[Episode I.II]

(It’s growing. Louder.)

“… You’re headed in the wrong direction, brother…” To nearly everyone else, it sounded like bordering on static whispers, and sarcastic snickering. To Mercy, however, the swelling racket was an increasingly irritating reminder of the high life he’d been trying so hard to give up, ”I left all of this already.” He’d been swearing to himself since he’d left Eremis standing in their Maestro’s suites. Not that it helped him any. As he’d retraced his steps past the littered vestibule, and down the slanted elevator shaft, the snickering had turned to jeering. As he’d reached the broken ship’s main corridors, and run the explosive gauntlet towards the terraforming bay, the jeering had escalated to distant laughter. By the time he had landed on the undamaged catwalks that criss-crossed the ceiling over what was officially ground level, it had evolved into full-blown ridicule;

“… You’re not listening, Mercy…” His blood, ever the fucking hypocrite, would soon be making everyone’s skin crawl as he found the proper use of his voice. For the present, their Mad Maestro was content making it abundantly evident it was the back of Mercy’s thick, fucking skull he was once again calling, “Home”.

“I can see just fine, brother.” Enthralled, yet utterly oblivious, Mercy forgot the hivemind, and spoke out loud. He could. SEE what looked like thick, viscous, black bile,

(An Ocean of Ink)

filling the practically vertical hallway he had climbed his way up earlier. It seemed whatever had been expanding from the bottom of the engine room had kept rising in his absence. It lapped at the second doorway, slowly but surely filling the bay, “I want to know why that bloody robot had to bug me with your fucking bullshit.”

“Oh, come now, Mercy, don’t you feel useful?” His name dripped off his brother’s tongue like venom as the Maestro’s laughter became torturously fucking clear, “You, better than anyone, should know what happens when my hive attempts to betray me.”

“No one pisses off THE Queen.” Mercy’s eyes rolled back in their sockets as he re-iterated. He had, though. Royally fucking pissed off his brother. He had cut himself off the hivemind. He had left the Ezramatheia. He had been gone for what had felt like an eternity. He had gotten so close to being rid of the Maestro’s influence for good… But he had witnessed their dear mothership’s demise, and exactly like the fucking clown he always would be, he had come running right back without so much as being asked.

“Correct, brother. You did this. To yourself.” The Maestro articulated, slowly rolling the words around Mercy’s brain until the latter became thoroughly convinced they were his one and only truth, ”I did this to myself.” He readily repeated, submitting to his elder brother’s will. Truly, he should have known better. They were flesh and poisonous blood, after all.

With his most crucial tasks now completed, the half-dead, thoroughly exhausted Maestro, along with his biting comments, and condescending laughter, began to fade. Mercy exhaled through his nose, leaning against the railing as he tried to decide what to do next. The quiet didn’t last. Somehow still attuned to their fractured hivemind despite being fractured himself, the Maestro picked up on something serious enough to make him panic. Without warning, his entire brood screeched glass-shattering murder between Mercy’s ears. Painfully similar to the sound of broken nails scratching along metal strings, the noise made Mercy flinch, ”What’s the problem now, brother?”

“… We can smell… From here… Go… Do something…” His elder brother found the strength to hiss as he vanished into the background.

“What are you talking about?” Mercy asked. Tried to, “Smell what?” But received no response. Not even white noise, “Fucking typical.” He rested his forehead against his palms, sliding his hands down until they covered his entire face. That was when he caught a whiff of it as well, “…pheromones.” Only, it wasn’t the underwhelming scent of overexcited humans, it was the sickeningly rich smell of their own, alien kind, “Where the hell Is it coming from?” It most certainly wasn’t anywhere nearby; even their most devoted worshippers had picked up their dead, and left the immediate area. No, whatever it was, it wafted in from somewhere outside.

Sticking his nose in the air, he followed the smell halfway across the top of the bay, and turned away from the unusable engine room exit. Climbing a short ramp near the centre of the ship led him to a barely noticeable archway, and a partially collapsed corridor with gaping tears all along its sunken side. Mercy made short work of the jump up the wall, and pulled himself into a seated position alongside the hull’s deep, ragged edges. Leaning back, he gave himself another brief pause to admire the open sky, and the plethora of multicoloured, celestial bodies he could see hanging there through the glare of the setting sun.

After a moment, Mercy swung his knees over his head, and back rolled off his perch. He slid down the side of the ship, using his claws to slow his descent. Dropping ankle deep in a growing puddle of the same, black substance that had overflowed from the engine blocks, he quickly realized the fluid had also begun leaking through the cracks in their ship. It pooled behind her propellers, and streamed down the side of the mountain. It sucked the life out of everything it came into contact with, and caused the surrounding vegetation to shrivel up and rot, with vines, and clusters of bioluminescent mushrooms already sprouting up to take its place. Pursing his lips, Mercy spun on his heels, clasped his hands together, bowed his head, and mouthed an apology to their poor, agonized mother.

The angry shrieking returned.

Caught off guard, he first believed it was the Maestro panicking again. Then he believed it was the Ezramatheia vocalizing her displeasure through their hivemind. Finally, Hyde’s words floated up to haunt him, “Nice to hear that fucking banshee…” He faced away from the ship to look at his surroundings, and was almost instantly assailed by the stench of death. It was inhuman, and close enough to overpower the pheromones he was tracking. He let out a cough, covering his mouth with the back of his hand despite himself, “…stupid fucking humans, and their stupid fucking habits…” He hardly had the time to mutter, “Oh for… Would everything shut the hell up?” He groaned as inhuman screams bounced off the tall, thin, impossibly spikey trees that populated the region. Finding her footprints running parallel to the hull, he traced her steps to a cliff, where more shrieks preceded more screams. He thought he was beginning to understand why his brother had panicked. HE HAD been using a human host instead of his own, humanoid form… And Mercy had been repeatedly ordered to deal with her, “She didn’t get within twelve feet of mother,” He observed, “What the fuck did she do to you, brother?” But the Maestro’s entire brood could’ve had completely left him again for all the reaction he received in response to his question.

You love me. Admit it.

As annoyed as ever, Mercy nonetheless found his own way through the wasted forest. Getting closer to his mark, he ducked to avoid toxic green entrails draping off some broken tree branches. A few steps later, he caught himself, almost stepping on the freshly eviscerated torso they had fallen from. With only his lightning fast reflexes to blame, he then caught its decapitated head out of the air as it came sailing towards him. Praying she either hadn’t noticed, or wouldn’t care, Mercy fell into a crouch, and snuck up to the low rising cliff where he’d seen movement. Slowly, carefully, he lifted his eyes to take a look; “Un-Fucking-Real” was a human expression he was unfamiliar with, yet still had plastered all over his face. It seemed, unable to get close to, or board the mothership, Rieze had wandered off, and by some stroke of… Something like luck… Had stumbled into a group of jipsa setting up camp in a narrow cave. As frustrated as Mercy was irritated, she had decided to make an example out of all of them. The first, she had ripped apart, and disposed of. She had stabbed two through the chest with her bare claws. She had torn the arms off two others, leaving them to bleed to death. Now, with her back mostly turned to Mercy, she was snapping the legs off the last one like twigs, making it howl in agony.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Rieze was only taunting it to listen to herself talk. Cirxci’s jipsa were exceptional in their appearances, but knew no language apart from their own. They were only, “intelligent,” in the sense they had all more or less abandoned their surface dwelling to hide underground when the Ezramatheia had appeared. Although fully aware they hadn’t exactly come here to establish proper, diplomatic relations, Mercy also knew they had barely had any contact. This, what Rieze was doing, wouldn’t aid their cause, “We’re not done yet.” One of the armless jipsa had staggered to its feet, and out into the open. Giving herself a running start, Rieze pounced on it. She landed on its upper body with enough force to splatter its brain matter as it slammed into the ground, “That’s what we smell,” Mercy swallowed, “Killing them is making her fucking horny.” And still, she wasn’t done. Unwilling to let anything live, Rieze flounced back towards the last, crippled, jipsa. With an obscenely self-satisfying smirk, she placed her foot on the small of its back, pinning it in place;

“Care to join me, Mercy? Or would you rather keep staring like a fucking dummkopf?” She called out, raising an eyebrow in his direction as he dropped out of sight again, “How the hell does she know?” He didn’t have any words to give her. Especially not with the Maestro along for the trip, “Too fucking slow, dummkopf.” Rieze didn’t wait three seconds, “And too fucking bad for you.” She reached down, grabbed the jipsa by its throat, and crushed its windpipe. Its eyes popped as its blood vessels burst, drool dripping down the side of its mouth as it choked, and eventually expired. Once it had passed, Rieze borrowed a page from Mercy’s book; she yanked its face back with both hands, spun it 180° on its spine, and dropped it back into the dirt. She then straightened herself out, shook out her arms, and licked her lips as she inspected her handiwork. Not losing her smile, she rather drunkenly wandered over to where Mercy stood rooted. Ceremoniously, she lay down on her stomach on the stone surface beside him, her platinum hair cascading over the ledge as she levelled her eyes with his, “What’s the matter, Mercy?” She purred, teasing him, “Serpent got your tongue?”

He stopped swallowing, his gag reflex long immune to his brother’s drugs of choice. Neither particularly intelligent nor skilled, Rieze had spent most of her otherwise meagre existence serving as little more than fluorescent decor. She had only started killing when she had found him on Cirxci’s surface. Even at that, she had simply shrugged it off as, “helping,” him get rid of, “parasites,” and rarely touched her victims after offing them.

Never knew you to be such a sadist, princess.” Mercy left his face blank as he examined the jipsa. With their black-to-silver-white hair, pointed ears, prismatic eyes, and soft pastel coloured skin, they were an astoundingly beautiful race of creatures. Some even had what looked like roughly cut diamonds embedded into their foreheads. It gave them an air of royalty; a quality that had interested, and attracted, the Maestro. Shame, then, that it wasn’t making friends their alien overlord was interested in doing.

“Tell me,” Tired of his idleness, she took a hold of his chin. Digging her claws into his jawbone, she forced him to face her as she smeared the blood on her fingers over his mouth, “Do you know how humans reproduce?”

Still enthralled, Mercy put up no resistance when she reached out to kiss him. Plunging her tongue between his teeth, she wrapped her arms around his neck in a bid to pull him close to her. Mercy let go of the decapitated head as his weight shifted, and his footing slipped. Rieze took the opportunity to slide herself off the cliff, and wrap her legs around his waist. Thrown completely off balance, Mercy fell over, sending them both rolling a dozen feet down the shallow incline in a mess of stifled grunts, and tangled limbs. Covered in dirt, leaves, and ash, he found himself straddled by her full figure as she rolled over on top of him.

“He was going to kill me, and replace me with Eremis,” She huffed, explaining, even though Mercy hadn’t asked, “Decided if you didn’t need him, he didn’t need me either. He had Faustus dig her up from a fucking scrap heap somewhere, and give her an upgrade.” She crossed her arms, and scoffed, “He was going to end me, so I ended him first. Almost.” She brushed her hair away from her face, but it only fell right back as she leaned down. He couldn’t tell if her turquoise eyes were shining from tears, anger, or excitement, “I found actual acid on board strong enough to melt his form. Drove his brood absolutely insane. They ran me off the Ezram before I could kill THE Queen. Fucking pity. I thought for sure the explosion had done him in, but I still can’t board mother, and…” Rieze shifted her head, so her nose rested on Mercy’s collarbone. She ran it up the length of his neck, licked his ear, and sunk her sharp canines into the stiff cartilage, “I can fucking taste him on you.” She sneered with a terrifying mixture of amusement and disgust, “So tell me, Mercy,” For the second time, his eyes rolled around in his skull. Truly, he wished they would all shut up and fuck off with all the names again, “Do you know how humans have sex?”

She licked the side of his face before he could answer, propping herself up to grind her hips into his in a gross imitation of the real thing. Unimpressed, he grabbed her waist with both hands and pulled her up, but only high enough to stop her from moving. Keeping his eyes fixed on hers to make sure she was listening, he slid his hands down her thighs, “Human males have muscles between their legs that fill with blood and harden. They use those to penetrate their human females.” He reached up under what only Rieze herself would call a skirt, and brushed the side of his hand against the sexless mound of alien insects that would never even pass for skin there; “I shouldn’t have to explain how not fucking human we are, but if you’re that desperate for a demo…” He wanted to laugh, but didn’t.

Rieze opened her mouth to say something, but lost whatever sound she was about to make, and gasped as Mercy impaled her… Her brood… On his claws. Her waist dropped from the sudden invasion of physical space, driving his hand even further inward as bug blood gushed down his wrist, “… There you go. Almost like a real human female.”

“… Mmm…” His irony went unnoticed as she grimaced, trying to steady herself, but Mercy wouldn’t slow down, “Mercy, that hurts… Mercy… Mercy, don’t… Don’t… Ah… Ahh… Ow! Quit it, Mercy!” She was shouting, squeezing and loosening her legs as she squirmed around on his forearm, “… Stop it, stop it, I said FUCKING. STOP IT. MERCY!!!” She slammed her fists into his chest, failing to break free from his grasp, “I am stopping it, princess.” Mercy told her without a shred of sarcasm as he located her Queen at the base of her breastbone,

(Off With Her Head)

and decapitated it without a, “Goodbye,” in much the same way she had decapitated the hapless jipsa. She froze as her form fragmented, and also melted. With no Queen to lead them, her brood swarmed in a thick cloud over Mercy’s head. Finally, a quarter of a lifetime later, they floated to the top of the mountain range in a burst of angry buzzing similar to the Maestro’s screeches. Another quarter of a lifetime after that, they dissipated down their far side.

“Bet you didn’t think that would work either.” Mercy said out loud as he stood up, and brushed the dirt off his clothes. He then remembered the hivemind, asking it directly, “You’re not saying anything, brother. Did you get any of that?

Nothing. Not a damned thing. Dead fucking silence.

You fucking love me. Admit it.

“You are such an asshole.” Mercy grumbled as he set off for the bottom of the Ezramatheia with only the breeze, and the crackling forest fires left to keep him any company. He hadn’t forgotten his collection of human bodies, or their spines, fresh for all his pickings. He had all that bone marrow to catch up on, and he was beginning to grow hungry.

Until next time, brother


Meanwhile, Back in the Void; Part I

“You know something, Vanya?” Five’s words floated down after her as she fell away into the dark, “I never liked you.”

It had only taken Klaus a matter of seconds to put an end to her grand finale, but she had already been gone by then. Reopening her eyes to a shockingly familiar domino mask momentarily convinced her Five was now more than ready to end her as well.

“You’re awake.” The foreign-sounding voice was as familiar to her as the domino mask hovering two inches above it; up way too close and examining her intently. Vanya, aware but motionless on the ground, blinked the blurriness out of her eyes.

“You’re not Five.” She tried to say, only to have it come out as a barely audible whisper.

“No. I’m not Five. I’m Ben. And you’ll be happy to know this isn’t the Academy; it’s the Void.”

Ben,” Vanya sat bolt upright, but the searing pain that erupted from the side of her head made her cringe hard enough to force her hands up to her temples, “It hurts because Five shot me.” She recalled. Then it hit her, “The bullet holes are gone.”

With the stars floating across her field of vision beginning to dissipate, Vanya was able to lift her gaze, and glance over THE HORROR; her adopted brother, Ben Hargreeves. Somehow sitting cross-legged, yet floating upside down on top of a large, mirrorless, wooden dresser. He still looked the little hero in his Academy uniform, showing no signs of aging, dying, or rotting away. There were no holes visible anywhere around his midsection either.

“Ben…” She couldn’t seem to voice level up over a murmur, “You look…”

“Super ordinary?” His face, impassive so far, broke into a large grin, “This place has s way of bringing out the normal in people. Kind of like you, Vanya.”

“Me?” No, no, no! Her frustrations wanted to yell in protest. Everyone lied to me! I just levelled the Academy, and blew up the moon! I’m not ordinary at all! I’m… She moved her hands from her temples, wanting to pick up her violin and give her brother a proper demonstration. Not only did she not have her violin, however, she was stunned to discover she no longer looked like one either. With her short black hair, her human-coloured skin, and her petite figure clad in a t-shirt and shorts, Vanya Hargreeves looked… Well… Exactly like herself.

“It’s good to see someone again. I doubt he told anyone, but Klaus has been ignoring me for awhile.” Still floating, sitting cross-legged, and upright, on his otherwise upside-down dresser, Ben moved off a bit.

“No… Klaus didn’t…” Ever say anything about a Void, Ben hanging around, or,

“… What’s that?” She asked about the building she had just noticed in front of her, on Ben’s left. He turned his head, opened his mouth, closed it, thought hard for a minute, and finally said;

“So, imagine back when we were eighteen, dad kicks Klaus out of the house. Klaus, predictably, overdoses at the back of some alley, and crashes here, swearing this building already existed.” He attempted to explain as Vanya gawked at him incredulously, “Yeah, I know, right? Except don’t imagine anything because this actually happened.” He flipped himself right side up, hopped off his dresser, and walked towards her.

“… Klaus’ bar?” Klaus had a bar? How did Klaus have a bar? Let alone have a bar in some weirdly empty, pocket dimension no one else knew about? Ben reached his hand out, answering her question before she could ask;

“He traded his soul off to some formerly human android living on another planet for what’s left of his sanity. From what I’ve gathered, anyway. Like I said. He’s been more or less ignoring me since we’ve been here.” That almost made Vanya smile, and she took hold of his outstretched arm, helping him help her get up on her feet. Stumbling over on weak legs, she almost fell on top of him. Instead, he caught her by the waist, and she wrapped her arms around his neck in a long overdue hug.

“Good to see you too, Ben.” Vanya smiled for real this time, knowing full well he wasn’t what had triggered her explosive anger. Unfortunately for both of them, their sweet and tender moment was cut short by a sudden series of ear-splitting howls. Appearing out of virtually nowhere, the orange tomcat zipped around a nearby tree, darted between their legs, and made a beeline for the building’s back door. Stopping itself short of crashing head first into it, it sat itself down, curled its tail around its paws, and began meowing to be let in.

“Cute kitty. Is it yours?” Vanya asked Ben, trying not to lean into him too much as he kept his arm around her waist and lead her towards it.

“No. It only showed up a few days ago. I think it belongs to the android who owns the place.”

“You think?” She raised a somewhat mocking eyebrow at him.

“Yes, I think. It hasn’t let me get close enough to pick it up, read its collar, or find out if its male or female. All it does is run around, and howl to be let in and out. Like I’m its valet or something.” He frowned, “Can you stand up by yourself if I let you go?” He asked her. Vanya wasn’t sure she trusted herself, but she nodded anyway. He slowly loosened his grip, watching as she teetered, fumbled, then straightened herself out.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ben once again asked, and Vanya once again nodded. He turned his back to her, and opened the door. Evidently annoyed they had made it wait all of twenty-seven seconds, the cat screeched as he tore across the linoleum floor, flew up on the stage at the far end, and disappeared under the closed, nearly identically orange curtains. While this was happening, Ben kept the door open for Vanya as she slowly stepped on through, following right behind her in case she fell. She tottered over to the counter, pulled up a stool, and let out a sigh of relief as she sat down.

“Would my long lost sister like something to drink?” It was Ben’s turn to stand behind the bar, and he took the time to look over the notes stuck to the side of the cash register, ”EREMIS WAS HERE.” The first one read, and the next,

”PLEASE FEED ARTEMIS. THANK YOU.” He chuckled to himself as he read out loud, “Guess I was right. It does belong to the android who runs the Void. How’ bout that?”

“… sparkling lemon water with a little umbrella in it?” As deathly quiet as she was, Ben almost missed Vanya saying. He spun on his heels, staring at her staring right back at him until they simultaneously doubled over laughing.

“I don’t think there’s anything that fancy back here. How about some coffee?” He suggested once they’d calmed down, and caught their breaths.

“No. Just some regular water. Thanks.” Coffee was Five’s thing, and the mere thought of him was enough to make her shudder. Eagle-eyed Ben caught that as well;

“How is the family doing?” He asked casually as he rummaged around for a glass and some ice cubes. Vanya leaned forward on her elbows, and pursed her lips, unsure how to reply.

”Where would you like to me start, Ben? When dad died? When I jeopardized another mission? When Diego chewed me out? When I betrayed everyone? Want me to tell you how I blew Pogo’s brains out? How about the way I slashed Allison’s throat open so she’ll never talk, or rumour anyone, ever again? How about that, Ben? Would hearing about that make you happy? Fill your life with joy? Please, tell me so I can tell you.”Vanya’s eyesight blurred again, this time from the monster-sized tears she had welling up there, and she dropped her face in her hands before she could choke up completely.

“Hey… Hey now. It’s okay. I didn’t mean it like that.” Ben told her as he placed her glass of water on a coaster in front of her, “I’m only asking you because they dropped in, and left you a bit of a present.”

Vanya let out a noise that was neither a laugh, or a sob, but somewhere between them, “… A present?” She hiccuped, wiping off her tears, “For me?”

“It’s behind the curtains, and I can’t go get it for you. You’ll have to get up, walk to the stage, and see for yourself.” He said. Vanya winced despite herself; the stage wasn’t far, but she could barely stand up. What were the chances she could make it over there without falling on her face? “Don’t worry. It’s not going anywhere. Take your time.” Ben said as though he’d read her mind. Her curiosity quickly overtaking her wobbly legs, Vanya soon slid off her seat, and shuffled towards the curtains. Griping the thick orange fabric, she hoisted herself up, pushed them open, and stuck her head through the narrow gap. What she saw there pretty damn well near made her scream in sheer, unadulterated emotion.

It was her violin. Her white, lacquered violin. Exactly like she’d been holding on to it half an hour earlier, but now gleaming, untouched, and untarnished, securely padlocked in a display case under a row of bright spotlights.

“Ben… This is my… My… How did it even get here?”

“Klaus and Five left it here awhile ago. I couldn’t tell you why though. I wasn’t invited to that meeting either.” Five. Of course. He’d been right there when she had lost consciousness. Of course he had taken her violin from her, and locked it up somewhere she wouldn’t be able to use it.

“Because I deserved it.” She knew, but was a long way away from admitting it, “I deserve this. I shouldn’t have done that. To my family.” Her adopted siblings could be godawful, but they were still the only siblings she had ever known.

“You’ll have to play something for me sometimes.” Completely lost in thought, Vanya had tuned out her surroundings, and the sound of Ben’s voice so close behind her made her jump. He laughed, “I’m honest. I haven’t heard your music since… You know…” He gestured towards his stomach, and cut a pretend line across his neck with his finger. Acting as though he hadn’t come within an inch of giving her a heart attack, Vanya placed her hand on top of the bulletproof, plexiglass casing holding her instrument captive, biting her bottom lip. Somewhere in the background, Artemis howled as what sounded like a pile of crates crashed to the floor. It fell quiet for a split second, then started right back up meowing again.

“That cat has to be as dysfunctional as we Hargreeves are. I didn’t think that was possible.” Ben sat down on the edge of the stage. Vanya followed suite, and sat down next to him. He nudged her, “So, are you going to play me your violin #7?”

“I can’t play my violin, #6. It’s locked up, and I don’t have the key.” Her voice was improving, but it wasn’t quite there yet, “Besides, I don’t think I’m ready… For any of that… Right now.” She breathed out.

“It’s okay. Really. There’s no rush. We’re not going anywhere.” Ben repeated. Grateful for the moment, Vanya leaned her head on his shoulder, and closed her eyes.

“Hey, Vanya.” Ben whispered in her ear before she could fall asleep.

“Hmm?” She stirred, but didn’t move.

“I heard a rumour you only killed the present version of Pogo.”

“Hmm?” She opened her eyes, and looked at him sideways, “What did you just say?”

“I also heard a rumour you’re going to wake up to Allison, and no Five.” He kept going.

“You hear a lot of things.” Vanya, her head still resting on his shoulder, kept this… Entire Void… To be nothing more than a prank. An elaborate hallucination. A Klaus-induced trip to Lalaland she would simply snap out of at any time now. Why not? It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen to her. It wouldn’t even crack her top ten, “You keep saying everyone is ignoring you too.”

“Everyone is ignoring me too. It’s my sixth sense telling me everything’ll work out.”

“Your present sense you mean?” She offered.

“Yup. Merry early Christmas everyone!” He declared, causing them both to laugh again.

Another pause;

“Hey, Ben?”

“Yes, Vanya?”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.” He replied. Then he added, “Try to remember we’re here waiting for your encore, alright?”

“I’ll try.” Vanya answered as best as she knew how, “I can’t make any promises.”

“I know. I’ll take it.” Ben grinned, and Vanya kept smiling as she drifted once more.

(And On We March)

(To Be Continued)

[Episode I.I]

Having not yet moved from the divan, Eremis had rewound her music box, left it sitting in the centre of her chest, and shut her eyes. She hadn’t believed she had fallen asleep, but what had begun as a slight tingle at the bottom of her spine had grown like a current up her back, and burst into static in her head. Now it was the Séance, breathless and looking thoroughly flustered, that she was seeing floating around behind her closed eyelids;

“Oh look. I made it.” He was saying, although she could barely hear anything over the feedback loops.

“You just left like twenty minutes ago. What are you already doing back here?”

“Just left? Oh no. No, no, no… It’s been like… Anyway. We need you back in The Void.”

“What do you mean? Who’s, ‘We’?” She tried asking but clearly impatient, he only grabbed her by the arm. Pulled down into the grey static, she opened her eyes and found herself standing in front of the bar she could’ve sworn she had just left. She spotted one very over-exerted Séance, lying unconscious on the laminate flooring. She then turned her attention towards the back of the bar where, looking like a preteen boy with sunken eyes, someone was fishing around for… Something.

“What are you looking for?” She asked as she stepped up to the counter, “Oh.” He found the coffee mugs hanging from hooks nearby, grabbed one, and set it halfway down the bar.

“I fixed that water problem you’d been having.” The preteen told her as he poured himself a cup full of straight black coffee, and took a massive gulp.

“Water problem I’d been having?” Eremis hadn’t been aware of any water problems, “Also, what’s wrong with him?”

“I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out why Klaus absolutely had to go get you.” Klaus. The kid took another drink, “We were just dropping that off.” He gestured towards the empty stage, where a white violin sat on display in a glass case.

“Sure… But why?” Eremis leaned up against the counter, trying to decide if dumping some cold water on the Séance’s head would make him wake up faster, “Also, follow-up question; who are you?”

“I’m Number Five, and because that’s our sister’s violin.” He took another gulp, furrowed his brow at the nearly empty cup, and filled it up again.

“I meant your actual name, dear.” Eremis was torn between wanting to examine the glowing white instrument, and wanting to boot Klaus for making her head reel back as hard as he just had.

“That is my actual name. Dad sucked too much to give me a real one.” His tight-lipped smile, split from ear to ear, was effectively creeping her out.

“So… Past tense? What happened to him?”

“Oh, he died.” Eremis’ eyes must have grown a little too wide because he quickly added, “Don’t worry about it. If he was going to show up here, we wouldn’t be. Isn’t that right, Klaus?”

“Sounds like a perfectly lovely fellow.” Eremis stepped back, and around the bar stools she’d been standing between. Spinning 90 degrees to her right, she took a step, and nudged the Séance in his ribs with her foot, “Hey, wake the hell up before you make me kick you out for real this time.”

“This floor is so warm, and comfy though.” He muttered, half asleep, and mostly to himself. Eremis threw Number Five a glance, who held on to his coffee mug as he shrugged. She went to take a closer look at the violin,

“And you said this belongs to your sister?”

“Number Seven. Her name is Vanya.” Number Five called out.

“And why is her violin down here?” Common sense would dictate. Klaus finally opened his eyes and managed to peel himself into a seated position as Five said, “Well, to be fair, we were ALL kind of being assholes to her.” He raised his mug to the stage where they were leaving her violin, and downed most of his drink.

“Five… Don’t…” Klaus started. It must have been too soon to ask however, as Eremis’ already spinning head did a complete backflip, and she was suddenly right back on the divan… Albeit with her hands covering her face, and her now silent music box resting on the carpet next to her.

“What the hell… White Violin…” She picked up the box, and stared at the porcelain figurine for a solid minute, then softly pulled the cover down over it, “That was really fucking weird. I didn’t know androids could do that.” She stood up, and shook her head, noticing as a small handful of larvae seemingly fell out of her hair, and onto the floor, “And how the actual hell are there any of you left?” She rolled her eyes right this time, not overly impressed with how any of this was turning out for her. She vaguely recalled a, “debugging program”. Something Faustus had rather cryptically hinted at while she had been strapped down and, “transitioning,” on Mordred’s gurney. Wondering if it would clear out the insects still scuttling around under her skin, she wandered into the Maestro’s former bedroom. Placing her music box on the nearest night table, she sat down on his immaculately made bed. Their self-designated alien overlord had believed himself a fucking queen. He had acted like a self-centred narcissist with his ego bigger than half the universe they were in… But at least he had tried to pass himself off as a human; “Better to keep my human subjects loyal to me.” He had been more than intelligent enough to understand, once upon a solid while ago.

“Don’t have very many of those left, now do you?” Eremis giggled as she closed her eyes to concentrate on her not-so-new mental processes; “Mordred was going to replace your real brain with an encased emulation, but I managed to talk him out of it.” Faustus had told her, “I know you’ll hate me regardless, doll, but I am doing you a big service.” He had been right of course; Eremis would forever rue the day she had agreed to follow Mordred back to his space, and still grudged them both for what they had done to her… But no amount of grudge holding would ever change her back to normal, so here she sat, re-familiarizing herself with her thoughts. It took her awhile to figure out her inner workings, but she was eventually able to dig up the, “debugging,” file Faustus had all but buried at the bottom of her occipital lobe. Opening, and starting the program didn’t seem to do anything, at first… But slowly, oh-so-slowly, her head began warming up. The crown of her head contracted as though her hair was about to stand on end, while what felt like goosebumps rippled down the back of her neck, making Eremis shiver, “Like I’m still human, except I’m not. At all.”

Mordred had been completely obsessed, but he had also been absolutely fucking selfish. After her second attempt at killing herself to get away from him, he had decided that, if he couldn’t have her, no one else would ever have her either. Eremis had been, “upgraded,” but stripped of all her reproductive organs, and her synthetic skin only had enough feeling for her to know when she was holding on to something. Like a literal doll, she was all female curves on top, but absolutely flat, and no fucking fun on the bottom,

“So what did you actually fucking do to me?” She asked rhetorically, biting her bottom lip as her shivers kept growing… Not, not quite,… More like increasing. While the Séance’s sudden reappearance had barely caused a noticeable tingle, Faustus was making everything from her cerebellum to the soles of her feet surge, “…Oh,” Eremis’ face flushed a deep red, her one hand flying up to cover her mouth, while her other hand gripped the edge of the mattress, “OH!…” Utterly fucking shocked, she moved her hand away from her mouth to pull her skirt straight down between her legs as she instinctively squeeze her thighs together, “Oh my… Fucking Christ, Faustus.”

Volts, and volts, of electricity kept pouring down her brain stem, making her shudder. It coursed its way to her shoulder blades, split across her chest, arced through her midsection, and cascaded down her arms and legs to her fingertips and toes. Cleansing what remained of the Maestro’s juvenile leftovers made, not only her face, but ALL OF HER burn up like she was on fire. It reset and sharpened her functions; her eyesight became better, her voice grew clearer, and her muscles tightened up, and became stronger. Not yet finished, the program also restored partial access to their disconnected hivemind, and gave her access to the Ezramatheia’s mainframe. The entire operation left her leaking from the exact same places she had just told herself she would never leak from again, vibrating, and very nearly gasping for air… Even though she knew, as well as Hyde did, that breathing was a weak exercise in biology meant for actual human beings, not machines.

Having successfully updated herself, however, Eremis blew the excess steam out of her mouth like cigarette smoke as she fell back across the bed, “I suppose that’s one way to turn on an android.” She laughed despite herself, rolling up in a ball around the nearest pillow, and giving herself permission to feel like a girl for the first time in what felt like centuries, “But it’s only been like… What? Maybe a year and a half?” She glanced at her music box, “It’s been almost three years since Gram died.” It hadn’t taken much for those tall, governmentorial types in their tight suits, fishing around for willing guinea pigs, to convince her to leave Earth, “Then I met Mordred who, it turns out, was even more fucked up than I was.” But that was a whole different story, filled with traumatic memories she wished Faustus had erased when Mordred had wiped out her sex drive, “Maybe I’ll ask our wonderful Plague Doctor about doing that next time I see him.” She knew she sure as hell wouldn’t ask Mordred. She hadn’t seen him for months before the crash. He could have burned to a crisp from the explosion, or been crushed under their falling ship for all Eremis cared anymore, “Speaking of.”

There was a steady thump growing behind her breastbone, akin to the slow, steady beating of a human heart, but the heart wasn’t hers, “So now where is that coming from?” She shut her eyes again, burying her face in the thick, incredibly soft pillow, “Come on. I’ve already had enough for one day. Give me a fucking break.” She huffed and attempted to relax, but the drumming in her chest wouldn’t stop… And not only would it not stop, it was joined by wailing sounds, awfully similar to the sounds of whales singing or…

“Metal bending. Shit.” Eremis realized it was their Mothership, trying to communicate with her the only way she knew how, “Through the hivemind. Goddammit. Of course she is.” Eremis stood up, found her shoes, and practically flew out of their Maestro’s suites. Of bleeding course; everyone else was out either being dealt with, upgraded, or both dealt with and upgraded. Their Ezramatheia, on the other hand, remained broken, and untreated, between the jagged black peaks, and the giant, nearly black, pointed trees where she rested, “Sorry Mother. I’m right here.” Eremis tried to tell the ship, but it did nothing to dampen the noise. She was grievously hurt. Their Maestro had twisted their spaceship into something disturbingly organic, proclaimed her to be, “MOTHER,” and then…

“Abused the shit out of you, then left without apologizing. That second part is my fault though. Mine, Faustus’… And maybe sort of the Séance’s.” Eremis openly admitted, fully aware her empty shell had been meant for the Maestro before she had regained first her senses, then full control of herself, “Now it’s your turn.” Eremis reached the terraforming bay, where the growing darkness had oozing through the cracks, pooled over doors, and all but completely flooded the terraforming bay.

“Is that your blood pouring from your broken heart, Mother? You’re going to have to make yourself stop if you want me to help you.” Eremis told their ship through their disjointed hivemind as she neared the corridor leading to the engine room. Amazingly, it worked, and the tides of black discharge receded, allowing Eremis to drop into the shaft, and slide down the otherwise useless catwalk. As though floating into clouds, she was carried through the dense black mass, only a dozen feet deep, until she landed on the ground unscathed. It was then she discovered the source of their Mothership’s problems, “THAT’s why your engines exploded.” Eremis gaped at the mess. Their Maestro had warped their Mothership into something organic, alright; thick tendrils of fleshy black matter that had attempted to grow down here like trees. It seemed they had sprouted from under the engine blocks, overtaken them, and the resulting clogs had caused them to overheat, and explode from the build-up in pressure, “… ripped apart, and literally bleeding all over the fucking place.” Eremis hadn’t thought she would ever be this happy she no longer had a stomach, “Talk about lacerations, gashes, gore, spilled guts, and sinew absolutely everywhere.” It was a sight that would have made any sane human throw up, and Eremis could still more than imagine the smell.

“Okay, I understand what happened… What am I supposed to do to help?” She asked through the hivemind, unsure if it would work a second time. It didn’t. Instead, she spotted a bunch of what she, at first, assumed were large, glowing, bio-hazardous green grapes, then realized were seeds, “That’s almost funny.” She pursed her lips as she picked them up. They radiated in tune with the drums in her chest, “Plant these, and try again?” She asked out loud as she found the perfect spot in the exposed soil between the decimated blocks, “This should be fine this time, right?” In response, the wailing faded away, and the thumping stopped. Taking a step back, Eremis stared in nearly revolted awe as more tendrils erupted from the floor. They reattached themselves to their severed limbs, coiled themselves into a tight trunk, reached the ceiling at warp speeds, then spread out like a spiderweb to fill up all he holes in the room, “That is both super cool, and insanely fucking disgusting all at the same time, dear Mother. Mind giving me a lift to the door since you’re doing that anyway?”

Mother obliged, stretching out a swelling limb like an open palm, and waiting for Eremis to step on before carrying her all the way up to the terraforming bay. She then swallowed the short passageway; crumpling the entire thing from the inside until the metal doors had become nothing more than metal plates in the wall, “Guess no one’s blowing up her heart again anytime soon.” Eremis looked up, looked over, looked around and then announced to positively fucking no one, “If we’re done here, I’M going back to my bed with my music box.”

(Better to Enjoy the Butterflies, Love)

[Episode VII]

“… Any later, and I more than likely would’ve lost myself…” Echoing her own words, Eremis stood in their living space, examining what remained of the gruesome mess they had left her, “But why I must always wake up in the middle of a shit show, I will never understand.” She inhaled through her nose, the fetid smell of bad blood, and decay filling her lungs. Disturbed, the larvae crawling around her systems fluttered about in frenzied agitation. This resulted in her synthetic skin bubbling up with insect-filled pockets while her hair all but stood on end.

“You can keep doing that all you want, you manipulative fucking lunatic. Faustus made damn sure nothing is ever getting inside my head.” Still, she shuddered as she breathed out. Absentmindedly rubbing her brand new, scarless arms, she looked around for her music box. Finding it poised on the edge of the mantle where she had left it, she picked it up, side-stepping the shattered coffee table to go sit on the high-end, pretentiously misplaced divan.

“Who puts a fireplace, a grand piano, and a chandelier on an intergalactic spaceflight anyway? Extreme 1950s lounging enthusiasts?” With her human brain intact, Eremis had no problem imagining their former, middle-aged, ship captain, slipping into his embroidered housecoat, pouring himself a double whiskey sour, and settling down in front of a blazing fire. He would throw his feet up on the coffee table, and puffing away at the lit cigar clenched between his teeth, pore over his daily reports… Eremis clamped her hand over her mouth. Not only could she imagine it, she could practically smell it, wafting up from underneath all the other scents permeating the room as she forced herself not to laugh. It wasn’t funny, she knew. The Mad Maestro had murdered the older man, along with most of his crew, in a desperate bid for their ship. How unfortunate for everyone then, that it was Eremis now sitting here in all their stead.

“Because it always has to be, “me, me, me, me, me, me,” with you. Heaven forbid anyone ever be happier than you are.” Eremis couldn’t feel their pathetic excuse of an overlord trying to wrap itself around her spine, exactly; the incessant skittering was making her extremities twitch. As frustrated as she was annoyed, Eremis placed her music box on the cushion next to her, and got up. Throwing a few logs into the fireplace, she at first lit a fire, then went searching for a kitchen knife. Unable to find anything suitably sharp, she decided a pair of nail scissors, pulled from the bathroom’s medicine cabinet, would more than do the trick. It was only once she had returned to her seat, running the tip of a finger across her music box’s antiquated silver, wind-up key, that she was suddenly assailed by the memory of her grandmother gifting it to her, “So you’ll always have somewhere to tuck away your heart, and remember your family by when we’re all gone.” She had told her when she’d handed it to her. Of course, back then, Eremis had believed her grandmother had meant years, and years down the road, not

“That you would land in the Void before I did, and vanish into some far off dimension somewhere I’ll probably never find you again.” Eremis finished out loud. The metaphorical rabbit hole she would tumble into whenever reality became too much to handle, her Void would always remain. Upon its creation, however, it had been broken, checkered, and similarly to every other void in existence, lifeless, and empty, “Like my entire fucking life. How could I forget.” Eremis rolled her eyes as she conjured up its bright purple grounds, its dead trees, its sickly yellow skies dotted with chess pieces, and… Not much else. It had been her chill space, her quiet zone, the one spot in the universe she kept all to herself. After her grandmother’s suicide, she had even gone so far as to erect triple-thick, reinforced steel, and cement barrier walls. She’d topped them all off with electrical razor-wire, armed them with nuclear warheads, and surrounded the entire area with land mines; “TRESPASSERS WILL BE KILLED ON SIGHT!!” Her signs had read. At least that’s what she’d thought they had read… But real life had come rearing its ugly head, Eremis had been whisked away, and over time, had almost completely forgotten it was there.

Now, with an increasingly infuriated Maestro threatening to make her       operating systems seize up and freeze, Eremis took her hand away from the wind-up key in favor of the small scissors she had found. Holding them by their sharpened blades, she carved a u-shaped line into her left shoulder, and pulled the loosened flap of skin up. Attracted to the smell of death lingering around her, it wasn’t long before the Maestro’s grossly mutated, “brain-bug,” scurried out for a closer inspection, “Long time no see. Why don’t I make you feel as comfortable as you’re making me?” Eremis grabbed it by its legs, and one by one, ripped all of its wings from its back, effectively stopping it from flying away. Obviously displeased, the palm sized insectoid screeched in pained protest as it struggled against her, stinging her repeatedly as it vomited its acid over her hands. It didn’t bother Eremis any. This was why they had turned her into an android in the first place; so she would never hurt, or be hurt, ever the hell again.

“Mordred’s oh-so-clever solution to all my goddamned problems. He couldn’t just leave me alone, and let me go. God, no. He had to keep trying. Keep bringing me back. Keep doing this to me. Now here we are, with you scratching around the body I’ve officially died three times for… Scratching around without my expressed permission, might I add… And you honestly believe I’ll let you stay? Why would I do that? So you can royally fuck me up like you did with our mothership, and your last shell? Jesus, you really are fucking insane.” She said as she watched its newly plucked out, iridescent wings twirl lazily down to the floor. Wrapping it in her fist, she forced it to stop moving before she continued, “I heard it said our Maestro is near-immortal, but it turns out our overlord feels pain. Do you know what it feels like to die? What happens when you try to kill yourself? Because I do.” She talked, aware it couldn’t answer her questions in the state it was in, “The first time I tried, I was so fucking stupid, I slashed my wrists in the wrong direction. It took Mordred maybe half an hour to find me, stitch me up, and stuff me full of painkillers.”

As if it had happened the day before… She had sat on the edge of his bathtub, so strung out, and upset, she had flubbed her lines, painfully reminding herself she didn’t deserve to keep living. Cutting open new gashes, she had sunk down to the bottom of the tub as her blood had poured out of her fresh wounds. With her heart slowing down, she had closed her eyes, and lost consciousness, skipping over the tunnel, and all its lights. Finally, she had awoken to find herself, of all places, in the Void. Her Void. Looking exactly the same as she had left it all those years ago, save for the one building, standing by itself off in the distance. Where had that come from? She had wondered. She knew she most certainly wasn’t the one who had put it there; her alternate space had been empty, except for the trees, the walls, and the land mines.

She hadn’t had the chance to dwell on it. What had initially sounded like a gun shot, and looked like her skies ripping open, had quickly turned out to be Mordred. He had busted down the door, picked her up and resuscitated her, “So he could strap me down to his operating table, and eventually amputate both my arms right up to my shoulders. Then he replaced them with his fancy fucking robotics so I’d never do that to myself again. What a sweetheart.” Already she could feel the brain-bug’s wings beginning to grow back. She tightened her grip on it, “The second time, I got away, and hid at the bottom of the terraforming bay, behind all those machines we never used, and overdosed on pills. My grandmother would’ve been so proud…”

Her second attempt had landed her so close to the inexplicable building, she had nearly been run over, and swallowed by the equally strange pieces of furniture hovering around its perimeter. Not stopping to check, and see if that was where her missing chess pieces had gone off to, she had stomped (barefoot, through her Void, she had stomped) through its doors. Ready to scream bloody  murder, and kick out whoever had had the fucking gall to set up shop on her property, she’d been pleasantly surprised to discover the building had contained a bar.

“There was a huge chunk of wall missing near the back, something about an oversized pest infestation. Sounds awfully fucking familiar, don’t you think,         Maestro?” She sneered at it, its eyes bulging out at her, “In any case, I walked up to the counter, and there’s my favorite kind of coffee, already made, and waiting for me to drink it. Three sips later, and this lady with a file folder materializes out of nowhere…” The shock of which had nearly knocked her off her bar stool, but she wasn’t about to admit it, “… Long story short, she listed off a bunch of in-house, “rules,” I obviously already knew. I offered to patch up the place in exchange for some peace and quiet. She didn’t refuse, but she couldn’t tell me where the bar had come from, or how long it had been there. That was kind of lame.”

But patch up the building, she had. She’d even had enough time to enjoy a second coffee before Mordred, along with Faustus, had once again found her, and dragged her back to the mothership. Not taking any more chances with her, they had kept her locked, and tied up, till they had completed her transformation into the fully functional android she currently was, “So until the Ezramatheia exploded, I was convinced that had been my last time going to my Void. You need to be at least partially alive to get there, but robots have no souls. Can’t really lose consciousness when I have no consciousness left to lose… Oh, don’t worry, dear Maestro. I know you can’t possibly understand what I’m telling you. Us humans with all of our feelings are, well, pretty alien to you, aren’t we?” Eremis brought the mutated brain-bug up to her face, at which point it tried, and failed, to spew its acid into her eyes, “It seems I fell to pieces when the ship exploded though, and next thing I know, there I was.”

The building had been fixed, but stood completely empty. With no band, no bartender, and no other patrons in sight, she’d taken the opportunity to have a proper look around. There were huge windows she could push open to see outside. There was the stage, fully equipped with its gleaming instruments, simply not being played. There were cozy-looking booths, along with plenty of round tables; that was where she’d found the empty notebook, appearing long abandoned under a chair. Eremis had picked it up, and brought it back to the bar, spotting a pen holder, half hidden behind the unattended cash register, as she’d done so, “Does the absent bartender object to friendly patrons borrowing pencils? No? Well then, please, don’t mind if I do.” Giggling like a drunken teenager pulling off their first heist, she’d hoisted herself up into a sitting position on the bar, spun her legs around, and dropped down on the other side. It was then, reaching out for a pen, that she’d heard the door open up, and close. Thinking she had been caught red-handed doing something highly illegal, she’d accidentally sent the entirety of the pen holder’s contents flying as she dove, and ducked under the counter, “I didn’t touch anything, I swear!” She’d called out to whoever had come in.

“I’m sure the poor pens you catapulted to an early grave would beg to differ,” The male voice had sounded more amused than angry as it had gotten closer, “It’s been awhile since my last visit. Any idea who fixed the walls?”

“Depends on who’s asking,” Eremis had pulled her knees up under her chin, unwilling to move yet, “Are you the one who tried to destroy the building?”

“Not directly, and not on purpose, no.” Thinking it was odd he’d sounded as though he’d been speaking to her from directly over her head, Eremis had lifted her gaze. There, she had found the gaunt, angular male in sunglasses, and shiny black nail polish, had been, quite literally, floating over her head. Unable to stop herself, Eremis had half-screamed, half-squealed in sheer terror as she’d scrambled to get out of his way. Attempting to use the edge of the counter she’d been hiding underneath for leverage, she had only managed to slip, and fall back into the cupboards under the cash register with enough force to make the liquor bottles overhead rattle. In the meantime, her guest had pulled off his sunglasses, folded them, and sitting cross-legged over the bar stools, had stared at her in confused disbelief, “We’re in the Void, haven’t you ever seen a ghost float before?”

“… Not a real one.” More from pain than a loss of word, Eremis had squeaked, “Is that where the furniture outside gets it from?”

“Good guess, but no. They do that all by themselves.” He’d glanced over the glorified scratch pad she had found, “Are you writing a novel? It seems to be a favorite pastime around here.”

“The thought may have crossed my mind,” She’d said as she’d begun scrounging around for the collection of pens, and pencils she had strewn about, “It’s not like there’s much else to do here right now. Especially with all this excitement going on and whatnot.” Having grabbed what she could find, she’d stood up, put everything in their holder, and placed it next to her notebook, “So, what brings you back here?”

“Oh, you know, the usual… Apocalypse… End of the world stuff. I might’ve gone slightly overboard with the drugs, and the needles again.” He’d smiled a crooked smile, looking more than a little flustered, “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a bit of a pick-me-up for an old war veteran, would you?”

“Well, I’m not a bartender, and you don’t look old, or anything like a veteran, but I’m sure there’s something back here… How about some whiskey? Vodka? Gin and tonic? Oh, I know! Tequila!” She’d pulled down the bottle and twisted it open, “First things first though; what’s your name?”

“Me?” The question had seemed to catch him off-guard, “Officially I’m Number Four, but my… friends… Call me the Séance. You?”

“Eremis. I had a perfectly normal human name once, but that was so long ago, I honestly can’t remember what it was.” As she’d dug up a couple of clean glasses, and set them down between them, she had been horrified to realize she had completely forgotten her own birth name, “Would you like a chaser with your shot, dear?”

“I don’t know what that means.” He’d told her as he had grabbed the full bottle, poured his own drink, swallowed it all in one gulp, and poured himself another, “Eremis is a nice name. What brings you all the way out here?”

“… Um…” She could almost feel her face flushing bright red as she’d glanced down at her wrists. The scars from her first attempt weren’t overly pronounced, but they were there, and clearly visible, “I live here. Sort of.”

If he had caught her bluffing, he hadn’t commented, “It is awfully calm and quiet here. I like it too.” He’d smiled warmly instead.

“Thank you. I literally got it from my grandmother.” Taking the bottle from him, she had also poured herself a shot, but had yet to drink it, “Out of curiosity, when was the last time you were here?”

He’d blinked, downed his second shot, and still drawn a complete blank. Eremis had tried again, “Alright, what about your first time then?”

“When I was eighteen, if I remember right. Dad kicked me out of the house, I scared off the local dealer, overdosed on his stash, and woke up here. Well, not here here. Outside.” He had gestured towards a tree, not far from the entrance. So that was how he’d gotten past all her defenses; he had simply crash-landed inside of them. Eremis, deciding right then and there she wasn’t entirely hating his company, had bitten her tongue.

“Because you obviously don’t make friends by pissing people off, and scaring them away,” She was currently explaining to their oblivious alien master. With its wings fully grown, it had begun thrashing around for its freedom while its swarm was becoming restless without their insufferable leader… But Eremis wasn’t quite done with her story yet, “So, I told Mercy he’s my fourth cousin. It isn’t exactly lying.” Instead of getting annoyed at her guest’s indiscretion, she’d taken her shot, and kept listening to him talk, “It turns out there’s a bunch of different timelines, where a bunch of different stuff happens. In the one he lives in, the world already ended, twice. And here I thought we were the ones being overdramatic.” She snorted even though that little revelation hadn’t been too particularly funny either.

Citing dizziness, the Séance had eventually set his two feet down on the floor to go sit down at the closest table. Feeling oddly sympathetic for the first time in what had felt like years, Eremis had brewed him a fresh cup of black coffee, sashayed her way around the bar, and set it down on the table next to him. Then, she had spun on her heels, and rather unceremoniously, had let herself fall directly in his lap, jolting him straight out of his daydreaming, “You know, I’m not a relationship expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how you’re supposed to stiffen when a girl sits on you, my dear.” She had laughed, “Here, have some coffee, warm yourself up a bit, Mr. Pick-Me-Up.” He’d wrinkled his nose, pursed his lips, and barely softened up his posture;

“Common sense would dictate you ask a guy before you do that to him,” He’d protested weakly.

“Common sense would also dictate you tell a lady before dropping a bar right smack in the middle of her own, personal slice of hell, but…” She’d gently prodded back.

“Alright, alright. I get it officer.” He’d put his hand up, the word, “HELLO,” scribbled across  his palm in what looked like black marker, “Guilty as charged. But to be fair, you chose to fix it up, and leave it here.”

“To be fair, I am still sitting on your lap, yes. Good job handling yourself.” She’d grinned, outwardly happy to have found someone she could get close enough to talk to.

“You know, I had a kid once. In Vietnam.” He’d let slip after a moment of mildly awkward silence, “I opened up a strip club for extra money, and really confused some of my family members.”

“Did you really now?” Eremis had raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and resting her head against his shoulder, had whispered in his ear, “That sounds insanely kinky, dear. Pray tell me; what happened?”

“… Um…” It had been his turn to look away in embarrassment, and Eremis had thought she’d gone too far, “Let’s say it’s a long, complicated story that involves talking monkeys, and time traveling elevators. How about we save it for next time?”

“Talking monkeys… And time traveling elevators. Are you serious?” The look on his face as he’d stared at her had made her believe he truly wasn’t lying, “You know what? You’re right. I’ve probably heard crazier, and we can always save it for later.”

She hadn’t been given much of a choice; all her senses had begun to tingle, as though her blood circulation had been cut off for too long, and was now rushing back, “… Shit.” She had muttered under her breath as she’d slid out of her spot, and stood up.

“What’s the matter? Did they find you?” He’d stood up with her.

“Yes, they did. I’m going to have to leave.” As much as she had loathed the thought, “It was nice meeting you, la Séance.”

“Hey now, silly French lady, it doesn’t have to be over quite yet…”

“… Told him a hundred and fifty times he didn’t have to follow me all the way out here. It’s too far and he wasn’t feeling the greatest… But he did it anyway. We showed up just in time for me to find out our wonderful Maestro only allowed me access to his private suites so he could use me. As your new replacement shell, you lying piece of fucking shit.”

The feeling must have been mutual. Arguably fed up listening to her, the brain-bug had puffed itself out between her fingers, growing its stinger long enough to pierce through what would’ve been her radial artery, had she been human… And exactly like a human, Eremis’ hand went limp, loosening her grip on it long enough for it to slip through her numbed digits. With movement speeds that matched Faustus’ own, lightning-fast reflexes, Eremis was nonetheless able to pin the insectoid down before it could find its way back inside her arm, “You want to play a game, Maestro? On behalf of everyone you’ve fucked over, I call it, “Thank you for not even pretending to pay attention”. I’ve been waiting forever to do this.”

Then, without another word, Eremis finally crushed the surprisingly soft-bodied, brain-bug in her fist. With a nausea-inducing noise she had never heard before, it popped between her fingers like an overripe pimple. Their Maestro was even kind enough to leave its acidic blood, and entrails, smeared all over the inside of her palm as she threw its lifeless corpse into the crackling fire not ten feet away. As it hit the brick wall and slid down between the burning logs, its brood, sensing the death of their leader, had followed suit, and puffed out in confused and violent rage. With her own skin on the verge of exploding like a balloon, and seeing no better option, she had grabbed the nail scissors;

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know I just promised, and I know you won’t condone what I’m about  to do… But I really, for once in my life, want to last until I see you again.” Eremis apologized profusely, mostly to herself, but also to the  invisible ghosts she felt she was betraying. She then stabbed the blades into both her arms, this time appropriately dragging them all the way up to her elbows as the larvae spilled out of her system in sweet, undeniable relief. Far from dying, Eremis felt as though she had lost over a dozen pounds worth of deadweight as they piled up on top of the mess Mercy had left on the wall behind her. Unsatisfied with the little blood that remained, they expanded like a cloud, and quickly vanished through the cracks in, and around, the vestibule.

“Grow a better fucking brain before you come back and try your stupid shit on me again, you bloody bastard!!” She yelled after all of them. It wouldn’t take very long, she suspected. A few days at most with all the corpses laying around begging to be consumed. It almost made her wish she’d had a flamethrower; she could have turned their Maestro into an alien roast for dinner… Or, whatever time of day it was. She wasn’t entirely certain.

Eremis shook her head of her pointless train of though as she lay down across the divan with her music box sitting on top of her chest. Already her nanobots had stitched her skin together, so well, even Eremis couldn’t tell she had once again attempted to do the unthinkable. Letting out a deep sigh, she wound the small, silver key back as far as it would go, and gently pried the box’s cover open, “Well, hello there beautiful, I do believe it’s been a solid twenty-two minutes since the last time we saw each other.”

She smiled despite herself, whispering to the tiny, white, featureless, porcelain figurine holding an equally white violin under its chin, as it slowly spun around to the unbroken, and very not backwards notes of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major”. It had been, and always would be, Eremis’ absolute favorite.

(Now you’ll always have somewhere to tuck away your heart.)

(Please don’t forget me when I’m gone.)

[Episode VI]

“… What…” Mercy’s pupils dilated in disbelief as he reached for the banister and carefully slid himself towards it. For a moment, he honestly believed he’d slipped through a crack in space-time and his sight had decided to fail him somehow, “… in human fucking hell…”

Although unable to pinpoint exactly how long it had been since he’d left the Ezramatheia, Mercy was no slouch. Despite some of her polished, tourmaline-looking spires having broken off when she’d split apart and crashed, he’d all but confirmed she was identical from the outside. The fissure he had fallen through had been next to her half-blasted propellers. To him, that meant he should’ve landed somewhere somewhere by her holding blocks… Except there were no holding blocks next to where Mercy had landed. Instead, he’d opened his eyes on the edge of a precipice; a dangerously slanted, “rapidly losing hold of itself”, ceiling hung catwalk. With vertically challenged, inaccessible doors lining the equally unreachable wall on his left and a gaping, heaving black abyss on his right, it was quickly becoming clear the only way for him to go was up… And much sooner rather than later.

Causing the platform to groan and tilt some more as he hoisted himself up on the banister’s thin, metal bars, Mercy steadied himself, rightly assuming he’d only have one chance to stick his landing. Sucking in a breath, he launched himself towards the dipping, crawling floor overhead. Feeling the banister bend under the force of his jump, Mercy swore when, moments later, the entire catwalk ripped away from its remaining supports and plunged into the darkness below. Increasingly annoyed at the predicament he was in, he kept right on swearing as he clawed at nothing but dirt and rubble, slipping as he struggled to wrap his fingers around the nearby railing. Finally dragging himself up to sturdier grounds, Mercy crawled towards the cracked wall. Propping himself up against it as he regained his bearings, he brought his attention back towards the growing chasm in front of him, “… have you fucking done to our mothership, Brother?”

Mercy was being the furthest from overdramatic. He could see where the propellers should’ve been attached, now up on his left. He knew the nonfunctional doors on all sides lead to the supply rooms they had converted into a bastille of sorts upon the ship’s capture. He even found the partially opened, electronic door that would bring him closer to their mother’s core and their Maestro’s suites, almost out of reach farther up on his right. It was everything in the middle that had utterly vanished… As though Cirxci itself had opened up, swallowed their ship’s bowels and left behind this expanding black mass as a souvenir.

But Mercy knew better. They’d been hounding this planet long enough. There most certainly wasn’t a single soul, entity or force of nature here capable of pulling off such a ridiculous fucking feat.

“Besides, you’re overthinking. Snap the fuck out of it and get going.” He shook his head free of its pointless speculating and stood up, making short work of the remaining climb towards the broken door. Racing across another, steep catwalk, he bounded over the gap that seperated it from the entryway, skillfully catching himself on its frame before squeezing through.

“That was close.” He hardly had time to exhale, struck by a sudden coughing fit as he crossed the narrow, unlit corridor. Distracted as he was, Mercy paid no mind to the tendrils of smoke snaking across the floor until, forcing open the adjoining door, he was overcome by thick, sickly, yellow-grey fumes.

“I don’t have time for these stupid fucking games, Brother.” Covering his mouth and nose as his sockets drowned in saline and began gushing waterfalls, Mercy inched past the threshold and pressed himself up against the wall next to it. Initially thinking he’d walked into a lush jungle, it was only when he made out what looked like hulking, toppled over carcasses did he recognize where he was. Of course. Their silly human pets had loaded their cargo bay full of terraforming equipment for their lengthy, colonization expedition. Unfortunately for them, the Mad Maestro, along with Mercy and their brethren, had overtaken and willed them all into feverish submission long before they had reached their intended destination. As such, their simple tools and primitive vehicles had so far gone untouched while the cargo bay had devolved into an alien, fungi-covered, rust-and-rat infested wasteland of decaying machinery. It was an already godforsaken scene made infintely gloomier by the heavy smoke permeating throughout, “So where the hell are you?”

It was, admittedly, Mercy’s first attempt at using the hive mind since he had sent himself into exile. Truly believing he’d been cut off from their prototype communications system, he was both literally and metaphorically shocked by the ear-piercing feedback that came screeching down his skull in response, “Being a fucking tease, I hear?” He tried again, but this time was met with little more than static. No matter. It was the closest thing to a sign of life Mercy had received from his insufferable sibling since his departure and more than enough reason for him to push on.

“… Would help if I knew which direction to head in.” He thought after taking a few steps. The blinding smoke clinging to the dense flora and huge machines was making it damn well near impossible to move up a foot, let alone get anywhere. Reaching a hand out before he could trip over the overlapping mounds of plants, he felt the cool, flat surface of a rover. Making his way around it, his palm stumbled into thick foliage; overgrown leaves that had burst through the derelict vehicle’s hood and sprouted mutated, iridescent, blue-green fungi the height and width of Mercy’s arm. He grinned despite himself, feeling like he’d won the jackpot for the second time that day.

“And the universe keeps providing.” Without another thought, he snapped off a chunk of the fungi’s bulbous head and gulped it down without chewing. He then closed his eyes and dried them as his blood pressure soared through the ceiling, sharpening all his senses to razor-sharp points. Mercy inhaled, waiting until his own, thundering heartbeat had overcome what felt like an army of cicadas threatening to swarm his nervous system, “Let’s try this again.” He peeled apart his eyelids as he breathed out. He wasn’t disappointed. Floating in fourth dimension, Mercy watched in thrilled anticipation as the smoke melted off into oblivion. It revealed a long line of his brother’s own, beloved insects, all marching towards the far side of the bay, where a corroded metal staircase led up to their mother’s broken heart.

“Much fucking better.” He thought gleefully as he helped himself to fists full of fungi and cramming his pockets before tearing across the glorified junkyard and up the stairs. Similarly to Faustus, it was then only a matter of finding his way through the convoluted gauntlet that spanned the distance to the hub where the entire “family” had once slept; child’s play for a veteran hunter high on alien psilocybin. Aware he was back in the land of the partially living, however, Mercy was becoming wary of the silence. Having missed their mothership, Faustus, Eremis, and everything that had happened before, between and thereafter, he was increasingly unsure of what he’d find upon his unexpected arrival. His sense of foreboding only growing as he reached the hacked door and the red auxiliary lights emanating from within, he stopped himself short of flying into his brother’s personal space. Pushing the door completely open, he cleared the debris cluttering up the vestibule as more incoherent feedback loops and waves of static filled his head. With his nonexistent cicadas receding back to the far corners of his imagination, Mercy poked his nose through the entrance;

“Anyone home?” He called out both verbally and mentally, impressed and yet unsurprised at how well his sibling at least looked like he’d held himself together. Drawn by the smell of copper-tinged flesh, he kept following his nose towards the freshly desiccated shell, still laying on the floor where it had died with its gun in its open hand. Assuming a quick suicide and done thinking for one day, a salivating Mercy made a beeline for the dead body.

“I guess I’m lucky today.” He wiped the drool dripping down his chin, crouched next to the shell and flipped it on its stomach. Short the skinning knife he’d given Hyde, he used his bare claws to rip into its back. With blood pooling over and around his boots, he dug both his hands in to yank out its spinal discs. It was then, with his mouth full of broken bones and his extremities caked in bodily fluids, did he hear the voices coming from their Mad Maestro’s bedroom;

“…that was some fantastic timing. Any later and I more than likely would’ve lost myself.” It was a girl, sounding hoarse as she opened and closed a dresser drawer. Mercy spat out the fragments he had in his mouth and, tracking blood across the floor with him, skulked towards the fireplace, craned his neck and peered inside.

It was Eremis, her straight, dark chestnut hair forever cascading down to her waist as she pulled up the straps of the lacy, white top she’d put on. Two feet away, and standing a full head taller, was a spectral male clad in skin tight leather pants and a red shirt dotted with oddly shaped trees. Keeping his eyes closed as she finished getting dressed, he also held on to equally odd-looking black glasses. Both of them had their backs mostly turned to Mercy while they talked, “Aright, you can look now.”

“Oh, wow… Look at you.” The male gave Eremis a bit of a hand clap as she twirled around and curtsied, “That’s a nice skirt. I might borrow it one day.”

“Well, I don’t think they’ll fit… But I have a few you can bring back with you if you want them.” Eremis bit on the tip of her finger to stop herself giggling too much, then shuddered violently as something came crawling up directly under her skin. Her male companion looked at her in consternation, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“What? This?” She raised her forearm, where another series of large bumps were moving from her elbow to her wrist, “If I was still fully human this would probably be hurting like hell… But thanks to my um… wonderful… fucking… um… “guardian”, I’m just a ridiculously buggy mechanical cyber doll, that’s all. It’ll get better.” But Eremis forcing herself to smile wasn’t fooling anyone.

“You’re not just a machine, girly. You need to take care of yourself.” The male told her as Mercy realized he was beginning to fade.

“Sure. Says you Ghost-Boy. Look, I told you, you didn’t need to come with me all the way out here and you’re already disappearing. At this rate, you’ll go back home, be hungover for a week, and everyone over there will be asking what happened to you.”

“You mean my family members? They probably haven’t even noticed I left yet. I’ll just tell them I was out taking dancing lessons.” He put his glasses on, “Don’t worry about it. It’s always nice bumping into a friendly face on the other side.”

“We straightened out the bar just in time for me to come back and… Straighten out this whole, other, bloody fucking disaster.” Eremis shuddered again and rolled her bright, fuchsia eyes, turning her head too fast for Mercy to duck. Caught staring, he stumbled back, smashing his brother’s coffee table to pieces as he tripped and fell on top of it, “We have company.”

“Want me to scare him off for you?” Her male friend offered.

“You, your nerves of titanium steel and that whole entire upper half of yours? Are you still fucking drunk, my dear?” Eremis genuinely laughed that time as she grabbed him by the shoulders, spun him around and gently pushed him towards the wall, “Tell you what. You go see your monkey about that elevator, and I will try to have some of this sorted out next time you’re over for a visit, okay?”

He stopped her pushing him and turned around to face her before he’d completely gone, “Only if you don’t show up at the bar first.”

“I’ll try not to do that again either, I promise.” With only his neck and head still visible, Mercy watched as Eremis kissed him on the nose, “Whatever else you do, don’t forget to tell your boss I said “hi”.” The male gave her a thumbs up as he bowed out of the bedroom. Eremis patted herself down, adjusted herself and stepped out to lean against the fireplace. Picking up her music box, she fidgeted with its wind up key as Mercy dusted himself off, setting it down again when he asked;

“Who was that?”

“My fourth cousin, seven times removed. Why were you eavesdropping, Mercy?”

“The mothership exploded and crashed. I came back looking for our Maestro.” Mercy gestured at the room they both stood in, thinking it was fairly obvious. A going-away present she had received from Faustus, Eremis kept her porcelain features intact as she scanned around, “Hmm… Are you sure about that?” She pointed at the partially consumed corpse behind the sofa, “Because it seems like you’ve been eating him to me.”

“What?” Mercy whipped his head around, his jaw nearly hitting the ground as his stomach raced up to meet his mouth in disgust… But caught Eremis’ eyes flashing a toxic shade of biohazardous green, running a forked tongue over her lips as more things appeared to crawl up her shoulders and neck.

“Don’t fuck around, Little Sister. Tell me where our Maestro went.” He tried to sound intimidating but the impassive doll wasn’t having it.

“Where’s your pet, Mercy?” She retorted, sending Mercy’s overloaded mind reeling as she came closer, “Did you ever find her?”

“That’s not what I asked.” Mercy flinched and pulled away as she brushed up against his arm, “What did you do to Big Brother?”

“I didn’t do a damn thing to our Maestro. That fucking lunatic did that to himself. Just like you taught him.” She wrapped her fingers around his neck and hung herself off his shoulder, “But if you clean up your shit and take care of Rieze for me, I’ll tell you where your little one went. I might even let you see your arguably better half.”

“Now why the hell would I listen to you?” Mercy attempted to shrug her off but the petite android had locked her joints and made herself too heavy to move. Once more, she opened her mouth, this time revealing a forked tongue covered in white larvae she then proceeded to stick straight down his ear before he could protest.

“Because I’m not the one giving the orders, you fucking half-wit.” Eremis explained to him snidely as she let him go. Mercy’s dulled senses tingled as the larvae wriggled and burrowed deeper into his ear canal, “Clean up your bloody mess, dump the shell outside and deal with Rieze before she kills any more colonists. We’ll need those if we ever plan on getting our mothership up in the clouds again.”

“You think we can fix the Ezramatheia?” It was faint hisses and whispers, not the cicadas and static loops, that Mercy heard as he talked. It made him sound distant.

“I think we can do whatever we damn well please. Now, hurry up. The faster things go back to whatever passes for normal around here, the happier I’m sure we’ll all be.”

“I don’t think…” Mercy wanted to say but Eremis cut him off.

“No, you don’t fucking think, Mercy. You’re not even supposed to be here, so grab your shit and get out.”

“… But…”

“I SAID GET OUT!!” Eremis screamed, glaring at him while he used a rug to cover and soak up the blood he’d spilled. Wrapping the shell in it, he picked it up, making his way towards the vestibule before stopping to take another look at her, certain he’d forgotten something important.

“Don’t worry. We’ll call you if we need anything before you get back.” Eremis waved him off. With nothing more to do or say, Mercy left the way he came; in utter disbelief as the faint hissing at the bottom of his brain slowly turned into distant, barely recognizable laughter.

[Episode V]

Hyde hadn’t taken note of the time when it had stood up and started walking. It wasn’t keeping track of how long it had been trudging along Cirxci’s scorched and barren landscape either. Lost in its thoughts, trying to rationalize why it had left the mothership, its family and its friends behind, it hadn’t even noticed the increasing wind speeds. It was only when its eyes shifted their focus to the layer of soil blowing across its boots did it lift its head to the horizon, “… Oh, for the love of…” The cyborg yelled as the human half of its face flushed red in aggravation, “EAT A FUCKING DICK CIRXCI!!”

As if they hadn’t had enough to deal with that day, now there was a 2000 foot tall wall of sand barreling down on them from the far side of the foothills. Before Hyde could think of reacting, the entire area was awash in dirt and dust, reducing the cyborg’s visibility and mobility to virtually non-existent. Doggedly, Hyde dug its heels into the ground, tightened its grip on Basha and reminded itself breathing was a weak     exercise in biology meant for actual human beings.

“So now what?” It pondered as it turned on its thermal sights, its frustrations quickly escalating. Faustus hadn’t given it any real orders. He hadn’t told it to leave, where to go or what it was supposed to do when it got there. Hyde thought it had picked up on what it had assumed were the plague doctor’s cues to hide Basha and, “… Keep going, I guess?” It couldn’t possibly head back towards the Ezramatheia. The mothership had been nothing more than a smudge in the distance when the storm had engulfed her, making her disappear altogether.

Hyde lowered its head and pushed forward, reaching the top of the steep incline it had been climbing at what felt like a snail’s pace. Once there, it was but barely able to make out the crumbling walls indicative of an abandoned settlement. Hyde’s joy was short-lived however, replaced by dread and dismay as it realized it would find no shelter in the razed homes and demolished buildings that remained inside. Determined to make it out of the storm, Hyde nonetheless scaled the rock slabs and attempted to step its way through the rubble. Attempted… because no sooner was it able to stretch its hand out towards the nearest residence did a freak gust of wind knock it over sideways. With nothing to hang on to or brace itself with, Hyde tripped and fell face-first into a wide gaping hole. Tumbling down a decrepit set of wooden stairs, the cyborg was forced to send Basha rolling as it slammed into the packed earth below with enough impact to snap its already warped and weakened gas mask cleanly in two. The cyborg punched the ground in anger, pushing itself up into a sitting positing with its fists as its flailed and irritated skin flared as red as wildfire. Blaming the sheets of coarse particles billowing over their heads for the tears welling up in its eyes, Hyde carefully climbed back up the partially broken staircase. Sticking its nose out into the raging storm, it found the dilapidated doors and quickly closed them, ingesting a mouth full of sand through its newly exposed gullet as it did so.

Hyde dusted off its arms and wiped its face, sliding down the stairwell as it unclipped its officially useless gas mask from behind its ears. “Least Basha is unconscious,” it thought as it caught a glimpse of its reflection in the scratched but polished surface. Not like its ugly fucking mug had ever been a particularly huge secret. Hyde had long been self-identifying as a tin can when an industrial accident had liquefied everything from the bridge of its nose, to its temples, all the way down its throat to its stomach. It had taken life-saving bypass surgery, countless skin grafts and state-of-the-art prosthetic implants for the “miracle” that was Hyde to keep living, so living it kept doing… Although how it was at all functional right at that moment, it wasn’t entirely sure.

With the flimsy doors rattling against their hinges and threatening to fly away at any minute, Hyde stood up and tucked its mask pieces into its pockets as its vision adjusted itself to their new surroundings. Sand continued to pour through the cracks and holes running across what could barely be called a ceiling while the few windows capable of being described as such had been covered up and buried eons earlier. Once again picking up Basha, Hyde wandered towards the back of the cellar, using the bright light of his reactor to help it reach the far wall before it walked into it. It was here, behind a broken door, where it found the ratty bed frame with the sagged and yellowed mattress, relieved it finally had somewhere to put Basha down, “For your preliminary examination, ya fucking princess.” Hyde was unable to make any kind of sound without the artificial larynx connected to the bottom of its gas mask. It didn’t stop it talking to itself or giggling like the girl it had once been as it climbed the bed and sat on him. Ripping his shirt off to get a better look, Hyde then had the fantastic idea of tying his wrists to the metal bars that made up the tiny bed’s headboard, “So you won’t throw me off if you decide you’re waking up.” Hyde said to itself.

Shuffling itself into position on Basha’s stomach, Hyde worked its fingers up his chest to the metal plates that surrounded his modulator shaft and the now dimming reactor attached to it. Using the tube that replaced its breathing pipe to blow the dirt and dust that covered his artificial heart, Hyde placed its hands on his shoulders and bent its ear towards his face to check if there was any air coming out of his lungs. There wasn’t. Nearly panicked, Hyde pried open his mouth and forced air down his throat as it applied compression underneath his plates. It then repeated this process until Basha convulsed into a coughing fit, thrashing about the bed but not yet waking up. Annoyed and frustrated at his failure to resuscitate, Hyde took the knife Mercy had given it out of its boot and slid down to Basha’s belt, using the sharp tip of the blade to unscrew the tiny bolts that kept the reactor in its place. In a matter of moments, Basha had grown an erection, his reactor light flickering ominously as, traumatized and confused, Hyde froze in wide-eyed shock at the bulge it felt underneath all their layers of clothing. It moved its waist around, overwhelmed by the deluge of forgotten female emotions it felt, yet mildly intrigued by the strange turn of events, “Everyone knows I was a girl once… But you’ve never been interested in having me as anything more than your glorified mechanic without any benefits.” It watched Basha intently as it resumed its work, not moving from its position as the Mad Maestro’s protégé began bucking his hips between its legs. Distracted as it was, Hyde had nonetheless managed to remove another bolt when Basha tensed up and groaned, “…No… Erem… ssss… back…” He mumbled as his modulator began overheating and letting out smoke. There was a resounding ‘POP’ from somewhere inside his ribcage and then Basha fell limp, the glaring white light nearly blinding the cyborg before burning out and dying off completely.

“THAT’S what that was then? You’re hallucinating Eremis?” Hyde dug its nails into his abdomen and raked itself forward, “After I picked you up and dragged you out here to help you? Are you fucking kidding me?” Without another thought it had flipped Mercy’s knife on its head and bashed it into his reactor, which conveniently lay situated at the center of his chest plates. This resulted in more smoke and some coughing but no real sign of life, “I ditched the mothership, I might’ve lost my family, I didn’t see any of my friends. I haven’t fucking stopped…” Hyde’s frustrations were growing into full-blown rage as it slammed the handle into Basha’s chest over, and over and over again, “I left everything and everyone behind to take care of you and this is how you thank me? By losing what’s left of your stupid fucking shit over some brainless, suicidal fucking robot you’ll probably never see again? Are you being serious? You COLOSSAL… PIECE OF… FUCKING SHIT!!!” Unable to blame the sandstorm for the fresh flow of tears streaming down its face, Hyde screamed even harder when the knife handle broke through the thin sheet that covered the reactor’s core. Smoke and steam gushed out of the fresh cracks spreading across his chest plates, sending shards of splintered metal and charred insect parts flying everywhere. Forced to cover its gullet and move its head back out of the way, Hyde’s sensors then picked up on the growing heat of an approaching lamp through the haze rapidly filling the room. Its eyes narrowing to slits at the potential threat, Hyde waited until the stranger had stepped through the door then whipped its knife at its head. The blade missed its mark by a mere half an inch, finding itself a new home wedged into the wooden frame instead.

“I could hear you from outside.” Except Faustus wasn’t speaking out loud either. Barely audible over the incessant white noise in the background, he was   talking to Hyde through their fractured, hardly functional hive mind. His robotic voice echoed around the inside of its head, “Turn it down before you broadcast our location.” He placed his lamp on the floor and took off his satchel, pulling out two boxes and handing one to Hyde. The cyborg gave the plague doctor the side eye as it opened its gift, very nearly bursting into tears again when it saw what it had received as a present.

“How did you know?” Hyde asked as it held its new, lacquered black gas mask with gold trimmings in its hands before attaching it to its otherwise melted face. It fit Hyde like a glove, with the soft felt lining almost making it feel akin to one too. The cyborg reconnected its new larynx to its old breathing tube and let out a sigh, “Faustus, how did you know?” It asked again when the plague doctor didn’t reply, busy as he was making the final adjustments to Basha’s equally new, black lacquered reactor. Hyde and Faustus hadn’t been acquainted for long but the plague doctor had made it painfully clear he wasn’t much one for conversation. It didn’t matter how he knew things. He simply always knew.

“He’s breathing fine but his core’s as fried as his brain cells.” Hyde attempted to explain itself and what it had been doing but Faustus was polishing off Basha’s replacement heart and gesturing for it to move off the bed. Hyde complied, watching in silence as Faustus filled a syringe with what must’ve been proper anesthetics and injected its content directly into Basha’s neck. Then, faster than he’d gotten Eremis together, he removed the remaining bolts, pulled out the broken reactor, unfastened the collection of multi-colored wires that connected it to its shaft and plugged in the new one. Unlike the harsh white light his previous reactor had emitted, his new heart pulsed with a gentle blue glow that nearly matched his icy blue eyes. So much so that even the overburdened and increasingly exhausted Hyde found it oddly beautiful and thoroughly mesmerizing… Until it spun itself on its heels and pried its knife free from the door frame.

“Seriously, Faustus? You only got here and you’re already leaving again? Where’s the care and hospitality?” Hyde couldn’t quite believe it as the plague doctor filled the cracks in Basha’s chest plates, sanitized the sensitive skin that surrounded them, wiped off his needle and put his equipment away.

“… believe I’d stay?” The painful sting that followed his biting question,    amplified by what had transpired directly before his arrival, made Hyde snort. The sound of it came out like static through its unused larynx.

“Can you blame me for hoping you would? You know how much I absolutely fucking love baby-sitting. Especially when the kids are awake.” Hyde rolled its eyes as it used its knife to help remove the metal and plastic shards it found had embedded themselves in its skin. Blood trickled out of its wounds but without its nerve endings attached to its central nervous system, Hyde registered pain as well as it registered everything else… Which was to say, “Not very.”

“You’re self-mutilating.” Faustus’ voice kept ringing out from the back of it’s brain. The unexpected statement rattled it hard enough to make it flinch and it took it a few minutes before it found its words, “I am not. I’m a curious intellectual with the certified skills to install my own implants. It’s absolutely NOT because I have an actual fucking problem.” It stopped picking at its arms and looked up at Faustus, unable to read the expression on the perpetually apathetic doctor’s face. No one had ever seen him without his copper-beaked mask or his green-tinted copper goggles. If they had, no one had ever spoken of it, not even in hushed whispers. This rendered the genius that was Faustus mysterious, highly sought after and utterly unassailable, “Alright fineSometimes I do it on purpose but that doesn’t make me suicidal. If I was going to kill myself, I would’ve done it by now.” Hyde dug its broken mask pieces out of its pockets and waved them at him as proof it wasn’t lying.

“Who said suicide?” Faustus picked up his satchel and looped it closed,   leaving his lamp behind on the floor for Hyde and Basha to use. The cyborg almost fired back in self-defense, remembered Faustus had heard it yelling and quickly revised itself, “What am I supposed to do then? Sit and wait until princess wakes up?”

“Bring him to the mothership.” Faustus acknowledged, successfully passing on the orders he’d been given.

“Of course. Bring Basha back to the Ezram before Big Brother does it for us or else we’ll be in for a whole other layer of fucking hell.” Hyde yawning was all that stopped it from rolling its eyes again, picking up the lamp as it moved towards the bed and resting them both against it, “Have a safe trip back then, I guess. I’m taking a nap. I earned one.” With its own auxiliary systems that never turned off, Hyde wasn’t truly able to sleep either. At best all it could do was put its operational systems on idle and shut its functions off for a while, something that didn’t exactly compare itself to rolling up in a king-sized bed with a dozen pillows and hibernating for a few days. It was one of the few human luxuries Hyde could honestly admit it missed. It closed its eyes, anticipating Faustus’ imminent departure but was surprised to find him still standing at its feet when it opened them again a short second later. He reached out his closed fist to Hyde’s cupped palms and dropped half a dozen, small clear pills in its hands. The cyborg examined the minuscule flashing nanobots inside before raising its head to thank Faustus for the favor, but the plague doctor had already run off and vanished.

“Looks like I get to join you after all, princess.” Hyde nearly smiled. Instead, it tried to send Faustus a massive grin through their short-ranged hive mind, unsure of whether it had worked or not. It then turned the lamp off, gently opened its gas mask and dropped two of the nanobots down its gullet; the android equivalent of sleeping pills.

Welcome to Wonderland.”

[Episode IV]

Hyde had lied to Mercy of course. In reality, it had no idea where Faustus had gone. The carmine-colored, humanoid plague doctor had appeared out of virtually nowhere, showing no sign of trauma or injury as he had dragged Basha and Hyde out of the dirt and clear out of harm’s way. While a ragged but conscious Hyde had sat up and dusted itself off, picking up its gas mask and re-attaching it before Faustus could notice it had snapped off. The plague doctor had then adjusted his green-tinted, copper goggles, gestured towards the nearby hills and, without a single word spoken from any of them, had spun on his heels and left. Severely disoriented and distracted, Hyde had barely kept an eye on him as he’d side-stepped the steaming, still rotating propeller blades and disappeared inside the ship faster than he’d reappeared.

So of course Hyde had lied to Mercy. Not only was it better than admitting it didn’t know anything, it had made it much easier to bear witness when Mercy had followed suit and vanished through her hull as well. But where the veteran hunter was struggling to find his lost footing, Faustus was assuredly navigating his way towards what, until moments earlier, had been the Ezramatheia’s core. Masterfully tuning out the dying while simultaneously ignoring both the living and the dead, he ducked under dangling light fixtures, dodged flying debris and avoided electrical explosions along with the blazes they sparked. Keeping his already bottled up emotions in constant check, Faustus still thanked all the nameless celestial bodies in the sky when he finally relocated the sliding, reinforced steel doors that lead to his private quarters. It was here, he knew, where he would find his muse.

Faustus had been keeping quiet about his role in the questionable chain of events that had resulted in Eremis’ arrival within the Maestro’s chambers, grateful the two of them had finally wound up in each other’s presence. Barely catching but a glimpse of Eremis’ tiny figure slumped into a living room chair with a blank, factory-set expression on her face, the plague doctor had been unable to determine if she’d been awake or dormant as the Maestro had ushered, and locked him out of his rooms. In a matter of moments, the already overburdened mothership had exploded and split apart. Losing the sound of Eremis’ pulse amid the series of blasts, he had waited for the mothership to finish putting herself to bed before setting out to discover what had happened to his beloved mechanical doll.

Now, without another soul in sight and with the dim red lights already flickering from the mothership’s failing auxiliary power supplies, Faustus made a beeline for the keypad. Mindful of its broken screen, he reached in and jerry-rigged its wires, hacking the defective doors open but only wide enough for him to get by.

“One hell of a fucking trip this turned into, didn’t it doc?” With more smouldering debris filling up the vestibule, it took Faustus well over a minute to realize the unfamiliar voice he heard belonged to the Maestro’s shell. Its human owner had evidently regained some measure of control over itself; with a half smoked cigarette hanging between its lips, it also had a nearly empty box of ammunition laying scattered between its splayed legs. Bruised and battered, the shell snorted smoke out of its nose in derision as Faustus wormed his way through the short and narrow passage, “I do have to say though, on behalf of everyone here, this is some thoroughly shitty timing on your part.”

Somewhat stunned by the sight that welcomed him on the far side of the entrance, Faustus chose to ignore the Maestro’s human host. While their mothership had all but imploded and rested herself in pieces among Cirxci’s mountains, the Maestro’s rooms were frozen in the exact same, pristine conditions they’d been in since the day he’d claimed them as his own. His pictures hung straight from uncracked walls while his furniture remained unmoved from their position on his undamaged floors. His vast book collection stood at proper attention on their respective shelves and his grand piano was propped open and ready to play. Even his fireplace was filled with logs, patiently waiting for its next fire to be lit… The only thing… The only problem

“I’ll save you the trouble doc,” The Maestro’s shell kept chuckling to itself as it struggled to load the semi-automatic handgun it had picked up, “dear dolly’s head went rolling under the bed before the explosion killed our beloved alien overlord.” The human’s blatant sarcasm was completely lost on the emotionless plague doctor as he slowly turned around on himself, scanning the room until he finally spotted…

Pieces of his Eremis.

Her torso was the sole part of her still in the chair she’d been sitting in. Her feet had been thrown to the opposite corners of the living room, her legs buried in a heap with shoes in the back closet. Faustus picked up one arm from the trash bin near the bug-eyed shell while the other had been carelessly tossed in the fireplace… Yet another accident waiting to happen.

“I don’t know why you’re wasting your time trying to do that doc, this damned spaceship is dead and fucking done.” The Maestro’s human host seemed to love listening to itself talk as Faustus got to work reattaching Eremis’ severed limbs; her arm went seamlessly into its respective shoulder socket, her thighs to her lower torso, her calves to her knees. Unbeknownst to the general population, Faustus had taken Eremis from her original owner. More monster than man, the crazed, inexcusable mistake of a scientist had thrown the disillusioned girl’s humanity out the window for the sake of his sick experiments. Faustus had eventually found him as well, banished him to a lost corner of Cirxci and restored her to as close to normal as she’d ever become, crossing her heart and promising her she would never suffer again, “We can’t go back to Earth, our ship is over flying, we completely scorched the shit out of Cirxci… We have no fucking place left to call home on this piece of shit planet… And I fucking told you our equally shitty Maestro is dead… So I truly, have no idea what you think you’re doing.. But I guarantee you’re not about to pull some miracle out of your ass fixing that trashed robot.”

Faustus stood up from where he’d been kneeling in front of Eremis, his assignment nearing completion. The Maestro’s host, while still dropping more bullets on the floor than he was putting into its magazine, was almost finished as well, “I sacrificed everything I had… Everything… My sanity, my body, my whole life… I gave it all to him, to our supposed future and for fucking what? Look at me! I have absolutely nothing to show for what that lying piece of shit did to me. No crown, no glory, no immortality. Nothing. I’m nothing. Nothing but a stupid mindless waste of human flesh.”

It kept muttering to itself. Over in the Maestro’s bedroom, Faustus was able to pull her other arm free from behind a heavy dresser as the shell’s voice picked up, “Did you find your precious beauty’s brains yet? This headless fucking freak out here isn’t doing anything for me.” It attempted to laugh, inhaled too much smoke, choked, coughed, sniffled, took another drag, “… Swear to Christ…”

Refusing to acknowledge either the deteriorated shell’s existence or the unsolicited string of sounds it had uttered out loud, Faustus nonetheless bent down to have a look at the underside of the thick bed frame. His relief quickly drowned out his surprise when, completely wrapped up in her own hair, he found Eremis’ unblemished face, thankfully looking far more asleep than dead with her eyes firmly closed.

“What? Not even a “Thank You” for the tip? What a bunch of fucking bullshit… But I suppose you’re going to tell me this is all my fucking fault for doing this to myself in the first place.” Returning to the living room with his treasure, Faustus barely paid attention as the hapless human slammed its full magazine back into its gun with enough force to break the ash off the tip of its cigarette, “You’re a fucking genius, aren’t you doc? Tell me, what exactly did our wonderful Maestro hope to accomplish by turning us into his fucking meat puppets?”

Faustus had not the words to give him as he connected Eremis’ left hand to her left wrist, placing it on the chair’s armrest with her palm facing downwards. Reaching into her neck, he pulled up her folded spine and tightened the magnetized series of bolts that would hold her upright. He then turned her head upside down, double-checking to make sure none of her cerebral wire-endings were fried or altogether missing from the visible section of her cerebellum and straightening her slightly bent spinal cord. Carefully aligning her neck to her shoulders, he allowed it to slide through his expert hands and click into place with a subtle hiss. Her entire body vibrated as her brain connected to her spine, a sure sign she had received no major internal damage… But Eremis did not wake up. Not yet.

“Hey! Excuse me! I can see this little… Whatever reunion… I mean this is awful fucking sweet and all, but aren’t you ignoring someone?” Behind him, Faustus heard the human host remove the safety from its gun and cock it. The plague doctor spun around, finding Eremis’ right hand on the mantel next to her antiquated, unopened, wooden music box… And the Maestro’s shell aiming its gun directly at his forehead, “I was planning on making this quick… But you just had to walk in here…So sorry, can’t say I’m sorry… Least it’s nicer than dying a slow miserable death from whatever the fuck nothing is left on Cirxci, don’t you agree doc?”

Unimpressed, faster-than-light Faustus took a step forward and, before it could react, pulled up his sleeve and hit the shell square in the face with a different kind of smoke cloud. Its effects were instant, with the already weakened human falling limp against the wall as its speech slurred, forcing it to drop its gun and… Very nearly… Stop talking.

“What the… Fuck did you… Fucking do?” It managed to spit out as it reached down for its weapon, astonishing them both when it heaved it up with both hands and stuck the barrel under its chin, “… Was… Off, anyway… I’ll jus-… jusss… sh-…it.” It groaned, its breathing becoming labored as it broke into a sweat from the sudden, inexplicable strain on its deplorable excuse for a frame. It wasn’t long before the shell’s sporadic ticks had grown into involuntary muscle spasms, its skin bulging out and crawling with life as something in its gut woke up and made itself felt, “… No… No, no, no… Stop… Stop it… That buzzing…” The shell gasped as it writhed in pain on the floor, wrapping its arms around itself in a pathetic and failed attempt at squelching whatever something was, “… Buzzing… Louder… Please… No-no-no-n-…” It let out an ear-piercing shriek of sheer agony as a mutated parasite the size of Faustus’ thumb came burrowing its way out the shell’s tear duct. Desperately trying to swat it away only incurred more of the giant insect’s wrath however; it moved to the top of the shell’s dilated pupil and sprayed acid into its eye, liquefying its cornea, iris and sclera. Fascinated by the unexpected turn of events, Faustus kept tuning out the dying human as the overgrown parasite flew up in lazy circles towards the ceiling. Beneath it, the shell’s stomach distended beyond imagination, its steady screeches soon replaced by choked, muffled gargles as its stomach’s living contents scurried up its throat, spilled out of its mouth, and nose, then its eyes and ears.

Remembering his assignment, Faustus peeled his gaze from the feast taking place mere feet away from him to glance over towards Eremis and the empty cavity she had in her chest. He dug through his pockets, wrapping his fingers around the fist-sized cylinder he carried, and pulled out the brightly lit modular reactor he’d been scheduled to give to Basha that day. Attracted to the sudden flash of light, the parasitic alien insect landed on its mostly metallic surface, seemingly inspecting it before turning its large, bulbous eyes towards Eremis. It fluttered to the open hole next to her ribs, scuttling its way into her systems and marking the way for its brood to follow as they made short dinner of the shell’s now utterly useless corpse. Once finished, they trailed after their leader, marching up Eremis’ legs, thighs and lower abdomen, swarming her torso as they jostled each other for entry… But in they all somehow went. Piling into all her empty spaces, they launched Eremis’ operating systems, stretching out her limbs one by one as her exposed cavity was covered up and repaired. Her head fell back before, seconds later, her eyes rolled forward and her lids opened.

“…Faustus…” Her first word in what felt like ages, and whispered so hoarsely he barely recognized it. She didn’t attempt to explain herself, or what had just transpired; she was grabbing at his sleeve for the hand a thoroughly distracted Faustus had forgotten he’d been in the process of reattaching. He let it go, watching her in silence as, in silence, she inserted it into her wrist and rotated it. She then spotted the glowing reactor he held, twisting his fingers until he had no choice but to drop it into his pocket, “… For Basha… Go… Bring him back… Don’t tell them what happened here…”

Ushered towards the door for the second time, Faustus paused, positive he’d witnessed Eremis’ fuschia eyes flash biohazardous green… But with new orders he was forever sworn to obey, the plague doctor didn’t have the time to dwell on maybes and might-haves. He touched the top of her head, ran a finger down the side of her face and headed back out for his next assignment.

[Episode III]

Basha could only vaguely remember 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 Faustus and Hyde had found him before Hyde had dragged him down an abandoned basement, thrown him on a ratty bed, strapped him down to the dilapidated frame and was now attempting to force its way into his torso.

No. As far as he was concerned, it was the tinkling of music, playing backwards from Eremis’ nearly broken music box, that lured him back from the edge of the void. This was almost immediately overpowered by the increasing sounds of sarcastic snickering as they slithered inside his ears and coiled themselves around his backbone, forcing his bruised and battered body to jerk and convulse uncontrollably. He could smell acrid smoke, wafting up from somewhere below as it too, forced its way into his mouth and nose, down his windpipe and settled at the bottom of his lungs like scorching hot lead. When, thoroughly unaware of what was happening to him, Basha finally doubled over in a coughing fit that left him gasping for air as tears streamed down his face, the subtle burning itch that had been growing in his lower extremities erupted. It raced up his limbs and across his chest, the pain nearly forcing him down in the fetal position as he thought for certain he’d burst into a ball of literal hell fire.

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

That sudden sound of that… HIS goddamned voice… The voice Basha had believed he had buried, along with the un-hearted Monster it belonged to. Yet here it was, haunting him, even on the edge of death, as the force of gravity threatened to make a teetering Basha collapse under his own weight, all while he attempted to cover ears with his hands to no avail.

“Do you remember when we watched those ridiculous insects dance in their throes of death?” His voice kept talking to him. No, Basha couldn’t recollect the memory. He couldn’t even understand what the voice was trying to tell him. “Such misery we wrought together.”

Basha shook his head. He had only barely gotten a hold of his thoughts and already they were spinning completely out of control. Similarly, his attempts at placing himself in his surroundings were failing harder than his ongoing efforts at tuning out the cacophony raging both inside his head and all around him.

He wasn’t aware he’d either been knocked unconscious or fallen asleep… So where the actual hell was he waking back up?

“Who ever said you’re awake, Basha?”

His deep and deadly ominous voice was racing through the growing whispers, coming closer and becoming much clearer. Basha slowly slid his fingers down his face to his mouth, partially opening one eye to take a peek around…. But it was all he could do to stop himself from screaming as he watched his own shadow grow three times in length. Wings appeared on his back while horns sprouted out of his head. His mouth, despite being shadow and covered by the palms of his hands, split into a shit devouring rictus before Basha shuddered and shut his eyes again, wishing it would all go away and leave him the hell alone.

“You don’t truly believe that now, do you?”

The booming laughter that followed his rhetorical question bounced off the floors, walls and ceilings of the cavernous space they were very obviously still sharing.

But there was no fucking way.

This couldn’t be happening.

“Of course it is, Basha.”

But of fucking course it was. Fucked up as he was, Basha didn’t need to lift his head to know what was now very painfully looming directly over him; the tense chill of impending dread was dripping down his neck and back, making his skin crawl and his hair stand on end.

The deadly silence that followed was both abrupt and brutal.

“So tell me, how are you feeling, Little Brother?” A soft, barely audible whisper. Lips behind his ear. The light brush of razor sharp canines over the skin barely covering the veins and arteries in his neck…

But the hopelessness that had been slowly growing in the pit of his stomach… The desperate scream that threatened to escape his vocal cords… Was suddenly muffled and entirely cut off as the Mad Maestro fell upon him like a blanket of ashen snow. Using one hand to grip both of Basha’s wrists and pin them behind his back, he made a show of licking the blood, dripping down the serrated claws of his other hand as he dug them into Basha’s narrow cheekbones.

Basha, stubbornly refusing to fully open his eyes, struggled and tried to break free, but standing a full head above him, the Mad Maestro wasn’t having a single problem keeping him wrapped up in his inhumanly strong grasp.

“You are dearly missed, Basha.” The Maestro smirked into his ear before moving his blackened mouth down his jawline. He then forced Basha’s entire head to turn in his direction, drawing more blood between his fingers as he took a closer look at his pale features, “And being away is making you frail, I see.”

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 and spun him around, “Something for all the pain you’re causing us.”

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 turned him away and placed his newly freed claws between the boy’s shoulder blades. Basha felt his heart slamming inside his chest once, twice. It skipped a beat and then stopped completely as the bones in his back and chest splintered and snapped like dried twigs. His knees gave out, his spine buckled and warm blood gushed down his upper body, drenching the clothes he wore in dark red. Nearly blacking out, the sole reason Basha found himself still standing was the Maestro himself, unmercifully holding him upright as the boy kept failing to register what the hell was happening to him.

“He ripped your heart out again, Basha. Can’t you see how beautiful it is?” Said another, yet distinctly female voice. In the state he was in, Basha only recognized Eremis because her tone nearly matched the timber of her music box, still playing out of tune somewhere in the background.

Using the Maestro’s forearm to keep himself propped up in a standing position, half-dead Basha had all but stopped breathing. Paralyzed as he was from his chest all the way down to his feet, he had to force himself to close and open his eyes a number of times before his blurred vision began to return… And there it was, jutting out of the front of his chest, resting precariously between the Maestro’s fingertips as it kept pumping blood out with a steady rhythm.

“Impressive how it keeps beating.” Eremis giggled from somewhere close, but crippled and still almost completely blind, Basha was unable to see her.

“… No, not you too…” He muttered, muffling a scream as the Maestro pulled his arm out back and out of his chest cavity, letting him go and evaporating into the inky black backdrop of their shared delusion, bringing Basha’s heart along with him.

“Is this making you upset?” It was a stupid question with a loaded, dishonest answer and Basha, unsure of who had asked, chose not to dignify it with a response.

“Don’t be rude, Little Brother. Open your eyes and look.” With his heart a toy nestled into the Maestro’s hands, Basha could merely, mindlessly do as he was ordered. He spun around on his heels, opening his eyes wide, and found himself facing Eremis’ entirely naked figure. Her matted, waist-long, chestnut hair did nothing to conceal what little curves she had, all while her glowing, fuchsia eyes seared another hole straight through his skull.

“Come closer…” Eremis beckoned him with a finger as the relentless snickering, giggles and whispers returned with a fucking vengeance. Basha struggled not to slip over his own feet as he stumbled forward, taking a step, then another, and a third. That was when he saw the full extent of the horror that had been standing bare alongside him. Speechless, Basha still wondered if she’d fallen off the deep end and inflicted her wounds upon herself as she’d done so many countless times before… Or if someone else had used her for practice.

Eremis’ neck had been slashed… No… That wasn’t right. It had been completely ripped to shreds, exposing the muscles, tendons and ligaments still pulsing with blood underneath. Her torso and stomach were covered in deep bites, long scratches and multiple stab wounds, while her arms and legs had been slashed down to her plainly visible bones that remained under her flailed and battered flesh.

Much fucking worse was the way she’d been sown back together… Or rather, someone had tried. Thick strands of coarse, black threads crisscrossed in and out of her mangled and mutilated flesh. Of course, Basha knew Eremis had lost much of her humanity a long time ago; the wires still sticking through the holes in her flailed and battered flesh more than proved it, but this…

“Promise it looks worse than it feels.” She kept giggling as she came closer, burying her nose in his blood-soaked shirt as she dug her broken nails into his forearms with a strength she shouldn’t have had in the state she was in, “You have no right to be standing either, Basha.” She added before the thought had finished crossing his mind. She moved her arms up and around his neck, the loose stitchings getting tangled into his shaggy, white hair along with her tiny fingers. Basha smelled nothing but vanilla as he pulled her in close and held her there.

“Big Brother’s watching.” Eremis whispered as, unbeknownst to him, the Mad Maestro had materialized behind him, his pounding heart nestled between his claws as he flicked his forked tongue out from between his venomous fangs, “How are you feeling, Basha?” She asked him in turn.

“Big Brother can go fuck himself.” Basha found words to spew out and promptly forgot them all as Eremis gleefully freed her hands from his hair and ran her fingers over the fresh cuts on his face. She pulled his lips towards hers, their mouths melting into each other as she traced a path down his chest, avoiding the gaping, bleeding hole there to reach for his leather belt instead.

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

(… He could feel it… That slow warmth… That ever rising pressure… Basha would have never admitted it… But dear GOD could he absolutely still fucking feel it…)

“Tell me you miss me.” The Maestro hissed in Basha’s ear as they both watched Eremis’ 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, pulling down on his pants until they’d fallen on 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 and tender lips on the tip of his throbbing erection.

“Say it, Little Brother,” The Maestro kept taunting him as Basha half-heartedly kept attempting, and failing, to move his hips away from Eremis’ mouth. He could merely grip her shoulders and choke on his non-existent breath as she drowned 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.

“Such a pathetic answer. You must be on the verge of losing it.” The Maestro’s voice was dripping with ill-intent as Eremis reached the bottom of Basha’s shaft. 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 games… 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 and thrust his engorged cock down her throat. He unwittingly let out a grunt, his eyes rolling back in time to catch the Maestro’s face, mere millimeters 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.

“Come now, Little Brother. Let it out.” The Mad Maestro ordered obscenely when all Basha had left to do but obey. The Maestro’s booming laughter reverberated across the room once again, all while Eremis swallowed Basha’s frustrations in one, big, satisfying gulp. Then, to add more insult to his already brutal injuries, the Maestro crushed his poor, bleeding heart between his claws, ripping the defective muscle into barely recognizable pieces before letting them fall through the cracks below, never to be seen again.

Eremis stood up, wiping her mouth while the Maestro wiped his hands clean of the bloody mess he’d made, sneering at Basha’s limp and lifeless corpse as it crumpled in on itself and fell to floor in a heap. Both the Maestro and Eremis vanished in a puff of smoke, disappearing nearly as quickly as they had appeared, taking their music, their sarcasm and their laughter along with them when they went.

It was all over. They were gone.

And Basha was left alone.

“All. Over. Again.”

[Episode II]

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

“You do realize how absolutely 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 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 its head, straight down to below its tailbone.

“Don’t watch then.” He was growing excited at all of the uncoagulated blood pouring out of its wound, licking his jagged canines at the sight of its spine jutting outwards. 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 sneered in revolt 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 if it isn’t lady karma being a fucking cunt.” 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 are never going to fucking believe this.” Rieze had the back of her hand covering her mouth in a half-ass attempt at not stifling her laughter, “You better come take a look.”

His curiosity effectively piqued, Mercy stuffed the corpse’s innards back in backwards, wrapped its shirt around its neck and kicked it off the edge of the cliff they’d found it 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 up the boulder to stand next to Rieze.

“In what universe is that fucking funny?” Mercy couldn’t have missed it if he’d tried.

“What do you fucking 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 your precious pet is still on board?”

The former human colony ship they had collectively overrun and assimilated to their cause not long ago. The nigh impenetrable floating fortress they had used as a weapon of mass destruction against its entire fleet and would use again on Cirxci when the ‘intelligent’ life refused to bow down to the Maestro. Their mothership, lovingly re-christened “The Ezramatheia” by said Maestro…

… Had inexplicably appeared and was now hovering a dangerously short distance away, belching out thick plumes of smoke through the cracks spreading across her otherwise solid shell as she leaned precariously over to one side. The surreal spectacle took Mercy aback, drowning him in nearly forgotten memories stemming from the time he’d decided to come 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 return to her consort.

“Can’t say he didn’t have it coming, the narcissistic bastard.” Mercy, not entirely processing her spite, kept his expression 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 mothership. Riding the shockwave of an ear-shattering blast, they came hurtling towards Rieze and Mercy’s heads 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 as they landed.

“Hey, do you think she’s going to make it?” Mercy shot Rieze another 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 and in 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 any and 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 engine blocks were already dragging her downwards as her thrusters sputtered out and died. Her lines and pipes sparked and gushed as they ripped apart while the few bolts holding her together twisted out of their sockets, bisecting their beloved mothership in one final, languishing shriek of despair. Unceremoniously, her broken, smouldering husks crashed into the mountains, burying themselves under 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 forest however, Mercy stopped dead 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, snapping it like a twig and putting the dying human out of its misery. He then dragged the body behind some nearby rocks, returning 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 dismay, 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’s head swiveled towards the source of all the words being spoken, “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 frustrated screams.

“… So I would strongly suggest you drop Basha before I pop your eyeballs with my tweezers, steal your knife and go hack out her vocal cords.”


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 its voice but dropping it lower in pitch, “Jesus, haven’t you been paying attention? Piece of fucking shit blew up, killed a bunch of people and left the rest of us stranded down here.”

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

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

“Mothership.” Mercy finished in its stead.

“Shut up. It’s not a cult, I don’t care what those stupid troglodytes on board used to say.” Mercy didn’t bother arguing. He’d left the ship some time ago, for reasons, and everyone knew it, “I was running out to meet Faustus, all of a sudden there’s smoke everywhere. Next thing I know, Faustus is dragging me out of the dirt saying Basha’s unconscious but alive and I’ve been sitting here watching our fucking princess ever since.” 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’ve ended up. I fucking told you. I’m stuck here babysitting HIM until Faustus comes back.” Hyde jabbed a finger at Basha, “How the hell he can even 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 he went.”

Hyde took the knife from him, carefully examining the razor-sharp blade before using the tip to tighten the loose screws around its neck. “Faustus said he had to go dig up his tools or some shit. I’m supposed to drag Basha to some hopefully abandoned settlement somewhere back there.” It gestured behind its left shoulder. Mercy could see plenty of hills but nothing that looked like a city or a camp, “Always best to keep princess hidden until big brother is found.”

“Nice to hear that new mask of yours hasn’t dampened your sarcasm any.” 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, ya fucking princess? You and I are going to have some fun…” He overheard Hyde say but didn’t stop or turn to see. Nor did he remember to look for Rieze’s footprints in the singed, cracked earth they’d both threaded until he’d almost reached the ship’s mangled thrusters. As such, he didn’t think it strange she had never made it closer than ten feet away from the Ezramatheia’s melting outer shell. All he bothered to notice was the path she had taken towards the ship’s top half, where most of the survivors were more than likely rallying together while trying to salvage what remained of their already meager existences.

Mercy got closer and put a hand on her scorching hot surface, burning his fingers and his palm and relishing the sensation. After all this time in self-imposed exile, he had forgotten how absolutely overblown their mothership had become. Not only had she crashed into a mountain, she’d utterly obliterated it and taken its place. It was truly a fantastic 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, forcing its way down his ears and mouth and filling his drying eyes with tears as he tried not to choke on the noxious fumes. He kneeled down, leaned back for some fresh air…

(Who Said it’s “The End”?)

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

(Welcome Back)

[Episode I]

Still alive and thinking, Ameidjin was hopelessly wishing for a reset function she knew didn’t exist.

She, at first, had believed she was losing her sight. She thought her surroundings were beginning to fade to white. She had closed her eyes, her head had beginning to spin as her memories flashed behind her eyelids at an increasingly alarming rate. There had been a burst of color… But that had been followed by nothing but static… Black… White… Grey… Continuously rolling, never ending… Static.

Ameidjin shook her head… Tried opening her eyes again but nothing was helping her at all. Her surroundings hadn’t changed.

It couldn’t possibly be over already.

This wasn’t meant to be the end.  

Except standing in what had become a mass grave, she had a round view of the Mad Maestro’s extermination 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. All of which laid within what had once been a Sanctuary… What little of it now remained.

“It was a massacre,” didn’t begin to describe the true horror that had happened here. It was utter annihilation, “Complete and total domination.”

Ameidjin truly thought she was losing her sight. Yet clearly she could see how much death there had been in such a 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… The warmth of their collective bodies still 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 begun its assault on her senses long before she had made landfall. As she had moved up the shore, her bare feet had 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 failing eyes well up with tears, her nose and throat burn and her skin itch until her entire body felt wrapped up in dull, tingling sensations. It went along well with the growing fire searing a hole in her chest.

And she’d barely only arrived.

Unmoving, she could barely put her thoughts in order and yet, she was able to take it all in. She gave herself permission to feel what her brothers and sisters must have felt; the fear, the pain, the sadness. 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 feel anymore was her unbearable, insurmountable anger. At “THEM”.

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

“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 universe, it had developed, matured and flourished. Cirxci was separated into three major continents surrounded by countless islands and cradled by clear, emerald green waters. It had been primordial, exotic and teeming with life; a gentle nature befitting an equally gentle balance.

But that ‘THING’ had made their beautiful sky fall.

Even on her distant island they had all heard the whispers floating back from the mainland. ‘ITS’ arrival had coincided with one of their festivals and these sudden guests had been received as Greater Gods, finally returned from pilgrimage. 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 welcomed ‘THEM’ with open arms.

Ameidjin sneered at herself in disgust as she remembered.

They had too easily accepted this newly arrived ‘Deity’ floating around by some kind of unexplainable, supernatural force. It was only when their Honored Ancestors had suddenly disappeared from their hallowed stone hallways had they understood not all was as it seemed.

And then it had gotten much worse.

No one knew exactly what had happened that day. They had woken up to their sky covered in thick black smoke; their ‘God’ had been badly damaged. Its systems had overloaded and a chunk of it’s hull had been blown clear off. ‘It’ hadn’t survived… Jolted, tilted precariously to its side and with dying engines, ‘It’ had ripped apart and crashed to the ground, forcing everyone to flee.

They hadn’t known how angry their ‘God’ was. Not until it was far too late.

Ameidjin balled her hands into tight fists, her claws drawing blood from her palms. The stories they had told… The rumors that had spread… The tales of how the floating mountain-sized craft had all but suddenly opened ‘ITS’ hatches and unleashed holy hell on doomed Cirxci and her defenseless people. How all those insects had suddenly appeared, swarming out by the millions. They had spread out like a plague, destroying everything in their path. With the help of their ‘God’ and their Maestro still aboard, the mindless ‘humans’ had run over villages and cities. They had killed who they could, and captured 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 going, nearly razing Cirxci straight down to the ground.

It had been carnage. Everything and everyone had either been decimated or had simply vanished into thin air. Their waters had been contaminated; their ports reduced to ashes and their once great cities left smoldering shells of their former selves, spewing out smoke so thick, it had blotted out the lights in the sky. Not even their islands had been spared. Of course, there had been some survivors, but where some had died traversing the rough seas, most had extinguished from heat and starvation. The older generations, those who hadn’t fallen to diseases, had suffered shock and trauma at the overbearing sight of the newly warped landscape; their lush forests had been reduced to dry, barren deserts while their teeming wildlife had been nearly eradicated. 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. Nothing at all but deafening silence on their increasingly desperate and lonely journey here.

Ameidjin sucked in a breath, her time growing short. Every moment gone was a moment closer to their inevitable demise. They were done. Her species had been rendered all but extinct and she knew the insects would come back to finish what they had started. The mothership wasn’t far from here. It kept looming in the background behind their sacred mountains waiting for their arrival. She could practically hear ‘ITS’ engines starting back up; the menacing, mechanical sounds of technological torture. The,“Black Machine of Death.”

And God could she ever feel it… All 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?”