[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.”

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