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Impending Pursuit

Father

20 INK

a part of Impending Pursuit, by The_Queen.

Not Daddy

The_Queen holds sovereignty over Father, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

2,642 readers have been here.

Setting

The second largest ship in the Prime fleet.
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Father

Not Daddy

Minimap

Father is a part of Impending Pursuit.

1 Characters Here

Aster [1] "Robin Hood had the right idea...kind of."

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leo Behrends
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Location: Father








The Games Begin

The day has finally arrived, and the announcement was made...The games are officially happening today and the location was in the wastes. Well at the very least it wont be a cold location for a fight to the death...But a large no mans land with plenty of abandoned things littered around that many people would neglect...Well that certainly gave him a good positive outlook going forward...Judging if there as anything to salvage compared to an old ruined town...At best there could be old cars...Right?...

Well he would cross that fake bridge again when he came across it but at the moment they were all confined to their rooms for their safety they were told...In all honest it almost felt like they were all cattle being led to their pens before the slaughter began. A very unnerving thought but that was basically what was about to happen. A moment of peace before being thrown out in the wastes to fight to the death. And to top it all off he...Virtually never talked to many of the other contestants besides that fluffy looking Doctor and the girl who was eating the grass. And it was clear that he did not make any alliances...Still he did have a good sponsor thanks to Qiqi's hard work so if push comes to shove he had to buy friendship with food! With a firm nod he had one last shower with fresh clean hot water no doubt his last chance to enjoy such luxury before the knock came at his door. "Its time, follow us." Came a voice outside. One of the guards no doubt to escort him. With no further time to waste he got dressed and followed them all the way to the loading dock. Along with more and more fellow mutants being rounded up.

"Well Leo, this is your time to shine...I can't mess around now, some people may be friendly but keep your head down and safe...Take it smart and I can get though this." He hyped himself in his mind as he took a deep breath.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Scout
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xxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Speaking: #CD5C5C | Thought: #2F4F4F




The last pill sat dauntingly on the dresser. Next to it was a cup of water, the condensation pooling onto the wood. For some strange reason, Scout didn't want to take it. She didn't want to be hopeful that something might actually cure her, she didn't want a false sense of security that should she make it out of the first game alive, her ori wouldn't kill her.

Scout shook her head, this was ridiculous.

She grabbed the pill, swallowing it hard and washing the taste down with a quick swig from her cup. Today, she would take what was possibly her last shower in that gloriously warm water. She let it wash over her with some finality, standing beneath the spray for as long as possible.

Scout was busy working on untangling her hair when the door swung open, Aries and Selena entering. Breakfast had been delivered sometime while she was in the bathroom, the tray sitting on the dresser. "Come sit," Selena gestured to the chair. "We came to say goodbye, but I think you might still need my help," Selena sighed, shaking her head. Scout dutifully sat, holding out the hairbrush.

Selena worked her stylist magic with deft fingers, untangling Scout's hair and twisting it into an intricate, expert braid. Aries, in the meanwhile, ate the grapes from Scout's breakfast tray, pondering over his tablet. "Your support item will be with the rest of your belongings when you land." He explained, "So don't worry if it's not on the transport."

Scout nodded in response.

"Nervous?" Selena asked as Scout rose, going over to the wardrobe. "No," she admitted, her voice low. "This is a killing game," The wolf couldn't help but grin, her sharp teeth glinting in the artificial light. Aries and Selena shared a glance, they had already become well-acquainted with that violent glint in her eyes.

"Why is it different?" Scout pointed to the outfit in the wardrobe. She had grown used to the training clothes all competitors were given, but this one was strange and new. "Let me help you," Selena rose, practically wrestling Scout into her new clothing.

Aries still didn't look up from his holo tab, "This one has your sponsor name on it," if Scout could read, she would have realized that the pharmaceutical company that had given her the ori treatment had their logo and name on the back. On the right sleeve was her name, the embellishments on the jacket in silver and red. The shoes fit perfectly, although they were a bit clunky for Scout's liking.

"There," Selena stepped back, a tear in her eye. After all, this could very well be the last time she saw Scout. Aries at last looked up, giving a nod of approval. "Wow," he grinned, "You almost look presentable," he pushed off of the dresser, circling around Scout. "We won't have any communication while you're out there. I'll be able to support you from up here, but that's about it."

"I don't need your help," Scout grumbled, picking at invisible lint on her jacket. "You will," Aries replied. "Once you're on the ground, you'll realize that it isn't going to be easy."

They were going to the Wastes, that was practically Scout's home.

The wolf sauntered over to her breakfast tray and lifted the lid, snatching up a piece of meat. Contestants! Twenty minutes until line up! A cheerful voice announced above them.

Selena clapped her hands together in a prayer, "You'll come back to us, she'll come back to us, right?" The stylist looked at Aries, fear in her eyes. "C'mon Selena, this is Scout we're talking about." The manager scoffed, he had seen first-hand over the last week just what kind of brute strength the wolf had.

"I'm right here," Scout grumbled.

Contestants! Ten minutes until line up! The voice sang.

Scout winced, her sensitive ears twitching at the sound. "What is this called again?" Scout, unconcerned by her possible impending doom, held up a triangle with little slots in it. "A waffle," Aries replied. Scout poured syrup into every hole, "it's the perfect vehicle for sugar," she took a bite, taking care not to get any on her snazzy new outfit.

Contestants! Please step outside your door and await further instructions! Selena ran over, reaching out her arms. Scout stepped back, ears pointed flat, uncertain what Selena's intentions were. The stylist hesitated, then, somewhat awkwardly, tried to wrap her arms around the wolf. "Come back to us in one piece!" She stepped back.

"Scout," Aries stepped towards her. "I expect nothing less than a victory."

Scout nodded, stepping outside the door and towards what could possibly be her death.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yeqon Character Portrait: Kore
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And so it begins

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The ship was a gleaming silver beacon of polished metal, idling on the dock that would carry them to ruined earth. Kore had never been this close to the shield before, a clear wall that prevented them from being sucked out into the vacuum of space.

The prospect of visiting ruined earth made butterflies flit in her stomach. Kore was rarely ever this nervous, but the idea of hurtling towards earth in a metal craft, coupled with the closeness of the start of the Games made her stomach turn.

So Kore did what a showman does best. She turned to face Yeqon, smiling up at the man who was much taller than she. He was stoic as ever, his body language closed-off, his expression that of a passive observer. Kore, however, did not mind. Kore took a step closer; she needed to keep up airs. They were supposedly Father’s hottest, high-profile couple. ”Did you enjoy the gift I had Mimi drop in your office yesterday?” Kore inquired, her smile polite, but sly.

Behind them, fotors were eating the scene up. Yeqon ignored the foto hungry vultures, glancing down at Kore. A brow on his normally unreadable face had been quirked, he was curious and confused. Kore’s seemingly innocent smile seemed genuine, but it was rare for her to talk about personal matters in public.

Yeqon’s eyes narrowed, gaining an understanding of the larger picture. The fotors grew louder, fighting for a foto. Their once quiet mumbles increased in volume. It only took one short phrase to reach Yeqon’s ears for him to realize Kore’s intentions. Are the rumors about them true?

Mentally, Yeqon sighed. He did question the intention of the gift Kore’s assistant had dropped on his desk the day prior. The strawberries and liquor, the two items that made up Yeqon’s food pyramid. At first, Yeqon had believed that the gift might just be an actual show of appreciation. However, Kore was not such an obvious sentimentalist, along with the continued pressure for them to appear in public in the not-so-subtle matching outfits.

These were not simple coincidences, Kore had a plan… and Yeqon needed to play along.

“Yes...” Yeqon nodded, “it was a pleasant surprise.” He glanced at the fotors sparkling eyes, “I will be sure to return the gesture… Kore.”

Her name sounded strange in his mouth, as though he were tasting the syllables of a newly discovered word. Was this perhaps the first time he had called her by her first name? Kore racked her brain, trying to think back while her smile grew.

To outsiders, it looked as though the two were taking an intimate moment before boarding the ship.

Kore took Yeqon by the elbow, the hatch opening with a hiss, welcoming them into its belly. The interior was just as shiny as the outside, with a sparse amount of furnishings. There were two lounge chairs, pushed near the large window that framed space. On the other side was a table, decorated in refreshments.

Kore released Yeqon once they boarded, away from the eyes of the fotors. ”No need, it was a simple show of appreciation for all you have done thus far.” The door closed as soon as they were inside, the airlock engaging to make certain they would have a safe voyage.

Kore took a seat in one of the chairs by the window, crossing her legs at the ankle. For a moment, an eager child-like expression crossed her face. ”Have you been there before?” Kore asked, gesturing towards the planet. ”To earth, I mean.”

Her partner moved with the grace of a bird, practically gliding across the floor to seat himself in the chair opposite. He straightened his slightly-wrinkled coat sleeve, sighing audibly as he eased himself down. “No,” Yeqon replied curtly, “there was never a need… or a desire.”

He took a brief moment to take in the ship’s interior, noting the effort that the staff had put in to make sure their short trip was comfortable. Yeqon turned away from Kore, resting his head on his hand, his arm supported by the chair. “I assume this is your first time as well?”

Kore spared Yeqon a glance before returning her gaze to the window. ”I’ve never been off of the ships before,” she was enthralled by the orb that was slowly growing closer.

It was rare for the two of them to have a moment of privacy to themselves, much less together. ”That servant of yours, Eon, is it? I was surprised to see him accompany you. I thought he detested the Games,” the ship suddenly lurched, the engines roaring to life. Even within the cozy cabin, they could hear a low drone.

Even with the sudden jerk, Yeqon only slightly adjusted himself. It was easy for him to steady his body and he eased back once more after a moment had passed. Taking a moment to organize his thoughts, Yeqon closed his eyes, while the low drone of the engine no longer idled beneath them.

Most would probably question how Kore acquired such knowledge- a servant’s personal feelings. Especially one, to Yeqon’s knowledge, who Kore had never addressed or personally spoken to the servant in question. Yeqon did not doubt her resourcefulness, in fact, he would be more surprised if Kore didn’t know.
“He… does not find the Games favorable… but he can separate his feelings and duties.” Although that was not necessarily true, Eon based his sudden request to accompany Yeqon solely on emotion.

”How admirable,” it was an open secret among staff that Kore was not favorable towards mutants. It was part of the reason she felt no remorse in taking such a large part in organizing an event like this.

The rest of the journey passed in silence, the ship steady as it docked at the launching station in the middle of the Wastelands. The thrumming beneath their feet died out, the engines having been cut. ”I believe this is our stop.”

The door opened slowly, giving the two their first glimpse of ruined earth.

It was bright, even from where they were seated. The first thing Kore could sense was the immense heat that came off in waves. The next thing Kore noticed was the armada of peace keepers, swathed in tan. They marched up the gangway and onto the ship. ”Welcome Overseers,” a slightly muffled voice came from behind a helmet.

He removed it swiftly, bending at the waist in a bow. ”I am General Mateus, I will be overseeing your safety while you are here with us on earth.”

General Mateus was tall, but not taller than Yeqon. His skin was tanned and his face wrinkled from living in the sun-scorched desert. His hair was gray, perhaps from years of stress, but his eyes were his most striking features. They were the color of amber and around them were crows feet from having smiled so much. The General was a human, indicated by the small patch on his shoulder that separated him from the mutants that worked within the peace keepers.

The General offered a hand for debarking, which Kore gingerly took. ”Thank you, General.” Kore smiled in what appeared to be earnestness. As soon as they emerged, the light became blinding. Kore squinted at its brilliance, putting a hand up so that she could see.

They were led down bits of paved road that someone had swept the sand off that morning towards a tent where the two Overseers would rest until it was time to begin. While they moved, Yeqon got to work. His eyes were quick to adjust to the brightness, his mutant blood aiding him in the adaptation of the familiar atmosphere.

A wave of nostalgia ignited somewhere in the pit of his stomach, the combination of light and heat managing to overcome the steel-forged barrier in Yeqon’s mind. Yeqon looked up again, peering over the horizon. The heatwaves vibrated in the distance and with them, a dark-skinned woman dancing across the sand as though it were her own, personal stage.

She dons foreign clothes, dyed in colors that match her long, black curly hair. Peering out at him from the cloth are a pair of emerald eyes.

A sharp inhale made his chest shake, reminding himself that this was an illusion, that the vision, the woman, were not real. Yeqon squandered the emotions that swelled in his chest, turning his attention towards the general. “Thank you, General Mateus… what percentage of competitors still haven’t arrived?”

He evaluated the security measures while the General rattled off numbers, describing safety procedures and security. While Yeqon knew that he could easily protect himself, the small figure beside him, while there was sometimes a bite to her words, could not defend herself.

“Excellent,” it was a rare moment of praise from the boy. He stopped at the entrance of the tent, “detain any competitors who start or engage in physical altercations… appropriate punishment will be meted out… depending on the severity of the offense.”

General Mateus nodded, bowing quickly before leaving. Yeqon lingered outside the tent for a moment, looking out again at the horizon before ducking inside.

It was cooler, in the tent. “Is something not to your satisfaction?” Yeqon’s voice broke through Kore’s thoughts. It was rare for her to be this quiet. Kore shook her head, indicating that she was fine. ”Nothing, nothing.” In here, there were no cams to watch them, no fotors to pester them. It was oddly quiet.

”I was simply taken aback by it all… it’s… different.” Much hotter than Kore had imagined, she was used to the temperature controlled comfort of the ship.

It would only be a few minutes until General Mateus returned, promising to come and get them once the last ship touched down. Kore looked up at Yeqon’s face, for a moment she had seen a strange look in his eyes, but for once, Kore decided not to comment on it.

Could he possibly have lied to her when he said he had never been to earth before? Kore shook her head, there was no reason for Yeqon to lie about something so trivial. Plenty of homes come to earth for touring, charity work, and diplomatic aid. From what Kore understood, Yeqon was not the lying type either.

”Everything is running smoothly,” she glanced at her holo pod, the display blinking as it struggled to gain a stable connection. She turned it to silent for the time being, since no one would likely be reaching out to her right now. ”If you’d like,” Kore started, turning once again back towards Yeqon, ”After we get off work today, I know a little place. A quiet corner, if you will.”[/color

She took a step closer to him, [color=#0EBFE9]”It’s family owned, the drinks are cheap and the food is good.”
Kore took another step. ”My treat… if you want to, that is?”

He was still hovering near the entrance of the tent, putting a great distance between them. The longing from before had returned, a terrible aching in his chest that longed for this barren wasteland. Yeqon would have liked to put blame on the last few days for his current state, one emotional interaction after another. It had taken a toll on his mental health.

Strangely, however, Yeqon did not mind the current situation. It was pleasant, to be in a place where his every move was not being evaluated through the lens of others. Although there was a certain irony to it. Why else would the very first location he visited on earth in years be the Wastes?

It was Kore that interrupted his thoughts, her small frame entering his field of vision. When had she gotten so close? Yeqon stared down, noticing how little space there was between them. His co-host was incapable of hurting him: physically that is, although she was quite talented in other forms of havoc.

Kore’s expression was earnest, innocent. It made Yeqon immediately wary, his mind trying to put together why she had offered such a thing. Kore was not one to hand out favors unless she had something to gain. “You wish… to arrange a date with me?”

Yeqon tilted his head to the side, staring at Kore with open curiosity. Usually, he would deny any requests for socialization after hours. Yeqon had a habit of not trusting anyone’s intentions. However, at this moment, there was no one watching them. Yeqon had nothing to gain by accepting her request. A small establishment with food and drinks… What was she planning?

“...Is there a reason for this sudden request?... Headlines? Publicity stunt? … A strategy meeting?” Yeqon was blunt, but respectful. He could see no hidden agenda in Kore’s expression and that in itself was dangerous. “... I suppose… I will accept your request… as a thank you for the gift.”

His response was met with a giggle not unlike the chirp of a small bird. ”No, not a date… no.” Kore stepped back, her expression softened. She was very aware that Yeqon did not harbor those sorts of feelings. ”Do two coworkers always need a reason to meet?”

He had accepted her request and that was a small victory. ”I am aware that I am… unpleasant, at times when the cameras are rolling. I’m sure you must understand that living on Father is like being a pawn in a constant game of chess. Always evaluating and planning ahead. Sometimes it’s just nice to step away from that, like right now for instance.”

No cams, no fotors, no listening devices. Not even a holo pod could reach them here.

Yeqon’s brow began to relax, his frown thinning, his body relaxing. While Yeqon was piqued by Kore’s transparency, he was still confused. Was there truly a need to grow closer with those you worked with? Yeqon had determined that meeting outside of work was unnecessary, but he didn’t view Kore as someone with different values.

Yeqon’s opinion of Kore was simple: she was harmless, physically that was. With an animated personality, devoted to her role as Head Overseer, capable, but sometimes manipulative, and cruel. It was an honest observation Yeqon had made after months of working together with her. It was why this situation had fallen outside of his expectations. While Yeqon had agreed, he would still remain wary of Kore’s intentions.

The tent flapped opened, General Mateus stepping back, clearing his throat quickly as though he were worried he had been interrupting something. It only took that small moment for Kore to flip the switch on, her back straightening a bit more, her dazzling smile gracing her lips. ”My apologies, I didn’t realize you two were-” he stopped, glancing up between them.

General Mateus straightened, ”It’s time.” He said at last, getting straight to the point. Kore nodded, adjusting her red veil so that it would further protect her eyes. ”Lead the way,” she smiled, gesturing for him to go first. “We mustn't be late,” Yeqon moved, the General nodding and falling into step. ”Certainly, follow me.”

Their stage was a hover platform, waiting to take them up into the sky, above the startling line. There were ground wires everywhere, fighting to maintain a connection with the ships, so that they could broadcast the footage to any holo screen turned to the right channel.

Behind the starting line were pods, each housing a competitor with a closed gate. They would only open once the countdown had completed.

Kore gingerly walked up the steps of the platform, which buzzed beneath their feet, alive with magnetic energy. A techie waddled over, hunched over awkwardly from years of carrying heavy equipment. ”Pardon the intrusion Ms. Mars, this is your mic.” Kore nodded, smiling, allowing his hands to gently place the little blue clip in her hair braid, beside her ear.

Her mental clock was ticking, they were two minutes behind schedule.

”And Mr. Cryo, this one is yours.” The techie was more intimidated by Yeqon, avoiding his gaze. Yeqon lowered his body, doing his best to help. Yeqon’s mic came in the form of a small, red triangular clip, placed beneath his slicked back hair, right next to his ear.

Once secured, he returned to his full height, smoothing out the white shirt tucked into his belt. Whilst making final preparations, a prop was handed to him. A white fan with gold embroidery that matched his gloves.

They were running two minutes late.


Kore adjusted her dress one last time, the countdown beginning. ”And we’re live in 3...2..” A hand pointed their way, indicating that the cams were now connected.

Kore strode across the stage as the platform lifted, a cloud of cams following them upwards. She flashed a dazzling smile, having prepared for this very moment for ages. ”After months of preparation, the moment you’ve all been waiting for is finally here!” Behind her, music blared, the sound of trumpets coming from a speaker somewhere on the platform. ”You know the drill,” Kore winked, her eyes glittering. This was her arena, her very own Game.

”Once that clock reaches zero, the doors will open and our competitors will spend the next week zipping across the desert terrain on a death defying quest to reach the finish line!”

Kore bound over to Yeqon’s side, who had settled into his role, following her lead, always in the exact place he needed to be. Yeqon’s contributions to the commentary included small, but noticeable nods and maneuvers with his new accessory. ”As Head Overseers, you can expect to see our faces plenty! As we give you morning and evening updates on all of your favorite competitors!”

Kore pointed towards the sky, where the projector displayed a large number 10. ”Without further ado, let’s begin the countdown!” The holographic clock flickered, eager to begin.

Yeqon’s cold demeanor had diminished just a little to match Kore’s warmth. He used his fan artfully, letting it naturally cover the bottom half of his face. His eyes, normally cold and inexpressive, appeared animated thanks to the elusive positioning.

The time had come at last, Kore pointed towards the sky and Yeqon lifted his fan, pointing too. With a cheer, the countdown commenced.

”3… 2… 1! Let the Games begin!” Fireworks were launched from somewhere around them, illuminating the sky, even in daylight. They popped at a dizzying height above them, the sound minimal compared to the thrumming of Kore’s heart in her own eardrums.

Beneath them, dust kicked up on the desert floor. The first motorbike had escaped its confines, zipping across the sand covered road. Kore watched, feeling a sense of pride swell within her. Slowly, she peeled her eyes away from the sight.

It was time to return to Father, to oversee the Game.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ljilja
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Last Words

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Delicate as a mother, Anya ran her brush through Ljilja's hair, teasing out any knots and twists she discovered along the way. The stylist, whose words were so often seasoned with aged wisdom, and whose tone so regularly took on condescension, was hardly ten years older than the little blue mutant she was helping to care for. Ljilja held still, her shoulders forward, her eyes shut.

"It is not decided until you board that ship, you know. You can still change your mind," Anya said as her nimble hands played with Ljilja's locks, making them soft and silky to the touch.

Ljilja grunted in acknowledgement, finding it rude not to.

"You are very popular on the feeds. If you leave the Games, someone will offer to buy you at a high price." With a wistful sigh, Anya dipped her words in layers of implication. "No more mining on the Underside. You could live here on the ship and do whatever work you wanted. Maybe a stylist's assistant, hmm?"

Ljilja drew a breath and swallowed. The thought had crossed her mind to seek alternate methods of reaching her dreams—ones less risky, less dangerous.

"And if you come as a package deal with your mother...still, who would say no to owning the Ljilja?"

She answered, hesitant at first, but with growing certainty in her voice as she spoke. "Mom and dad...would not approve. Losing my freedom to choose...is the same as losing my life. I will not sell that choice to anyone."

Anya hummed in feigned astonishment as she considered the response. "So determined, you are. Not the same mutant you were when I first saw you."

Ljilja nodded. She heard Anya set the brush aside and felt the gentle embrace of Anya's arms from behind her.

"As assistant, as designer...I have done this work since I was your age, prettying up the fighters." Anya blew air through her nostrils, huffing in indignation. "I think, after you, I am done."

After Anya released her from the hug, Ljilja raised the hood on her new uniform, which was emblazoned with Hyper-Drive's iconic hexagonal blue logo. She turned to look at Anya, furrowing her brows. "Why?" she asked.

"Contestants, step outside your door and await further instructions," came an announcement over the intercoms.

Anya smiled. "Maybe I will tell you on our next visit."



Gliding along the moving walkway to the shuttleport, Ljilja stood in a single file line with 49 other competitors. Ahead and behind the line were armed guards, their weapons ever at hand. Gradually they were ushered closer, but long before the crowds of fotors and spectators could be seen, two enormous ships came into view.

One was smooth, elegant, polished to a mirror shine. Its glamorous curves and sleek frame dignified the craft as a state-of-the-art masterpiece, the height of private transport. Only the richest of the rich could afford one, which was why it so fittingly took center-stage as the primary sponsor vehicle to deliver the Overseers and other staff privileged enough to view the competition's beginning in person.

The other was rigid, rugged, and reinforced. Like a massive turtle with wings, it hearkened to an ancient era of war machines and annihilation. Upon its sides were mounted cannons that could level skyscrapers, miniguns that could turn trees to matchsticks, and missiles that could turn rebellious mutants into a fine mist with a single launch. On its belly were isolation pods, into which dozens of tons of cargo and equipment were being loaded. A number of these had been subdivided into compartments for competitors, and a platoon of soldiers kept the path from the autowalk to these compartments clear.

"Competitors one through ten, proceed," announced an unseen voice, whose calm but authoritative tone demanded compliance.

Ljilja watched as the participants ahead of her stepped off of the walkway and walked towards the hulking craft, marching in single file until they reached the ramps to their numbered subdivisions, climbing up and inside. The ramps receded behind them, and the doors shut.

"Competitors eleven through twenty, proceed."

With every calling, Ljilja found herself closer to the front of the line. The crowd cheered for their favorite mutants as they watched them walk up to and enter the ship.

"Competitors twenty-one through thirty, proceed."

By now, most of the people that Ljilja knew had disappeared, paraded onto the craft. The humans were celebrating, but there was a pall among the mutants, and a secret consensus: few, if any of them, truly wanted to be here.

"Competitors thirty-one through forty, proceed."

The last group before Ljilja's had now departed, and the little blue mutant found herself only a few spaces from the end of the walkway. In moments, she, too, would be called to disembark and to join the others on what would likely be, for many of them, a one-way-trip.

"Competitors forty-one through fifty, proceed."

Ljilja stepped off of the walkway and onto the landing pad, nearly losing her balance. Her legs carried her forward, but her mind was disconnected from the process. She felt herself walking, heard the roar of the crowd, but inside her was a frozen stillness, like a deer in the headlights, vacant and helpless. These were her final moments to say no, to quit the competition, to return home alive, and yet she felt paralyzed the whole way, all the way up the ramp and into the cargo container, where it shut behind her, sealing her inside.



From Above

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Devoid of furnishings, Ljilja's compartment, like the others', was little more than a metal box. Above her was an overhead light, the incessant hum of which was nearly drowned out by the disturbing sounds of gale force winds buffeting the hull of the ship and the constant beating of the colossal rotors which kept it aloft.

Ljilja lay curled up in the corner, her head pressed to the cool metal wall in a futile attempt to relieve her migraine. The pressurization on the inside was minimal, since the goal was to ferry competitors alive, not in the lap of luxury; for most, this was acceptable, but Ljilja's unusual biology called for far more pressure than the craft was providing, making every moment spent within its confines a torturous experience.

Eventually, out of sheer exhaustion from attempting to cope with the pain and thin air, Ljilja drifted to sleep on the hard plate floor.



She awoke from the sudden THUNK of the ship landing upon solid ground. She sat upright, rubbing at her head, noticing that the air had changed. While in transit, it had been cool but thin. Now it was hot and dry as a bone. Her head still ached, but now for a different reason: dehydration. Blood began trickling from her nostrils, and she flared them, tilting her head back to stop the bleeding. She groaned in discomfort, rubbing the dried sleep from her eyes as her body struggled to cope. Her baggy uniform kept her skin from losing too much of its moisture, though it also made her sweat profusely.

Ljilja swallowed to keep the blood from clogging her throat and groggily rose to her feet. She could hear dramatic music playing as a backdrop to Kore's opening speech from the outside, which came through shrill and overzealous through the many layers of battle-hardened alloy. She stepped closer to the sealed exit of the cargo compartment, pressing her head to the hull to try and hear what was going on outside.

"Let's begin the countdown!"

Ljilja gasped, shuddering and staggering away from the wall. She could make out each number as Kore counted down from ten; she had precious few moments to gather and prepare herself. She wiped her nose of blood—though, in the desert air, it had dried almost immediately—and took a running stance, just as her first night on Father, in which she passed out on the marathon track...

"Seven! Six! Five!"

Looking around, Ljilja finally noticed something: Where were her Longjacks?

"Four! Three! Two!"

Eyes wide, Ljilja turned her head to and fro, as if such a massive piece of equipment had somehow gone unnoticed in her cramped little cargo container. She clutched at her hoodie in horror; the tool most important to her survival was missing. In her panic, she had forgotten that it was to be unloaded along with her vehicle for the event. Regardless, it was too late to throw in the towel. She was here on the battlefield, and a fight was brewing.

"One!"

With a loud clack, all of the containers unlatched simultaneously, and the hulking metal ramps blasted open, timed to coincide with the massive boom of fireworks overhead. The ramps lay wide open for traversal, with a motorbike waiting and ready at the bottom of each.

"Let the Games begin!"



The Rush of Battle

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Musical Accompaniment



Mere moments passed before the first competitors were mounted upon their vehicles and roaring off into the distance. Some struggled with the machines, which they had little experience with, spending precious seconds fiddling with the controls as their fellow fighters either seized the lead or the opportunity to take potshots at the stragglers. By the sound of the projectiles whizzing through the air, those who lingered at their vehicles were likely doing so at the expense of their lives.

Ljilja scurried to the back of her container, panting softly, then coughing and hacking up the dusty air. She needed to breathe through her nose, but her nostrils were clogged with flaking, coagulated blood. Maybe...maybe waiting was the best option. She could afford to lose some time if it meant she could recover, adjust, and figure things out. But she would not get that luxury.

Below, a number of bikes remained unclaimed, along with support items awaiting their owners. But those fighters, like Ljilja, were cowering in their compartments, refusing to leave. Enterprising combatants, eager to take advantage of the situation, began to climb the ramps, seeking to quickly eliminate the competition before they got a chance to gain their footing. Ljilja could hear their footsteps clambering up the metal walkways before dispatching fellow mutants with gunshots, blade slices, or more sinister means.

As the screams began, Ljilja realized that staying put would mean certain death. So, throwing caution to the wind, she barreled down her ramp at full speed, sprinting as quickly as her little legs could take her. She had never used a vehicle like the one awaiting her, and she did not have the time to learn. She ignored it entirely, leaping onto a strange metal mass beside the motorcycle. The impact knocked all the air from her lungs, but Ljilja's part, for the moment, was done. She rolled onto her back, letting the machine take over.

"Owner Ljilja Kasun recognized," it announced.

Suddenly, flexible strips shot out from the device, wrapping around her body at key locations, securing itself against her. One by one, the metal mass separated itself into four parts, each attached to a center bound to Ljilja's upper torso. Finally, the quarters of the machine bent and jutted, forming four giant limbs, each as large as the girl herself. Two formed the base like a second pair of legs, and the other two suspended themselves into the air, using the base limbs for support.

"Longjacks online."

Finally catching her breath, Ljilja searched her surroundings. All around her, she saw threats, but any who were focused on her had stopped in their tracks, waiting to see what she would do. Nobody wanted to be the first to fall victim to...whatever it was that they were looking at.

She looked down to her motorcycle. No extra gear to speak of. But mounted to the side, waiting for her to take it, was a cylindrical canister bearing the blue hexagon of her sponsor. She swiped it gratefully, just in time for one of the gun-toting mutants to send a test shot across her metal plating.

Ljilja cocked her head in the direction of the shot. Then, realizing this was a bad idea, she turned away from it, using the metal arms on her back to protect her from further fire. "I need to get out of here..." she thought to herself.

She gathered her breath, held the canister tight to her chest, and leapt away from the craft using the Longjacks' massive legs. The top arms craned forward and began to stride along with the other two limbs, forming a galloping run not unlike that of a charging gorilla. She bounded along the parched, ruined land with terrific speed, not much slower than the bike she left behind.

Each step made a thud and left clawlike imprints in the dirt. She tried not to think about the horrific sounds that came from behind her; the pounding steps of her Longjacks helped to mask any that were loud enough to catch at her growing distance. Clutching the canister ever tighter, her eyes began to tear up, their moisture already being eaten away by the desert's intense heat. She tried in vain to make out the details of any of the riders in the distance, craving for the safety and comfort of her allies.

And then she remembered: They had come up with a signal.

Ljilja bounded to the opposite side of a large boulder, using it for cover as she readied herself. One massive limb raised itself into the air, its 'elbow' bending and tensing, before...


BOOM.

Loosing a massive punch to the earth, she sent a shockwave rippling through the soil and a reverberating blast that could be heard for miles. She waited a few moments, and then...

BOOM.

Again she raised her metallic arm, its grip clutched into a massive fist. Then, it hurled itself straight into the dirt, leaving a small crater where once solid ground stood, loosing another terrifying...

BOOM.

No competitor dared to fully investigate the source of such a loud and mysteriously rhythmic noise. Any who peered in Ljilja's direction saw only a metal behemoth lying in wait behind an enormous stone, ostensibly ready for an ambush.

That is, no competitor but the two who recognized it as a rallying cry.

Ljilja did not have to wait long for a response. One of the motorcycles doubled back in its course, turning about to race directly toward Ljilja. She rose to attention, her arms taking on a combat stance until the rider came into view.

With a sigh, Ljilja allowed herself to relax just a bit. She recognized the rider.

As the bike slowed to a stop, its owner looked Ljilja's metal limbs up and down before whistling in admiration.

"So these are what you and Jaden have been keeping secret all this time, huh? Color me impressed."

Trembling like a leaf, Ljilja forced a nervous smile, her nerves already worn thin.

A familiar white-horned mutant stepped off from the bike, unafraid of the huge metal arms before him, concerned more for the girl at their helm. He reached forward and gently stroked her head, her locks still smooth from an earlier brushing.

Dehydrated, fatigued, and in fear for her life, it was all Ljilja could do not to cry.

"There, there," Boqin murmured consolingly. To refocus her attention, he gestured to the canister that Ljilja still held to her chest. "What do you have there?"

Her voice hoarse from dryness, Ljilja answered, "I...don't know. I think it's water...I hope it is..."

"Have some," he suggested. "Your sponsor will just give you more, right?"

Ljilja's mind was fried. She could only give a cursory nod before twisting off the container's top. Her eyes brightened at the sight of the cool, clear liquid within, chilled so thoroughly that just opening it caused wisps of condensation to begin rising from within. Quickly, she guzzled down some of its contents before reclosing the canister and sighing deeply with relief.

"Better?" Boqin asked, tugging his hood up past his horns to keep them out of the sun.

"Better," Ljilja answered, her voice much clearer and calmer.

If Boqin was thirsty, he did not press the matter just yet—there were more important concerns to attend to—and instead mounted his bike. "Let's keep calling for Scout," he suggested.

Again, Ljilja nodded. Just being with someone else made it easier for her to feel safe and to focus. She bent forward, raising one of her metal arms, and...


BOOM.

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xxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Speaking: #CD5C5C | Thought: #2F4F4F




"Contestants 10-20, please make your way onto the gangway."

Scout moved forward in the solemn line. The air was tense, the mood somber. It was quiet among the mutants, save for the near-whispered prayers that surrounded them. Hands were clasped towards the sky, some simply knotted and held tight against the chest. Scout stood among them, looking ahead, towards the ship. She didn't believe in a higher power.

The compartment was windowless, made of metal. The door sealed tightly, the hiss of artificial oxygen coming from somewhere above her. The wolf paced once, gaining her bearing before she leaned against the wall, sinking slowly towards the ground.

At first, the darkness was fine, the loud grumble of take off did not bother her, despite her sensitive hearing.

However, the more time that passed, the more she began to remember.

"Your dinner," a half eaten piece of chicken and a few soggy shreds of spinach were placed on a plate in front of her, the closet door closed again, sealing Scout in the darkness.

"This is different." Scout reminded herself, hugging her knees.

"Does it hurt?" Her Mother was standing in front of the closet door, Scout huddled inside, her ribs crackling with each breath. "It hurts Mommy," she whispered. "I'm sorry Scout, I'm so sorry." The quiet sobs of the woman Scout once considered her Mother filled the darkness.

A hand reached towards her ribs, they were in one piece.

Scout punched the metal wall, a metallic clank! Sounding as her hand bounced off harmlessly. The wolf hadn't even made a dent, but the sting in her fist reminded her where she was. This wasn't the closet, her parents were gone. This was an airship, taking her back towards earth for the first Game.

Maybe the circumstances weren't so different after all.

The engines cut, the annoying droning sound leaving Scout in a deafening silence. She rose slowly, the familiar dryness of the desert surrounding her as soon as the life support system from the ship shut off. Scout licked her lips, kneeling, her ears turned forwards, listening.

"One!"

The wolf reeled back, the door opening slowly, the light of the mid-morning desert blinding her momentarily before she realized what had happened.

A grin made its way up her lips. Her tail swished with anticipation. Her boots clanged against the gangway as Scout ran towards the bike, among the first few competitors out of the gate. This was no time to marvel, this bike was nicer than anything Scout had ever owned, but she hadn't a moment to lose. Most of these machines worked the same and this was no different. She looked around the bike for a moment, trying to find them. There! On the ground, next to her bike, were her support items. Scout was quick to pull the swords across her chest, jamming her finger onto the power button. The hover bike hummed to life beneath the guidance of her hands, kicking up dust around her.

Scout let out a low whistle, twisting the handle bar, the throttle propelling her forward. A bullet hit the ground beside her, a warning shot? Scout turned her bike on a dime, but she wasn't used to this much power and nearly spun out.

It took a moment to regain control and she stopped, another bullet nearly hitting her fingers. "Who the h*ll is shooting at me!" The wolf growled, her tail swishing. Scout's predator senses had kicked into high gear.

It was time to go hunting.

While some competitors were wrapped up in trying to figure out their hover bike, or still cowering in their containment units, Scout was already on the prowl. Her eyes scanned the sun scorched circle, finding her sniper perched atop a metal container. It would have been clever, if their bright pink sponsor logo hadn't stood out.

A racoon mutant, with a crafty tail that bounced up and down. That same tail stood straight up in fear, realizing she had been spotted. Frantically, the racoon attempted to reload her rifle. Scout grinned, this time swerving to dodge the bullet. Why choose a gun if you couldn't aim for sh*t?

She headed straight towards the container, the racoon's eyes widening with panic. Scout poured on the speed, perching herself upwards. She grabbed the bag off of the back and jumped, the hover bike crashing into the metal. "N-no, please! Don't hurt me!" The mutant begged, attempting to skitter away.

Scout stomped on her tail, the bone crunching satisfyingly beneath her foot. The racoon screamed in pain. "Please, I was just told-I was just doing what I was told to!"

"Yeah right," Scout drew her sword slowly, she would savor this moment."Really! No, really, really, please! Those men- they told me, they told me if I took you out first I could join their team!"

"Why the f*ck would I care?" Scout leaned down, her sword poised against the racoon's throat. "Please," the racoon sobbed, her tears drying quickly against her skin underneath the intense heat of the sun. "Who is it?"

"W-who?"

"Who told you to take me out?" Scout pressed her sword harder against the flesh, drawing a bit of blood. "G-Gambit, his name was Gambit. He told me to kill you." The racoon closed her eyes.

"Gambit," Scout straightened, releasing her sword from the racoon's throat. Quickly, the racoon tried to scramble away, reaching for her gun. In one, practiced motion, Scout freed her second sword, crossing them against the Racoon's body.

The racoon's eyes were wide, her mouth frozen in a permanent O as her upper torso detached itself from her waist. The mutant's legs crumpled, her top half falling off of the top of the unit. The wolf flicked the blood off of her swords, sheathing her weapons. "I'll take this," Scout laughed, slinging the gun across her chest.

Boom! The sound was unmistakable, it reverberated across the desert floor. Scout turned to look at it, wiping blood off of her face. Boom!

"So, the kid is still alive?" Scout jumped off of the metal containment unit, taking the racoon's bike. She sped across the starting line, where the sound was coming from. It sounded again from behind a boulder, obscuring her teammate from view. Scout rounded the corner, spotting something unusual and Boqin.

"So it was you," the Wolf stopped short, the hover bike kicking up a few pebbles which bounced harmlessly against the ground. Scout let out a low whistle upon seeing the metal monster up close. "You were holding out on us."

"Scout, you're bleeding!" Boqin said suddenly, alarmed. He rushed forward, attempting to figure out where the blood was coming from. "No, it's not mine." Scout replied, picking at her ear. "What are we waiting for? I already punched in the coordinates for the first camp." Scout grumbled. She paused, noticing Ljilja's lack of bike.

"You took your gear off the bike, right?" Scout pointed to the satchel that was attached to each of them, containing just enough rations and water. The wolf had two, having both her own and now the racoon's.

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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Speaking: #919191 | Thought: #D8BFD8



Jax fiddled with the bracelet around his wrist. Axel had told him that no matter what, he could not take it off. The thin silver accessory somehow felt terrible heavy. He knew what it was for, it was a collar, essentially; disguised as a key. It was greedily reading their heart rate and oxygen saturation while tracking their location.

There was one more purpose to it, Axel had informed Jax of it just before they were called to leave. "Do you know why they make you wear that the entire Game?" He had asked Jax, who shook his head, pretending to be ignorant of the bracelet's purpose. "In case a mutant gets frisky, it can send an electric shock strong enough to stop a heart."

Even with that knowledge, Jax fiddled with the device, trusting that it would not kill him. Kore had left him with a warning, but also a promise. He could stay in these games, it was his choice, but she would make it much harder for him. Would she use this bracelet on him? Given the chance?

Jax had not told Ten and Thorne about his meeting with the Overseer, he thought it best to keep it secret.

The doors to the isolation unit suddenly opened, the hot desert sun beating down on Jax, making him sweat almost immediately. He pulled the visor down closer to his face, knowing that keeping his skin covered would be essential. Even before Jax could make his way down the gangway, still adjusting to the heat, gun shots fired.

One minute in and it was already a bloodbath.

Where were Ten and Thorne? They had come up with a signal to meet up. Despite the frantic thought of one of them already being dead, Jax was oddly calm. After all, it meant one less mutant to compete with.

His support item was on the ground, his cane. "Oh, how I've missed you." He tucked the cane beneath the strap on the back of the bike. It would be useless here. Jax turned the handle, revving the engine. He shifted forwards, the hover bike responding to his commands. With ease, the bike began to glide across the sand, able to navigate the landscape without a moment's hesitation.

A knife whizzed past his head, nearly nicking his ear. Jax didn't stop to see who it was, instead choosing to pour on the speed. He wanted to get out of there and find his allies. Another knife launched at him, this time hitting the side of his bike. Jax turned sharply, the bike tailing him suddenly spinning out of control in an attempt to dodge him.

The leopard grabbed his cane, pulling the cover off, lest he need to use it. His assailant jumped to their feet, red fox ears pointing upwards from his head. "Sorry, but a guy's gotta eat." The fox rose, a knife dancing between his fingers. Jax lunged, swiping his sword forward. The fox was quick on his feet, slashing upwards to parry.

"I took no personal offence," Jax replied, kicking the fox in the chest. "But you should be forewarned that I don't play nicely with cannibals."

The fox laughed, "Is it really cannibalism if yer eatin' a different species?" He rushed forward, jumping high up into the air to throw three knives at Jax. The leopard dodged the first, the second getting his hair. The third, Jax deflected with his cane. He turned, a fourth whizzing out of nowhere directly at his chest. If Jax had moved any slower, it surely would have lodged itself into his clavicle.

A gun shot rang through the air, the fox's eyes widening. He looked at his arm, which was suddenly gushing blood as crimson as his hair. "Shit. I'm coming back, just sit tight. This won't be the last ya'll see me-" another gunshot sang past Jax's head, the fox falling to the ground, a bullet wound forming a perfect circle in his forehead.

Jax turned to see who his savior was, sighing in relief when he spotted none other than Thorne. "Thanks," he jogged towards her, but Thorne's expression was tense. "What is it? What's wrong? Where's Ten?"

Ten was injured.

She had a slash across her belly, her jacket pressed desperately against her stomach to keep her organs inside. "I-I'm gonna die, aren't I?" Ten asked, tears welling up in her eyes. "No, you're not." Jax spoke calmly, "We're going to fix you right up and then we're gonna ride together to the finish line. Okay?"

Ten shook her head. "Leave me, I'm just- I'm just a dead weight." Ten coughed, her blood spattering against the ground. That wasn't a good sign, bloody mucus meant there was an issue in the lungs. "Alright Ten, here's what's gonna happen. I'm gonna patch you up the best I can with what I have." Jax quickly went through their survival bags, praying that there was something in there he could use.

A small first aid kit had been stowed inside with a note.

From your sponsor.

Jax had never been a big believer in a higher power, but this is one of those moments where he silently praised the sky. "We're out in the open, we need to move somewhere with a bit more cover." He could do it here, but it would leave them exposed. Thorne nodded and together, they helped Ten onto her bike. Her chest was rising unevenly, one of Ten's lungs was collapsed. They drove quickly, just until they found a sand mound large enough to hide behind.

Jax laid Ten on the ground, uncovering her stomach. The gash was big and already, he could tell infection was festering beneath the surface, immanent. "This is going to hurt," he looked to Thorne. "Hold her hand." Jax balled up his jacket, giving Ten a piece of cloth to bite down on while he worked. He used their water rations to wash away the blood as best as he could, looking inside of the first aid kit for needle and thread.

It came in a little white packet, a piece of sterile thread about the size of his forearm. Just barely enough. Jax examined the lungs first, finding a hole the size of his pinkie nail. He used the straw in their water bottles to suction the blood, spitting it out onto the sand.

The doctor's hands moved steadily with practice. He sewed the hole in Ten's lung, then began on the stomach. "Hurry," Thorne urged, anxious. "Going as fast as I can, but this takes time." Jax used a whip stitch, Ten screaming every time the needle pierced her flesh.

"Done," he tied the knot at the end, sitting back on his heels. His hands were covered in blood, Ten was dangerously pale, she was in no condition to move, but they had no choice. "I'll ride with Ten on my bike, we'll tie her bike to yours with our jackets."

"Jax," Thorne's voice was soft. She flung her arms around him, at last allowing herself to cry. "Thank you! Thank you for saving her."

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cayde "quickshot" mori // father ship // #990012 // img credit: alex flores
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The night before the games ended with Halo making a peace offering in the form of expensive whiskey and Cayde’s begrudging apology. Some (not so) llight drinking led to the former divulging their continued obsession with social media and the latter laughing at the idea of how fragile their ego was behind the scenes.

"You know, if I had more money than I could spend in a lifetime then I would build my own ship and move away from everything," Cayde shrugged before blowing out a puff of smoke, ”who cares about what other humans think?”

”That’s simply not practical,” Halo replied, shaking their head, ”the import taxes would be ridiculous.”

"Can’t you grow your own food?” Cayde asked, raising a brow.

Grow my own food? By myself?”

The words didn’t seem to register in Halo’s head or if they did, they must have had trouble stringing them together into a coherent thought.

"Or I guess you could hire someone,” Cayde suggested, much to the relief of his manager.

The rest of the night passed without much excitement aside from Cayde having to call one of Renee to escort Halo home. Outdrinking humans was not a hard task and Halo made the mistake of not tracking the number of shots they’d taken. Still, it would be a shame to let half the bottle go to waste…


Neither the line or the ship ride to the proving grounds provided Cayde any interest. Were it not for Fiero’s posturing, he would have likely fallen asleep. The mutant was too arrogant for his own good and though he had no ill will towards the red-haired man, he wouldn’t be too sad if Fiero was the first to die (and with how quickly he left the ship, it was a likely possibility).

Giving his guns a quick spin before slipping them into their holster, Quickshot walked past the disorganized mob. It was easy to discern the battle-hardened competitors from the greenhorns, those who grew up in the trenches and those in gilded cages. Among the contestants padding their body count were opportunists crouched in the corner, waiting to loot the bodies.

He shot them first.

”Hey! That was my kill!”

Quickshot continued skirting around the edges of the crowd, ignoring the voice behind him. As tempting as it was to knock down another opponent, he needed to conserve his ammo for stronger contestants. Pushing an injured mutant out of the way, he finally requisitioned one of the hover bikes. Though not the same model, it wasn’t all that different from the discarded bikes found in the landfills of the Dead Cities. He’d refurbished a few in the past and this was no different from last year’s model save for a new coat of paint.

Booting up the bike, he drove past the knives, bullets, and hovercrafts spinning out of control.

Amateurs, he sighed before accelerating past the fallen vehicles.

”Where do you think you’re going?” a familiar voice roared.

Turning around, Quickshot found himself being tailed by a manic, red-haired man standing on top of a hovercraft and a girl with antlers in the driver’s seat.





Halo took a long drag from their opium pipe, an amused look on their face as they watched their contestant blow a hole through his opponent’s shoulder. They’d opted to watch the first round from the comfort of their own home as they could have the competition on the big screen while scrolling through their feed. The forums were nothing if not interesting and the cattiness of the livebloggers only served to feed their drama-loving heart.

Anonymous470866: Fuck who's gonna die first, who do you WANT to die first
Anonymous3681: lilyja
Anonymous3681: ljiijilja
Anonymous7622: You mean Ljilja?
Anonymous3681: fish girl idc
Anonymous1482401: No! Not my precious baby (╥Д╥)
Anonymous:3681: lol shes too soft
Anonymous1482401: But she's sooo cute.
Anonymous3681: ew are you a scalie or something?
Anonymous1482401: WTF NO!
Anonymous1387228: Kill Fiero. Dude’s annoying.
Anonymous7622: You can’t tell me Fiero’s worse than whatever Levi is supposed to be.
Anonymous:10265: yea that thing belongs in a zoo
Anonymous:10265: actually throw king up there too. i hate tentacles.

Anonymous470866 has stated a poll: Who should die in the first round of the games?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxLjiljax■■■■■■
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxFieroxx■■■■■■■■
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxLevixxx■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxKingxxx■■■■■■■■■■■■■
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxQuickshotx

Anonymous470866: Ok which of you fuckers put Quickshot up there?


Taking a long sip of their tea, they locked in their vote and turned back to the television. Time would only tell if their hopes would come true.

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Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Leo Behrends Character Portrait: Scout Character Portrait: Kore
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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx #0EBFE9 | FC: #CD3333



Kore's long stride graced the walkway of the loading dock. Mimi had been waiting for her upon return, standing just behind the forcefield that kept them all from getting sucked into space. "Ms. Mars!" Mimi held up her holo pod, "you have a message from one of the sponsors."

Kore quirked a brow, but did not slow down. "I'll take it in my office," Mimi nodded. Their walk to the Overseer lounge was not all that far, Kore took the shortcut from the dock, using one of the metal maintenance halls to avoid fotors. The Head Overseer wasn't in the mood, she needed a drink and a mirror.

Her office was pleasantly cool, Mimi already had a lemon spritz waiting for her on the white desk and in the corner, a holo pod was playing several angles of the Games. Kore perched herself on her white leather desk chair, a message sliding over her holo pod, which jumped to life with a wave of her hand. From the window behind her, the stars were especially bright.

"Ms. Mars, it is good to see you." The sponsor leaned back, a pair of overly large sunglasses obscuring her face. Kore too, leaned back, crossing one slender ankle over the other. "It is good to see you as well. How is it going?"

"Just as you requested, the pills are taking effect. The poor mutt was foolish enough to finish the entire dose."

Kore swiveled over to her keyboard, checking the betting pool.

The numbers were plummeting quickly as people hustled to change their bets, spreading the money further. Her brow twitched in annoyance, it was still far too high. Kore turned back to the sponsor. "Do you have an estimate of how long it will take until she's out?"

It was Kore's job to give people hope, but it was also her job to squander it. Any competitor that could grow too close, anyone that might have a slight chance of actually winning, Kore needed to rid the Game of them. The rest of the trash would take itself out.

And what better way to do it than through the guise of a sponsor? Yes, Kore was the grandmaster of the Games, but she was also playing puppeteer behind the scenes, lording over them all.

"By my estimate and the progression of her Ori, one week." Kore nodded, a polite smile coming over her lips. "Thank you, you've been very helpful."

"I merely go where the money follows. It is not everyday a pharmacist like myself is offered such a hefty sum for a few measly hypertension pills."

She ended the call, turning back to the betting pool. To Kore's annoyance, the bets were going up again. The mutt had awoken, putting on a heartwarming performance with the hopeful little fish. With a sigh, Kore turned to watch another mutant, this one a lizard, struggle with another competitor. "What an asinine old man." She rose from her desk, a knock sounding on the metal door at the same time she.

"Come in," Ender shuffled inside, holding a holo pad. "Ender, what's wrong?" Kore asked, pushing her red veil aside to take a sip of her drink. "We have a problem, there's an issue with several of the hoverbikes."

"I am aware," she took another sip. "They aren't turning on, you mean?"

"Y-yes, how did you know?"

"Desperation makes for good entertainment, Ender." He stepped back, but did not seem surprised or upset. Instead, his expression was thoughtful. "I'm coming to the lounge, just a minute." Kore went to the mirror hanging on the wall, nodding once in satisfaction. She followed Ender out, where the rest of the Overseers and some of the managers were lingering, watching the Games, directing their production.

"Axel, how is your little leopard doing?" Kore asked, standing over his shoulder to look at his screen. "I thought the heat would break him in the first hour, but I guess that furry tail is more insulated than I thought." Kore nodded, glad to hear it. She had high hopes for that one.

"Zaxby, how is Douma faring?" Another competitor with a large amount of bets. Zaxby gripped his holo pod, gritting his teeth. "Not well, one of his arms was ripped off, he's trying to reattach it."

Kore flitted over to the bigger screens, standing over Sei's shoulder. "Ms. Mars! Everything is running smoothly so far. Your predictions were spot on!" Sei was as chipper as a duck in a pond. Kore smiled, "Well, when you're in front of the camera a lot, you know what goes on behind the scenes."

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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Speaking: #919191 | Thought: #D8BFD8



"We'll stop here for the night," Thorne decided. Ten's blood was smeared across her back, staining her skin. They were at an abandoned building, a structure with a domed roof and four standing walls. There was a large hole in one of them, big enough for them to crawl through. The ground inside was tiled, sand gathering in piles.

Maybe there was once furniture inside, but right now, the space was barren. "I'll carry her," Jax lifted Ten up easily, Thorne grabbing their bags and shuffling inside. It was dark, the only light coming from the holes in the structure.

They had gotten lucky today, no one attacked them thus far, but their luck just might run out soon. Ten's breathing was labored and despite the packing Jax had done against the wound, it was still bleeding. Ten was pale, her lips quivering with each breath. "You lay the blankets down, we'll put her on top of it," Thorne nodded, grabbing out one of the silver foil blankets and laying it on the ground.

Thorne placed Ten carefully on top, who groaned in pain. "It's alright," Jax reassured her, feeling her forehead. She was warm to the touch and there was sweat clinging to her neck. "L-leave me," Ten begged them. "I-I'm g-g-going t-t-o d-die." She opened her eyes a bit, bleary and warm.

"I'm not going to let you die," Jax whispered. Thorne sat on her knees, her fists buried in her lap. "You need to drink, come here." Jax helped Ten lift her head, tilting the water canteen to her lips. Ten tried to drink, her entire body trembling with the effort.

"Please," Thorne whispered, "you have to make it. We're doing this together, remember? There's no point in going on if you're not here." Thorne grabbed Ten's hand, squeezing it. Ten smiled weakly. "Y-you yo-you're s-st-strong." She reached her other hand up, touching Thorne's forehead. "Y-you'll be-be f-f-fi-fin-fine." Her eyes closed, her hand dropping to her side.

"Is she...?" Thorne's hands clasped over her mouth, but Jax shook his head. "Just sleeping," he whispered, placing Ten back down carefully. Thorne swallowed hard, rising. "I'll take the first watch," she offered, but Jax shook his head, "You need to rest, I'll take the night shift. I'm used to pulling 24 hour shifts," he winked, rising to his feet.

Jax rifled through their belongings, pulling out their meal rations. He followed the instructions on the side, handing Thorne's to her. Thorne had wrapped herself in one of the foil blankets, still clutching Ten's hand. "We loved each other, once." Thorne whispered, holding the food packet in her other hand. "Even though my brain has moved on, my heart hasn't."

She looked up at him, placing Ten's hand down gently so that she could eat. "Do you love anyone?"

"Love? No... probably not." Jax admitted, stirring the sauce around the rehydrated noodles. "I have two sisters though, probably around your age."

"Probably?" Thorne smiled a little, which made Jax smile in turn. "Yeah, I don't know how old they are. Just that they're younger than me."

"Do you know how old you are?" Thorne scooted a little bit closer to him. "Probably around 18? 20?"

"I'm 21, so I'm older." She winked, she looked down into her food, smiling to herself. "I don't know a lot about you, Jax. I'd like to though." Jax was silent for a moment, "I don't know a lot about you either." He admitted, a sound outside making his ear twitch. There was a sudden, terrible scraping against the wall, the foundation of their shelter shaking. Pieces of rubble rained on them and Jax was quick to jump over Ten to shield her. "Someone's here." He rose, grabbing his cane.

Thorne jumped to her feet too, clutching her gun. The two of them peered out the hole, the ground trembling. "What is that!" Thorne hissed, pointing towards something moving between their bikes. It was neither mutant nor human, but the biggest snake Jax had ever seen. He grabbed Thorne's arm, pulling her back inside, away from the hole. "What the f*ck is that thing!" Thorne trembled, Jax could hardly hear her over the sound of his heart racing.

"I don't know, but I don't want to find out."

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"Alrighty! Now repeat what I just said.." Holding a pastry up high, and standing skyward on top of a white-surfaced stool, Celty dangled the bun just out of Ciara's prying hands. The slime woman comedically raising both hands and swiping in fraught intervals. Her manager had made an effort to employ more Pavlovian techniques once they had realized she responded to more primal stimulants..as opposed to something more manageable like common logic. Someone as great as them could surely do much even under such a challenge..but they'd be lying if it hadn't earned their frequent ire.

After a few bitter moments of ultimately futile swings, Ciara finally settled and relented to their rulings. With the upmost confidence, the woman inhaled a steady breath, it almost seemed as if she finally got it. Though as swiftly as a crossing thought, the words that drifted from her mouth only characteristically grasped the base concepts and with no roadmap to connect these otherwise idle words.

"Bike, Stay, Kill, Eat." To reference such as a tasteful summary would be vastly insulting, though Celty, had already overexerted her angry courtesy of numerous occasions pertaining to Ciara's lack of aptitude on a variety of topics. She saw this small improvement as a larger victory. Though, rewarding half-point progress would do no good, especially for someone as effortlessly swayed by either meals or fickle interests. Ciara responded with similar jubilation, undertaking a part-way smug expression as she brought her slightly dipped hand up and out. No doubt to graciously receive the tantalizing rewards the dangled above her.

Celty didn't respond in kind however, instead bringing the carb well past her grasp and slapping her on the forehead with it. "Close but no cigar." A sigh escaped their lips, scowling at their dear competitor before finally softening and tossing them the bounty. Clearing their throat, and inflicting a light chop to Ciara's head, they reached their arms over and pressed the swamp woman's cheeks into a bunch.

"Listen up! I will not repeat myself.."




Stilled inside her rumbling containment unit, Ciara was her standard emotionless self. The white metallic walls, overly pure was a source of discomfort for the slime, though as she heard her specific unit land with a low thud. It was likely she wouldn't have to stay cooped up much longer.

The measured breathes of seasoned warriors, the lusting twitch of frantic hunters. In comparison, Ciara lacked the bloodlust to kill with purpose, and the deft footwork for her frame to even partially resemble a sprinter's silhouette. A stand that could only lend itself to saunter, the announcements that drifted overhead sounded almost watery courtesy of Ciara's lack of ability to focus, though the swamp woman took careful note of the inflections so she at least was conscious of when she should go.

In these times of silence, she thought to Celty's orders..or their attempts at giving orders before quickly growing frustrated.
As the airy hiss of the sliding doors poured into the soundscape, and the beating sun bit into her sensitive skin, a stroke of fortune had Ciara remember her first task.

With a wide upwards leap, Ciara exited her cage with an almost predatory fervor. She was in no means swift, most likely unable to continue the sprint comparatively to the more trained and better ran but such was trivial to her foremost purpose. Holding her hand outwards, a blackened spear, pulsating with unholy energies and formed from her own slime body manifested in her palm. Midleap, she concentrated to keep the mass solid in the blinding heat and javelin threw the weapon over her shoulder.

It flew overhead the competitors that were well above her in the race but as it arced downwards, it found its way to its true target. One of the hover bikes had been placed close to its neighbors, meeting an unceremonious end as the formed weapon zipped through the air and punctured through the top. The spear melted back into a black tar, dormant for a moment of rest before exploding outwards, unstable as it perforated the inner and outer mechanical workings of the hover bike.

Well unstable, the machine exploded from the damage, causing a smaller chain reaction of imploding bikes that took out an even 10 in a singular explosion. Continuing to pace herself forward and run directly into the fray, she leapt up and threw another blackened javelin to take out a group of 5.

Running headfirst into the chaos of the storm, Ciara fought against the ones who chose to stay convincingly. Her own natural strength allowed her to fling the first unnamed mutant she came across with a simple-expressioned punch several meters out. Her forearms grew into sharp curved blades, and the woman chose specifically to keep fighting until she reached the heart of the battle, blending up unfortunate passerby in the process.

As she had achieved some semblance of a clearing, her vision was rained upon by a dance of pitch black feathers. A precursor to a declaration of war, a besuited horned gentleman swooped down with a blade for the express purpose of lobbing off her head, a deft reaction from Ciara allowing her to block for herself with her forearms and face the man in question.

"To destroy the vehicles of your fellow mutants, you're a interesting sort of barbarian, aren't you?" A perpetual smile painted the man's face, light whitish sparks flying as their blades continued to clash. "Doesn't apply to me..however" Ciara response was only a nod, as if she wasn't listening at all.

The mutant's expression shifted at the sound of a half-muted beeping, growing both louder and more rapid. With a pompous grunt, he disengaged just as a scrap-laden grenade was flung between them. A loud explosion erupted the area with smoke and flame where she had stood.

The sounds of a smaller celebration came from the direction it had been thrown, courtesy of a mutant grenadier with both robotic arms and legs. However, as the dust settled, his smirk swiftly turned to meek surprise. While the woman Ciara did not stand there, a puddle of black goop with a moderately sized lump remained in the center and waited. Like the sounds of squeezing a damp rag, horrendous wet sounds filled the air as Ciara reformed back into humanoid form, equipped with a black spear. A glare formed from her eyes as she shot the javelin straight into the man's chest. The similar implosion occurring in turn to the poor mutant's body, the same type she had subjected to the poor defenseless hover bikes.

Shifting her gaze off of the mess of gore and parts, she was the only one who remained at the end of the battle. All the bikes were either destroyed or missing, and the stench of fresh bloodshed trickled into her nose.

With that, she went towards the smell of her own survival pack, the impressive size selling an illusion of being too heavy to steal and previously stowed comfortably on the sides of the area for no prying eyes to see.

Ciara fumbled open the bag, revealing a bounty of loaves of bread. Eyes gleaming at the drool-inducing sight, she begun to quickly refill herself with the feast. Not leaving a crumb unturned, she finished her meal before orienting herself towards the desert.

Bike-less, she rose from her crouch and ambled her way to that cardinal direction.





Seated in their own personal chambers was Celty, a smile painting their face as it seemed that all was going to what they had planned. Despite the unreliable variable that was Ciara herself and the fact that explaining these simplistic instructions to the swamp woman took multiple instances of trial and error, she had performed within expectation.

First order of business was to take out the bikes, Ciara had no hope in fighting or more so steering on those damn things so forcing the fight on foot and removing the unlucky few's chances to escape would allow her dear competitor to eliminate anyone unfortunate enough to be left behind.

When the battle concluded, Ciara would reenergize herself and wobble her way to the finish line. This step in particular would take longer, but the lack of need for sleep allowed Ciara to keep herself only slightly behind the competition. Sauntering behind the hover bikes to avoid the high-speed combat she was susceptible to and reducing the amount of unnecessary fighting.

And if it was one thing Celty trusted her hopeless competitor to perform expertly, it was to wander.

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On the Precipice

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Musical Accompaniment



Staring blankly past the artificially frosted window of his highrise apartment, in this moment, Jaden felt like the only one on the ship not watching the feed. He could see the flicker of holoscreens in adjacent buildings, their colors changing, shifting, blinking in unison like one big cloud of fireflies.

He slugged back his glass, and a cold, spiced sting filled his mouth. The ice cubes in his cup clattered as they collided with one another and with the glass, creating a tinkling noise that made Zorana, his maidservant, wince. It had been a long time since he had last gotten this drunk—since he had last been in this much pain.

"It's my fault, you know," he said with a slur, swiping a hand across his eyes to wipe them dry.

Zorana held her tongue. She knew that trying to defend him would only make things worse. He always won those arguments.

"I pushed her to do it," he determined, a prelude to downing his whole glass in one go. He coughed at the burning in his throat. It hurt, but he bore it. In his mind, he deserved whatever pain he now felt.

She filled his glass once more, watching helplessly as he shambled over to his chair like a zombie and collapsed into it.

On the holoscreen before him, Kore was hyping up the crowd for the countdown. Jaden glared daggers at her. Vile words struggled to try and free themselves from his lips, barely restrained by the knowledge that any criticism he could level at her would rightly apply to him as well. He swore under his breath. "I'm complicit," he murmured with a cracking voice, hanging his head in shame.

"After months of preparation, the moment you’ve all been waiting for is finally here!" announced Kore Mars, the on-screen host, chipper as could be.

Jaden clutched tight to his drink and clenched his teeth. Launching up from his seat, he shouted at the screen, "Yeah, I bet the mutes on the surface can't wait. They're about to die and you're...[hic]...wearing that stupid grin, you worthless waste of air! At least I have the decency to feel bad about it!"

With that, he hurled the glass at the holoscreen with all his might, which it phased through to smash against the wall. As the glittering shards tumbled to the floor, Jaden panted with fury, grimacing at the screen.

"Without further ado, let's begin the countdown!"

His rage turned inward once more, and he collapsed to his knees. He clutched at his white hair, gripping his head firmly with both hands. His gaze fell to the floor. "Oh God, I can't watch," he wept.

Avoiding the glass, Zorana carefully stepped over to the holoscreen, ready to turn it off.

"No, don't, I..." he protested with a sniffle, "If she has to live it, I have to watch it."

She gurgled with pity as he sat and listened, seeing him crumble a little more with each passing second. By the time Kore reached zero, Jaden's forehead was nearly at his knees.

"Mrrstrr," she finally spoke up, unable to hold back her concern.

"Put her on," he demanded. "I need to see."

Zorana hesitated. The screen displayed a bird's eye view of the battlefield, which had devolved into a slaughter. Screams and cries mingled with the sound of gunfire and the roar of hoverbikes. The squall lost voices with each passing moment. Those who died quickly were lucky.

"Put her on!" he shouted again, cocking his head upward to force himself to look at the screen.

Relenting, she tapped at the holoscreen's controls, selecting Ljilja's camera. Jaden's red eyes grew wide with horror.

He saw the girl he had taken care of for the past week curled up in the corner, her nose bloodied, her small body hyperventilating. She was directionless, paralyzed with fear, overwhelmed with the sound of suffering and death. It took one last blood-curdling wail for Ljilja to rise up and run for her life, barreling out from her compartment at full speed.

"Go," he urged, "Go!"

He focused his whole attention on the screen. For a few moments, so did Zorana. Together, they watched Ljilja equip her Longjacks, grab her supplies, and take off running without her bike.

Stunned, Jaden remained sitting on the floor, his hands dangling limply at his sides. Zorana, lucid and focused on her duty, recovered sooner, and got to work cleaning up the shattered glass and supplying him with a new drink. Before he knew it, she was presenting him with a fresh cup, full of ice and rum.

He took hold of it, his eyes glazing over. He mindlessly sipped at his glass until it was gone, received a top-up, and soon he found himself back in his chair without ever having made the conscious decision to return there. His glass was emptied and refilled, and time blended together. He stared at the holoscreen almost unblinkingly until he saw his little blue mutant unite with each of her allies and begin traversing the Wastes with them.

He shut his eyes, breathing a sigh of relief. It was only now that he noticed a persistent pulsing sound emanating from his wrist holo. He sluggishly tapped at it to see what was going on, then squinted at the interface.

506 similar messages not shown.
Neve: hey
Aries: hey
Neve: hey
Neve: hey
Aries: hey
Aries: hey
Neve: hey
Aries: hey idiot
Neve: hey
Neve: hey
Aries sent a location.
Neve: hey
Aries: get over here we're waiting
Neve: hey


Groaning with effort, Jaden wiped his face and held out his holo so that Zorana could see what had been sent. After reading it, she looked to him for direction.

He let his head drift to the side and took a deep breath. He had to maintain appearances somehow. Though he was comfortable letting Zorana see this sympathetic side of him, it would ruin his reputation to be seen like this with others. The only cover he could come up with on short notice was that he was simply partying hard in private.

"Gimme that bottle," he ordered, his drunkenness robbing his speech of any tact. Zorana did not seem to mind, and obediently handed him his now-half-empty bottle of golden spiced rum. In return, he handed her his glass so that he could free a hand to push himself up from his chair.

He took one last long look at the team of mutants on the screen and muttered, "...I'm gonna need a ride."

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Not much of a viewing party

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Blood spilled on top of a shipping crate, a competitor sliced cleanly in two. Aries should have expected it, really. This was Scout he was watching. The mutant had diverted from her original mission, heading immediately towards the gunfire, rather than away from it, like any sensible person.

“That was awful,” Neve laughed, taking a shot. They had already come up with a drinking game, everytime Scout killed someone, they would drink. “Never have I seen someone get disemboweled so quickly,” Neve reached for the bowl of chips on the table in front of them.

They were at Aries’s home, the private viewing party held in the lounge. The lights had been dimmed, a faint blue glow bathing the plush leather recliners in its light. “I told you, you don’t have to worry about that monster.” Aries laughed, his wrist holo buzzing with messages from an angry manager.

“Stop calling her that,” Neve frowned. He looked over at Aries checking his messages. “Any word on Jaden?” Aries shook his head.

“Did you give him the right address?” Neve rose to stretch, tired of sitting. They had made a bet that in the first hour, Boqin would not kill anyone. Neve had lost, but to boys like these, money was just another plaything.

“Course I did,” Aries rose too, one of his parent’s mutant servants hurrying over to clear their empty shot glasses. They were like shadows standing in the doorways, waiting to serve. They could manage the dark room with expert ease.

“How could I get my own address wrong?” His holo buzzed and Aries glanced down, a slow grin coming over his lips.

Master is en route, he showed the text to Neve. They were seated again when the door to the viewing room opened, a mutant having shown them inside. Zorana appeared first, holding onto Jaden’s arm like a shepherd guiding a very drunk sheep. In his other hand was a half-empty bottle of spiced rum. It was clear that Jaden had been partying without them.

Aries rose to greet him. Neve was taking another shot. “It’s about time,” was his only greeting. He cocked his head to the side, looking Jaden up and down. He frowned, “well, come on, there’s more over here.” He glanced at Zorana, his distaste for mutants well-known. “You too, I guess.”

Neve waved in greeting, laughing at Jade’s state. “Man, you look like sh*t.” He rose, “I guess you started early?” Jaden hobbled over to a recliner, unsteady on his feet and collapsed into the leather, leaning back and closing his eyes. He would find no solace in this room, with two humans who had zero sympathy for the possible plight of their competitors.

“Shaddup,” Jaden groaned, rubbing two fingers on the bridge of his nose. He used the other arm in a flailing gesture, the bottle of rum swinging wildly in his grip. Zorana whined softly, kneeling to sit by Jaden’s chair like the loyal creature she was.

“I don’t think you need anymore of that,” Aries gingerly pried the bottle out of Jaden’s grip, replacing it with a cup of water to try and sober him up. He glanced down at Zorana, pouring her a glass of water as well. “You’re an aquatic right? Drink this. Can’t have you passing out when he’s like this.”

Aries took the seat to Jaden’s right, Neve to his left. “She made it past the first hour,” it didn’t take a genius to figure out why Jaden was in such a sorry state. “And what are those! You’ve been holding out on us,” Aries thought that they had an agreement.

“What about me!” Neve piped up. “You two never tell me anything!”

Jaden muttered incoherently for a few seconds, attempting to form a response. He took a sip from his glass instead, a notable missing sting from the flavor. He opened one eye to peer at the clear liquid, [color=#73884]“blegh.” [/color]

He glanced down at Zorana, who was sipping from her own glass. “Z’s’zsa secrets. Ya don’ show da cards b’fore the hand.”

It was as much of an intelligible explanation as Aries was going to get. “I can’t wait to see her use them, I mean, look at those holes.” He gestured to the broken earth wherever she stepped. The cams hovered around Ljilja precariously, as though afraid of being snatched from the sky and crushed by those massive arms.

Aries’s smile slipped slowly from his lips. Without realizing it, he had risen from his seat, his glass falling out of his hand and clattering to the ground.

Oh no, no, no, no.

Scout had fallen off of her bike.

“What the f*ck!” Neve shouted, voicing what they were probably all thinking. Aries could only watch in horror as Scout slipped off of the seat, rolling across the ground before stopping in a pile of dirt.

Had she been shot? Was there an injury? No, there was no blood.

The reaction from Jaden was instant. He rose, believing something had happened to Ljilja. He narrowed his eyes, evaluating the screen, his vision bleary. Jaden felt equal parts guilty and relieved to see that it was not Ljilja that had evoked the reaction from the others. Staggering forward, Jaden got a closer look at the feeds.

The cams zoomed out slowly to show Scout’s unconscious body in the desert, a plot twist no one could have foreseen.

One of the strongest competitors of the bunch, down for the count. “Sh’zzat na good.” Jaden leaned back, managing to convey legitimate concern somehow. “You--- you’sn’t gonna save the treatment for fer after da Games? Thaz…. Oh, thazz bad.”

Aries had sunk back into his seat, head in his hands. A mutant came to clean up the broken glass, working quietly and quickly so as not to disturb the humans. “It couldn’t wait,” Aries held his head in his hands, unable to watch. “She was already in stage two. That woman-the sponsor, she promised it wouldn’t... “ he swallowed hard. “That it wouldn’t interfere.” His mouth felt like he had just swallowed sand.

Scout was already in stage two. If they had waited any longer, the treatment would have been ineffective. They all knew what Ori was, humans and mutants alike could get the cancer-like illness.

“Wait, Scout has ori?” Neve asked, incredulous. “You both were keeping secrets from me?”

Jaden stumbled over to Aries, patting him sloppily on the shoulder. “Izz okay,” he tried to soothe. “Bochy n Ljilja will watcher.” On the holo screen, Ljilja could be seen lifting Scout gently, with all the ease of picking up a doll.

The two hundred pound lupine child was nothing in the face of Ljilja’s longjax. Jaden turned to Neve, looking him up and down once before a lazy smile crossed his face. “Don take issoo personally.” He slurred, “yer new to da group. All will….” he hiccuped, “be revealed in time.”

Aries’s stomach flip flopped. He couldn’t look away from the screen, but at the same moment, he couldn’t bear to watch. “I have to make a call,” Aries rose from his seat, “I’ll be back.” Without another word, Aries rose. The light from the hall spilled into the room momentarily, one of the mutants peeling away from the wall to follow him.

“Need more water?” Neve asked Jaden, the door closing once again. He held up the pitcher, pouring him another cup before Jaden could answer. “You know, it’s one thing to have a few drinks, it’s another to get blackout drunk. How are you gonna help Ljilja in this state?”

Jaden peered into his glass, watching as a bit of liquid sloshed over the brim. Before he could take a sip, the cup had mysteriously emptied itself, partially onto himself, but mostly onto the floor. “Oh, yesh,” he answered.

Jaden pondered Neve’s words, scratching the back of his head. “Shersh’s na much support I can do from here.” He gestured around them, in the cushy viewing room of Aries’s rich family. “Sssponsors can do… can only do sho much. Whater they gonna give’r that she doesn’t already got?”

Like a ghost, a towel had appeared underneath him. Neve reached over to pour Jaden another glass. “Up here, you’re Ljilja’s biggest cheerleader.” Neve reminded her, “you never know what might happen out there. Those things are designed for water and she’s been dropped in the desert.” Rusting, sand getting into joints, all sorts of unforeseen issues could come up.

“An if it does? Whaddo I do? Say ‘boo hoo, oh no?’ Sponsors can’t fix dat. I think.” He leaned back, taking a sip from his glass. “What good is hearing if the team can’t hear you?”

Neve shrugged, “you never know. Remember the last few Games? I’ve been studying them, to see what the limitations are. The sponsors dropped crazy things. One year, an actual bazooka gun was sent during the final round. It backfired and took out both competitors.”

Neve took a sip from his own water. “What good is a manager if they abandon their competitor?”

Jaden stared plainly at the holo screen. Ljilja was escorting Boqin to the wreck. Boqin had craftily tied Scout’s bike to his own using his sweater, where she lay, draped over the handlebars. Ljilja was clearing the path for them.

“I don’t want to be sober if she dies,” he whispered.

“Well, she’s not gonna die. I’m gonna put money on it,” Neve flashed his wrist with a grin, showing he was serious. Behind them, the door reopened, a soft glow following Aries, outlining him like an extraterrestrial fallen from another planet. “Give me that,” he reached for the bottle of vodka on the table.

Neve snagged it first. “How about we have a sober watch party?” He suggested, perhaps with the most sense out of all of them. Jaden peered at Aries, a smirk forming on his lips. “Are you hearin’ this?” He asked, then to Neve, “Are you sure you’re on the right ship, friend?”

Neve shook his head with a sigh. “Yeah, yeah. Make fun all you want, but we’re the only ones that can help them now. We’ve gotta be on our toes.”

“So you choose this moment to become self-righteous?” Aries growled, but Neve only laughed. Jaden rolled his eyes, as much as he enjoyed poking fun at Neve, he was sticking to water. “See, he’s got a good fighter. Same as you.”

“Yeah, but Boqin is conscious.”

Jaden smirked, “get put in charge of a softie. See if you’ll be drinking then, even Aries gets it.”

“I think you should give Ljilja more credit. With that thing, she can just give ‘em the ol’ one two and knock them out.” Neve threw two mock punches in the air to punctuate his point. Jaden shook his head, “I don’t doubt the machine, but Ljilja won’t hurt a fly. If you wanna talk about secrets… she can’t kill, not on purpose anyway.”

“Can’t kill?!” Aries and Neve asked in unison. “Then what the h*ll is she doing in a killing game?” Aries leaned back in his seat, “At least Scout is willing to tear someone apart, no questions asked.” It left Aries wondering why Ljilja had even come to this place.

“She’s not doing it for the money,” Jaden explained quietly, gripping his glass.“We made a deal: she finishes the first round, I get her back to her Mom. All she has to do is live. That’s a win in her book.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s dropped out in the middle.” Neve scratched his cheek, “And with a competitor like that… I don’t blame her.” It was no wonder Jaden had spent the morning drinking himself into an oblivion.

Swirling his dwindling water in his glass, Jaden finished it off in a single gulp and set it on the table. “You should’ve seen what happened when I took her to the sim. Nearly broke her just showing the sponsors what she could do. I didn’t plan for it that way, but if she hadn’t… well, look at her. She didn’t even remember to take the supplies off of the bike. She would’ve dried up in a day.”

“Trust me, we noticed,” Aries leaned his cheek on his fist. “And I thought we had it rough,” he sighed, “Imagine if the roles were reversed!” Neve laughed, “Aries with Ljilja and Jaden with Scout. You’d never survive.”

Jaden raised a brow. “Oh? Scout’s a piece of cake. You don’t even have to do anything. It’s not like she even needs sponsors to win. Good luck from keeping Ljilja from quitting for an entire week though. Sure, the kid might be cute and all, but keeping her in the Games is a full time job. Scout you just need to leave alone, not that hard.”

”Are you kidding?” Aries laughed. “Do you know how many times I had to keep Scout from killing me or someone else?” Aries had nearly gotten throttled by his own competitor a handful of times. “And Ljilja is adorable, in her fishy way, easy to appease. Everyone loves a kid who’s got too much hope for her own good.” Even if Scout was a killer by nature, she fell short in other categories.

“Did you deserve it?” Jaden asked pointedly, raising a brow. Neve laughed in the background.

“No!” Aries quipped in reply, defending his honor. He leaned forward, “let’s put a bet on it.” He replied, only half serious.

Snickering, Jaden leaned forward too. “Bet what? She’s gonna leave after this round anyhow.”

“Then, you’ve got nothing to lose, right?” Aries shook his head.

Jaden mimicked Aries’s expression. “Fine, I’ll babysit Scout for a day if Ljilja sticks around, but not for free.” He leaned forward, flashing his wrist.

Aries grinned, pulling down his sleeve to show his wrist as well. “What are you putting on the table?”

“If Ljilja lives, 80k viz says I can handle your little problem child for one day. Don’t act like that isn’t pocket change for you, silver spoon.”

Aries grinned, it was true, money was no object to Aries or his family. One could tell just by the interior of their holo viewing room that Aries was rolling. To someone like Neve, however, even if he was wealthy, 80k was nothing to shake a stick at.

“What do I get if I win?” This needed to be an equal exchange, Aries wasn’t playing for bones.

“Bragging rights? A third of my savings? Not getting your head bitten off by an angry puppy? Oh and you get to watch Ljilja while I handle Scout.” Jaden waved a hand.

“Alright, deal.” This would make Scout hate him, not that Aries cared much. The dog was already ready to bite his head off.

“Why would you agree to that?!” Neve cried, appalled.

“The way I see it,” Aries leaned back, “even if I lose, I’m just paying Jaden to pet sit for a day.”

“Guy might have a thing for fish, don’t let Zorana know.” Jaden leaned back too, Zorana flinched where she sat. It was easy to forget that the mutant was there, but she knew Jaden well enough to know he was making a joke.

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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: FatherSpeech Color: #456d57 | Thought Color: #09444cxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



The soft clicks of heels disturbed Yeqon's silence. His focus briefly broke from the monitors when a familiar face entered his field of vision, "Greetings, young master Cryo, your presence is needed."

Yeqon could only hear her quiet voice, but he chose to ignore it. He turned his attention to the scenes on the monitors. He'd much rather watch this gory display than answer her call.

But that wasn't an option, "Mr. Cryo-"

His soft sigh cut her off, "My presence is needed...or required?" He knew the answer.

The middle-aged woman frowned, her expression apologetic, "...Required, Sir." She bowed her head on reflex. Her long curly chocolate brown hair shifted with the movement, revealing her short and slightly curved horns.

Yeqon turned from the screens, "Raise your head, Ms. Velma." her display of meek obedience was discomforting, "...I am not Him." He made the distinction clear. He is not her master. There is no need to bow her head for relaying a displeasing message.

Velma hesitated for a moment but lifted her head, "...Sor-...Yes, Sir." She began to utter an apology but stopped.

Yeqon observed Velma's quiet urgency. She was a unique mutant with few bodily changes — a simple set of horns and yellowish eyes with dark rectangular pupils. If not for those noticeable mutations, she would be considered a beautiful human. Although, despite being a mutant, there are still quite a few who pursue her. Another reason why she's one of That Man's favorite servants.

However, to Yeqon, her presence is nothing more than a harbinger of tragedy, "Where is he?"

"In your office, Sir," Velma answered, her expression brightening at the sight of Yeqon's cooperation.

"...Alright." Yeqon excused himself and walked out of the control room. Once in the hall, away from prying eyes, his steps became a bit rushed. Velma quietly followed after him, trying her best to keep up.

Yeqon called Eon earlier to deliver a set of clothes to change into for his appointment with Kore. He should have arrived by now, and that means those two are together.

An intense headache began to brew.


The doors to his office slid open, and Yeqon froze between the entrance. He needed permission to enter. His heart pounded wildly from the pace of his steps and anxiety, but his blank facial features concealed the truth.

"You. Why have you kept me waiting? Did my mutant not relay the message?" An older man stood from behind Yeqon's chair. His tired voice chilled the air.


Yeqon tightened his fists, then released them, "No, Governer. Ms. Velma-"

"What are my instructions on addressing lower lifeforms?" Haniel rebuked Yeqon like a child wrongly reciting words from a book.

"...Your mutant promptly performed her task...However...the introduction was not my only work today." Yeqon swiftly scanned around his office and breathed a soft sigh at the sight of Eon standing uniformly near the window with his head slightly bowed. His unharmed appearance lessened Yeqon's growing anxiety.

Eon's insides boiled with rage and murderous intentions. His fierce gaze instantly gave away his thoughts. So after He walked in without notice, Eon bowed his head to hide. His resolve almost broke when Yeqon spoke, but he continued to remain still. Yeqon has enough problems. He can't be one of them.

"What a mediocre excuse. Similar to that incompetent introduction." Haniel stalked the room, his cane tapping rhythmically with each step. The soft sound of gears turning echoed from his mechanical arm, "What a travesty. It must have been that girl's choice. Why they chose such a thing as Head Overseer is beyond me."

He mumbled more as he checked the interior of the office, his watchful eye slowly glancing over the collection of rare artifacts, "And you..." He reached for a book from the shelf, his metal arm steadying his body with the cane, "There are no words for a half-blood like you. Come here."

Haniel traced his hand over the exterior of the book, examining the nicely preserved material. Ignoring Yeqon, who was now standing by his side, head down.

Haniel continued to disregard his existence as he proceeded to examine the rest of Yeqon's collection. Moments pass in silence, Yeqon maintaining his posture without a word of complaint. The previous book is still tightly gripped in Haniel's hand.

Haniel sighed, "Why must you lack ambition." he paused at one of the glass displays, "If only you heeded my advice. Eliminating that girl would have guaranteed the position to us."

[b]"Governor...compared to me, Ms. Kore is more capable-"
Yeqon flinched, his balance slightly disturbed by an unexpected blow to the head. The book held in his Haniel's hand dropped in front of him with a bang. Before he could register the pain, another object bashed mercilessly against the same spot, this time forcing him to stumble backward.

"Quiet! You worthless child. A bit of freedom, and now you dare try to correct my words?" Haniel's voice raised as he stepped closer to Yeqon, "First, you fail in obtaining the seat of Head Overseer. Now, rumors of your relationship with that uncultured girl are spinning everywhere."

He swings down his cane at Yeqon's arm, "And now! You try and defend the one who stole our position? Against me?" He hit Yeqon once more than banged the end of his cane against the ground to calm his rage.

Yeqon remained unfazed, with no emotion or reaction besides a slight stumble. A well-trained rag doll.

Haniel glared in disgust, his chilled temper heating at Yeqon's blank expression. But he held it in, as there were more important things to do. Punishing the half-breed can be done another time, "Listen..."

Haniel bent down with a grunt and grasped the book at his feet. He carried it back to the bookshelf, his previous sentence on pause.

Yeqon glanced up briefly, curious of the silence. Haniel was a direct man, and long pauses were uncommon. What had him so tongue-tied?

With his back turned, Yeqon shifted his attention to Eon. His vacant expression broke as he frowned at the lethal gaze directed at Haniel. Yeqon hid his pain and gently shook his wounded head, trying to deter Eon's blatant declaration of rebellion. The dark elf's desire for blood was one of the main reasons he never met Haniel with Eon in the room. Luckily, that man ignored mutants like air. So he'd never notice Eon's disrespect.

Yeqon shook his head once more, signaling Eon to continue bowing. After a brief look of disapproval, Eon followed, lowering his head.

With a sigh Yeqon also bowed his head again, "...Is the request...difficult to say?"

Haniel continued to stare at the bookshelf, the book still in his hand, "...A group of Sponsors is hosting a Gala 'in honor' of their champions' survival. You and that girl need to attend."

Yeqon frowned, "Governor...Am I allowed to decline?" His tone was polite but curt.

Haniel banged his cane on the ground, "Do not test me."

"...Governor...I am banned...from large social events." There is a reason the public rarely catches glimpses of Yeqon, despite him enjoying his privacy. Haniel has forbidden his attendance at events that he doesn't fully control.

Haniel sighed in frustration, staring at the book before finally placing it back on the shelf, "You are right. And, if it were my wishes, I'd exclude you and that uncultured girl from the list."

He started at Yeqon, his eyes filled with dissatisfaction, "...the Sponsors are fascinated by your relationship with her."

Haniel walks to the couch and sits down. He rubs his face, avoiding the metallic creases on his skin, "Governor Cryo's only child. A man rarely in the public eye despite his pedigree and appearance. In a relationship with his co-worker, Head Overseer Kore Mars. Did you expect the public not to eat this story up?"

Yeqon frowned, so this was about the news articles, "..."

"Those vultures wish to see the rumored couple...along with the public. So for now, we'll continue with it." He clicked his cane on the ground, and Velma rushed past Yeqon. She positioned herself to assist Haniel in standing.

The sound of gears echoed again, and Haniel moved away from Velma once he was up straight, "You and that girl will be in attendance at the Gala."

"Do not embarrass me." He begins walking to the door, "And do not worry. It won't be too late to get rid of annoying things later."

"Now, what is your answer?" He stands in front of the door, Velma a few steps behind.

"Yes, Governor Cryo." Yeqon waited for the sound of the sliding doors to open and close before raising his head. Blood trickled down his face as he pressed his hand to his wound.

The moment the doors closed, Eon dashed to Yeqon's side and wiped at the blood slowly trickling down Yeqon's face with his suit sleeve.

"Eon, if you'd please...bring some medical supplies...and headache medicine from the Bay." Yeqon met Eon's gaze and sighed, "...Eon..."

Eon's eyes brimmed with tears, but he rubbed them away, ashamed, "Yeqon, we need to treat this kind of injures at home-"

"They are flesh wounds...and you know I have an appointment." He patted Eon's head, upsetting him more, "Please."

Eon took a sharp breath and stomped out of the office toward the Sickbay in hurried steps.

Finally, alone, Yeqon wandered over to the closest seat he could find. His hand caught the back of the couch as he stumbled, and he winced from the throbbing of his arm. After a quick breath, he slowly lowered himself onto the couch.

When settled, Yeqon checked the time on his wristwatch. He had an hour to rest, including treating the wound and dressing into a new outfit. How cheap. If Haniel hadn't used his mechanical arm to strike, the injuries would be minor. And there would be no need for him to care about them. Yeqon knows Haniel purposely chose that arm since his elf body is rigid despite being mutated and half-blooded. Ironically, his race is also the reason the injuries are bearable, along with the fact that he has adapted to the pain.

He sighed, tilting his head back and closing his eyes "...Soon...soon."

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A Gathering of… Friends

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The mirror was incapable of lying. Kore’s golden eyes stared back at her in the glass, her appearance satisfactory. Mimi stepped to the side, standing out of the way of the mirror. Her assistant’s cheeks were still flushed, having run here in three inch heels, desperately clutching a garment bag.

Kore stepped back, that same bag now draped over the back of a chair. “Well?” Kore turned to face her, Mimi jumping to attention. Mimi clapped her hands together, stars in her eyes. “You look perfect Ms. Mars,” Kore turned back to her reflection and nodded once. “Alright, this will do. Thank you Mimi, you can take the rest of the evening off.”

“Thank you Ms. Mars!” Mimi snatched the garment bag from the back of the chair, hurrying out.

The garden plaza was quiet at this time of day. It was an atrium filled with trees and colorful birds, a space where the oxygen was at its most vibrant and the humans could reminisce on a time when the earth was green. Not that Kore was old enough to ever recall a time like that.

It was the perfect, inconspicuous meeting spot.

The fountain in the center of the plaza faced the north elevators. It was there that Kore chose to wait, knowing that was more than likely the doors that Yeqon would come through. Behind her, the fountain bubbled to the brim, but never spilled over. The water changed color and hue, gently migrating from blue, to purple, then a soft pink. Kore watched, entranced for a moment, before hearing a soft ding! That indicated the arrival of an elevator.

It was on the tenth floor that he stepped off, pausing only to check his reflection in the glass. Yeqon turned, sighing in relief that the marks his Father had left were not noticeable. His suit successfully covered the cuts on his arm, while his hair had been cleverly coiffed to make the bump on his head untraceable.

His eyes swept over the atrium, spotting Kore quickly. She was hard to miss, what with her colorful hair and red, off shoulder dress. Yeqon walked forward swiftly, adjusting his green tie, tucked beneath his form-fitting black suit.

“... You look lovely… Kore… shall we go?” He stood before her, his words plain, but his compliment sincere. He held out his left elbow for her to take, ignoring the throbbing that climbed up his shoulder.

“Why thank you Yeqon,” Kore smiled, taking the offered arm. “You look rather dashing yourself.” She stepped forward first, leading them to the South elevators. “This way,” the south corridor of the atrium was empty, save for a few little birds that pecked at the bird feeders scattered throughout.

An elevator was already there, waiting to whisk them away. The way Father was built meant that the higher the floor you lived on, the better your status was. The lower floors, while still housing humans who could pay the enormous tax, were often less shiny, the machinery a bit dull and old.

It was where Kore lived when she had first arrived on the ship. “I find that the fourth floor often goes underappreciated.”

Yeqon watched through the glass as their surroundings changed. It went from pristine and clean, to dingy and somewhat dull. Yeqon felt an odd sense of relief, most humans would detest the unflattering conditions. However, down here, they would have a sense of invisibility with less prying eyes.

“... Do not worry… Kore,” Yeqon still felt odd saying her name sans honorifics. “I trust your judgement.”

“Are you sure about that?” Kore asked with a smile, the doors opening. She stepped off, the smell greeting them first. The ventilation down here was not as great as it was on the upper floors. Like old oil and fish, the aroma could take some getting used to. “This way,” Kore led him, taking Yeqon further into what could largely be considered the slums.

Tucked behind a rusty gate, a bright neon sign greeted them, precariously perched above a doorway. The smell from inside quickly overpowered the stench outside. “This is it,” Kore led him inside, through the glass door, whose panes had yellowed, having seen better days.

The Salty Skies, was anything if not a hole-in-the-wall. A small bar, with a dimly lit interior. There were four tables, aside from the bar, covered in red and white checkered cloth, with a single, fake candle in the center. Open flames were not allowed on the shape, for obvious reasons.

Yeqon glanced around the small and shabby place, finding the fourth floor oddly comforting. The dim lighting reminded Yeqon of the cave he had grown up in. He looked forward, his eyes on the bright-neon sign.

“Interesting,” he took the lead from Kore, pulling his arm away to drag one of the chairs out. “Here,” Kore sat daintily down, Yeqon gently pushing the chair in before taking a seat himself.

A gentleman through and through, Kore expected nothing less. Of course, they were not here for romantic interests. “Order as much as you like, I’ll pick up the tab.” Kore winked, it was her treat. “Thank you,” Yeqon nodded in appreciation, already eyeing the shelf of liquor.

“I always thought food tasted better when you’re eating with others.”
Before becoming a Net Star, Kore would eat alone in a tiny, one room apartment. She had not known a single person when she moved to Father and spent almost all of her waking hours working herself sick. Now things were different, Kore would be hard-pressed to find a moment of silence.

Yeqon, on the other hand, relished the quiet. “Well… I suppose you are right… depending on the person.” He did not fully agree, finding the company to be taxing, or even stifling at times. A product of his upbringing, with adults constantly monitoring and criticising his every move. Yeqon could not recall the last time he had truly enjoyed someone’s company, aside from Eon’s constant presence.

Yeqon glanced at Kore. Although she could be overwhelming, he did not wholly dislike her presence. “Any recommendations?”

Kore was wondering if Yeqon found her company unpleasant. It would have stung, if she had not already built a wall around her heart. “I find any Margaux or Lafite to be exquisite, but that’s only if you like reds.” They were both top-shelf liquor, “The Asbach is good, if you want something that stings.”

Yeqon needed something with a kick, he wanted to numb the pain. On top of that, Yeqon still needed to make a query of Kore, one that he was almost afraid to pose. “An Asbach will suffice,” Yeqon sighed, feeling the burden of unnecessary problems weighing him down. He looked over at the bar, then back at Kore. “What are the rules for ordering?”

“Just wave a hand and a bot should come to take your order,” Kore was still pouring over the menu, which flickered on a holo tab in front of her. She raised a hand, waving it once. A bot zoomed over to them, a buggy silver ball with a terrible whine that indicated a dying hover mechanism.

Yeqon gave a brief nod to the drone, a terrible habit of greeting non-verbal objects. The drone replied with a quiet ting!, which Yeqon perceived as it’s way to acknowledge his greeting. He nodded and immediately began his order. “One Asbach… a turkey club… and a bowl of chopped fruit... Any kind will do.”

The drone groaned, trembling a bit. Yeqon had to wonder if it was registering his order, or if it was merely malfunctioning. Though his curiosity resolved itself after the bot made another ding! Then turned to Kore to take her order.

“How curious,” Yeqon murmured, watching it with a faint smirk before his expression returned to his normal scowl.

Kore’s eyes flickered upwards from the menu long enough to catch Yeqon’s fond little smirk. She gave the menu one last glance before sighing, then turned towards their little waiter bot. “I’ll have a glass of Masseto and roast chicken.” The bot shook a little, smoke coming from somewhere within. Yeqon waved a hand to dispel the smoke. The bot froze suddenly before spitting out a piece of paper, which drifted down before settling on their table. The robot did a quick 360 before zipping off, nearly hitting another patron in the back of the head before darting into the kitchen.

Kore turned back to Yeqon, “I think the first day has gone very well.” Kore knew that Yeqon would not speak much, it would be up to her to fill the silence.

“An unexpected situation did occur…” Earlier, a rumor of several of the hoverbikes malfunctioning had reached his ears. It was surprising, but Yeqon had concluded that it was something that had been planned. While Yeqon had no solid evidence, Kore was not someone who would overlook an issue like this if she weren’t directly involved.

“Are you referring to the one Ender spoke of?” Kore asked, a knowing smile dancing on her lips. “That was taken care of,” her words were purposely cryptic. While there were no cams or fotors down here to crowd them, there were still plenty of ears.

And humans loved to gossip.

“However, I agree… Today’s events performed well… even our ratings increased by 4% in a single day.” While his expression remained neutral, his tone displayed a small amount of satisfaction at the results. “Ensuring the increase of ratings… is a priority for the remainder of this round.” As well as every round thereafter, but there was no need to remind either of them that.

“I predict we will continue to see a steady increase, as long as the action is good and the blood is hot.” One of the main draws to the Games was the legal violence. A battle royal of sorts, “the pawns are all in place,” and the King and Queen, the Overseers, could control it all.

“Understood,” Yeqon nodded, leaving it at that. Kore was right, the viewers would watch as long as there was conflict. There was no real winner ever brought from the Games, it was a show of power and dominance until the very end.

“Let us hope… some pieces last until the final battle.” They were all lined up, waiting to be discarded from the board.

As though on cue, the drone whined over to their table, clumsily setting down their food. Yeqon watched carefully, poised to catch if need be. Thankfully, however, their order made it without incident. “...Such quick service… Thank you.”

The bot tinged in response, as though pleased, and a brief poof of smoke spouted from its top before it whirled around, almost knocking a glass off of the table before disappearing.

“The first Game is fun, but it is a bit standard. The next one should be more exciting,” Kore commented. This was the One Hundredth Games, it had to be extravagant.

Kore took a sip of her drink. She was fond of red wine, but not fond enough to drink it on a daily basis. Yeqon nodded, taking a sip of his own drink. “This year’s competitors are… more lethal… then the last.” Yeqon sighed and took another sip of his Asbach. While violence made for excellent viewing, he wanted to prevent any deaths outside of the games. There had already been an altercation that ended with competitors in the Med Bay.

“It seems, a few competitors are forming teams to survive,” Yeqon was using that word loosely. “A smart… but unreliable decision.” Betrayal was always a possibility in the first round, but an undeniable reality in the next.

Kore nodded, cutting off a piece of her chicken. “Hopefully they won’t kill each other before the first round ends.” She smiled to herself, waving her fork around once before taking a bite.

Normally, 40% of competitors were wiped out in the first round. It was a slow trickle after that, until the final round, where a handful would remain. “There have been teams in past years, but I’ve never seen them last farther than the first round,” Kore, of course, had done her fair share of studying to curate these Games.

“It makes our jobs easier when they implode on themselves.”

Yeqon picked out a piece of bacon from his food, wishing he had read the menu more closely to avoid wasting food. At least the alcohol was good, a bit smokey, strong enough to numb the pain in his body too.

Yeqon took a large bite, chewing slowly in silence. His thoughts and ideas surrounding violence were different from his counterpart, but no good would come from showing his displeasure, especially when his job called for promoting and at times, partaking in it. It was hypocritical, but even so…

Yeqon finished the last piece of his sandwich, chewing thoughtfully. The image of an annoyingly kind, small, blue mutant flashed in the back of his mind, making his meal turn bitter. Despite attempting to distance himself, part of him could not help but worry.

“... Kore,” Yeqon started slowly, suddenly looking up. Kore looked at him to meet his eyes, “Will you be my date… to an event?”

Kore looked interested. “A date?” She knew that Yeqon did not like her in that way and while he was plenty good looking, Kore thought of Yeqon more as a work-friend than anything.

Yeqon nodded, “Governor Cryo and several sponsors will be hosting a gala… In honor of the first round of the Games.” He sighed, getting straight to the point.

“Our relationship has piqued their interest… they want to see us… together.” Yeqon had never planned for their false relationship to be anything more than a rumor, but things had changed thanks to the meddling of that man and his constant need to be in-control.

“As a warning, this event… will be a… battlefield of sorts.” If Kore did wish to attend, it would be a great opportunity to promote herself.

“This is a request… you can decline,” Yeqon stressed, picking at small chunks of fruit before picking one and taking a bite. The sweetness helped mask the bitter taste on his tongue.

“It sounds like they want us to be eye candy, a cheap attraction.” Entertainment, whatever you wanted to call it. Kore swirled her wine glass in her hand thoughtfully, this was an opportunity to rub elbows with some of the most profound stars on Father.

“Essentially… yes,” Yeqon agreed with her observation.

The invitation was tempting, if not somewhat dangerous. “We are already the King and Queen of our chess board, this will just be a way of expanding our playing field. So, I will do it.”

“Chess…?” Yeqon questioned, “if that is the game, you will be quite difficult to defeat.” He smiled, raising his glass before taking a sip. “And… Thank you for accepting my request, Kore.”

Kore smiled, raising her glass in kind. “This will be the most dangerous round I’ve played yet.”

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A Star-Studded Affair

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Quiet was not a word Kore would use to describe the current atmosphere. Her resident stylists, plus Mimi, were currently occupying the space of her room, waiting on her hand and foot to prepare for the evening. "I can't believe your plan worked!" Mimi squealed eagerly, her holo tab sitting somewhere on the counter while she fixed everyone a celebratory drink. "Our Ms. Mars is a genius, after all." Her hairdresser winked from behind her, pulling her hair back with an air wrap that sucked her hair in and then pushed it out with a perfect wave.

"Of course, it's hard to resist Father's biggest Holo star." They showered her with praise. Next to the Games, scoring an invitation to a ball run by Governor Cryo was hopefully not a sign that this was the peak of her career. After all, Kore had her eyes on an even bigger ship. Father was better than her previous dwelling, but Mother was where the real high-profilers lived.

Her dress, custom-made, of course, was delivered only an hour ago. On short notice, it was hard to get such a special piece tailored, but if Yeqon and Kore were to dance circles around the others at this party, then they needed to dress the part. Kore rose from her seat, a zoom fan following her to dry her nails. Her stylist unzipped the bag, revealing the garment sealed inside. "You never fail to deliver," Kore smiled kindly. She reached around him, the fan doing its best to keep up with her. "You will shine tonight," he assured her with a wink, the dress catching some of the starlights from the window and sending small rainbows scattered across the ground.

In another corner of the universe, someone else was preparing for the evening in a much less excitable manner."Leave it." Eon waved away the two mutant attendants, their once energetic movements now stiff and clumsy under Yeqon's domineering watch. "I'll finish everything. Just bring over a glass of bourbon and go outside." With bowed heads, the attendants ventured down the apartment to retrieve a drink. Now alone Eon took the opportunity to scold Yeqon, "You know how much time you wasted because you keep scaring away the attendants? Too much." Eon hastily finishes knotting Yeqon's green tie, choosing an intricate design to contrast his classical black attire. [b]"This is the third pair requested. Third, Yeqon. And they couldn't last a whole ten minutes because of you." Yes, his attitude was a growing problem. A few days of confinement by Governor Cryo and his patience had reached its limit. The space itself he was trapped inside had elegant furnishings with pristine equipment, a picture-perfect room furthest from the image of a prison. To be expected of an abode stationed on the Mothership. Yet, Yeqon knew the truth, this was a prison. A watching area for the Governor to survey his every move and every word until the ball. Forbidden to leave, unless it involved work, and one of His men must always follow him. Otherwise, he stayed here, with no outside contact. Drowning himself in alcohol, nothing new.

"S-Sir." Yeqon took the glass from the attendant's hand. They scurried away, the sound of the automatic doors opening and closing announcing their exit. Once alone, he gulped down the liquor and slammed it on the table before tugging on the sleeves of his coat. "Eon...the time please?" Yeqon asked as he smoothed back the small strains of hair poking out, his attitude was no excuse for being late to pick up Kore. Eon handed him a slim black cane with a green gem on top, "Twenty minutes until Ms. Mars is expecting you." Yeqon glanced at his reflection the mirror once more, "...Alright time to go." He hit the cane on the ground and walked toward the automatic doors. Two guards welcomed Yeqon as he stepped out of the apartment. Their purpose, was to report and watch him. He was used to it. Yeqon walked past them toward the elevators, "Our destination is the Father ship...tell the Governor." Yeqon motions at one of the guards to send his report, while the other accompanies him to Father.

Kore was ready twenty minutes before Yeqon was scheduled to arrive. She sent everyone out, including Mimi, much to her assistant's chagrin, who wanted to be here for the big moment. There was a reason for this, of course. She didn't want them to spoil the photos. Kore knew that the cams would be lurking outside of her door, thirsting for the moment that Yeqon arrived to pick her up. She didn't want the others to be in the Fotor pictures when her dress was revealed, tailored to match Yeqon's suit. Kore glanced at the clock on the wall. Anyone that had ever worked with her knew that she detested tardiness. She waited patiently, standing, of course, to not crease her dress, her crystal heels waiting by the door for the right moment. Impractical? Yes. Dazzling and showstopping? Also yes. At last, the knock came. Kore rushed forward, slipping her feet into her chosen footwear and opening the door slowly to make the moment just a bit more dramatic. "I was expecting you," Kore smiled her dazzling smile, glad to see that Yeqon was indeed wearing the suit she had sent.

Yeqon gestures for Eon and the guard to fall behind him as he stands in front of Kore's door. A small bouquet in hand to celebrate the occasion. He didn’t need to wait long for her after knocking.

Hidden at a distance, a small wave of mumbles and flashes began to buzz. The anticipation was clear in the air, and although concealed in the shadows Yeqon's excellent senses picked up on the invisible Fotors. This is a situation he expected. On such a grand night, they wouldn't miss the opportunity to capture the hottest topic together. Best to ignore them and carry on. The door opened and Kore's full figure graced everyone's presence. The sound of shutters grew louder and Yeqon held in a sigh. Focused on Kore's dazzling yet knowing smile directed at him and tried his best to match her momentum. Might as well play along. An extraordinary scene played out. Yeqon's lips curved into a gentle smile. A breathtaking sight, in many ways. Taking Kore's hand, in one swift motion, raises it and kisses her fingertips. From afar, it looks as if his lips pressed against them but up close they barely grazed the skin. But that was a secret. "Seeing you, makes me feel ashamed...I brought a gift but your beauty overshadows it." With her hand still in his, Yeqon moves his other palm showing her the bouquet, "However, I still hope they are to your likening." His actions were unprecedented, if one would guess, they might assume he's drunk. Their assumption would be wrong. Yeqon is completely sober.


Kore could hear them from where she was standing, the flashbulb of the cams snapping every few seconds from just around the corner. Yeqon smiled, his expression gentle. From afar, it must have appeared genuine. From up close, however, Kore could see that it didn't quite reach his eyes. "You always did know just the right thing to say,"[b] she took the flowers from him, leaning her head down to catch a bit of their aroma. Her hair fell in a curtain over her shoulder, obscuring her face for a moment. Dahlias, a warning of change, Bay roses, an incoming danger, and belladonnas, silence. Kore looked up at Yeqon, then back down at the bouquet, wondering if this arrangement was purposeful. Nevertheless, she looked up to meet his eyes, her smile remaining, an appropriate light blush on her cheeks that remained from the feigned kiss on her palm. [b]"Should we start making our way?"

His eyes followed Kore, noting her short expressions of acknowledgment. Although the bouquet is a gift, on closer examination, each flower carries a separate meaning. An unspoken warning that he knew Kore would immediately understand. A slight cough echoed in Yeqon's ear. He turned his gaze, quietly eyeing the Governor's dog. Their posture and expressions remained unchanged, along with their sharp watch that focused entirely on Yeqon and now Kore. Yeqon maintained his straight smile and released his grip on Kore's hand. Replacing it with an extending arm that she naturally grabs. Which caused another wave of shutters to flash as the Fotors silently cheered about the new scoop they had just witnessed. "Yes. The main attractions can not be late.” He chose his words carefully, but they had a spite to them. Yeqon turned around to the guard and nodded, "Lead the way to the Mothership." the destination of Governor Cryo's celebration gala.

The Gala brimmed with notable citizens of wealth. The blaring lights and scenery music set the tone for those arriving. Outside the building, pompous laughter filled the air as those attending waved at bystanders. Yeqon and Kore approached this scene, stationing themselves at the end of a deep red carpet. Fotors screamed their names for the chance of stealing a picture of them acting intimate. Yeqon's generous smile was now wiped and replaced with his usual blank expression, "Ready?" he asked Kore. Their arms were still intertwined.

Kore didn't need to turn around to see that there were more than just Fotors watching them. Every so gingerly, Kore took hold of Yeqon's offered arm, the two of them turning to walk towards the carrier vessel that would take them to Mother. This would be Kore's first time there. Her excitement was building, but she kept her emotions in check. The smile she wore was pleasant, but Kore could not conceal the twinkle in her eyes. "Do you go to Mother often?" Kore inquired, it would look strange to others if they did not talk. After all, they were supposed to be a couple.

The question was nothing but small talk. So, Yeqon didn't answer. His history living on the Mother isn't private, but he'd rather avoid discussing it. However, they do need to act close. Especially now, while in public.

Kore could hear the music from outside of the hall, she could hear the tinkling of glasses and the celebratory cheer of men in power who had had too much to drink. "I am always ready," Kore replied, ignoring the blaring flashbulb of Fotors and the hover mics that buzzed above their heads, hoping to catch even a snippet of conversation to put into the gossip reels. They would praise them, they would drag them. One wrong glance, frown, or hair out of place could have the cicadas buzzing about how things were going downhill. It was the job of a professional to maintain their appearance. It was their job to ignore the jabs, the jeers, and the jealousy of those who sat beneath them. Yeqon and Governor Cryo were another stepping stone for Kore and tonight proved that.

The question was nothing but small talk. So, Yeqon didn't answer. His history living on the Mother isn't private, but he'd rather avoid discussing it. However, they do need to act close. Especially now, while in public. The Gala is a battlefield, and all eyes are on them. Yeqon leads Kore down the carpet, ignoring the flashing lights and flood of questions, only stopping when Kore wished to address the Fotors. Their desire to squeeze out personal details was strong, but Kore handled them efficiently. And not just Fotors but high-ranking officials also came up to them. Curious about Yeqon's partner and feigning ignorance to make him introduce her. He plays along and presents Kore as his partner. The term, Partner, is kept ambiguous, leaving the personal meaning to be interpreted by them. Then remains quiet so Kore can further introduce herself. She was much more suited and motivated for this atmosphere than him. He knew this.

"Ms. Mars! Ms. Mars! Who are you wearing?" A fotor asked, directing their blinding flash at them. Kore smiled her dazzling, doe-eyed smile and leaned into Yeqon. "We're wearing Lilith," she emphasized, as if they had planned these outfits together.

They were stopped every few feet, not only by fotors, but ambassadors, officials, and politicians. Yeqon would remain silent, allowing Kore to control the flow of the conversation. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Martin. I've heard so much about your efforts to redistribute seedlings to mutants so that they can start their own vertical gardens. How charitable!"

Anyone who knew Kore personally knew that she wasn't a fan of mutants. However, this was not public knowledge. It was easy to keep the conversation flowing until Yeqon motioned that it was time to move on.

After a long stream of interactions, they finally entered the hall. Just like any place on the Mother, the interior was extravagant. A sight Yeqon was used to, having lived on Mother for a large portion of his life. Sparkling silverware and elegant furnishings that the Governor spent days picking out to his liking. The food arrangement was varied and plentiful, an outrageous amount even for the large number of people attending. The Governor is a man who believes things are only worth having in abundance. Wasting is not a sin as long as you have the wealth to appreciate it. Yeqon held in a sigh and turned around to face Eon and the Governor's guard.

”You… Tell Governor Cryo we’ll give our greetings after exploring the venue.” At his words, the guards nodded and walked away. Yeqon wanted to hold off on Kore meeting Him for as long as possible. Not too long or the Governor would come and find them himself, which would only get them in more trouble.

They needed more guests to arrive to establish Kore’s safety net. This way, the Governor could not pull anything underhanded. With a bit more room to breathe, Yeqon turned to Eon next, an expression of boredom plastered on his face. ”Wait at the designated area for mutants… do not leave without my permission.” Eon paused, then nodded.


”Yes Master,” he understood the true meaning behind Yeqon’s stern words.

Hide out of sight so no one bothers you. Don’t worry about me, unless there’s an emergency. Stay there and stay safe.

After years of parties, Eon knew how to internalize the meaning behind Yeqon’s cold exterior. With a quick bow at the waist, Eon made his exit, rushing off to hide.

Yeqon watched him leave, making sure he reached safety before turning back towards his guest. ”I apologize for the delay… would you like to greet more people… or dine on refreshments?”

It was just the two of them now, unprotected from the prying eyes of celebrities and officials. Kore smiled, she could feel the weight of their stares clawing at their backs, itching to get closer. "Why don't we have a bite to eat first? Something to take the edge off?"

With a curt nod of agreement and a quick, ”I agree,” Yeqon guided Kore towards a large array of food. The venue encased it all in covered clear dishes, garnished atop a table so long that it took up the length of the middle and sides of the room.

Wherever they went, prying eyes attached themselves to their backs, fixing to watch what move they made next. Yeqon allowed them to follow but kept an eye to make sure they maintained a distance.

The moment they approached the table, a robot hovered over, its display illuminating with two, blue dots that resembled eyes. ”Good evening,” the machine spoke, its lights blinking. It paused, a delicate warm light scanning them quickly, looking for their wrist chips. ”Mr. Cryo and Ms. Mars. My name is Gloria, how may I be of assistance?”

”What a clever device,” Kore admired. She had never seen a bot so expensive. Even in their world of mass-produced technology, finding such a sleek, inventive design was rare. ”Hello Gloria,” Kore greeted.

”Gloria… show us the menus.” Yeqon replied without skipping a beat. A chime came from somewhere within the robot, indicating that it had heard them.

Almost immediately, its display changed, a holographic light spitting out images of food and drink. ”Certainly… Mr. Cryo… here is a list of tonight’s menu.” The robot was silent for a moment before delving into an explanation. ”There are three main menus tonight. The first of which is a two-course meal, consisting of an appetizer, soup, and entree. The second is our vast collection of desserts. Finally, alcoholic beverages complement the menu. The Governor will be handling all charges tonight, so feel free to eat and drink to your heart’s content.”

Yeqon nodded, unfazed by the Governor’s alleged charitability. It was a thinly veiled guise to show off his wealth. ”Thank you…”

”My pleasure,” the bot responded, humming pleasantly as it hovered in place.

Yeqon scrolled through the long list with one hand, the other gripping Kore’s. It served a dual purpose, both to show off false affection, and so as not to lose her to the ravenous crowd whose gaze was tearing into them. ”A gin and tonic… sounds fine… how about you Kore?”

There was too much to choose from, so Kore settled on something simple. ”I’ll have a cranberry vodka please,” she smiled. Every move she made, every word she spoke, caused a tiny stir among their audience.

Kore would take full advantage of it.

She tugged lightly on Yeqon’s sleeve with her free hand, putting on a pouty face. ”You promised we would share desserts, right?” Kore batted her eyes, turning back to the dessert menu. ”So how about we split a lemon meringue tart and a strawberry terrin?”

Yeqon paused, attempting to decipher Kore’s words. He could not recall ever saying such a thing. Was Kore the type to share anything of her’s? Did she not prefer a dessert of her own? For a moment he wondered if his previous observations of his co-host were incorrect when it dawned on him what she was doing.

She was playing to the masses.

Her status did not allow her to indulge without gossip from the wealthy. They had a knack for judging newcomers, especially those not from Mother. However, Yeqon was immune to their words and judgments. He could be a little bit selfish.

Yeqon relaxed his expression and curled his lips, moving a hand to Kore’s cheek to softly stare into her eyes. ”We’ll order both, that way, we can share each flavor.” He spoke with finality.

Yeqon moved his hand to carefully tuck a strand of hair behind Kore’s ear, ”My partner, must try both… as a Cryo, I can’t approve of sharing just one.” His words were just loud enough for their watchers to hear, but ambiguous enough for them to interpret the meaning on their own. His affection, of course, was just a show.

Even if it was just for show, there was no denying that Yeqon was handsome. Kore was not immune to his dashing looks. When he leaned over to touch her face, Kore’s blush was genuine. However, all she could think about at that moment was that it was a good thing she had ordered him gloves.

If there is one thing Kore knew about Yeqon, it was that he hated being touched or touching others. The whispers surrounding them were beginning to resemble screams.


They’re sharing food.

Sharing food?

She really has him wrapped around her little finger.

That Cryo? He’s only doing this to get back at his Father. Dating some little net star, he probably thinks he’s so-

Yeqon pressed the button on the bot to confirm their order. ”Also, please arrange both desserts on the same plate.”

”Yes Mr. Cryo, your order has been received.” The bot winked again as if it were smiling. ”Please have a seat, your food will find you when it is ready.”

”Thank you,” Yeqon glanced at the tables, tugging Kore along, still holding her firmly in his grasp.

Each table had been strategically arranged with at least five chairs in order to foster conversation between guests. Yeqon chose a table that was still empty, tucked into the corner between two windows so that they could enjoy the outside view.

”Here,” Yeqon released Kore long enough to pull out a chair.

”Ever the gentleman,” Kore sat, arranging her dress so that it would not wrinkle. ]”I’m almost disappointed,” Kore’s inflection was somewhat wistful. ”The view is almost the same.” The picture of space, however, was one she would never get tired of.

Yeqon sat beside her, feeling a bit relieved that they had a moment to breathe. He surveyed the crowd of blurred faces. ”I prefer… Father’s view,” he murmured. The scenery on Mother was mundane, something he had experienced a million times.

”However, I hope everything else… isn’t too disappointing.” Yeqon’s words were sincere. Kore still had plenty more people to present herself to, the Governor included.

”I don’t think I could find anything disappointing. The governor really knows how to throw a party.” Kore’s artful little smile never left her lips. ”But I think you’re right, somehow. The view on Father is much better.”

It didn’t take long for their food to arrive. A dish with a golden cloche hovered down to their table, Mr. Cryo displayed on the front in silver lettering. Yeqon waited for it to settle before removing the cloche, revealing two plates with their desserts, and two glasses with their drinks. Once he removed the items and placed the cover back, the tray flitted off to return to the kitchen.

”For you,” Yeqon placed the lemon meringue tart in front of her. ”I will start with the strawberries.” He flashed a small, rare smile.

”Thank you” Kore took the plate from him, eager to dig in. She raised her glass in a brief toast before taking a sip, the familiar burn taking the edge off.

Yeqon raised his glass too. ”As a warning… we are about to have company,” his eyes shifted to a couple eyeing the open seats at their table. ”Should I drive them away… so that you may eat your desserts… in peace?” He was only half-serious, since Yeqon had the power to push them away, but knew that Kore’s ultimate objective was to appeal to others, not that Yeqon could understand why.

”No, they may join us,” Kore shook her head, ”After all, I’m only here for their… entertainment.” Kore chose her words carefully. From her understanding, Yeqon would have been forced to attend either way. It was Kore that was here to dance on strings for the guests.

”But my goodness… if this is not the best lemon meringue tart I’ve ever had,” she hummed in pleasure, the tartness of the lemon cutting through beautifully with the sugary meringue, combined with a buttery, flaky crust. For a brief moment, if you listened closely, you may have been lucky enough to hear a hint of an accent in Kore’s words, a relic of her old life.


To Be Continued...

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A Star-Studded Affair Part 2

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Bones || Imagine Dragons




It began with a soft murmur that crept across the room. Slowly, the murmur turned into a whisper, then into a roar. Eventually, all eyes had lifted and turned to face the double doors leading into the grand party hall. ”The Matriarch?” They craned their necks to look over one another in their ridiculous hats and tall heels, waiting with bated breath for the rumor to be confirmed.

The doors moved on slow hinges, light spilling in from the hall outside, framing her glittering white hair with a halo. Her pale, unblemished skin glittered like diamond dust, and she walked with a calm grace that made the room fall to silence in her presence.

”The Matriarch!”

”The Matriarch?”

”Glory to the Matriarch!”

Their words sung in a cacophony like colorfully dressed parrots, clamoring for a piece of the small star that had landed within their gravitational pull.

”Please give the Matriarch some space,” her guard’s gruff voice practically barked; like a dog protecting his master. He guided her slowly, her serene gaze landing on the table in the corner beside the window.

A small crowd formed around Yeqon's table. It began with the acknowledgment of a single couple. With boldness, the people made their way over to introduce themselves to Kore and Yeqon, or more practically; to gain the benefits of familiarizing themselves with this year's Head Overseer and the son of Governor Cryo. After one, a few more followed, and Yeqon's peace and appetite had come to an abrupt end. The colorfully dressed crowd continued to chatter away with idle words. That is until something new came into their orbit. Like a glittering jewel, she graced this Gala with her presence. The magnificent figure having managed to capture everyone's attention. Yeqon too, paused in awe. Then, a distinct sense of dread, one he could not explain, quickly emerged. Yeqon hid it well, his expression having settled into its usual monotonous poise, and his gaze remained trained forward, eyes humbly locked on the approaching figure, the praised Matriarch.

”Praise the Matriarch!”

Kore was playing her role well: acting the part of the bubbly, airheaded Kore Mars most knew and had come to adore. When their gaze turned, so too did Kore's. Her breath caught in her throat, her eyes watching with an unwavering awe. Kore froze with realization, glancing at Yeqon with uncertainty while her smile remained pleasantly painted on her lips. Why was the Matriarch here? It was rare for her to leave her cozy cocoon on the top floors of Mother. Could it be that she had come to the party to greet the governor?

The Matriarch continued to move with lithe, elegant steps. She stopped in front of their table, her gaze settling on the two Overseers. Kore rose quickly out of respect, wondering if a curtsy would be appropriate. What was the custom? Kore's eyes darted to Yeqon, unknowing as to what she should do, what she should say. Her composure slipped for just a moment. "It is customary to praise the Matriarch in her presence," a man had sidled up beside the Matriarch, whispering beneath his breath so as not to cause them any embarrassment. "P-praise the Matriarch," Kore managed to squeak in her embarrassment, grasping the edges of her dress to dip into a low curtsy.

"Praise to the Matriarch." Yeqon bowed — his left hand placed behind his back, right to his waist, and head lowered. His movements were well-practiced, and he showed no signs of nervousness. As if on cue, a choir of guests followed Kore and Yeqon's example. Bowing to the Matriarch, they offered their praise in unison. A heavy silence followed. Yeqon broke the silence, taking a half-step forward. "What an absolute honor for the Matriarch to grace my Father's humble celebration with her presence." With his head still bowed, Yeqon spoke flawlessly, his words rolling off the tongue with a practiced ease. There was no hint of his usual hesitation or random pauses—just a respectful and clear voice.

"You may raise your heads," the Matriarch waved a hand, a small smile gracing her thin lips. Her voice was soft, but had the clarity of a summer wind. "I have merely come to express my... appreciation for the effort surrounding this year's games." Her eyes watched them with something akin to curiosity.

Surely, she could have sent a message over holo, if that was all she wanted. Even Kore could recognize that. This show was more than likely a display of power. To silence the budding rumors that the Matriarch was a made up figure meant to keep the upper-class in line. Kore could hardly think that the true reason for her visit was to express her appreciation to someone as lowly as herself.

"Thank you," Kore spoke after a brief pause, having collected herself and her thoughts. "We have put our all into making sure that this year's Games will be enjoyable for all of our viewers.”

Yeqon raised his body, maintaining his neutral expression. Was it true? Was she here to offer her congratulations? With his limited knowledge of the Matriarch, she did not seem the type to present herself in public for such a...trivial reason. There had to be more and Yeqon could think of an obvious one — the Governor's faction. It wasn't something mentioned out loud, but there was some tension between the Matriarch and the Governor's people — which consisted of the older and more powerful citizens in Mother.

They were a bunch who liked to flex their power in places not belonging to them — small rumors talked about their desire for a higher place in the Space-archy. "Thank you." Yeqon nodded his head in respect, "What my partner says is true, but I will add...most of the success is due to her brilliance." He gently placed his hand on Kore's shoulder, "She fulfills her role as Head Overseer wonderfully."

"I believe those words are too much, my son." A heavily endowed gentleman walked toward them. His mechanical arm and half robotic facial features shimmered in the light. He wore attire fitting for a Governor — if not too much on the regal side — and his cane echoed on the marble floor. A small group followed close behind him, looking just as well-dressed — the Governor's faction. "Praise to the Matriarch." Governor Cryo bowed, and his group followed. Their voices echoed humbly in the presence of her Highness. A perfect facade of blind loyalty. "My son's humbleness is getting the better of him. He fails to mention his achievements during this year's Games." the Governor's eyes fell briefly on Kore. They contained a mixture of emotions, the most apparent yet, subtle being disgust.

"Oh?" The Matriarch's gaze briefly flickered towards Kore. "I had the sense that when I approved your nomination as Overseers, the Games would be something of note. It was not a bad choice." Kore stood a bit straighter. She opened her mouth to speak, but someone else's voice cast over her own. This was not her place, she reminded herself. The situation had just become dangerous.

Governor Cryo's disgust was thinly veiled. It was funny, considering he had a grotesque appearance that made Kore's stomach turn. To her credit, her expression remained pleasant, with her careful, practiced smile plastered on her lips. Kore curtsied briefly in his presence as a sign of respect. Not because she wanted to, but because formalities demanded it. As much as she detested the idea, these people still outranked her. One day, Kore thought, clenching her jaw.

"Governor Cryo, what a pleasure it was to receive your invitation. You always did know how to throw a party." The Matriarch gestured around the extravagant space. Her guard inched closer to her elbow. The Matriarch had received an invitation out of customary formality. She was invited to every event, but it had been years since anyone had seen her outside of her sanctuary. "Please, tell me more about your son's achievements. I would love to hear all about it." She made her intention to linger clear. By now, it was obvious that the Matriarch had come to reclaim her grasp on her slipping authority.

A bitter taste filled Yeqon's mouth, but he kept quiet. He had no position to interrupt this hidden quarrel. The Governor knew of Yeqon's services to the Game, and to him, they were all failures. Nothing of noteworthiness. Yeqon preferred to hide from the spotlight and work alongside other departments to ensure the Games ran smoothly from behind the scenes. It was deplorable to Governor Cryo that his son humbled himself before a low-born girl, allowing her to take the reins and the glory. "Gladly, Your Grace. I happen to have constant conversations with my son discussing his actions." It was a blatant lie. He had spies hidden inside monitoring Yeqon's actions, "He isn't one to allow himself to bask in the spotlight. However, security, competitor and manager management, and the delegation of tasks to those belonging to stations outside the Overseers all fall under his command."

"He handles the more core functions of the Games, the ones not seen by the public. Like how a big machine needs the vital wheels and gears cared for to turn properly." The Governor smiled, displaying the expression of a delighted parent. He walked over to Yeqon and patted his shoulder with pride, "My son." he said in a tender voice, which easily fooled the crowd around them. Yeqon could tell that they ate-up the Governor’s words, feigning their close parent-child relationship. Yeqon felt sick. The Governor lightly huffed, "Oh, I almost forgot. Yeqon also does his utmost to cover up for Ms. Mars...unofficial mistakes. Which certainly isn't her fault. She is still learning the etiquette required of one to communicate and mingle with the upper-class."

Kore could tolerate taunts, jeers, and rumors about her love life. If there was one thing, however, that Kore could not stand; it was liars. "Mistakes, Governor?" Kore quickly interjected. Her eyes widened innocently, hoping to catch the rat by its tail. "If you wouldn't mind enlightening the Matriarch, since I'm sure she wants to hear about how Yeqon has fixed all of my mistakes." Kore was not a meek little mouse, nor was she the airhead she pretended to be on public holos for prying eyes. She was as much a cat as the rest of them. She may not have been born with blue blood in her veins, but Kore could still play their games.

"Yes, I too, would like to hear more about Mr. Cryo’s accomplishments." The Matriarch was quick on the uptake. She took a seat at the table, gesturing for her guard. 001 stepped forward, leaning down for her to whisper something in his ear. He stepped back, disappearing into the crowd that had gathered around their table. "Please, sit, everyone. It is hard to hold a discussion when everyone is standing."

In that split moment, the Governor's eyes turned venomous. He had no fear of revealing the cards hidden in his hands. But Kore accomplished something not many could do. She went outside of his expectations. He believed she'd flatter, remain quiet while he continued. But no, she demanded an answer for his claim, and dared to act as if she was on the same playing field as him. The smile on his lips did not change, but his insides burned slightly. He tightened his grip on Yeqon's shoulder, "Of course. Staff! Help my precious guests find a seat, make haste!" The Governor released his grip on Yeqon, who stepped back and pulled out a chair for the man. Yeqon was curious. Kore had displayed herself well in the public eye. There were a few minor mistakes, but none seen by anyone but himself. He made sure of it. Still, Yeqon felt something amiss but ignored the feeling. Instead, he pulled out a chair for Kore and found a spot beside her — building a wall between her and the Governor. The hall bustled with the sound of moving furniture, robotic and mutant staff rushed from place to place, offering a seat to all the guests following the Matriarch's and Governor's request. It took a minute, but everyone found accommodations. The Governor glanced around the hall to check, keeping the appearance of a charitable host, "Good." He sounded relieved, nodding his head in satisfaction. He sat in a position where all eyes fell on him, as they should.

"Now. Ms. Mars handles herself well...in most situations. Various sponsors, all friends of mine, have praised her judgment and energetic demeanor. Although I'd say, her personality is a bit much for my tastes, however, to each their own. Overall, she is a professional through and through." He stared at Kore, nodding his head as if to offer praise, "...However, she seems to have issues concerning the separation of her...personal life and her role as Head Overseer." The Governor’s tone changed to one of concern. He bowed his head, acting like his following words were difficult to say. "You see, my son is a very vigilant man. He tries to handle issues so Ms. Mars may focus fully on her role as Head Overseer. But I feel it's inappropriate when he has to handle her family situations." The crowd mumbled softly, wondering what he meant. "It was one month before the Games began that Ms. Mars' parents intruded on the preparation facilities, demanding to see their daughter. I heard they were acting rather...unseemly. My son did handle the situation, but it took him away from other, more important matters. Not just once but several other times, none of which Ms. Mars seemed to deal with herself. Isn't that right, Yeqon?"

The attention was now on Yeqon, his face showed no signs of nervousness, but internally his mind raced. How did Governor Cryo learn about this situation? Only a handful of talented guards knew of the visits, and they wouldn't have told. Yeqon tightened his already clasped hands, "...Yes...there were a few...very minor disturbances with the individuals in question. However, I handled them promptly and without trouble...Therefore Kore didn't need to present herself. " The Governor hummed, patting his son on the shoulder, "How dutiful, you did handle it well. No one knew of it. I, too, was unaware until the people in question approached me." Yeqon flinched.

"It was a few days ago. After visiting you, they confronted me while I exited the building. They knew me as your Father and asked for my help. Claimed to be Ms. Mars's parents, who she ignored. And at first, I did not believe them. Why should I?" He gestured at Kore, "Ms. Mars is a proper young lady, and they were...quite troublesome. They claimed that their daughter refused to see them, ignored their messages, and did other slanderous things, which couldn't be true. However, after checking, they were, in truth, her parents." He shook his head. "Still, their stories were hard to believe. So, I told them their presence would only cause further issues. So I have arranged for them to attend the Gala. In fact, they should be arriving in a few minutes."

Kore's mind began to race. The Governor had invited her parents to the Gala? She did not look at Yeqon, knowing that there would be no help from him. Was this the real reason he had invited her here tonight? To embarrass her in front of all of these people? To remind Kore of her place? Beneath the table, Kore's hands balled into fists, her nails digging tiny moons into her palms. Kore had been played for a fool. He had asked her, knowing that she would not refuse and she had been dumb enough to accept it. Kore wished she had never invited him out for a drink.

On cue, the doors to the party flung open. The entire hall turned to get a good look at the one part of Kore's life she had worked so hard to keep hidden. Her dad was dressed in a gaudy ash suit and yellow shirt, wearing a purple tie to a black tie event. Her mother's dress was gaudy, fake designer, with a purse that was six years out of style and hair that had been sprayed with so much fixant, it looked crunchy.

"Kore, Bug!" Her dad caught sight of her first, rushing towards the table, dragging her mom along by the elbow. If it weren't for the Matriarch's pose stepping in the way, they would have gotten closer. "Praise the Matriarch!" Her mom said hurriedly while Kore remained frozen in her seat. Her expression had been set to a cautious neutral, careful not to show the outward distaste she held towards her parents. "Mom, Dad." Kore's voice was surprisingly steady. "What a nice surprise." The Matriarch looked between them, as though she were watching a very interesting insect. "I am thrilled to meet the parents of one of this year's brilliant stars. Come, have a seat." The Matriarch invited. "You must tell us all about your Kore Bug." Kore, thoroughly nullified, could only smile.

"Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Mars." Governor Cryo's lips curved into a generous smile as he gestured at a servant, "Please, seat yourselves. As my guests, be comfortable and join our conversation." On cue, the servant pushed two chairs next to him — a social movement that not only showed he approved of their presence, but wished for them to be the center of attention. Governor Cryo waited for the couple to seat themselves, hiding his triumph,behind his smile. "Since you just arrived, how about sharing a few stories from your daughter’s past?" The Governor’s voice was cheerful, an unusual tone for someone so stern, "I, and I am positive, everyone else would be delighted to hear more about you and your daughter's history."

A quiet sigh escaped Yeqon’s lips, a clear frown decorating his face. He was used to these situations, the Governor was notorious for inciting social suicides among his enemies. Most gatherings ended in a few tragedies, but he didn't want Kore to end up as one. Since her status affects his and as partners, he couldn't let something like this slide. However, stopping this conversation was not possible at the moment. If it was the Governor alone, Yeqon could step in, but the Matriarch was present as well. She was someone he had no power to dissuade. So, he could only hold his tongue and wait for an opportunity. Yeqon could already feel that tonight would be a long one.

Kore's parents sat themselves excitedly on either side of her, managing to nudge Yeqon out of the way in the process to wedge a space between them. Her Mother took Kore's hand, her touch cold. Kore sat still, somehow maintaining her pleasant smile despite the inner turmoil she felt. "I don't think that's a very good-" Kore started, but was cut off by her Father. Her Mother squeezed her hand, as if to say she did not want Kore to ruin this moment for them. Kore's heart thumped with slight panic in her chest.

"You should’ve seen Kore as a child, always so ambitious! She wanted to be a big net star for the longest time." her Father spoke proudly, if not condescendingly. He had a lilt when he talked, close to that the farmers of old might have. "We tried to guide her down a more sensible path, to go into the family business, but she had her mind set. Did everything herself too, behind our backs. Kore bought her own holo, learned how to edit videos. We just sat back and watched her dance around and lip sync to her favorite songs in the living room." They were proud of their inability to provide for their daughter. They had never thought that becoming a net star was a legitimate career until Kore began to make real money and then, they wanted a piece. "Yes, remember that time our Kore-bug cried because she thought she lost all of her followers? But it turned out that Flitter was glitching."

The crowd chuckled, mumbling as Kore's parents shared her embarrassing past. Blinded by the attention, neither noticed how the nobles laughed at them more than enjoyed their presence. To those of higher status, these stories were both entertaining yet ridiculous. Even Governor Cryo couldn't hide his amusement. They were a talkative bunch, making it easier for him to twist their words.

"How unfortunate. Despite your best efforts, your daughter strayed from your chosen path." He intentionally made it sound like Kore was a rebellious child, fueling more gossip among the crowd. Before he could utter another word, pushing Kore further down a hole, the Governor was politely interrupted by Yeqon, "While it might have been a rather unclear path...hasn't her choice shown wondrous results toward this year's Games?" Yeqon smileed, glancing around, "Now that I look, I notice more than a few faces here who have sent messages to the office praising Kore's performances. Along with plenty more from viewers within and outside the ships." A wave of subtle anger flashed across the Governor’s expression, "Son, although Ms. Kore has shown results, it doesn't change how she ignored her parents' choices. Which is quite ungrateful."

"...You are right."

"Certainly, that is why-"

"However, those were past mistakes. And from what I have seen, Kore's current actions overshadow her inexperienced past." Yeqon stared at Kore's parents, "Mr. and Mrs. Mars, are you not proud? Not only is your daughter Head Overseer, but.." He waited until the room quieted. Their interest caught on his words. Why did he pause? Was there something they did not know? Yeqon makes a troubled face, "Perhaps I need to wait-"

"Oh, do tell!" Someone from the crowd excitedly pushed. Followed by others chiming in, their interest piqued.

Yeqon nodded, "Well, it is no surprise how ratings for this year's Games have already surpassed previous years by twenty percent on all platforms." he knew that wasn’t the information they wanted. Yeqon needed to introduce the next topic carefully. Since it would cause an unstoppable storm, however, this was the only way. "And this achievement is all due to my lover's...pardon me, I meant your daughter's popularity. Well...I must also share that Kore and I are in a relationship." The hall had erupted into sound, the myriad of whispers as loud and subtle as a scream. Yeqon ignored them and leaned forward to look at Kore, "I apologize for announcing this so soon, Kore...I know you wanted to wait to share the news."

Kore was used to being the center of attention, to the public’s prying eyes and snake-like smiles. This, however, was different. This was personal. The Governor was doing this on purpose to embarrass her. Why? To put her in her place? To show Kore that even if she rose in status, she would never be one of them? She steadied her heart in her chest, taking in a calming breath. She would endure it, for a little longer. Already, Kore was devising a strategy to turn this in her favor. To play herself as the girl whose parents practically forced her to raise herself, who; no matter what she did, could never earn their approval. However, something else happened, something Kore did not account for. Kore's eyes widened slightly as Yeqon leaned closer to her. Her head was abuzz, her heart suddenly hammering in her chest. She looked away quickly, her cheeks flushing pink. "Yes," it was hard for Kore to hide her smile. Kore did not think Yeqon would help her here, she thought that he would allow these dogs to tear her apart. How wonderful it was to be wrong.

"I did want to wait a little bit longer," she turned back to him. Kore knew that Yeqon hated being touched. So while she leaned closer, she was careful for there to be just enough distance between them where it would not be unpleasant. "But I'm glad we don't have to keep it a secret anymore." Kore smiled. She glanced at the Governor, wishing to see his reaction. From their earlier behavior, they could have very-well been in a real relationship. There was a reason Kore had asked to share a dessert, although she had not expected things to play so favorably into her hand. Even with this temporary setback of her parent's unexpected arrival, things were still going her way.

What went wrong? The Governor clasped his hands over the top of his cane — the pressure causing the smallest crack on the tip of the diamond that capped his walking stick. Obvious rage exuded from him and it was directed at Kore. What did she do? When did the little rat pull Yeqon into her schemes? This situation was almost too funny. He figured their relationship was nothing more than a fabricated scandal to entertain the masses — something that would remain nothing more than a rumor. Because the Governor knew his son, he hated attention and held no ambition or desire to be in the eyes of the public. It infuriated him. Still, this made Yeqon predictable and easily moldable, a child that listened. That is why he didn't worry about his alleged relationship with such a low-class girl, Yeqon wouldn't confirm it. He'd let it be, allow the public to gossip and wonder, but nothing more. Or so Governor Cryo thought. Despite the unexpected interference, Governor Cryo hid his displeasure — a neutral gaze but an amiable smile painted his face. He kept his silence amongst the chattering crowd, their gossip and awe worsened his mood.

"...Yeqon." His tone, neither loud nor low, was enough to silence the whole hall. His eyes locked onto Yeqon, their emerald sparkle held no emotion as usual, so the Governor couldn't figure out if this was a ruse to protect the girl or something more. He hoped it wasn't the latter. "Yes, Father." Yeqon could read the message behind the Governor's gaze, or rather the warning.

Do you believe I'll approve? Of course not. But this isn't something he can simply get rid of, his usual tricks of sabotage and murder won't work because of Kore's current status — Head Overseer. That is enough and they both knew it. Also, a bonus is the Matriarch's presence, no matter her schemes she has Kore in her eyes at least, so Governor Cryo can't make a huge move. "...How dreadful. This is something a parent should be told first before a crowd, is it not?" Head Overseer, the Matriarch's praise, and lover of Yeqon Cryo. This was enough to stop the Governor in his tracks, but what he didn't understand was why? Why did his son take on this burden? "I apologize. It wasn't my intention to cause you to be displeased-"

Governor Cryo's laugh cut Yeqon off. His voice echoed and it took a moment for it to settle, "Displeased? No...I am simply dissatisfied that I couldn't offer my congratulations sooner." His gaze landed on Kore, "Ms. Kore must be someone special...to catch your attention. Enough to announce to the whole world your personal affairs." Although the mood seemed joyous, no one could explain the lingering tension in the air. The silence remained as the father and son pair conversed. Yeqon faintly smiled, an expression that bore a huge resemblance to the Governor's, "Am I not a Cryo? We do not condone baseless rumors...that is why to silence the world we need to be truthful about our affairs."

"..." The Governor paused, but quickly recovered, "You are right! It seems I raised my son well. Congratulations!" He laid his cane against his leg and clapped. Signaling the entire hall that he approved, and soon everyone erupted into cheers and questions surrounding the two's relationship. While Governor Cryo quietly gazed.

Kore's smile only grew. This was their victory. "Thank you," she leaned over, carefully taking Yeqon's arm. "We hope to meet your expectations in the future."

"Congratulations," the Matriarch smiled. She lifted her glass, "Perhaps a toast is in order? To a most interesting, but beautiful couple. May your future endeavors be as bright as the stars."

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Character Portrait: Leo Behrends
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Unexpected small victories, bar intrigue





Watching the Holovision on the soft chair she sat on, Qiqi watched with intrigue as she was watching the highlights of the game so far and her competitor Leo engaging in a bike fight with a female competitor. From what she glimpsed of him he seemed fit enough to handle himself, but he was also rather polite at the same time. But for all she knew it could have been an act and out there he could really let loose his nature. Most of the mutants competing had already shown no hesitation in killing each other with blade, bullet or any other means at their disposal.

However, watching the fight unfold she would be somewhat surprised at how resourceful her competitor was. Without using the rifle on his back to shoot her and looking like some sort of clown crawling on his bike he would pull out an eventual win by shutting down his pursuers Hovercycle leaving her in the dust. It was still unusual...At the end of that fight all that happened was just the expenditure of ammo but otherwise she would be up and at it just as soon as she could turn her transport on. What was that old man thinking of? With a sigh she would put a hand under her chin in thought. "What noble thinking...What kind of idiot goes into a competition of death only to not do any killing?...Maybe he has some deviant taste just waiting to be shown, or maybe he just has a soft spot for the opposite gender...Who knows..." She would ponder as she would raise her hand and request a simple and light drink.

She had an hour to basically pass, with the day wrapping up, the other managers no doubt discussing private affairs and how to add more suspense to their competitor's plight. Unlike them, she wanted to promote her business and after a few hours she already noticed an increase in her products popularity. And with her collaboration with Madame Rose she would see thing rocket up within the week. Of course, she did not put it past Madame Rose to sabotage Leo down the line for the prospect of shaking hands with other popular brands and brush it off as a humble mistake and that she could get another model next year.

That thought did not sit well with her. She was able to be a manager recently and the first moment was always the most important. The next time she could get some scraggly and skinny desperate mutant that would be virtually impossible to work her magic on. But for now, she would stay her hand for now. Once the game reached the halfway point, she would need to make her own moves as well as the stakes would be higher. She would get him to survive long enough, pull him out and it was going to be a win-win situation for her.

Her attention soon focused on the Holovision as she would see Leo and Ciara heading off to camp together. How...Interesting. An engineer and a natural killer. What she would not give to have her as a model. Looks like she had someone to speak to in the near future.

But with the day nearing its end, Qiqi would finish the last of her drink as she stretched a bit. She would look over some documents and get some sleep for the day. She had another long day once she woke up, but she wanted everything to go well.

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Character Portrait: Aster
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Hidden in the Sands

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27, 28, 29, 30. Still whirling around in search of its attacker, the nameless mutant collapsed to the ground, unconscious. After waiting a few more seconds just to be safe, Aster emerged from the shadows and stopped camouflaging, putting his sponsor’s uniform back on. Unless his target was bulky, the tranquilizer darts always took about 30 seconds to take effect. Judging from the average stature, the sleeping mutant would be out cold for at least a few hours, but he didn’t want to stick around in case this guy had friends.

Quickly searching the saddlebags on the mutant’s hoverbike, he found a pack of medical supplies with the logo of a pharmaceutical company he didn’t recognize, likely one of this mutant’s sponsors. This will come in handy, the last guy I robbed only had some water. Finding nothing else special in the bags, Aster took the kit and what food and water he had room for, and then turned back to the other mutant’s hoverbike. By bike, the first camp should only be an hour or two away, and I don’t want this guy getting there anytime soon. He didn’t see me, but he still might be able to figure out who attacked him if I’m still around by the time he gets there, so I need to do something with his bike.

Seeing no easy way to sabotage the hoverbike, the lizard thought of how to get rid of it. Burying it could work, but by the time he was done, the unconscious mutant might wake up. Despite having an average stature himself, Aster knew he couldn’t fight hand to hand with this guy and win. Suddenly, a small chuckle escaped his mouth as he remembered an old bedtime story his mother used to tell. In the story, there was something called a cowboy, and this cowboy was a human who fought against other humans. The actual details of the story weren’t what Aster was thinking about, however. Instead, he was remembering a part where one character slapped another’s horse (whatever that was) and the horse ran off, forcing the owner to chase it down. It gave him an idea…

Picking up the medical kit again, he rifled through it, hoping that it had what he was looking for. Gauze, no. Antiseptic wipes, no. Moving some bandages, he spotted it. “Medical tape.

Taking a long strip, he walked over to the other mutant’s hoverbike and taped the throttle all the way down. He walked it out of the ruined building they had taken shelter in and pointed it back in the direction of the start, before turning it on. With a high pitched whine, the machine started up, immediately hitting the scaly mutant in the leg as it bolted off across the sand. “Motherf- that hurt. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes Aster. You shoulda seen that coming.” Scolding himself for not standing back, he went inside and packed up the rest of his supplies, quickly getting on his own hoverbike and riding off to camp. If he got there before sunset, maybe he could grab supplies and move on before anyone noticed he was there.




A Brief Respite

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He had to give credit where credit was due, the camp was pretty impressive. There were several large tents dedicated to mess halls, showers, and supply storage, with smaller tents scattered about, probably for sleeping in. Spotting a collection of hoverbikes under guard, Aster walked his own over and locked it up. Pretty smart, having locks on the bikes to prevent sabotage, now I won’t have to keep an eye on it. Now, I need to snag some supplies, some food, and keep going. Looking to the west, the sun was getting close to the horizon. Any additional travel today would have to be done before it got dark, and he really didn’t want to sleep out in the open. What first, supplies or food? My manager said the supplies at the first camp wouldn’t be anything special, but it’s still first come first serve, and a lot of mutants have already come through here. His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t gotten a chance to eat anything since noon. Food first, then.

Walking over to what looked like a serving line, he saw platters of a weird looking meal. “What is this?” he asked, not sure what to make of it.

What, have you never had pizza? Where are you from where you don’t have this stuff?” A tall, white feathered mutant commented, looking taken aback.

I’m from the Forest, and no, we never had this.” Aster picked up a slice, inspecting it for a moment before setting it on his plate. “What’s it made of?

Seeming to get over her shock, the mutant laughed before replying. “It’s tomatoes, cheese, and meat on some bread. It’s really good, I’ve only ever had it a few times before.” She grabbed several slices and motioned to follow her. “Come on, you’ve caught my eye. Let’s talk over dinner.

If she heard his protests, she ignored them. Who the hell does this bird brain think she is? Having no other choice, he grabbed another slice and rushed off after her. “Hey! Don’t just ignore me!

We can talk in my tent, I have something to ask you.” Reaching a small tent, she ducked inside and held the flap open for Aster.

Rolling his eyes, he stepped in. Inside the tent was a sleeping bag, some bags of what looked like the bird mutant’s supplies, and a crossbow. “I take it that’s your support item?” He said, motioning towards the crossbow as he sat down.

Yup, that’s her. She’s saved me more times than I can count.” The mutant patted the crossbow lovingly, earning a strange look from Aster. “The name’s Pidge. You’re Aster, right? I watched your interview, that was quite a show you put on. Didn’t know there were lizards that could change color like that.” She said, biting off nearly half a slice of pizza with her beak.

Thinking back on the interview, Aster cringed. He got caught up in the spotlight and ended up showing off more than he planned to, and judging by Pidge’s comment, more than a few of his fellow competitors had noticed. So much for the element of surprise. “Yeah, it’s uncommon even among lizardfolk. Speaking of colors, I can’t imagine that white plumage is doing you any favors out here.

Pidge shrugged and gestured with pizza in hand to the crossbow. “Nah, but I can hold my own when things get dicey. It’s the non-combat that I’m worried about.” She devoured the last of the slice she was holding before continuing. “You see, I’m a snowy owl. My excellent sight and hearing make hunting a cinch, but that’s about all I’m good at. This round, I don’t have to worry about hunting for food, since they’re providing us with the miracle of ‘Za.” She paused, taking another huge bite out of a slice. “Howeber, da nex round will pwobably be diffewent.

Aster saw where this was going, and he wasn’t sure he liked it. “So you figured you’d find someone who would ally with you and increase your chances of surviving, by promising them plenty of fresh meat in the next round.” She had a point, food would likely be in short supply next round if it wasn’t provided at camps like this one. Not only that, but with no idea where or what the round would be, having someone who could fight could mean the difference between living to the next round and dying a painful death. Still, the fact that she would stick out like a sore thumb would be a big disadvantage. “I don’t doubt your skills, but I’m trying to go unnoticed. You don’t exactly blend in.

True, but I’d argue my benefits outweigh my disadvantages, wouldn’t you agree? I don’t mean to offend, but you don’t look like the fighting type.” She smirked, sizing Aster up. “Besides, it doesn’t have to be a permanent thing. Come the third and fourth games, I imagine one of us will be dead anyways.

She was better at combat, and she could see and hear much better than he could. He had to admit, an alliance early on could save his life. Plus, if I need to betray her, all I need to do is use a dart or poison her food. Still, something didn’t seem right. “I don’t trust a deal only one side benefits from. What do you get out of this?

Well, I know the Forest is a super dangerous place, but you don’t look overly worse for wear. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re pretty good at surviving. You’d have to be in order to stay alive there. I can use your survival skills, and you can use my hunting skills, that’s what’s in it for me. So, wanna team up?” Finishing the last of her pizza, Pidge stared at Aster, waiting for an answer.

Aster was hesitant, but he knew that he’d likely need her help next round. “I’m planning on grabbing some supplies and leaving right away. You okay with that?

Works for me. I got here this morning, so I already have my stuff ready.

Alright. Allies it is.” With that, the two mutants walked out of Pidge’s tent and over to the supplies, restocking their rations and water. That can’t be all she wants, can it? There’s got to be something she isn’t letting on about. They made small talk as they unlocked their hoverbikes and grabbed the next marker. This is too convenient to be the full story.

Why couldn’t he shake the feeling that this would be a terrible mistake?

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Character Portrait: Kore
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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx #0EBFE9 | FC: #CD3333



Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock.

The holo-clock on the wall counted the hour. There was a robe haphazardly draped across her shoulders, dragging along the tiled floor, which was cold against her bare feet. The artificial sun that signaled daylight on the ship would rise any minute now, but Kore had hardly spent a moment resting since her return from Mother. How could she? When she had nearly been made the laughingstock of a party. Kore had almost played right into the Governor's hands.

As soon as the announcement had been made that she and Yeqon were an official couple, the tabloids had been abuzz. Even now, there were cams and fotors hovering just outside of her door, waiting to snag a photo after Yeqon had escorted her back to her apartment last night. Perhaps they were eager to see if he would exit this morning, slightly disheveled and wearing something other than a stoic expression. They would be disappointed. Yeqon had not spent the night, although the rumors would begin to spin otherwise.

It was a few more minutes before Kore's nerves unwound themselves long enough for her to pour a glass of water and splay herself on the couch. She watched the stars tiptoe across the space-scape, the lights in her apartment remaining dim while outside, the wake up music began to play in the main halls, alerting workers to their shift changes and maintenance mutants to go back to their grimy apartments on the sub-levels.

Slowly, Kore's eyelids drooped. Fighting sleep became a fruitless effort. She tired of her own thoughts and her mind began to quiet. "It won't be long," Kore whispered, promising that she would only rest her eyes. However, the next thing she knew, Mimi was standing over her, with a drink and vitamins in hand. "Did you enjoy yourself a bit too much last night?" Mimi asked, her brows waggling suggestively. Kore could understand the assumption, she looked verklempt. What with her disheveled hair and her robe that was hanging half off of her shoulders. "Maybe," Kore replied with a thin smile, reaching for her vitamins and the drink in Mimi's hands.

"Luckily, most of your schedule is clear for today." Mimi assured her, "Although, the press are dying for a word with you and quiet frankly, so am I."

"Well, you have my ears. What are your words?" Kore asked, tossing the pills into the back of her throat and washing them down quickly. "Did you and Yeqon... you know?" Mimi held one finger up and on her other hand, made two fingers into an O, then moved them suggestively together.

"Mimi!" Kore's cheeks turned pink. While some had theorized that Kore had slept around to get into the position she was in today, they would be wrong. Unlike some humans who easily indulged in coitus and drugs to elevate their moods, Kore was much stricter with herself. She had to be, if she wanted to maintain her upstanding image. However, she was not against using her feminine charms on the occasion to get what she needed, but never that far. "For your information, no, Yeqon only dropped me off last night and left right after." Kore stretched her arms above her head and rose. She needed to get ready, the Overseers would suspect something was wrong if she wasn't there for the morning meeting.

Her office was mercifully quiet. Kore was rarely afforded the luxury of privacy and while she was aware that even now, she was being watched through security cams in the ceiling, it was peaceful. Her apartment had become a place for fotors to flock. Here, they would need access to so much as enter the hallway.

On one wall, a holo display would flicker through the cameras, showing the Games, the fights, and the second camp. By now, all of the living competitors had reached it. "Soon," Kore murmured to herself, a reminder that the first Game was now halfway done. Soon, the first one would be over and she would need to make haste in securing the final preparations for the second Game. Even now, Kore was working on it, filling out permits for the structures she needed built and coordinating with the suppliers on the grounds. This next Game would be like nothing they had ever seen, the hunters would quickly realize that they were no longer at the top of the food chain and they would have much more than competitors to worry about.