The Book of Soltana: Slate – 52

Skylon

Gideon

They all stared dumbfounded at Deborah.

She grew.

What happened?

He saw her smile, but there was something else there.

Pain.

What did it do to her?

 

Anger built inside of him. He kept his face neutral.

 

She was suddenly tipsy on her feet, nearly falling over if it weren’t for Steak bracing up against her.

“Thank you,” She managed to get out with a fatigued voice.

Her knees buckled as she sat on the floor.

“Deborah! Are you alright? What happened?”

“It is nothing. I-”

Gideon had little patience for stoic pride.

“Bullshit.”

“You just collapsed on us. What did it do to you?”

“I…” Deborah began as her lips trembled.

“It taunted to me. Over my lack of ability to protect you.”

“It then began to make do on its promise.”

Gideon remembered exactly what the wicked demon said.

“No, say no more. it’ll be alright,” Gideon replied. The last thing he wanted was for her to relive a current trauma.

She continued.

“It then stripped me.”

Gideon’s stomach dropped. Anger welled up within him.

“Did it..?”

Monday and Patricia glanced from Gideon to Deborah.

“It began skinning me alive. Starting with the wings.”

Gideon closed his eyes, his heart aching over the torture she must have endured.

“I then had the chance to grow. From the great suffering came great change.”

“I chose the next path of growth, Angel of Life.”

“I had been… Holding it back for some time, trying to decide what was needed.”

Gideon nodded, wondering why she didn’t grow when she fought Saddifer. A question for later.

“I have Healing Hands. And then Phoenix’s Rise.”

“That one only activates when I expire.”

“The demon left the knife within reach and…”

 

“Jesus. Christ.”

Gideon knew right away what that meant.

She had, in essence, killed herself to revive.

“You don’t need to say anymore. It’s gone,” Gideon replied, understanding filling him.

He remembered Saddiffer on Karmmrak.

“Good Deborah, can you continue?” Patricia inquired.

“I-” Deborah began to say but paused.

Deborah nodded as some internal struggle was resolved.

“I will try.”

“We need to continue. We need to rescue Shindow.”

Deborah got to her feet, unsteady as Steak lifted her up.

“You need to rest,” Gideon ordered firmly.

“Prosine, did you get all that?”

“I did. Right, where you are is a perfectly defensible position. I will create a temporary triage center.”

“Please. I need to fight. I need to-”

“-Not drop dead on us,” Gideon interrupted.

“Good Deborah, a wounded soldier is a liability in a fight.”

“Deborah deary, what you did was heroic, but you can’t hold the ent-ire galaxy on your shoulders,” Monday interjected, finally speaking up.

“Deb! You are a good angle. Uh- Angel. When I am tired I know I need my naps otherwise I get too tired! Baxter added, using his circular logic flawlessly.

“Actually, Baxter is correct. For once,” Prosine agreed with equal parts sarcasm and sincerity.

Gideon knelt down, gently grasping the side of her face. Her head snapped to his.

“Deborah, you saved us. Without you, we’d all be done for. Possibly many times over now that I think about it.”

“Please. You can continue to rescue us by resting.”

“Good Gideon, I will watch over Deborah,” Patricia volunteered.

She handed Monday her cane.

“Good Monday, please bring it back as it was,” Patricia implored.

“Like brand new as a baby,” Monday replied, her Venetian mask impassive.

“Also, I’m a little undergeared right now,” Gideon stated, feeling at his comfortable yet unarmored dugrum silk jumpsuit.

“Good Gideon, I have several spares for you,” Patricia began.

“How many?”

“One dozen, for such occasions.”

Gideon felt she was greatly implying that he was destined to have the shit kicked out of him.

She was perhaps correct.

Gideon was surrounded in blue pixelated light before he could retort. The armor was equipped and synced, just as he was familiar with. He glanced down at his gauntlets, seeing a strange color pattern.

White with orange slash patterns.

“I also had input on the design. I do hope you like it!” Patricia stated.

“It does match my QSD. Thanks,” Gideon replied, feeling the comfortable armor once again.

However, it felt uncomfortable to have such bright colors. It screamed please shoot me first.

“Won’t this make me a massive target?”

“Deary, demons don’t care, they will eat you all the same,” Monday retorted with a slight laugh.

“For human targets, you wouldn’t be visible,” Patricia added.

“Gideon,” Deborah whispered from the floor.

He leaned in, concern on his face.

“Rescue Shindow. Destroy that Compiler.”

 

Gideon nodded. He intended to do that from the start.

Prosine’s Gnats began to appear and fortified the room. Over a thousand Gnats appeared.

“Uh, Gideon deary, how many processes does your AI have?”

Gideon realized while she was a part of the communication, Prosine may have never disclosed his name to her. She may have believed he was a simple AI.

“My name is Retro. I have twelve hundred processes. I am a third generation AI.”

 

Oh, you’re so full of shit! She doesn’t know! Gideon chuckled internally. She didn’t need to.

 

“Gideon,” Monday began, taking off her Venetian mask.

Gideon would never get used to the beauty of a Faithful One.

“You didn’t tell me you had an AI that was only three times removed from the Machine Father himself!”

You have no idea.

Gideon shrugged.

“He was tasked managing with the flight. Then it went off the grid. That tells you a lot,” Gideon began with faux bitterness.

“Do not press your luck. I may glitch under pressure, sending you into space. That would be sad,” Prosine warned with humor over private chat.

“Hey now, I can just unplug you,”

 

“We’ll see who is quickest,” Prosine shot back.

“I see. Wonderful. We do have to talk business after this…”

“Not a chance,” Gideon shut down the potential trade deal.

“You owe us. We’re not on equal footing here.”

Asshole move, but I see what she’s doing. Wasn’t listening in on my father’s trade deals for nothing. We’re not equals, here.

 

“I see. Unfortunate. Shall we?” Monday replied, unfazed by the blunt denial.

“Lead the way. We need to scour this ship.”

“And find Shin!” Baxter replied with a bark.

“Good Gideon, I will give updates to Deborah’s status. Be safe,” Patricia valadicted, her eye flashing.

A hover bed was materialized with Deborah being ushered to rest upon it.

“This will give me good insight to Angel biology…”

Gideon could hear Patricia speaking with excitement.

Just don’t dissect her…

 

Angel of Life. I don’t believe I’ll understand how much she suffered to rescue us. But I’ll figure out a way to repay her. Take her on a long vacation… Or… A human planet. What else does she like anyway?

 

Gideon pushed the thought to the recesses of his mind.

Focus on rescuing Shin.

The rooms were becoming tighter, with many blind corners and cubbies. Steak was in front, wearily checking each blind spot. It was a slow procession.

“Monday. I need to ask, what do you mean when you said you caught us right out of our trip?”

“Oh bless your heart, that’s because I dreamed of this meeting. That’s why I waited for my patient little hide here in until y’all arrived!”

Gideon nodded. It wasn’t the strangest thing he heard. Adonai was not just guiding them, but others as well.

“I’m sorry about your crew…” He began.

“Thank you kindly. We’ll get justice these wicked demons deserve.”

They halted at another door. This one appeared to be unlocked and slightly ajar.

“And here is the observatory. I sense something in here. Be careful, dearies!”

“Compiler?”

“Good Gideon, I shall lead,” Steak began.

He swapped out both weapons for twin blazer cannons.

Good idea.

 

He armed the shoulder mounts with white phosphorus, equipping his tempest cannon and mentally preparing for another flowing wall of black ink tar.

They all backed away with their weapons charged. Baxter just growled.

Steak pulled the loose door open, aiming the blazer inside.

“We are clear here, targets at the far side of the room.” He stated.

Steak trundled inside, with Gideon tagging behind.

The room was instantly recognizable as a luxury room. He scanned the floor, seeing it was a warping nebulas mix of many different metals, smoothed to a polished surface. The diamond chandeliers hung along the ceiling. Terminals dotted the room’s walls with most of the central room being barren.

Another room for events. Although with the size of the vessel, it’s to be expected.

 

Luxury rooms were almost always for business disguised as entertainment events. Gideon zoomed in his sight on the far room, seeing a large set of stairs leading to the main viewport to the outside. A strange being with crow wings was making a ruckus towards a nearby terminal. A terminal being attacked by the Compiler.

Shindow.

“SHINDOW!” Gideon bellowed, trying to get the attention of the Compiler and the other strange being.

It looks like… An angel? What?

 

The strange crow winged being spun to face him as Gideon marched to the center of the room, weapon ready.

The crow being over spun, correcting with a mad flapping of her wings. He could hear her flustered whining.

“Gideon dear, that thing is an angel…” Monday whispered.

He glanced to Monday, then back to the angel. He shook his head as things became more complex.

“Well, this just got weirder.”

Baxter was cautious, sniffing the air at the strange being. His hackles were raised at seeing the Compiler.

The angel recovered and floated down the steps, the Compiler forming to a sphere of black oil behind her. Gideon got a better look at the strange angel, seeing her proportions were off.

Her large black and blue robes trailed behind her stubby legs. Her wings were small, her hands large and armored, and her only facial feature were two glowing white oval eyes.

Gideon’s eyes widened at seeing the Compiler under her complete control, floating serenely behind her.

“What is that?” Gideon asked aloud. He cursed himself at blurting it out so suddenly.

Deborah said angels were beautiful or terrifying. This is neither.

It turned to be a boon as the angel look shaken and askance, flapping her wings madly.

What am I, you mean?” The angel corrected.

“Uh yeah, sure,” Gideon spoke carefully, seeing the divine being had captured the Compiler.

“Keheheheh! D-do not be afraid!”

Gideon was taken aback at the threatening tone.

Wait. What?

You are gazing upon the Angel of Familiars!”

“Look upon the glory of the Lesser Key of Solomon!”

 

“Angel of Astronomy!”

 

“The Inciter!”

 

“Angel of the Goetic Demon!”

 

Gideon felt it was a prepared speech. His fatigue and impatience won over. He didn’t have time for this.

 

“Angel of Treasure Seeking!”

“…And angel of Liberal Arts…”

“Hear my name an-”

 

“Wait,” Gideon began, holding up his hand. The angel squeaked as she went silent, her speech derailed.

He couldn’t let that one go.

 

“Angel of liberal arts?” Gideon began, hanging on those whispered words.

“Uh, that was… Heh, it was just a small thing in the past…”

“Do you teach painting?”

“What? No! I mean… If you really want- No! I do not!” She began, setting a very vague and firm boundary.

The angel clasped her hands at that.

“H-hear my name and tremble!”

Did she just stammer that?

“For I am Amy, Angel of Magic!”

Gideon didn’t know anything anymore.

Wait, was this ridiculous angel the cause of everything? Apart from the Compiler…

 

“Amy!”

Why would an angel cause this? Or is she here to help?

 

“Angel of Magic!”

 

“Is she controlling the Compiler?” Gideon asked over comms.

 

“Good Gideon it appears that way. She may be the cause of everything.”

 

“Angel of the Goetic Demon. Did this hussy summon the demons? Why would an angel, of all beings, work with them?”

 

“Amy! Angel of Magi-”

“-Oh forget it. It’s me.” Amy stopped herself with a huff, glaring at the group.

“So you must be the lost ones! Except for you, the thief!” Amy began, gesturing a pointed finger to Monday.

“A hussy like you woul-”

Gideon interrupted.

Focus.

“-Where’s Shindow?” Gideon asked.

Monday crossed her arms, scowling at the angel.

The angel grinned with her eyes, ready to explain.

“I-I saved her from this weird demon thing and she’s safely in that t-terminal!”

Gideon cocked an eyebrow, incredulous.

Is she shy? Time to pressure that.

“Was it you? Did you attack the Skylon?” Gideon began, dropping all pretense.

“Attack? What! I-I was liberating my brothers and sisters! They were s-stolen. I tracked them to this vessel!” Amy began, anger spilling out.

“That was bad! You are bad! Those bad guys hurt my friends!” Baxter barked, tap clacking to the front.

Amy gazed at the dog, unsure whether to the squeal in delight or give a firm lecture to.

“I’ll have no such back talk! I have mastery over the demonic in an attempt to learn and counter them, like this thing!” Amy replied, suddenly standing firm.

That’s why it vanished…

She floated it to the floor where it took the shape of a gelatinous cube.

“So you summoned those bastard demons?” Gideon began, his own anger spilling out.

Gideon hefted his gun. Steak and Monday followed suit.

“Wah! W-wait a minute! They stole her Thrones! It’s not my fault if they didn’t run! The demons were set to go only to the hangar!”

CRUNCH.

Gideon glanced over at the noise, his peripheral vision seeing a brief silhouette. He stared dead ahead at where the noise came from. Baxter’s ears had twitched, but the angel had kept his full attention.

What the hell?

 

He flicked his eyes left to right, seeing the silhouette.

“Something else is here!”

 

Gideon felt the pit of his stomach drop.

“Where?”

“Gideon deary, I can’t see them!”

 

“What an interesting standoff.”

That voice again.

Gideon knew it instantly. His adrenaline shot up.

“Sonofabitch! Breatherman!”

 

Gideon snapped behind, seeing the Breatherman standing at full height.

It had four crystal swords again.

His felt his left hand tremble at the thrice returning demon.

Steak kept his gun trained on the angel while Monday and Gideon faced the Breatherman.

“Shit! I saw it, Deborah blasted you away!”

Baxter began barking furiously between the angel and the demon. Pinned between two foes.

“You saw correctly.”

 

Gideon met Monday’s gaze. Her eyes were wide with shock. He understood in a heartbeat this was new. She equipped her mask again.

“Wait a minute! Hold on! Is that a… Greater Breatherman!” Amy began excitedly.

She took to the skies, leaving her Compiler cube and rushed to Gideon’s side.

He looked down on the angel, furrowing his brow at her density.

We’re enemies, remember?

 

She was tunnel visioned; far too much to notice as the demon snapped his attention to the tiny angel.

“I don’t believe I have ever seen such a pathetic angel in my existence, next to Deborah.”

 

“Says the one whose ass was blasted by her!” Gideon retorted.

“He insulted me…” Amy began, breathing heavily.

“What is the matter, crippled one? Will words destroy you?”

 

“H-he insulted me!” Amy repeated, her hands shaking.

Gideon glanced down at her.

Is she really that weak?

“This is amazing! I’ve never seen a Breatherman this strong before!” Amy shouted excitedly.

What.

The demon looked taken aback at the unusual response.

“You are unloved. Uncared for. She freed you to last only because others had reminded her to. You are forgotten.”

 

Gideon didn’t know anything anymore.

“Oh my Lucy! This is awesome! He can see my insecurities and pounces on them!” Amy stated, turning to Gideon.

Gideon cocked his head. To say Amy was bizarre was an understatement.

“How the hell is it still alive. We killed it twice now…” Gideon muttered.

“Oh! Oh! I know! Ask me, I know!” Amy shouted, waving a hand.

“Jesus. OK, Amy, Why can we not kill it?”

CRUNCH.

That noise again. Gideon ignored it, focusing on the two threats in front of him.

“Well, it’s because they are a theonic demon!” Amy replied as if that explained everything.

“OK?”

“They feed on your subconscious insecurities, amplifying them! They almost never destroy the target, as once you remember them, they can resurrect from your memory! That means if you remember a really strong Breatherman, they can keep coming back! Isn’t that so cool?”

The demon looked uncomfortable at the sudden knowledge.

Everything made sense as to why the Breatherman returned even after multiple destructions.

“Jesus Christ…”

Of course, as the weakest one…

“And I was wondering who destroyed my demon spheres!” She said, pointing to the crystalline swords.

That answers that.

“Right, you summoned the demons, hurting everyone,” Gideon replied with half a mind to shoot her then and there.

However, she appeared to keep the standoff cold.

And all of them alive.

“It matters not. All of you are worthless.”

 

“I need only one alive.”

 

“See? Now he knows we know!”

 

“So what should we do, Amy, Angel of the Liberal Arts?” Gideon shot.

Amy flustered with a whine at her less than stellar title being used.

“W-w-ell, we hit it with magic. A lot! And only magic it can’t be-”

“I know already,” Gideon interrupted.

“Oh. Yeah OK! How did it get aboard anyways? I never summoned one, no sir! I make sure never to summon anything above the lowest tier!”

“The damn Compiler did, who in term almost killed my best friend,” Gideon replied with a growl.

“Oh! The AI girl. She’s a cutie, yeah… The Compiler? The black ooze?”

Gideon nodded.

The cube of black ink flowed and floated away to Amy’s side. Then she began to slap at it.

“You’re so stupid! Of all the demons to summon! You big idiot!”

Frost began to emit from the demon, ice began to flow along the walls.

“And you! You’re a bigger idiot thinking you could spend even a second fighting me! You’re too young to even hold a tenth of a candle to me! After all, I’m the best!”

“Supremacy!”

 

The demon dropped the swords, all four sunk down blade first as its head twitched. Its arms went slack as its shoulders dropped.

“Come here! Kehehehehe!” Amy ordered.

“Oh,” Gideon began as he eyed the angel in a new light.

“Shit.”

The fifteen-foot tall demon padded over, standing just in front of her.

“See? I’m the best! Kehehehe!”

Gideon’s stomach dropped. The tables turned.

“Good Gideon, this is bad.”

 

“No kidding, any help now!”

 

“Gideon deary, we’re in a very tenuous position. As much as I want justice, living is more preferable.”

“Now it is fair! All of the bad guys have teamed up. Now it is easy to see who we fight!” Baxter interjected.

“I’m just worried about winning, Baxter.”

 

“Gid, it will be just OK! I will beat them and eat them! Saddiffer showed me another way to fight!”

 

Everyone’s growing. Am I?

 

Gideon shook the thought.

“Just don’t aggress them yet, Baxter!”

 

Amy was waving her hands, trying to gather his attention.

 

“Helloooo? I said, isn’t that awesome?” Amy repeated with flustered voice.

I must have tuned her out.

“Yeah, it is,” Gideon replied back automatically.

He lowered his weapon, as did everyone else.

CRUNCH.

Goddammit, what the hell is that?

 

Gideon turned back towards the noise, seeing the brief silhouette was around eight feet away.

His heart stopped. It was closer.

He shifted his head, viewing the being from his barest peripheral.

He could barely make out the smaller figure, standing and gazing back at them.

“Steak, you getting this?”

“I am. I understand now. Taking peripheral. Patching to central vision.”

Gideon could now see the figure clearly.

She stood at only four feet, wearing a strange modern red hoodie that was several sizes too large, grey pajama slacks and very warm slippers. She was eating a bag of nondescript dehydrated snacks.

She slowly crunched down, making the noise heard earlier.

“Who are you?”

“Oh. You can see me. That’s pretty clever,” She began sleepily.

She stepped closer, munching away. Her hair was black and oily.

Just like the Compiler.

Her hair covered most of her face apart from her wide mouth. She chomped down on her snack, revealing a lone upper shark incisor couched by two equally sharp bottom teeth.

Gideon had no way of gauging her. Saddiffer or the Breatherman gave off varying levels of sheer terror. For her, it was nothing.

She let out a loud yawn. Her whole temperament was of a contented sleepy individual.

“Who are you talking to?” Amy began with a tone of someone keeping a juicy secret.

“Oh, she still doesn’t get it. She seems thick,” The being stated plainly, leaning to the side to peek past Gideon.

“Well, I guess you all know now.”

She revealed herself fully, presence and all.

Gideon felt the wave of her manifestation wash over him and instantly went to his knees. His helmet snapped open and instantly wretched everything from his stomach. His entire body trembled, his heart rate spiked to the maximum. The outer nerves of his skin felt on fire, even with the suit. He couldn’t think as his mind flashed with white lights. He felt the Seal flaring to life.

In comparison to meeting the Watchers on old Karmmrak, this was worse. It was worse than the Breatherman. Worse than Saddiffer. It felt just shy of Entropy and Void.

Warning: seizures detected

Dangerous Heart palpitations detected

Dangerous stress levels detected

Medication administered

Seek immediate medical attention

Gideon dropped to the floor, his nerves on fire, his body in agony, everything was crying out for a relief that wouldn’t come.

“Oh. Sorry. Right. Is this better?” The being asked as if she had turned the noise from a transmitter slightly too high.

Gideon felt instant relief as he began to recover. He felt he was blasted by microwave energy on high, cooking him. He breathed heavily as he began to recover, wiping the filth from his mouth. He glanced at the rest, his eyes wide with shock. Monday was on her knees, and Baxter was barking madly at the new bad guy. Amy and the Breatherman were only now just standing back up. Steak was the only one still standing.

The being stood over him, her tiny shadow ominous.

“Come here.” She barked, snapping her finger.

Gideon looked up to see the Compiler compressed to a tiny sphere, palmed in her petite hand.

“What are you doing with this?” She demanded sleepily.

Baxter continued his mad barking. The being glanced over, annoyed by the loud noise.

“Be quiet.”

Gideon felt the command to his soul. He had to jumpstart his breathing as it was caught in his throat. He felt a pain in his chest. Any more and his heart may have stopped.

Baxter had sat, cocking his head at the strange command.

She nodded approvingly, a sleepy smile on her face.

“Now. What was I doing..? Right. What are you doing with my Jorga?”

Gideon gulped. No mistake. It was her. Times up.

It was Void’s ‘bestie’.

“Supremacy!”

Gideon’s heart stopped upon hearing that.

Oh my God. No. Say something!

 

I can’t speak!

 

Gideon vomited again, unable to speak.

Everyone was silent.

 

Everything hurt.

 

The being looked askance at that, her head pulled back upon hearing those words. Her mouth pursed grumpily.

“Kehehehe! I’m the best! This has been the best day ever! Thrones for Lucy and three new demons for my collection! This is so cool!” Amy began proudly.

“Little miss demon, come here!” Amy ordered in a sing-song tone.

The being glanced down at Gideon, her emotion between either slightly annoyed or I will end you.

She’s not with me… He tried to say, horror filling his heart at what Amy did.

The being trotted to Amy, surprising him.

“Oh wow, you’re cute!”

Gideon rose to his knees, glancing back to see Amy and the being standing at almost equal height. Amy was inspecting her hand gently.

“Mm-hm, this is a pretty powerful one. I don’t recognize it, but it’s kind of like the ink demon- Compiler…” Amy began to monologue as if the demon were a specimen in a cage.

“I wonder what her name is…” Amy muttered.

“Good Gideon, I suggest a retreat,” Steak suggested.

“Shindow!” Gideon cried as he glanced to the console.

“My name?” The being asked.

Amy’s eyes went wide with shock as the being brushed back her hair.

The being gave a lazy punch into Amy’s hooded face.

The angel soared like a bullet with an explosive thunderous crack as she flew into the wall, punching through the brass alloy into the next room. The shaking thud was reminiscent of a det charge explosion. Get fell back to his hands and knees at the shuddering.

“Gideon deary, I think that monster just destroyed our angel foe,” Monday began over comms as she rose to her feet.

“Good Gideon, what is happ-”

“Hold please!” Gideon interrupted Prosine, taking a card from Baxter.

Baxter’s hackles raised at seeing the sudden violence.

“I do not like her, nope nope nope!” Baxter replied with a whine as he loped back to the group.

Steak trundled to Gideon, helping him up.

“We need to flee. Now,” Steak ordered over comms.

“That felt good,” The being stated plainly.

She turned back to the group, skipping to them.

“What were you doing to my Jorga?” She asked, her tone of voice implied that the wrong answer would be met with similar physical contact.

Gideon thought at lightspeed for an excuse. Using Occam, he found the simplest one.

“Void thought it would be funny to summon it aboard the vessel,” Gideon began, his inflection implied that this was common.

“Oh. Do you know her, too? That figures,” She replied with a yawn.

“I lent her Jorga after our get together. How long ago was that? Whatever. Hm, there’s not much left of it,” The being stated with a sigh.

She put the smaller compressed Compiler sphere in her hoodie pouch.

“It was helping us aboard this vessel. That angel caused this mess,” Gideon was careful with his words. Deborah had taught him well that divine beings could usually tell untruths. It took a verbal finesse to weave a vague yet truthful tail.

“Oh, so that’s what the angel was talking about. I wasn’t listening.”

I don’t blame you.

Gideon glanced to the Breatherman who stood stock still. He had a feeling that Amy would not be so easy to deal with.

“What is your name?” Gideon began calmly as if he was asking a small child.

He kicked himself internally at potentially coming off as condescending.

“Oh. My name is Ne-” She stopped herself, closing her mouth firm, her teeth clacking together.

Gideon furrowed his brow at that.

“Oops, almost got you all -Ahem- My name is Slate and I am the owner of this Compiler, Jorga.” the being introduced as she reached into her snack bag, coming out empty handed.

She gave a grunt of disapproval as she turned the bag over her mouth, emptying the dry snack dust into her gullet.

And then the bag itself vanished into her mouth.

She swallowed with a sad sigh.

Almost got us? What the hell?

 

“Void told me about her other friends. This is great. She said one of them was a great warrior.”

Slate rolled up her sleeves.

Oh. Oh, Jesus.

 

Steak raised his plasma blazers, Monday readied her cane and hand cannon. Baxter began to growl at the overt gesture.

Slate stopped, cracking her neck left to right. It sounded like the breaking of thick branches.

Monday and Steak began to spread to the outer wings of the formation.

Slate felt into her hoodie’s pouch, finding another snack.

“Oh. A surprise,” She stated sleepily.

She began munching down on the strange snack bar.

Gideon glanced to the terminal, his heart aching that he was so close to getting Shindow back.

“Stall for time, I’ll get Shindow. Then we run.”

 

“Understood.”

He turned back to Slate to see her pointing a finger at him.

“Let’s see,” Slate Stated vaguely.

Gideon saw a flash of black as something was shot towards him. It struck his right eye, going blind.

He sat there in shock, unable to see from his right eye.

Everything began to get colder.

He heard yelling and shrieking in the background.

“Gideon!”

What happened?

 

He felt at his head, the nerves on his gloves starting to fade.

What?

 

Warning: fatal head wound detected

 

He pulled back his hand to see it dripping with crimson. The whole gauntlet was stained red.

Fatal brain damage detected

Why can’t I hear anything? Why can’t I understand?

 

Gideon felt heavy, falling to his knees. He felt freezing.

I can’t see. Or speak. What did she do?

 

Capsiphine administered

Heart failure detected

Organ failure detected

Life signs – Null

Sending out Last Will and Testament

Last will? Does that… Mean?

 

I just?

 

Died?

 

Gideon hit the floor. He felt nothing. Strangely enough, he could still see. Slate lept over a long glowing gout of green flame, she had her hands in her hoodie’s pouch, casually fighting them as if it was a child’s game.

She flew, planting a foot into Steak’s face, sending him careening backward. A massive red energy beam swept towards her. She lazily hopped away on one foot. Baxter rushed and lept, grabbing a hold of her other leg.

“Huh, that’s a pretty good bite.”

She snapped hurt foot up, biting into Baxter’s scruff.

She shook him fiercely, the dog whining and raging to fight back before tossing him skyward. Baxter flew to the ceiling with a baying howl. And then Baxter impacted the floor, punching through, leaving a large cannon blast point. A solar cannon beam struck Slate head on.

Steam rose from Slate as she continued her rampage.

Slate rushed to Monday, dodging each solar cannon shot that swept towards her. Monday electrified herself, slashing at the smaller figure. Slate planted her feet down and grabbed ahold of Monday’s arms, grounding the electricity into herself. She pulled her head back and slammed forward, crashing into Monday’s face.

Monday’s arms tore off, her spine buckled as her Venetian mask shattered. Monday hit the ground, going still.

Steak got back to his feet, swapping out weapons in blue pixelated light.

Slate sighed, firing another black bullet at steak.

It struck him in the chest. The black bullet pulled out, forming more inky bullets.

They all fired in a gatling procession, riddling Steak with micro holes until they vanished.

Steak buckled forward, crashing to the ground like a fallen statue. The lights went out.

He heard Slate huffing a sigh as she spoke.

“Oh. This wasn’t a fight. Wait… We’re these the warriors or the explorers that Void was talking about? Uh…

Slate yawned at that, scratching at her temple.

“Oh well.”

 

Wait a micron. If death is no more, what happens to me?

 

All of this time on Karmmrak. The flight with Shindow and Baxter… Friends with Steak and Patricia. Meeting Prosine and Deborah… Defeating Saddiffer.

 

Was it all for nothing?

 

Just a casual splatter on a ship deck?

 

It’s amazing I can reflect right now.

“Gideon. You need to get up,” A voice began.

“Father?”

“You can’t stay down there forever. Shindow needs you. The others need you.”

“Yes. That’s right. I was just resting my eyes,” Gideon replied.

He felt a hand grab his right, pulling him up. He saw the Seal glowing through his gauntlet.

“What is that?”

“Protection,” The other responded vaguely.

“What?”

“It is protection. Many things in this universe will snuff a man out by mere presence alone. This protects against that.”

“Keep getting to your feet. Keep fighting. Keep believing in your calling. In your identity.”

“Who are you?” Gideon asked as he was pulled to his feet.

The figure was gone.

He was back on the Skylon. His very being blinded with light.

As quickly as it came it ended.

Life signs – healthy

Belaying Last Will and Testament

Alarm canceled

Gideon felt smashed between two asteroids. His heart hurt as it restarted, his kidneys lanced with pain at coming to. His stomach, liver and other organs cried out as they jump-started. His head split from whatever had happened.

Capsiphine administered

Capsiphine administered

Capsiphine administered

Maximum Capsiphine dosage administered!

Setting medical delay timer for 00:30:00

The pain died down to tolerable levels. He felt generally better, from being run over by a cruiser to being beaten up by steel-based anforms. A good improvement.

He glanced, unable to move his head far. He felt the warm puddle just beneath him.

Slate’s back was turned, inspecting her compressed Compiler.

He turned to survey Steak.

What the fuck just happened? Did I just die? And then come back?

 

Steak didn’t move.

It was just like Karmmrak.

“Dammit. Everyone’s dow-” Gideon began.

Blue pixelated light formed near Steak’s downed form, revealing another Excertius. It was the base skeletal model, armed with a simple pulse rifle. The screech crack echoed out as the thin form skulked over, strafing quickly.

“He recovered!”

The rounds slammed into Slate, stopping dead.

She gave a pearly shark tooth grin as she rushed at him, firing ink bullets at the suddenly agile Excertius.

Steak dodged the shots, returning fire and drawing Slate away from the rest.

And then an ink bullet took his head off. Steak tumbled to the floor, his pulse rifle firing a final siren call as he dropped.

And then blue light materialized another Steak who thumped a det launcher. Slate was bathed in a white fire as it detonated feet away from her. The fire rolled off of her, doing nothing.

She sucked in, breathing all of the fire in and it vanished from existence. She smacked her lips, enjoying the normally unpleasant treat.

Of course.

“Steak. Keep stalling.”

 

“Gideon! Good Gideon! I saw you go down. I should have protec-”

 

“Don’t say it. We just got lucky. The Seal. Stall. I’ll get Shindow.”

“Understood,” Steak replied over comms.

Steak focused on dodging as Slate skipped to him.

“Hey. Stop runnin-” She began to say as a yawn interrupted herself.

Gideon was trying to shake himself back to normal, his body still heaped through the grinder.

Keep awake. No sleeping now.

Steak dropped to the floor, bisected at the middle as Slate caught him, ripping him in half.

“Huh, I’ve never fought such an anform before. I should collect it,” Slate stated plainly.

More blue pixelated light materialized behind her. She turned with a slash of her hand, whiffing the anform as Steak had materialized prone on the ground. And then detonated several flash charges.

Slate spun away, grasping at her face.

“Ow. That was a good trick,” She complimented.

Steak remained silent as he got up and fled, firing behind himself. The pulse pistol rounds glanced off, doing nothing.

Another volley of ink bullets brought Steak down again.

More blue light flashed. Slate fired into the light, striking the dummy target as Steak had materialized behind it.

“Hm. This guy is clever,” Slate complimented.

He heard a scraping and shuffling off towards the wall. The Breatherman had stayed stock still, unmoving. The grounded swords had vanished, possibly being destroyed in the fight somewhere.

“Oh… My head…” An annoying angel complained as she shuffled from the newly created hole.

“Oh. You’re still here.” Slate announced with a slight edge of annoyance on her face.

A fifty-six-millimeter slug round dashed against her, tumbling away to tear into the far wall.

“Oh. You are sturdier than the rest.” Slate complimented Steak, her voice dull.

Gideon took his chance as the fight continued, slowly crawling along the floor, the gentle splashing of his own blood drowned out by the hectic fighting. Steak’s corpses littered the floor, each one dropping to materialize a new body. Steak had grown as well; upgraded. He had accepted his role since his battle with Saddiffer. If he were to go down, then let him go down a thousand times.

Gideon noticed a theme blossoming amongst them.

Be durable, survive, flee.

It just occurred to him what had just happened.

“I survived having half of my head blown off by a monster disguised as a demon,” He muttered.

The console was getting closer.

“Hey! Don’t have fun without me! Breatherman, go get that demon!” Amy ordered as her tiny wings flared, she rushed by, keeping away from Slate as she turned to track the new target. The Breatherman sunk into the floor.

Steak continued aggressing, shooting at angel and demon alike.

“Wah! Don’t shoot meee!” Amy cried, dodging the cracking of pulse fire, crow feathers fluttering to the floor.

Amy flowed into the floor, her form becoming a pool of dark shadow to dodge the streaks of fire from Steak and Slate.

The demon and anform glanced at each other and then opened fire.

Steak strafed and then dropped, his torso riddled with fire.

 

“Fireball!”

Amy casted a spell as she appeared in the center of the room. Gideon went still, lest she spot him. No fireball appeared as Slate braced herself. She looked at Amy, cocking her head

Amy grinned with her eyes as shadow spikes lanced into Slate, knocking her back. Four arms from the Breatherman appeared, gripping Slate’s limbs in place.

“Lightning Arc!”

A fireball appeared from the air, flashing to Slate. The Breatherman’s arms vanished as the fireball impacted.

Except it burst into flowing lava, heating and melting the marbled floor. Slate rose, brushing off a globule of lava.

Is Amy… Broken?

 

Gideon didn’t understand. She was casting spells, but the incorrect spell flew out instead.

Casting spells. Magic. He never thought he’d be seriously pondering that.

Or it must be a way of confusing enemies. It worked on me.

 

Gideon had a little more respect for the silly angel.

Just keep still. I’m dead. Ignore the trail of blood.

 

Amy took flight, rushing to the air, landing atop a jingling chandelier.

Move.

 

Gideon crawled as an arc of lighting lanced to Slate. The snapping of ink bullets rang out in response.

The chandelier fell like a mighty titan, smashing to the floor with a ringing din. Gideon’s heart jumped as he was showered in fragmented diamonds.

Move. Uh, more quickly.

 

He crawled along the floor, the stairs growing ever closer.

The Breatherman lept from nowhere, breathing a massive wall of frost, entombing Slate. The wall of ice traveled, Gideon’s left was blocked off.

Shit… Too close.

“Prosine, come in.”

 

“Good Gideon- you’re- it said you were- How?”

Prosine had begun to stutter. Things had really gone out of the norm for him.

“I know. I bit it hard. It’s that Seal! It- Shit!”

Ink bullets whizzed over him, causing him to drop still.

“It brought me back. I don’t know how, but it did. I’m getting Shindow. Monday and Baxter are down; in Baxter’s case he’s a floor beneath us!”

“Steak is playing scrap heap, waiting for a chance to support. He will delay and draw them away. Get Shindow. Then we retreat.”

“And Monday?”

 

“An unfortunate loss. Our crew and your life is the top priority.”

 

Gideon glanced at Monday’s fallen form. She hadn’t moved.

“Damn. Coming so far…”

He arrived at the base of the stairs, peering back at the bedlam madness. Sparks flew from a lightning arc, showering him with melted metal fragments.

He looked at the battle, witnessing massive titans fighting.

“Fireball!”

More lightning arced into Slate, pushing her back.

Slate, Amy, Void. Why is it these children have the powers of a god? What a cosmic joke. I am an ant dodging kid’s with lasers.

He looked at the two fighting.

Are they playing?

 

It was unmistakable. Laughter rang out from both parties.

 

Slate cast her own spell, opening her maw wide.

What appeared to be a cone of dark matter formed, flowing forth from her mouth.

And vanished.

A cone pattern on the marble floor no longer existed. Ruined bulkheads and white-hot supports lay underneath.

“Hey! You almost got me! Lightning Bolt!”

“Don’t be slow then!”

Jesus.

Gideon began his ascent, slowly, so as not to draw their attention.

Blue pixelated light appeared over one of Steak’s fallen forms. Another skeletal Excertius materialized and began firing into them.

“Wah! Hey! My wings!”

“Huh, that is rude.”

Steak quickly dropped again as both parties focused on him. Nothing remained but a melting pile of slag.

“Best let them play.”

“Understood.”

“How did you do it?”

 

“Each body has an independent QSD node. I simply summon another body and continue.”

 

“And how many do you have?”

 

“Working with the Machine Father, close to twelve hundred.”

 

“Well shit.”

 

Steak isn’t playing around as the expendable heavy. And he littered the floor with QSD nodes…

 

“Explosives?”

 

“That was the end game,” Steak replied calmly.

Gideon nodded internally. They weren’t so finished as he thought. Send them into space and then FTL away.

 

Last stair.

 

Gideon broke the peak of his small mountain, seeing the damaged console feet in front of him.

Slate had grabbed ahold of the Breatherman, snapping its neck with ease.

But it should be immune- No no, just break the rules, thank you.

 

The Breatherman began to breakdown.

“Oh and no rest for you, you big idiot! You better come back quickly! No loafers!” Amy ordered.

She dodged another volley of ink bullets.

“Stop iiit! I’m not ready!”

“Not my problem,” Slate retorted.

“Oh yeah? Blackhole!” Amy cried.

“Oh. OH FU-”

Slate paused to defend, only to be slammed in the back by several shadow lances.

Gideon felt instant relief at that.

“You fell for it again!” Amy shot with a giggling laugh.

“It only tickled!” Slate retorted with a giggle of her own.

Gideon blinked deadpan as he shook his head.

Focus.

 

Gideon rushed to the terminal and placed his hand on it.

“Come on, come on, come on! Work you piece of shit!”

Accessing terminal…

Damage sustained to termina-

Yes

Beginning search

Gideon sent the command deep into the terminal, searching all access points.

And there he found her at the very back, sulking.

“Gideon? Gideon!”

 

“Shindow, get in!” Gideon barked.

Reunions came later.

Reunions were for survivors.

Shindow asked for permission to-

YES

Uploading AI.

Complete!

 

“Gideon! You’re here!” Shindow began excitedly.

 

He felt the familiar feeling of Shindow’s presence in his mind again. The burden lifted. The goal complete.

Next up. Survive and flee.

 

“Shindow! I can’t believ-”

 

“What the hell is happening?” Shindow interrupted as the two divine beings continued to battle.

 

“Tell me about it. You missed a week’s worth of info in the span of a few hours.”

 

“What is she? Ok, let’s get out of here! Where is everyone?”

 

Gideon updated Shindow to the immediate info.

 

“Oh god. Poor Monday. Poor everyone! We need to leave!”

 

“Steak, go for it!”

 

Blue pixelated light began to glow.

And grow.

A massive machine formed, standing on two large legs.

“Walker model!” Gideon gasped.

How Prosine made any of this was a mystery. Or a science.

The angel and demon stopped, viewing the strange anform.

“Oh, it’s still going strong,” Slate observed.

“Wow, tech is so cool!”

 

“Get him,” Slate said with slight enthusiasm.

“Yeah! Kehehehe!” Amy added with a giggle.

Steak sent out an instant barrage of smoke, flash charges, and dazzling lights to confuse.

“Ow, my eyes!” Amy whined as she crashed to the floor.

Slate covered her face with both hands and tentatively walked to the anform.

“Oh my god, they are adorable. And horrifying- what am I saying?” Shindow said, perplexed by her own admission,

“It’s a cosmic joke and we’re the punchline,” Gideon replied bitterly.

 

“We’ll talk later. Let’s get the hell out!”

White smoke began to choke the room, the flash charges and dazzling lasers were never-ending as Steak trundled away, leaving feet impact prints into the cracked marble floor.

Gideon hugged the wall, knowing his way out from the projected path in his HUD.

He passed by a large crater.

He heard barking down below.

“Baxter is alright,” Gideon said with relief.

“I won’t ask how he got down there,” Shindow replied snidely.

“Almost there. Steak, get ready to retreat.”

 

“Understo-”

 

The comms cut out suddenly. The smoke began to pool in the center of the room.

Within seconds the smoke vanished into Slate’s gullet. Her very being billowed with smoke as she burped.

Amy was standing off to the side, wiping her eyes.

The Breatherman had entombed Steak in a brick of ice. Gideon felt its gaze upon him.

“Oh, they were trying to escape. That was clever; to play weak,” Slate started as she pointed to Gideon.

“Ow, my eyes. What?” Amy stated as she recovered.

“Uh oh,” Shindow stated the obvious.

Slate pulled a black sphere from her pocket, tossing it to Gideon.

“Jorga, please collect him.”

The sphere struck Gideon in the chest, slamming him to the wall.

The black oil instantly reacted, growing to a large net of slime as it began to attack him.

Gideon bellowed a final swear as the Compiler engulfed him.

He felt a sudden crushing pressure.

Warning armor integrity failing

 

His arms and legs were pinned down by the surprising strength of the ebon slime. He felt his bones creaking under the intense pressure. He felt partly buried alive, partly crushed by machinery. All were childhood fears.

He panicked, shrieking into his suit as he felt the crushing power. He struggled, trying to break free. His HUD cracked.

“A futile struggle.”

The Compiler spoke. Its voice final.

His heart rate shot, stabbing his chest. He couldn’t breathe.

 

“Be joyous in your selection.”

“Gideon! Calm down!” Shindow shouted as she tried to shake him from the terror.

 

“Gideon trust me. Reach out and store it.” Shindow calmly ordered.

“A foolish desire for safety.”

“It’s part anform,” She added, dropping a large revelation.

And a weakness.

Gideon breathed in, feeling the slime all around him.

My turn.

 

“Creating a dematerializing protocol. There. You’ll mimic the Gnats now. Just reach out.”

Gideon willed himself to store what was around him.

Suit failure imminent

“Cease your strugg…. Strugg… Strugg…”

The Compiler had begun stuttering.

 

He was surrounded by orange pixelated light, his inventory updated. He felt the Compiler shrieking. One last whimper of words were all that remained.

 

“I have failed her…”

Unknown nanite – Many

Get felt instant relief as the light ceased. He was covered in smoldering slime, stumbling to get up. His suit was ruined as it buckled and failed, leaning him up against the wall.

 

“Got you, asshole. Finally! I got one!”

Gideon felt accomplished with Shindow’s assistance.

“Uh, don’t feel so good yet.” Shindow updated.

What was left of the slime broke down into ash, coating him and the immediate area in caked demon ash.

Slate, Amy, and the Breatherman were standing over him.

“How?” Slate asked, her voice filled with shock.

“He was encrypted!” She added, her voice raising.

“I’m sorry Slate…” Amy replied, staring at them with sad eyes.

Gideon had passed his limit, unable to move and beginning to fade quickly. He didn’t care anymore.

“Super admin, bitch,” He replied with a rasp, flipping them a gesture.

Slate cocked her head.

“It’s actually God admin since you are CEO.”

 

“Yeah I know, I don’t care, the suit says Super admin- whatever. I think this is it.”

 

“Gideon. Thank you. I thought Amy got me. She tried to kidnap me. She wanted to feed me cheese!”

 

“Yeah, she doesn’t come off as bright. Or good.”

 

“Well, I hope we meet again, Shindow” Gideon valadicted, phoning it in.

 

Gideon awaited Slate’s punishment as she crossed her arms.

The initiative was taken by another as Slate gave a subtle gasp.

The room faded to black, becoming Nothing.

A familiar face appeared in the black emptiness.

Gideon’s stomach dropped.

Just behind them was Void.

They all turned, seeing the being in its large majesty and horror.

Her large toothy grin glinted and her dead black eyes gazed down upon them.

She was a phantasmagoria of deep nightmare made manifest.

Everyone held their breaths, waiting for her to act.

Gideon felt a brief second of relief. Void liked him for simply no other reason than he was the first something she ever saw.

And then he remembered how she helped him.

Goddammit. Please. Just stop. Can we leave it to just one death per day?

Existence itself hung on a thin wire. Her very presence could snuff them out. A word would doom them.

She gazed down upon them, her eyes inspecting them with an unreadable face.

And then she spoke.

Gideon braced himself.

“Hi!” She crowed with a giggling laugh.

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