He watched, completely baffled by the scene he was witnessing.
Baxter was being smothered in the attention of the angel, demon, and Void. Void herself was projecting hands that was rubbing at the dog’s back. Amy was massaging the poor dog’s head, his eyes closed shut. Slate was mildly interested, squishing and stretching the dog’s cheeks.
The breatherman stood idle, gazing death at Gideon.
“Fuck you too, buddy,” He said aloud, flipping the demon off.
It did not react.
Baxter interjected with a whining howl.
“Gideon, save yourself! Awoo!”
His face went blank at the ridiculous scene.
“Gid, we need to think of something, we can’t let them take Baxter!” Shindow said over comms.
“I’m thinking! I don’t have many moves!”
“Gid! Run and hide!” Baxter howled.
“Aw, he really is squishy and cute,” Amy admitted.
Slate let go, walking to stand in front of Gideon.
“You destroyed Jorga. How?”
“You are bad, leave Gideon alone! Oh, the suffering!” Baxter barked, letting out a whine as Void began scratching his haunch.
“I already told you. So you can-”
Slate pursed her mouth as she pointed a finger at Gideon. His life flashed before his eyes again.
“How?” She asked again, this time there was less sleepiness in her tone.
“Gideon. I’m not sure what to do except explain it all,” Shindow advised.
He sighed. His body felt weak, everything hurt despite the pain killers. His suit was ruined, keeping him propped against the wall. He was completely at their mercy, even with Baxter’s distraction. Only Prosine and Patricia remained to assist. And even then, they were stuck inside of Void.
“I am the heir and head CEO of PrimeTech.”
Slate crossed her arms, tilting her head to one side.
“PrimeTech made all of the QSD technology you may have seen. Thus as creators we have the highest admin privileges.”
“OK. Give me the QSD and rights,” Slate demanded as she held out a gesturing hand.
“Can you use QSD technology?” Gideon began, going off of his knowledge from Deborah.
“No. Others can,” She countered with a tired yawn.
“I can’t simply give you rights-”
“Yes you can, make a new user; a duplicate of your account. The name will be user and password will be user. No more stalling. I know this stuff,” Slate demanded plainly.
“But what about-”
Slate pointed at his leg, firing an ink bullet. The scattering roar of the round slamming into the wall echoed into his helm. She just missed his shin, the smoldering hole a clear sign it would have taken his leg off.
“Gid! Forget about me-” Shindow cried.
He was stuck.
“Slatey, you should let him keep his QSD. Afterall Jorga was version point-zero-one as you told me,” Void interjected, stretching and squishing Baxter’s face.
“But he destroyed Jorga with tech I do not have. I want it. It’s mine.”
“You gave me Jorga. It was mine.”
Slate folded her arms, huffing at that.
“He still destroyed it. He needs to pay. And I can’t having something so obviously strong running around.”
“And make everything boring? Don’t be a dullard, little Slatey!”
She trembled visibly at the words.
“I’M NOT LITTLE!”
Gideon blacked out for a second from the pressure of her voice. Black spots swirled around his eyes. He had not heard Slate so much as sound interested, much less an outburst.
“Little Slatey, little Slatey! Who’s the cutest little Slatey?” Void replied, mocking her.
“I guarantee I’m the largest one here.” Slate shot back her voice dropping in pitch.
She appeared larger, fitting into her hoodie better than before. She stood at six feet, Gideon suspected that wasn’t even a percentage of her full size.
“Nope! That’s me!” Void shot back gleefully.
She started cackling, her mouth clacking with each laugh.
“Gideon. I think we’re going to die,” Shindow whispered.
“No kidding. It sounds like they’ll one up each other.”
Gideon thought back to the dream of the battle for Earth. The massive sphere of black oil that had dwarfed everything else. That was her. That was Slate. However, Slate had an obvious desire Gideon noticed. Her eating habits. He had a potential way out.
“Fine!” Gideon shouted, gathering their attention before Void could ridicule Slate into a battle.
“Gid!” Baxter howled.
“You want repayment for Jorga? Feast your eyes on this!”
Gideon accessed his inventory, materializing something Slate would desire.
Orange light surrounded the item and then unceremoniously plopped it to the ground.
Slate grimaced as she turned to bend down and examine the item.
“Why would you give me something fake? Surf ‘n’ turf? PrimeTech doesn’t make these anymore. PrimeTech doesn’t exist anymore,” Slate stated coldly.
“Check again,” Gideon calmly countered.
She turned the package over, brushing back her hair.
Gideon’s heart fluttered at seeing her full face.
She had no other feature on her oval face apart from her mouth, two tiny slits for a nose, and her large lone red eye. White veins rooted their way around the red iris. Her eye trembled slightly as she read. Her mouth went agape, showing her pearly teeth.
Gideon muttered at seeing her cyclopean eye.
“Eye, Gideon. Feast your eye…”
“Right now?” Gideon rebuked.
Shindow went quiet.
“An expiration date. The counterfeits always forget that,” she stated calmly.
“How did you get this? Where?”
Gideon nodded at that. The gambit was looking good so far.
“I’ve always had it for the flight.”
Void chimed in.
“And that is why he’s the explorer, silly!”
“Well you can’t expect me to be satisfied with just one,” Slate said as she turned, storing the meal in her hoodie pouch. She had shrunk back to her normal four foot size.
“You got that Shindow? Looks like she’s a foody,” Gideon shot snidely.
Slate cocked her head, the insult flying right over her.
Orange light appeared off to his side, materializing a crate of PrimeTech rations.
Slate’s lone eye widened as she glanced from the colorful crate back to Gideon.
Her eye narrowed as she meandered to the crate, cracking open the top. The box top popped, the vacuum seal broken. Slate let out a longing sigh at that.
Slate began muttering as she rifled through the box.
“Mint in the box.”
“It’s a quad-pack for extra value. Advertisements match late PrimeTech period.”
She clicked the lid gingerly, listening for the hissing pop as the crate auto resealed itself.
“Hmph. It’s real.”
She marched back to Gideon, standing on her tippy-toes as she got in his face.
“I am appeased. For now. I’ll let you keep the QSD, only because that could mean more food.”
She turned, skipping to the crate. She hefted it one handed before dumping the entire thing down her suddenly massive gullet.
With a loud roaring swallow, it was gone.
Gideon stood in shock, face paled as he witnessed more of her ridiculous power.
“I’ll just save this for later.”
“What about me?” Amy asked from afar.
“You get nothing! You’re lucky I don’t shoot you!” Gideon shouted back.
Amy whined at the angry response.
Slate glanced back to Amy and Baxter who are were still ‘battling’.
“What’s that?” Slate asked with the tone of someone mildly interested.
Amy had begun feeding Baxter something. Baxter was scarfing it down, aware that attention was being had on said item.
“Oh! This is for Gideon! It hurts! But it must be done! Mmm, gorgonzola…”
“She’s feeding him cheese. Oh my god,” Shindow’s announced. Her realization hit him as well.
“Amy, is that cheese?” Gideon asked, igniting a potential feud.
“What? This? It’s um…” Amy sputtered, trying to think of something as all attention beelined to her.
“Also, don’t feed Baxter, he’s allergic to cheese!”
“That is not true! Oh, Gideon why do you betray me? Run!” Baxter replied with a hammy mournful howl.
“Oh, I see what you’re doing. Baxter could subsist entirely on cheese,” Shindow replied gleefully.
Gideon replied with a sigh.
“Yes, but we’d have to ramp up the air filters.”
Amy put Baxter down as she addressed Slate. Her voice raised as she explained.
“Oh alright! I make cheese, OK? I’m Amy, Angel of Liberal Arts– bllle, I know!– Cheese maker extraordinaire!”
Gideon was confused by her logic.
“But what does cheesemaking have to do with liberal arts-”
“Cheesemaking is a science, you big idiot! And an art!”
Amy began her tail, clasping her hands together.
“When I first made my batch of Brie, I knew my calling!”
Her eyes glinted with nostalgia of her retelling.
“Or Pecorino, with its sharp flavor!”
“What about cheddar?” Slate interrupted, folding her hands in her hoodie.
“Cheddar? Cheddar? Peasant food!”
Slate cocked her head, unamused by the answer.
“Uh, yeah I have cheddar,” Amy backtracked.
“But you gotta try the Gouda!”
“And my gorgonzola- Mmm! To trade your soul over!”
“Cheddar?” Slate asked again.
“Yeah, yeah!” Amy sighed, rolling her eyes.
Blue light manifested in her hand and with that, a large wheel of creamy white cheese.
“It’s not orange,” Slate stated blankly.
“Orange? I don’t dye my cheese! I’m not a demon!”
Amy looked away as the insult left her mouth.
“Um. No offense.”
Slate sniffed at that.
Then she sniffed again, the whiff of cheese drawing her in.
“Slate?” Amy asked.
Slate pulled out her grubby hands, knowing intent on her face.
“Slate, what are you-”
Amy couldn’t react as Slate gripped the wheel and bit down into it, taking out half the wheel.
Slate backed up, slowly chewing through the soft and sharp cheese.
What the hell is going on anymore. What the hell is going on!? I battle a host of demons, Shindow gets kidnapped, We almost die thrice to a Breatherman and I get shot in the face! And now the enemy is fraternizing! Over goddamn cheese!
Slate did a little dance as she chewed, letting out a sighing squeal at that.
“Is it good?” Amy asked, turning to Gideon and Void.
Baxter was slowly sneaking away back to Gideon’s side.
“Good boy, Baxter. I’ll get you a huge block of cheese for this,” Gideon encouraged.
Baxter really is the best dog.
Baxter wiggled his rump at the praise.
“Good?” Slate began, her voice showing a hint of emotion.
Slate grabbed the rest of the wheel and snapped it down.
“This is terrific,” Slate added, her voice going back to monotone.
“Oh well, I’m glad you like it-”
Amy squeaked as Slated picked her up over her head. Her wings flailed uselessly in Slate’s embrace.
“Amy, Angel of the Liberal Arts-”
“-Hey! That’s not my main title-”
“-You are now my best friend. My Bestie, if you will.”
“Oh! Wait! What? Best friend?”
“We’re going to feast on cheese. This will be delicious.”
“But what about me? I didn’t get anything…” Amy whined.
“You spoiled worthless angel, you got your Thrones and you want more?” Shindow interjected over internal comms.
“Oh, I collect everything. Do you like tech?”
“Sorta…” Amy whined in response.
“I have demons!”
Amy glanced down, then back to Gideon.
She waved goodbye.
“Take me away, Bestie!”
“Before you all go, what will you give me? What tribute?” Void interrupted, her massive face looming over everyone.
Slate didn’t skip a beat as she dropped Amy, who squeaked and flapped in protest as she struck the ground.
She rifled through her hoodie pouch, pulling out Gideon’s ration.
“I found this ration. It looks delicious.”
Void giggled at Slates blatant regifting.
Slate took that as confirmation and tossed it into Void’s mouth.
Amy rose, gathering her ‘dignity’ and glanced at Void.
“By the way, what are you?”
“Nothing!” She replied with a giggle.
“Is she always like this?” Amy asked behind her robed hand.
“Void? Worse,” Slate replied with a toothy grin.
“And so, Amy. What will you tribute me?”
“Oh. well… Hmmm. Do you like poems?”
Void narrowed her massive dead eyes.
Amy squeaked as she flapped her crow wings at the hostile response.
“Ok! I give you this, oh mighty Void!”
Amy took off a bracelet, throwing it at Void. She snapped it up, her teeth shattering the sound barrier.
“Ah… The intent is as good as the gift…” Void sighed.
“You may leave!”
Amy deflated with relief, putting the back of her hand to her robed forehead.
She ‘fainted’ into Slates arms.
“Take me away, Bestie!”
Slate glanced to Void, then to Gideon before shrugging.
And then began stuffing Amy down her gullet.
“Wah!! Hey wait! Dooon’t eeeat meeee!”
Her cries were ignored. With a loud roaring swallow, Amy was gone. The Breatherman let out a very obvious sigh of relief as he faded from existence.
The room went dead quiet.
Gideon didn’t understand what had just happened.
“Did you just…”
Slate glanced to Gideon, shrugging.
“Huh? Oh. No. It’s how I travel,” Slate replied nonchalantly with a wave of her hand.
“Until next time; you will give me something delicious. Whatever,” Slate valedicted.
And then she bent over, stuffing her legs and torso into her maw. Her body was slurped up and vanished with a roaring swallow, like water down a drain.
Gideon just witnessed a strange paradox of a demon traveling by gourmet. Slate had just devoured herself.
What the hell is going on anymore.
It was now just him, Baxter, Shindow, and Void.
Steak and Monday were still down.
“Now, what will you tribute to me for my help, best friend? I’ll make it easy this time and allow you to gift me something for all of your friends. But it has to be good! Something you absolutely love. I’ll know.”
Void winked at him.
Gideon blinked back at that.
“Help? You call that Compiler help?”
Gideon was furious. His fatigue drove him over.
She viewed him with a grinning smile.
“You almost helped us into a grave! You almost got Shindow destroyed!”
She didn’t break her expression.
Gideon roared, unable to contain his fury.
“If this will keep you away, then fine! Take it! Then get the hell away from me!”
He materialized one of his favorite things. He couldn’t think of anything else he could give away apart from his own crew or QSD.
The adamantite pulse rifle his Father had gifted him clattered to the ground.
“Take it!” Gideon shouted, the fight gone from him as he slid to the ground.
Void replied in a sing-song voice.
The rifle was slowly fed into her mouth, allowing him to see it for a few more seconds before her teeth thundered shut.
“Yummy!” She crowed.
“I don’t want to see you again,” Gideon stated coldly.
Baxter let out a soft whine.
Void was unfazed by his words. Her face became massive, dwarfing everything.
“I didn’t give you a choice.”
Gideon went silent, terror etched in his being. Baxter fainted outright.
He froze, unable to move as she continued.
“Adonai chose you as his champion. My enemy. He chose my best friend, the first being I ever saw, as his champion.”
His left hand trembled.
“Do you understand how that makes me feel?”
He could not respond.
Gideon blacked out from the pressure.
“Gideon! Wake up!”
The voice called him out from the morass.
“Shindow!” Gideon shouted back, shaking awake.
He was back inside the empty blackness.
“Gideon. Wake up,” Void said again.
She continued as if Nothing had happened, which it did.
“This feeling is amazing. I can’t describe it, but I can definitely show you!”
Black tendrils wrapped around Gideon’s left wrist, down to the elbow.
Gideon breathed hard, trying to not shout in surprise at seeing his forearm suddenly degloved.
All that was left was his bare hand. He needed little convincing that she could deglove his whole hand to bone. He understood right away what she was going to do.
Void’s face vanished as a tendril mouth wrapping around his elbow, snaking up his wrist. He could see her face, like a snake swallowing his arm backwards.
“Void. Please don’t do this. Void!”
Gideon was shouting, struggling to get away. Her mouth stopped at his left hand’s dorsum.
“VOID!” Gideon shrieked.
He could see the smile of her dead eyes as she opened wide, her triangular teeth glinting.
She bit down.
He felt the crushing, biting, burning pain in his hand. The knife teeth stabbed into his hand, unrelenting in its agony. He thrashed about, unable to contain himself as he shrieked.
“Gideon!” Shindow cried.
Baxter was still down, having fainted from the pressure.
Gideon blacked out and then came to, still in the midst of screaming. The hot iron pokers continued to dig into his flesh.
Knives stabbed his hand, digging deep and cutting to the bone. She rotated her ‘head’ cutting a circle into his hand. And then all at once she pulled back into the black darkness.
Gideon gripped his hand, seeing no blood flowing from the otherworldly wound. He gazed at the new ‘Seal’ on the back of his left hand.
The mark was:
Gideon felt his heart jump at what it was. The mathematical symbol of nothing or ‘empty’. The symbolism was not lost on him.
He cradled the injured hand, feeling the phantom pain biting down.
“You are now branded. Isn’t that great? My reward for fighting my champion and winning! And for being honest with your tribute.”
“Go to hell,” Gideon muttered.
“Can’t go if I’m already there!” Void stated cryptically.
She continued on as if Nothing was said.
“Now you have part of my power. Whatever you want to make go away, grip it and say ‘I banish you to Void’!”
The brand flared violet before dying down.
“It doesn’t work on everything and there might be a teensy drawback, but that’s OK! I’m going to see what Slate is up to. I haven’t seen her in ages!”
Gideon shook his head at that last comment.
“But you just saw her-”
“-Bye!” Void crowed as she vanished. The room returned to normal. Damaged, but normal.
Gideon remembered her perception of time was much different than this reality, based on his meeting with Void and Entropy. For all he knew, ten years had just passed for her after Slate had just left.
“I’m starting to see a pattern,” Shindow stated wryly.
“No kidding, get to the end of a room, get our ass beat. Repeat.”
Glowing orange light appeared nearby, announcing Shindow’s materialization.
She landed on Baxter, poking him awake.
Baxter got up with a snort, looking at Gideon.
“Gid! Shin! Are you all just OK?”
Another voice interrupted them.
“Good Gideon, are you there?”
“Prosine, Jesus Christ you’re here! Get medical in here. Hell! Get everything in here!”
“On our way.”
Shindow looked at the symbol.
“Gideon, what is that?”
Gideon paused for a moment, deep worry on his face. He forced it back with a strained smile.
“Looks like I’ve been branded. Maybe I’ll start collecting them at this point.”
Shindow pursed her mouth, gently feeling at his hand.
“I’m sorry, Gid. I wish I hadn’t been-”
“-Taken by a slime that was part anform, something none of us ever expected?”
Gideon sighed at interrupting her, but it did little good to heap blame in any direction; especially on one’s self.
Her face dropped.
“Shindow. I don’t think I can even describe how scared I was. I thought I’d lost you.”
She perched on his arm, sitting and listening.
“You’ve been my compass. My best friend.”
“I don’t know where I’d be without you.”
Shindow smiled, adjusting her glasses.
“You know, you’re really sappy,” She replied snidely as she slapped his hand.
Gideon winced in pain, the moment still fresh in his mind. Shindow drew back with worry.
They they both cracked a smile.
Baxter had scooted close, pushing his right hand with his nose, eyes wide.
They both laughed at the dogs overt begging.
Gideon glanced to the hall, seeing no signs of help.
“Guess I’ll wait here. What have we learned from this, Shindow?”
She sighed as she sat back down, hands to her chin.
“Just keep flying to Lo IX.”
“Atta-girl,” Gideon shot back.
“Gid, that was scary, I thought that ink girl hurt you! I am glad you are just OK!”
“Baxter she- well we’re alright now. I’m proud you were so brave. You’re a good boy and we’ll get you a brick of cheese, first chance.”
“A whole brick? Is it better than a wheel?”
“Much better. More mass.”
Gideon didn’t have to explain the idiosyncrasies of cheese production, but Baxter would eat it all the same. Baxter darted his head around, flattening his ears as he tried to process the wonderful news.
“Shindow, go check on Steak and Monday.”
“On it!” Shindow replied with a salute as she flew off.
“I’ll just sit here.”
He glanced to the attentive dog.
“Baxter, what do you make of all this?”
“I am just a dog,” Baxter stated plainly, wanting no part of anything; except food.
“That’s right, don’t change a thing… You sit here, I’m going to rest my eyes. I think dying once gives me an excuse to take the rest of the day off. What do you think?”
“Sleep is good. Do not worry, I will not let ink girl or crow robe or black nothing get you!”
He thought over the adventure they just had. He thought back to his old self, before the flight.
Things weren’t all bad. Grass is greener in some places, but not everywhere. I have my freedom and glory here, even if the cost is… Getting an ass beating, bribing demons with food, and having my hand branded.
What his branding had in store for him, he could not know. He did know he had little choice on his ‘friendship’ with the malevolent alien entity known as Void.
Gideon felt his body shutting down. The edges of his vision became hazy. His understanding of the surrounding area narrowed.
“That’s a good boy.”
Baxter wiggled his rump at the quiet praise.
“Just a quick shut eye.”