, copper goggles, and a studded copper beak. He had draped his bare, metal frame in black and red robes, and put on boots, thick leather gloves, and a matching, wide-brimmed hat. He had cinched the ensemble with a leather utility belt, assumed the name; “Faustus,” from the “FOSTOS-XI,” etched into his forearm, and proceeded to hack his way out of the room. Walking out on the gleaming catwalks of a primitive, pre-infested, human colony spaceship, he’d been transfixed by the ancient engines powering the equally old propulsion systems. With nothing and no one around to object, or tell him otherwise, Faustus has designated himself sentinel, and gone about naturalizing himself… So well, in fact, that he’d convinced all life on board he had always been there, even though logs would have shown he had not.

Two tasks.” He presently hummed as he side-stepped the fuming thrusters to fall through the gaping cracks in the hull, giving Hyde the impression he’d vanished; “Two tasks. Always the same. First task. Keep ship flying. Smoothly and on course.” He squeezed through jammed passageways, avoided dangling light fixtures, and ducked past flying debris. Caught off-guard more than once, he nearly fried his circuits barely dodging electrical explosions, along with the blazes they sparked. Acutely aware there were more dead than dying, and survivors were growing scarce, Faustus was dismayed there would be no one left to berate him for more than failing at his primary duty. Despite having single-handedly optimized every engine for its particular thruster, and synced all their sensors to his, so he would never miss a beat, something had still managed to slip by undetected. Something had stopped the fans, clogged the cooling vents, and caused the engines to overheat, and explode. It bothered him. Post-infestation, it bothered him even more. He couldn’t dwell on it, however. As he navigated the deadly gauntlet towards the upper, central part of the ship, it was his second assignment he was more so preoccupied with;

Second task. Keep Eremis well. And away from harm.” Faustus had, more or less, saved the formerly human female from the insanely obsessed, unscrupulous, half-rate excuse of a, “doctor,” hellbent on keeping her as his indentured pet forever. The Maestro had pulled him out of hypersleep, expecting him to take care of their newly subjugated followers, and contribute to their fledgling hivemind. Instead, the deranged human had disappeared, resulting in a ship-wide search, and it had been Faustus who had discovered Eremis, naked, strapped to a gurney, and neither alive, nor dead; “She keeps trying to kill herself. She wants to leave me.” The, “doctor,” had stammered; “So, you see…” Unimpressed, Faustus had subdued him, put him in a coma, and locked him up in his sleeping tube. Returning to the only partially converted cyberdoll, he had grudgingly finished the work the, “doctor,” had begun. He had stayed with her until she’d regained consciousness. He’d helped her remember how to talk, then how to walk. He had, rather uncharacteristically, become quite smitten with her as well… Although he was at a complete loss as to why. What he did know, was he’d only received the order to bring her to their Maestro a few hours before his sensors had tripped, and gone haywire. Unable to refuse a direct command due to a glitch in his programming the Queen had found, and thoroughly exploited, Faustus had also refused to take any more unneeded risks. He had found her resting in her room, told her what was about to happen and, with her permission, had powered her down, and shut her off. He had recalled her telling him of the love she had for her intricately inlaid, wooden music box, and adjusted her lithe frame accordingly. He had turned her back on, and handed her the box in question; “In case of emergency. Don’t forget.” Eyes wide, she had nodded, and without another word, they had left together. Faustus had only been able to follow her this far before his servos had frozen up. Their Maestro, presumably, had sent a signal through their hivemind, paralyzing him until Eremis had been goaded to the upper levels. Less than fifteen minutes after he had regained his motor functions, he had lost his sight and hearing to blinding smoke, and blaring alarms. Less than fifteen minutes after that, all human described hell had broken loose with the first in the series of explosions. Constructed sound of mind, and body, the impervious android hadn’t received so much as a single scratch, but he’d still lost track of Eremis’ pulse in the crash. Fortunately, there were protocols to follow. The plague doctor had waited until the ship had finished putting itself to bed; had found, and brought Basha to safety first, taken care of Hyde in second and was, ostensibly enough, coming back to check up on their Mad Queen in third.

Now, chancing upon the reinforced elevator that led to their former captain’s quarters, he slowed his pace, and remembered to bow. Not because he cared anything at all for the Maestro or his cult-inspired, alien doctrines, but because even in the backwards universe they were located in, some things simply did not change. Said captain had been the first to wake when his ship had been overtaken by the Queen and his unruly hive. Said captain had also been the first to lose his head when he had refused to surrender. Faustus had been ordered to witness, and record, the entire ordeal. The older male hadn’t even received the opportunity to reveal his name. He had only confirmed his position, turned down the Maestro’s authority, and paid for it with his heart on a platter. Faustus stopped, and bowed at the elevator. His artificial intelligence rendered him stubborn, not stupid. He corrected himself; it rendered him stubborn, not that stupid. He calculated. Less than thirty minutes, even by Eremis’ perpetually human clock, was barely enough for proper introductions. There were no reasons why she wouldn’t still be here. With him.

Without another soul in sight, and with the red, emergency lights flickering from the failing, auxiliary power supplies, Faustus made for the landing doors. He pried them open, only to find the crushed cart blocking the way up the twisted shaft it sat in. Undeterred, Faustus reached over, sectioned off a chunk of the roof with a laser, and scaled the wall, up the guide rails, to the next floor.

…please be here…” He worded noiselessly to their fractured hivemind. Predictably, they only bounced off the thick wall of static rolling around there. Climbing out of the shaft, and unto singed carpet, he crossed the steep vestibule to reach into the keypad mounted next to the adjoining archway. Mindful of the broken glass, he sent more sparks flying as he reconnected severed wires. Slowly, unwillingly, the last set of doors slid open; “…no reason… absolutely no reason…” Faustus kept repeating to himself until he was left all but completely mute by the sight that welcomed him on the far side of the entrance.

While the remainder of the ship had ripped apart, and fallen to pieces, their Mad Maestro’s suites had not. Bafflingly, they stayed frozen in the same, pristine conditions they had been in when their Queen had claimed them as his own. The unbroken projector kept rolling uninterrupted video clips of what their awoken humans called, “home.” The furniture was unmoved from their position on the undamaged floors. The picture frames hung straight from the cracked walls. The books, along with the fake potted plants they were next to, all stood at proper attention on their untouched shelves, and the fireplace, filled with logs, patiently waited for its next fire to be lit. It was… Uncanny and disturbing. Even to the android.

“Fantastic trick with the music box.” Readily grounded a few feet from the door, Faustus’ infrared sensors automatically turned themselves on at the sound of the words; “music box,” almost immediately spotting Eremis’ left hand. Growing cold, it lay on the mantle on his right, her box’s wind-up key sticking up, and out of her upturned wrist; “Truly. A phenomenal failsafe. On behalf of everyone here, please allow me to be the first to applaud your…” The unfamiliar voice choked up, coughed, then wheezed; “… Limitless ingenuity.” Busy as he was, scanning the area, Faustus tried to ignore the sniggering sarcasm attempting to hurl point-blank adjectives at him. Already he had located both her legs at the back of the fireplace; her feet had been thrown to the opposite ends of the room, and her chest had rolled up against the plush divan. One of her arms had landed in the tiny lavatory, while the other…

“… Hivemind said our deposed captain kept a revolver next to a bible, would you believe…” As slowly, and unwillingly, as the sliding doors he had just jerry-rigged open, the plague doctor swivelled his beak towards the source of all the unwanted vocalizing. Another human male. This one with sunken eyes as black as its thick mange of messy hair. It sat on the floor next to an antique gramophone, asphyxiating itself on the half-burnt cigarette that hung between its dry, cracked lips. Sweating profusely, it had taken off its shirt, exposing a death-defyingly skeletal body that did nothing to hide the painful protrusions, source of its ailments, that crawled up and under its skin. In its weakened state, it struggled to pick up the ammunition scattered about between its splayed legs; “I was about to put this rotting bag of a human shell out of its misery, and move to my new one…” It snorted, blowing smoke out of its nose as its shaking fingers lost their grip on the bullet they’d been holding on to. Sucking in another puff, the human put its revolver on the ground. Holding on to its one wrist with its other hand, it focused all its dexterity and strength into grappling another into its chamber. Only partially loaded, it nonetheless opted to pick its weapon back up. It tilted the chamber closed, knocked it into place with an enclosed fist and, using both its hands, took the safety off, cocked the hammer, and aimed the barrel at Faustus’ goggles; “… But since you’ve conveniently returned to us, why don’t I sabotage you, and take…” It choked on the smoke growing stale in its lungs, coughed until it retched, and spat out as it wiped its mouth with the back of its hand; “… yours instead? Fair trade since you clearly fucking…” It inhaled breathable air; “… fucking sabotaged my replacement before you sabotaged Mother too.”

…Eremis isn’t yours…” But the plague doctor stopped himself short; the word, “Mother,” making him realize the human, “shell,” was playing unfortunate host to what remained of their Maestro. Something, or someone, somewhere had reduced his fully adult, alien form to a few handfuls of larval insectoids… Which were now colonizing this pitifully helpless male as the Queen grew his strength back. Faustus disabled his upper functions. The hivemind, as they all knew, was the Maestro’s brainchild above all else. Although it sounded disconnected, there was no telling what he could, and would, pick up on. Especially from so short of a distance; “Little late for that, doc… If there’s nothing more for you to add…” He tightened his fingers around the trigger.

“Basha is outside. Waiting for his new reactor.” Unaccustomed to improvising answers, the shock that made the shell drop its revolver nearly shocked Faustus as well. Graciously, aside from his inexplicable sensitivity towards Eremis, the android was immune to such trifling trivialities. Taking advantage of the weakened human’s snaillike awkwardness, Faustus took three strides in its direction. Raising his arm up with his palm turned outwards as though telling it to, “STOP,” the plague doctor instead pulled up its sleeve, and hit it square in the face with an altogether different kind of smoke cloud.

…only human…” Faustus watched it fall limp against the wall, the larvae under its skin already rising to gather in its abdomen, as its speech slurred beyond comprehension. The android put out its cigarette, and picked up the discarded revolver, emptying it of all its bullets before slipping it into a belt pouch. He then stepped over its legs to grab Eremis’ arm from behind the gramophone. From the back of the sofa, he placed it on the couch, then went around the room collecting her various body parts. Unlike remodelling her, which had been a bloody, indescribable nightmare, pulling her together after the alterations he had made to her metallic skeleton was child’s play; her ankles screwed into her calves, her thighs clicked into her lower torso, and connecting her arms to their respective sockets was simple… But that had been the entire point; “In case of emergency. Turn your key.”

With his infrareds still turned on, it was next to impossible to miss the larvae hatching by the dozens in the panting shell’s gut; making it swell as though it was pregnant by another human. Faustus needed Eremis’ head, however, finding it glowing almost as vividly as the sun through her thick hair. He was also pleasantly surprised to discover it had wrapped around her right hand, and carried it along as it had tumbled into the bedroom. Gently picking up her face, he untangled her hand free, and returned his treasures to the divan where the rest of her sat. Latching her wrist to her forearm, he lay her head in her lap to straighten her folded spine, and tighten the magnetized series of bolts that would keep her frame upright. Once again taking hold of her face, he flipped her head upside, checking to make sure her cerebellum was intact, and her brainstem wasn’t fried. Satisfied with what he saw, he carefully aligned her neck to her shoulders, then let it slide through his expert hands to click into place with a subtle hiss. The barely discernible static shimmer that moved down her skin, and made her seams disappear without a single scar, was the only sure sign she’d received no major internal damage… But Eremis didn’t wake up yet.

Faustus stepped back, his eyes zeroing in on the dying shell despite themselves. A veritable hive, its skin was positively aswarm with activity while its stomach had distended to over three times its size, and was still growing; “… whole life… sacrificed… gave him… for what… only a sack of… fucking flesh…” It grunted as its back arched, seemingly unable to decide if it wanted to ball up its fingers, or clutch at its midsection. With larval insectoids still accumulating, and increasing the strain on its already lamentable body, it wasn’t much longer before the human’s ticks, which had grown into twitching, became full-blown muscle spasms; “… n-n-o… n-n-not wha-… what I w-want… n-not… no… stop… s-s-s-top… I s-s-said… s-s-said… s-s-s-stop… stop… oh god… oh sh-shit… oh shit no!” It let out an ear-piercing howl of agony. Both its hands flew up to smash over its left eye as an insect twice the size of an adult thumb burrowed up its cheek, and crawled from its tear duct in a torrent of blood that almost ripped its eyeball out of its socket. Desperately trying to swat it away or kill it only incurred more of the larval imago’s wrath; it swiftly moved to its expiring host’s forehead, and sprayed burning acid directly into its pupil, liquefying it. Mesmerized by the not entirely unexpected, turn of events, Faustus shook his head, and repeated his tasks to himself. He turned away from the drama writhing around on the tiles to pick up Eremis’ left hand from the mantle, while the shell kept shrieking loudly enough to make the glass in his googles vibrate. It would be her next, the plague doctor knew. He had to get her up, and out of the room before their Mad Maestro decided to make his actual appearance.

…here we go…” Faustus reattached her left hand as the shell’s screams returned to coughing, more retching, then choked gargling. Glancing up, he saw it had rolled itself over, and gotten up on all fours, drool dripping from its mouth as it heaved. Done wasting time, Faustus took the key out of her wrist, put it back in, turned it one way, then the other. Nothing. No sound, no movement. Not even an eye-blink; “…come on, doll. We need to leave…” Faustus tried again, and again, and was about to try for a fourth time when he was distracted by a loud gasp. The inhuman moaning that followed was accompanied by the sound of something ripping, and a heavy thud as something else spilled all over the floor. Faustus knew well enough not to look up. He knew. Having yet to re-enable his upper functions, the buzzing that suddenly erupted came from behind the sofa, not the inside of his head. The shell had finally outlived its usefulness, and what Faustus could only assume was the Queen himself flew in lazy circles around the ceiling light as his brood covered the human like a sheet. With his infrareds, he watched them make a quick meal of their former host; dissolving its skin, and absorbing all the nutrients its body had to offer until there was nothing left but a desiccated corpse.

With Faustus still crouching by Eremis, the Queen floated down from the ceiling like a mutated, iridescent brown leaf coasting on a wind current. Having grown to the size of a hand, he landed on top of Eremis’ head with four wings, six feet, bulging eyes, two sets of hard antennae, and an engorged stinger covered in barbs even the android didn’t want to touch. He perched himself as close to Eremis’ forehead as he could without falling off, and stared at Faustus as though daring him to attempt something.

“She’s not yours.” Faustus said, but the Queen either didn’t hear, didn’t understand, or didn’t care. Already at a loss as to what to do about his unresponsive cyberdoll, there wasn’t much else Faustus could do as the Maestro’s brood rose like a black cloud to fill his suites. The plague doctor stood up, and backed away, hoping she would come to… But only caught what he thought was the most meagre of smiles as the swarm concentrated itself, and barrelled into him; driving him out of the room and pushing him all the way to the edge of the elevator shaft. Not stopping until they were done, the bloodthirsty brood knocked him over as they completely knocked out his operating systems; this time effectively rendering him as unconscious as his precious lady on their way down to their Mothership.

Faustus blacked out before he slammed into the top of the elevator cart.

”Why were you smiling, Eremis?”

Chapter 2 – The Explosion

In human calendar time, what Ameidjin would eventually come to believe was the beginning of the end of Cirxci had happened just a few short months earlier. As she had correctly posited, it had, as with many other such tales, all begun with a catastrophic, “Big Bang.”

“You do realize how fucking disgusting that is, don’t you?” Rieze, perched on a boulder a dozen feet over Mercy’s head, stared down her nose at him as she picked at her teeth with her bloodied claws.

Mercy, ignoring the hypocrisy, along with the bloody gashes around her freshest victim’s neck and abdomen, had turned the hapless human over, and taken off its shirt. He’d then pulled his skinning knife from his boot, and cut a clear line from the back of its head, straight down to its tailbone.

“Don’t watch then.” He was growing excited at all the uncoagulated blood pouring out of its wound, licking his jagged canines at the sight of its spine jutting upwards. Rieze’s eyes narrowed to slits when, in one swift and brutal movement, Mercy reached in, snapped the corpse’s spinal cord from the base of its skull and ripped out its entire vertebrae. The sickening sucking sound it made was enough to make her shudder.

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to play with your food?” Mercy didn’t bother with muscles, tendons or ligaments, he simply plucked out the bones he wanted and dropped what remained by his feet. One at a time, he put the pieces in his mouth, using his teeth to crush them up further, and suck at the soft marrow tissue inside. Once he’d licked them clean, he spat the whole thing back out, “Why do you even do that?” She asked him pointedly.

“Why not?” Happily oblivious, Mercy wasn’t about to explain his old habits to his not-so-old hunting partner when they both knew better, “I told you not to watch.”

Rieze grimaced, but Mercy was facing the other way. She turned her head, her contempt replaced by pure, unadulterated glee as something else entirely caught her attention, “Well, well, well.. Looks like karma finally decided she’s being a fucking cunt today.” She announced with a mad grin on her face.

Mercy spat out another mouthful of broken bones before he shot her, and her twisted smile a glance, “What is it?”

“You won’t believe me.” Rieze had the back of her one hand covering her mouth in a half-ass attempt at not stifling her laughter, while she beckoned him with a finger from her other one, “Come take a look.”

His curiosity effectively piqued, Mercy stuffed the corpse’s innards in its back in no particular order, wrapped its shirt around its neck, and kicked it off the edge of the cliff they’d found it sleeping on. It bounced off some stones below, disappearing into a large crevice too far down for daylight to reach or Mercy’s night vision to see. Satisfied with his work, he turned and climbed the boulder to stand next to Rieze.

“In what possible universe is this even remotely fucking amusing, Rieze?” Mercy couldn’t have missed it if he’d tried.

“What do you care?” It was her turn to shrug him off, her assessment of him too accurate for his liking; he was having a damn well near impossible time believing what was happening. ‘CARING’ was an altogether different matter, “Unless, deep down, you think he lied to you, and your precious pet is still hidden on board?”

“He didn’t lie. He killed her, and her bones are still on board.” Mercy shrugged, keeping his eyes off of Rieze’s dumbstruck expression, and on the scene unfolding overhead; the former human colony ship they had collectively boarded, overrun, and assimilated to their cause not that long ago. The black, nigh impenetrable, floating fortress they had used as a weapon of mass destruction against its entire fleet. Their newly adopted alien mothership, lovingly re-christened “The Ezramatheia”…

… Had appeared out of virtually nowhere, and was now hovering a dangerously short-distance away, belching out thick plumes of smoke from the gargantuan cracks quickly spreading across her otherwise solid metal shell as she leaned precariously over to one side. The surreal spectacle took Mercy back, drowning him in nearly forgotten memories stemming from the time he’d decided to leave and live on the surface, much to the Maestro’s protests. Rieze, on the other hand, didn’t care to admit or explain why she’d come and found him. She had turned up on his doorstep one day, and now stubbornly refused to leave him.

“Narcissistic, self-centered fucking bastard had it coming.” Mercy, not entirely processing Rieze’s spite, kept his face blank as she talked, “Hey, do you think it’s going to…”

Mercy never got the chance to dignify her comments with answers. As though they had been waiting for her cue, colossal chunks of hull broke away from the ship. Riding the shockwaves of a series of ear-shattering blasts, they came hurtling towards Rieze and Mercy at breakneck speeds. Diving out of the fiery projectiles way, neither of them had much time to notice her exposed engines were engulfed in flames. One after the other, they exploded, punching more holes along the side of the ship. Unidentifiable pieces of stone, metal, and machinery were sent flying, setting most of the forest that surrounded them ablaze where they landed.

“Hey, do you think she’s going to make it?” Mercy shot Rieze a glance. The murderous look on her face made it abundantly clear that was not what she’d been about to ask. Quite the opposite, in fact… But while the explosions subsided, the Ezramatheia herself was completely overcome by smoke. Mercy sucked in some fresh air, convinced he could hear those on board screaming in panic, pain, and death. He found himself praying that it wasn’t nearly as fucked up as it had sounded and, for the extended moment she stayed afloat, it did look as though she had pulled through… Except all hope evaporated faster than the staling air in his lungs as the smoke began to clear, revealing the full, horrifying extent of the damage she had taken.

Hanging onto her top section by the metaphorical skin of their literal, metal-plated teeth, her decimated thrusters were already dragging her downwards as they sputtered out and died. Their lines and pipes sparked and gushed as they ripped apart, while the few, nearly human-sized bolts holding her together twisted out of their sockets and fell, bisecting their beloved mothership in one final, languishing shriek of despair. Unceremoniously, her broken, smouldering husks crashed into the mountains, burying themselves beneath the rocky avalanches they caused upon impact.

It was Rieze, muttering profanities under her breath, that snapped Mercy out of his daze. Neither of them had any more use for words as they scrambled to their feet, and jumped over the edge of the cliff, flying down its steep face in a bid to see who would hit the ground first. Once they’d reached the thin forest below, however, Mercy stopped in his tracks, watching an unwitting Rieze as she kept racing towards the ship. Maybe deep down she hoped her consort had survived, but Mercy had other, more pressing urges to attend to first.

“… Please … Help me…” It always made it so much easier when they found him. Without looking at who was calling out, Mercy stepped on its neck with his heavy boot, breaking it, and putting the dying human out of its misery. He then dragged the body behind some nearby rocks, and returned to scout the area more thoroughly. Already he counted; five, six, seven… Humans dead from falling, from being impaled, from being burned alive. Much to his frustrations, a number of them had been crushed under fallen trees, catapulted boulders, and flying debris, making their retrieval all but impossible. Fortunately, where most were ripe for his taking, it wasn’t long before he’d amassed a veritable smorgasbord of corpses, neatly piled up, and awaiting consumption. So caught up was he in his grisly scavenger hunt, what sounded like his newest capture suddenly talking to him nearly gave the veteran hunter a heart attack.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing with Basha, dummkopf?” The static-charged, inhuman voice had barely registered when Rieze’s screams of anger filled the air, “Nice to hear that fucking banshee still can’t find her way back home.” Mercy turned around, realized who was talking, and nodded; “Long time no see, little sister.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake Mercy, spare the formalities.” Hyde, in all its bionic glory, wore unlaced combat boots, and a dusty, sleeveless white shirt under ripped green overalls that did a phenomenal job camouflaging it in the tall grass it sat in. With its slightly misshapen gas mask perched on its knee, it glared at Mercy as though daring him to say something about the sad state its face was in… But the tense anticipation was ruined when Rieze let out another series of murderous shrieks.

“… Would strongly suggest you drop Basha before I pop your eyeballs with my tweezers, steal your knife, and go hack out her vocal cords.” Hyde had to shout to be heard through the racket.


It was enough to make Mercy drop Basha’s leg, although he waited until Rieze’s voice had trailed off before he spoke, “Be my guest. You know exactly what will happen to you if you do.”

“In this fucking mess? I’ll take my chances. I doubt anyone’ll care.” Hyde shrugged, banging out the dents in its gas mask with a fist-sized stone.

“Care to explain what happened?” Mercy was keeping an ear out, expecting either another outburst, the sound of people dying or, in Rieze’s case, more than likely both.

“With what? Rieze or the ship?” Mercy couldn’t help but stare as Hyde locked its gas mask into its gullet, pulled it up to what should have been the bridge of its nose, and firmly reattached it to the back of its head. It had the effect of clearing up the static in it its voice, but dropping it lower in pitch, “Jesus, haven’t you been paying attention? Something blew up the engines, killed a bunch of people, and now the rest of us stranded down here with you.”

Mercy blinked a few times and tried again, “So what actually happened?”

Hyde let out a long sigh, “Spoiled brat here was complaining about his life sucking, and wanting to leave. Big Brother obviously couldn’t have that, so he got Faustus to build Basha a new heart reactor. Figures it’s the day we’re supposed to replace it, and ‘KABOOM!!’ there goes the motherfu-…”

“Mothership.” Mercy finished in its stead.

“Shut up. I’m not playing cult, I don’t care what those stupid troglodytes on board say.” Mercy didn’t bother pointing out Hyde was calling the Maestro, “Brother”. The alien himself had left the ship to get away from his older sibling, and almost everyone, including Hyde, knew it, “I was running out to meet Faustus to do the thing, all of a sudden, there’s smoke everywhere. Next thing I know, I’m sore and stiff as shit, Faustus is dragging me out of the dirt, and sputtering off about Basha being unconscious but alive. He brings me here, and tells me to keep him out of trouble. I’ve been watching over the dumb brat ever since.” The top half of Hyde’s face was flushing red from its own, barely suppressed rage.

“You haven’t seen anyone else?” Mercy risked asking regardless.

“No. I haven’t seen anyone else. I don’t even know if any of my family members are alive, never mind where any of them might have ended up. I fucking told you. I’m stuck babysitting the Maestro’s stupid fucking prince until Faustus comes back with his stupid fucking upgrade.” Hyde jabbed a finger at Basha, “How the hell the kid can even still fucking breathe with a busted reactor is beyond me.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about any of that.” Mercy bent down, and pulled his skinning knife from his boot again. Hyde’s eyes lit up like the sun when he handed it to them, “But I’ll let you keep this if you tell me which way bird robot went.”

Hyde took the knife from him, carefully examining the serrated, razor-sharp blade before using the tip to tighten the loose screws around its neck. “I don’t know. Something about tasks, and second tasks, and went back to the ship. I should be taking Basha… Somewhere that’s not here. He said it’s probably best to keep him out of sight until the Maestro is found. Like I actually fucking care.” Hyde glanced around. Mercy knew there was a desert on the far side of the mountains the ship had crashed into, and the forest they stood in eventually became a hill covered valley… But unless there were caves nearby, he couldn’t think of anywhere that would serve as a good hiding spot.

“Nice to hear that new mask of yours hasn’t dampened your sarcasm any.” He shrugged. Hyde rolled its eyes at his comment, “Try not to kill anyone, and I’ll try to send some extra hands your way if I find any.”

“I promise nothing.” Was the best Hyde had to offer, “Wait, you mean real people and not just… Hands… Right?”

“I promise nothing.” He parroted back as he began making his own way towards the Ezramatheia.

“… Did you hear that, you fucking brat? You and I are going to have some fun…” He thought he overheard Hyde say, but didn’t stop or turn to look at what they were doing. Nor did he remember to look for Rieze’s footprints in the singed, cracked earth they’d both threaded. Not until he’d almost reached the ship’s mangled thrusters. As such, he didn’t immediately think it strange she had never made it closer than a dozen feet away from the Ezramatheia’s melted outer shell. All he bothered to notice was the path she had taken towards the ship’s top half, where most of their surviving human followers were more than likely rallying together, trying to salvage what remained of their pitiful human existences.

Mercy reached the mothership, and put a hand on her thruster’s still scorching hot surface, burning his skin, and relishing the sensation. After all this time in self-imposed exile, he had forgotten how absolutely overblown their spaceship had become when the Maestro had run her over. She was so large, and so heavy, not only had she crashed into a mountain, she’d utterly obliterated it, and taken its place. It was an almost impressive ending for such an impressive piece of machinery.

He heard… Thought he heard… What did he think he’d heard? Mercy involuntarily moved up a step. Was someone whispering to him through the cracks? The holes that perforated the ship were more than big enough to hide a person. His fingers traced the smaller lines while smoke kept billowing out. He took another step, kneeled down, leaned forward to listen and…

(Who Said it’s “The End”?)

… Promptly disappeared. Bound, captured, pulled through the mothership’s gaping fissures, and swallowed by the darkness that lurked underneath.

Chapter 3 – Hallucinating

Basha only vaguely remembered the explosion. He didn’t know he’d been thrown out, and knocked unconscious when the ship had fallen out of the sky. Nor was he aware Hyde had managed to drag him down an abandoned basement, tied him to a ratty bed frame, and was attempting to force its way into his torso.

No. As far as he was concerned, it was the tinkling of music that lured him back from the edge of the void. Warped, and backwards, it played so softly, it wasn’t long before it was drowned out by whispering. The indecipherable words slithered between the quiet notes, and crawled inside his ears, causing his bruised, and battered body to jerk, and convulse uncontrollably. Acrid white smoke wafted up from cracks in the floor; powerless to stop it, it found its way into his mouth and nose, down his windpipe, and settled at the bottom of his lungs like scorching hot lead. When, still thoroughly unaware of what was happening to him, Basha doubled over in a coughing fit, the subtle, burning itch that had been growing in his lower extremities erupted. It raced up his limbs, and upper body, the pain of which nearly convinced him he’d burst into a ball of literal hell fire.

“And would you imagine; you haven’t opened your eyes yet.”

The sudden sound of that… HIS goddamned voice… Sent his mind reeling as the force of gravity threatened to make him collapse under his weight. He pulled his hands up to cover his ears, to no avail.

“Don’t you remember, little brother, all the misery we’ve wrought together?”

The voice kept talking to him. Basha shook his head. He had but barely gotten a hold of his thoughts, and already they were spinning out of his control as the cacophony kept on raging both inside his head, and all around him.

He didn’t know where he was or why. He didn’t even know he’d been knocked unconscious. So, where the actual hell was he waking back up?

“Who ever said you were waking up, Basha?”

His deep and deadly ominous voice was growing, coming closer. Basha slowly, partially, wrenched one eye open to have a peek…. But it was all he could do to stop himself from screaming as he watched his shadow grow three times in length. Wings appeared on his back, while horns sprouted out of his head. His mouth, despite being covered by the palms of his hands, split into a shit devouring rictus. He shuddered, closed his eye again, and prayed it would all go back where it had come from and leave him the hell alone.

“That’s not what you want, and we both know it little brother.” The booming laughter that followed bounced off the floors, walls, and ceilings of the shapeless, cavernous space they were sharing.

There was no fucking way this was happening. This couldn’t be real.

“Of course it is, Basha.”

But of fucking course it was. Fucked up as he was, Basha didn’t need to look up over his head to know what was now looming directly over him. The tense chills of impending dread dripped down his back. The sudden, accompanying silence was brutal, agonizing, and felt like it was lasting an eternity.

“So, tell me, how are you truly feeling, little brother?” The voice returned a soft, barely audible whisper. Basha felt lips behind his ear, and the light brush of razor sharp canines over the skin covering the veins, and arteries in his neck. The hopelessness that had been slowly growing in the pit of his stomach…

The desperate scream that threatened to escape his vocal cord… Was muffled, and then entirely cut off as the Mad Maestro fell upon him like a blanket of ashen snow. Using one hand to grip both of his wrists together, he pinned them behind Basha’s back. The Maestro then stepped in front of the boy, and made a show of slowly licking the blood, dripping down the serrated claws of his other hand, as he dug them into Basha’s narrow cheekbones. Basha, stubbornly refusing fully to open his eyes, struggled to break free, but standing a full head over him, the Mad Maestro had no problem keeping him in his inhumanly strong grasp.

“You left us, my prince. And being away is making you frail.” The Maestro smirked as he moved his mouth down his jaw. He then turned Basha’s head in his direction, drawing more blood between his fingers as he took a closer look at his pale features, “But you’re back here, with me now, and that’s all that matters.”

The Maestro kissed Basha’s forehead, running his forked tongue down the bridge of his nose before biting into his upper lip hard enough to make him wince, “I have a present for you.” His voice sounded as jagged as his teeth as he let go of Basha’s face, “Something for all your pain.”

Basha finally managed to open his mouth to protest, but was far too slow with his words, as the Maestro put a finger over his lips to quiet him. Never letting go of Basha’s wrists, he let go of his face, and turned him the other way, placing his newly freed claws between the boy’s shoulder blades. Basha felt his heart slamming inside his ribcage once, twice. It skipped a beat, and then stopped completely as the bones in his back and chest splintered, and snapped. His knees gave out, his spine buckled, and blood gushed down his torso, drenching the clothes he wore with blood. Nearly blacking out, it was only the Maestro unmercifully holding on to him that kept him upright. Still, Basha failed to open his eyes, see or register what had happened to him.

“He ripped your heart out again, Basha. Look at how beautiful it is.” Said another, yet distinctly female voice. In the state he was in, Basha only recognized Eremis because her tinkling tone nearly matched the timber of her box, the music of which kept playing almost inaudibly in the background. Prying his eyes open, he blinked several times before his blurred vision began to return… And there it was, plain as day, jutting out of the front of his chest, and resting precariously between the Maestro’s fingertips as it kept pumping blood out with a steady rhythm.

His heart. Once more. No longer his.

“Impressive how it keeps beating.” Eremis said.

“… No… Not you too…” He barely muffled a scream as the Maestro pulled his arm back through his chest cavity. He let Basha go, evaporating into the inky black backdrop of their shared delusion, bringing his heart along with him. Basha gasped, teetered, almost fell over, but somehow kept standing.

“Is this upsetting you little brother? It’s not like you’ve ever used it.” It was a stupid question with a dishonest answer, and Basha chose not to dignify it with a response.

“Don’t be rude, Basha. Open your eyes, and look.” With his heart now a toy nestled into the Maestro’s hands, Basha could only do as he was ordered. He dried his eyes, opened them wide, and found himself facing Eremis’ entirely naked figure. Her matted, waist-long, chestnut hair did nothing to conceal what little curves she had, as her glowing, fuchsia eyes seared another hole in his forehead.

“Come closer, Basha…” She beckoned him as the snickering, giggles, and whispers returned. Basha struggled not to slip over his feet as he stumbled forward, taking a step, then another, and a third. It took him a long moment, but the full extent of the horror that had been standing bare alongside him slowly began to register. Utterly speechless, his jaw inches from the ground, Basha wondered if she’d fallen off the deep end, and inflicted her ghastly wounds upon herself as she’d done countless times before… Or if someone else had come around, and again used her for “practice.”

Eremis’ neck had been torn… No… That wasn’t right. It had been completely ripped to shreds, exposing the muscles, tendons, and ligaments still pulsing underneath. Her torso and stomach were also covered in deep bites, long scratches, and multiple stab wounds. Her arms and legs had been slashed down to her bones, plainly visible under her flailed and battered flesh. Worse was the way she’d been… Sown back together… Thick strands of coarse, black threads crisscrossed in and out of her mangled and mutilated flesh in a weak attempt at stitching her back together like a rag doll. Of course, Basha knew Eremis had already lost much of her humanity. The suicidal female had been converted into a mechanical pet against her will before they had met. But here, right at the moment, she was more human than machine, and the result was nothing short of fucking nightmarish.

“Promise, it looks worse than it feels.” She smiled as she came closer, burying her nose in his blood-soaked shirt, and digging her nails into his forearms with strength she shouldn’t have had in the condition she was in. She moved her free arm around his neck, her loose stitches getting tangled into his shaggy, nearly glowing, bright white hair along with her tiny fingers. Basha smelled nothing but vanilla as he unwittingly pulled her close to him, and held her there.

“Don’t forget; Big Brother’s watching.” Eremis whispered as, unbeknownst to him, the Mad Maestro had materialized some distance behind him, Basha’s pounding heart still nestled between his claws as he flicked his forked tongue from between his venomous fangs.

“Don’t forget; Big Brother can fuck right off.” Basha muttered as Eremis removed her hands from his hair, and ran her fingers over the fresh cuts in his face. She pulled his lips towards hers, their mouths melting into each other as her finger traced a path down his chest, avoiding the gaping, bleeding hole there to reach for his leather belt instead.

“… Always happy to oblige, brother…” The Maestro replied, too quietly for Basha to pretend to hear. Eremis had stolen his attention, undoing his buckle, and pulling down his zipper. The boy held on to her small, surprisingly steady frame as she wrapped her frozen fingertips around his rapidly growing inches, making him gasp from both the cold, and the delightfully delectable friction.

“Tell me you miss me?” Eremis asked Basha sweetly as they all watched her fingers play his swollen member like a true organ, sucking on his neck for their Maestro’s pleasure before biting her way down his abdomen. She kneeled in front of him, yanking on his pants until they’d fallen to his knees.

“… No…” Every other word he’d managed to conjure up in his head completely evaporated as Eremis ignored his feeble plea, and placed her full, tender lips on the tip of his throbbing erection.

“Say it, little brother,” The Maestro kept taunting him in her stead as Basha half-heartedly attempted to move his hips away from her mouth. She was drowning him in sensations he’d forgotten he could feel, making him rock to the rolls of her tongue, “Tell us how much you miss us.”

“… I said no…” But Basha was far too gone, and distracted, to care if he’d even spoken the words out loud or not. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d been this aroused, much less able to recall the last time he’d so desperately wished he wasn’t. This wasn’t the place for fucking around, he thought… But the Maestro and Eremis clearly had other ideas.

“You’re so fucking close…” The Mad Master moved away from Basha’s ear as the boy knotted his fingers in Eremis’ hair in turn, gave in, and thrust his engorged cock down her throat. He grunted, his eyes rolling back just in time to catch the Maestro’s face, mere millimetres away from his own, as it spread into another wide, fanatically sadistic grin. He pushed Basha’s heart under his nose, the tender organ beating in time to his throbbing member, very much on the verge of exploding where it rested at the bottom of Eremis’ mouth.

“I know you’re frustrated, little brother. Come now. Let it all out.” The Mad Maestro ordered obscenely when all Basha had left to do was obey. The Maestro’s booming laughter reverberated across the room once again as Eremis swallowed Basha’s grand finale. To add a final insult to his already gaping injuries, the Maestro then crushed his poor, bleeding heart between his claws, ripping the already defective muscle into barely recognizable pieces, and letting them fall through the cracks below, never to be seen again.

Eremis stood up, and wiped her mouth, as the Maestro wiped his hands clean of the bloody mess he’d made. He sneered as Basha’s now limp, and lifeless body crumpled in on itself, and fell to floor in a heap. Then just as quickly as they had appeared, the Maestro and Eremis vanished in a puff of smoke, taking their music, their sarcasm, and their laughter along with them when they went;

“Bye-Bye, Brother.”

Chapter 1 – Death Has A New Beginning

Possibly the only jipsa still alive and thinking, Ameidjin stood alone on her rock, and hopelessly wished for a reset function she knew didn’t exist. The stress-induced adrenaline was causing her blood pressure to spike, and she closed her eyes as jumbled thoughts flashed behind her lids at nauseating speeds. The mess of reels culminated into a burst of colour, followed by nothing but static… Black… White… Grey… Continuously rolling, never ending… Static. She brought her hands to her head, shook it, and opened her eyes again. It didn’t help. Nothing about her surroundings had changed. Ameidjin still stood on her rock overlooking what had become a mass grave. From her vantage point, she had a round, unobstructed view of the Mad Maestro’s extermination of her kind in all of its twisted, rotting beauty. An ironic display of morbid grotesqueries rendered live, and in high definition, under the cruel glare of their planets’ sun. Here, within a jipsa sanctuary… Except a sanctuary it was no longer.

“It was a massacre,” didn’t begin to describe the true horror that had happened here. It was genocide; “Complete and utter annihilation.” It had Ameidjin nearly convinced she was losing her mind. Yet, it was impossible to miss, or misunderstand, how much death there had been here in what appeared to be a ridiculously short time frame; blood still pooled from the piles and piles of putrefied, mummifying carcasses littering the ground. All of her brothers, and sisters. All of them butchered, mangled, mutilated. They had been shot, skewered, crucified to the stone beneath them, stuffed into every crack, crag, and crevice. They had all manner of weapon jutting out of ripped skin and broken bones… All of them… She could even see the warmth of their collective bodies slowly rising into the atmosphere, dissipating into nothingness.

And the smell… The fetid scent of death and decay was threatening to engulf her whole. It had assaulted her senses long before she had made landfall. As she had moved up the shore, her bare feet landing ankle deep in puddles of guts and gore, it had become all the more intolerable. Now, it was nothing short of overwhelming. It made her eyes well up with tears. It made her nose and throat burn. It made her skin itch until her entire body felt wrapped up in dull, tingling sensations. It went along well with the fire searing a hole in her stomach. She could barely find her words, let alone put them in any which order, forced as she was to take it all in. She could feel what her family had felt; the desperation, the fear, the pain. She allowed all of it in, let it crawl under her skin, let it climb its way through her nervous system until all she could register anymore was her unbearable, insurmountable anger. At “THEM”.

It was all their fault, she knew. Those life sucking leeches… insufferable, unkillable insects. Rumours had circulated of their arrival, but there had been no warning. No indication whatsoever of what was to happen.

“Here”… On Cirxci… The small blue and yellow marble planet with one sun and two moons, Ameidjin and her people called home. Left to its own devices, alone in a distant corner of the backwards universe, it had developed, matured and flourished. Separated into three major continents, and surrounded by countless islands, cradled by clear, emerald green waters, it had been primordial, exotic, and teeming with life; a gentle nature befitting an equally gentle balance.

But then, that ‘THING’ had appeared.

Even on their distant island, they had heard the whispers floating back from the mainland. ‘ITS’ arrival had coincided with one of their festivals, and their otherwise inexplicable guest had been received as a Greater Deity, finally returned from some far gone pilgrimage… Alien naivety at its finest. Ameidjin pursed her lips.

No one knew exactly what had happened. One day, the jipsa had woken up to thick, black smoke instead of clouds; their ‘Deity,’ had been badly damaged. Its systems had overloaded, and a chunk of its hull had been blown clear off. ‘IT’ hadn’t survived… Jolted, tilted precariously to its side, and with dying engines,

‘IT’ had exploded, ripped apart, and crashed to the ground. A passive people, unaccustomed to confrontation and war, they had let their guard down. They had let their friendly curiosity get the best of them, and they had gotten too close. They hadn’t known how angry their ‘Deity’ truly was. Not until it was far too late, and now this… This… This was the inevitable result of their doing that.

Ameidjin balled her hands into tight fists, her claws drawing blood from her palms. The stories they had told… The rumours that had spread… The tales of how the downed, mountain-sized craft, had suddenly opened ‘ITS’ doors, and unleashed armageddon on doomed, defenceless Cirxci. Stories of mutated insects having suddenly appeared, swarming out by the millions. Stories of how they had spread out like a plague, destroying everything in their path. Thanks to their ,’Deity,’ infected, and mindless drones had run over their villages and cities. They had tortured who they could, and killed who they couldn’t. They had taken everything they were able to get their hands on until there was nothing left for them to take, and had kept on going. They had contaminated their waters, and decimated their ports. Their wildlife had been nearly eradicated while their lush forests had burned down, and been reduced to dry, barren deserts. Their once great cities were left smouldering rubbles of their former selves; spewing out more black smoke so thick, it had joined all the other smoke, and blotted out all the lights in the universe. It had turned even their brightest days into pitch black nights, and rendered their journey here all the more miserable.

Of course, she had found survivors, but the older generations, and those who hadn’t fallen to diseases, had suffered shock and trauma at the overbearing sight of the newly warped landscape. Others had died traversing the rough seas, and most had extinguished from heat and starvation. To add to their paranoia, there hadn’t bee a single bird in the sky, not a single movement on the ground or even a quiet breeze to keep them company for what had seemed like an eternity-long voyage. As their numbers had dropped off, all she’d had left on her increasingly lonely journey here was silence… And more silence was what had greeted her when she had finally gotten here… To what she was painfully discovering was not shelter, but her kind’s final resting place.

Ameidjin sucked in a breath. Every moment gone was a moment closer to her inevitable death. They were done, she believed. Her species had been rendered all but extinct, and she knew, “IT,” would come back to finish what it had started. She knew their, ‘Deity,’ wasn’t far from here. It rested, looming into the background among their sacred mountains, waiting for what remained of them to arrive. She could practically hear ‘ITS’ engines; the menacing, low mechanical sounds of technological torture. The, “Black Machine of Death.”

And she could feel it… All of it. The pain… The suffering… All that misery and anguish. It was positively excruciating. It felt like hell. Or as close to hell as they could get, all the way out on their distant planet.

The insects were coming ever closer. She could hear them chittering nearby. It wouldn’t be much longer now.

With nothing left to look at but the same, morbidly red white and black, never-ending static, and the dry, death-filled landscape frozen in space and time, Ameidjin closed her eyes once more. It couldn’t be over… This couldn’t be the…

She closed her eyes tighter.

Flash. White. Blank.

“The End?”