Where Kayleer had succumbed to complete shock, Tejed's response was wholly different. It was fear, yes, but something else, as well. The sight of so much phazon concentrated in one area was having an adverse effect on her mind and put her in what could best be described as a trance. The Dark Luminoth's stolen cargo had been one thing, but this was entirely different. Confused and frightened she fell against the nearest wall she could find, her legs trembling beneath her and a curious nausea welling up in the pit of her stomach.
Though both Kayleer and Tejed were feeling profound emotions, Gin, while surprised, felt oddly calm, as though deep down he had known all along that such crimes were not above the Federation. It was a good mindset to be in: it allowed him to keep thinking rationally.
"Tejed, snap out of it," he instructed, slapping her lightly on the cheek. It seemed to have no effect on her, her eyes having glazed over under the tint of her visor, and he turned then to Kayleer. He was obviously terrified, having retched onto the cold grilled floor.
Desperate, he turned back to Tejed but to no avail. He was alone now, in a place where the toxin stood at the ready in Federation stamped canisters.
There was a sound from his left, and quickly he turned. It was a worker, a scientist. Gin's eyes narrowed in rage.
The scientist looked up, startled, obviously not expecting visitors. Without a word he turned to run, but Gin was far too quick, and quick as a flash he had the wiry little man by the arm.
"What are you doing here?" the scientist stuttered, obviously afraid for his life.
"What are youdoing here?" Gin parroted back, sweeping an arm around him at the atrocities so casually being committed. The scientist gulped and looked around as well.
"I just work here," was his quiet response.
"What are you DOING HERE?!" Gin yelled back, shaking him by the collar to get his point across.
"Experiments, okay!" he blurted, eyes squeezed shut. "Experiments. That's what they're doing… Experiments…"
"Pathetic," Gin snarled, pushing him away.
The man stepped back, relieved to have been released. He brushed himself off and clutched the datapad in his hand.
"W-what the hell do you care, they're just pirates," he continued, still stuttering. In his fear he hadn't noticed the two other armored beings in the facility who had collapsed on the floor. The only person he knew to have intruded upon his research was the Federation human before him, and the man couldn't even begin to imagine why he should care what was done here.
"They're helping to further the cause against them and all the despicable crimes they've committed across Federation space," he said coldly. "They deserve whatever's coming to them."
"No one," Kayleer found the strength to speak up, wiping the bile from his mandibles as he suppressed a groan. "No one deserves this..."
The scientist jumped back quickly, his face contorting into a combination of fear and abject disgust at the sight of Kayleer that he made no attempt at hiding.
"You're with that?!" he exclaimed, looking back at Gin and also seeing Tejed for the first time. He quickly assumed she was one of those disgusting pirate beasts, too. "Well that explains a lot, then."
He sniffed condescendingly, his ego placing him high above these intruders in his mind.
"You're with them, you deserve no less."
Gin opened his mouth to reply, the scientist's attitude rubbing him entirely the wrong way.
Kayleer's terror quickly gave way to anger. His breathing still stuttered, struggling to keep pace with his pounding heart. Face still bare and exposed he approached the scientist whose experiments were mercilessly torturing his people.
"How can you live with yourself, doing what you're doing here. You think they're more deserving of suffering because of what they are or what they've done?! You're doing exactly what they did... and even they had the sense to stop," he stammered, looking to Tejed. Exactly what they had done, only on a scale he couldn't even imagine. The pirates, at the very least, never had this many sentient test subjects. The universe didn't need any more phazon-fueled monsters, what if these were to escape?
Kayleer said nothing more, and merely stood, trying to suppress the murderous urge to rip the scientist to pieces.
"There is no reprieve for monsters," the scientist snapped angrily, disgusted by the pirate trying to make him see 'the error of his ways'. Error? The only error was the fact that the test subjects were still alive, instead of razed and burned and destroyed as he believed the space pirates so desperately deserved.
Gin was as revolted by this man's corrupt sense of justice as the scientist was of Kayleer, and like him, Gin made no move to disguise it under false emotional pretenses. Disgust was disgust, and it didn't need to be hidden.
"You sicken me."
The voice had belonged to neither of them, and surprised Gin glanced back. Tejed had found her feet again and was standing, however haphazardly, by the wall. Keeping herself upright seemed to be a chore all its own but she managed to walk, however slowly, to the congregation.
"I used to be just like you," he seethed, finding twisted humour in the way the scientist's face knotted into such abhorrence at her words. She stopped in front of him and allowed the jet black of her visor to swivel back. "I used to be stupid, ignorant of the ways of the world. But look at me now."
She laughed, low and sultry.
"Now you'd never be able to tell that I was human at one point in time."
With no one holding him, the scientist stepped back, away from Tejed and her hot breath. But she had other things on her mind. She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him close again.
"I blame you," she growled. "You're the monster here, wearing your human flesh. You're the demon, not them. Abominations like you don't deserve to live."
Without warning she yanked him hard, almost dislocating his arm in the process, and dragged him screaming to the nearest vat of liquid corruption she could find. She proceeded to grab him by the back of the head and push his face as close to the shimmering blue surface as she could, laughing like a madman.
"I'd like to see how you like it!" she screamed. Tendrils of crackling radiation reached delicately for the scientist's face and he cried out in terror, sobbing like a lost child. "How do you think the corruption feels, you monster?! HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO FEEL IT BURN YOUR VEINS?!"
Gin yelled, tried to get her to stop, but it was no use. Her grip on him was too strong, her will too resolute despite the dangerous turn it had taken. Her anger at the scientist's insolence had taken full hold and her eyes burst into bright Zebesian fire, as they had so long ago when her ship had been compromised.
"KEEP YELLING, I CAN'T HEAR YOU," she screamed, pushing the scientist's tear stained face ever closer to the phazon.
The words intertwined with a vicious pirate vocalization. Kayleer grabbed Tejed's shoulders and tore her away from the vat. Her former hostage fell in a sobbing heap to the floor, curling into a fetal position and shaking with fear. For he had come so close to being corrupted, and despite his apparent ease with bringing that upon his test subjects, he himself was terrified of the results.
Angrily, Kayleer pushed Tejed up against a containment pod and held her down. "No one else is getting infected, do you hear me?" he roared.
"If he's so fucking eager to see what phazon does then LET HIM SEE. I WANT TO SEE HIM SQUIRM IN PAIN FOR WHAT HE'S DONE."
Though she wanted to tear through Kayleer and lay waste to the pathetic vermin of a scientist that dared call himself human, she resisted. She resisted and took a deep breath, glaring past the pirate at the sobbing mess of a man.
"He's a monster," she seethed. "Why are you protecting him?"
She turned her blazing eyes back on Kayleer, her face knotted in rage.
Kayleer bore the brunt of her screaming and continued to hold her. He didn't want to risk letting the angry mess loose in a facility brimming with phazon. He paused, considering her question.
"Believe me when I tell you I'm just as eager to bring that monster to justice," he replied. "But this isn't the way to do it. It's bad enough we have an entire research facility full of contained phazon experiments," he shuddered. "Making another one that isn't contained is not in any of our best interests," he said, releasing her, giving her a very serious, dismal look.
There was cold hard truth to his words, and reluctantly Tejed heard and understood them. When he released his hold, she stood slowly and sighed heavily, getting her wits about her. Her close proximity to the phazon was probably what was causing her sudden spikes in raw emotion and she voiced her concern.
"I'm… Not in my right mind," she said simply, trying to retain her aloofness. "There's a lot of phazon and… I think it's messing with my head."
Gin shook his head at her volatile nature and turned back to the sniveling scientist, only to realize with disdain that he had disappeared completely.
"God damn it!" he exclaimed, turning back to Tejed and Kayleer. "While you've been busy screaming your head off, he ran away. I hope you're happy with yourself."
"Oh fuck off, Gin," she snapped, feeling the metallic taste of steel creep up in the back of her mouth. "Little bastard probably ran off to hide somewhere like the coward he is."
"I don't suppose this place comes with one of those cliché self-destruct buttons," Kayleer said quietly. Though his question was in jest his meaning was all the same; the place needed to be destroyed.
"Sir, we... we have intruders, Federation-affiliated, at least one of them..."
"Compromised, right. If you have to abandon the facility then do it."
He cut off the communication. The higher-ups had given him the okay. They had a reasonable amount of data from the live experiments. There was no need to keep the testing in place anymore, especially not to be used as proof to expose the underground research.
The lonely scientist walked over to a control console. Here in his surveying perch he could see, all the rooms of the facility, displayed on a screen through the many cameras in place. The other researchers had left, sick of testing, sick of being surrounded by phazon. But not him.
He watched as the three intruders conversed, no doubt thinking of a plan to expose the facility, to expose him. He wouldn't allow it.
A few swift flips of switches, an alarm, a failsafe bypassed. The man had unleashed releasing protocols. With a smirk he left to make use of an escape pod, and watched as the containment pod of every stasised pirate went up, releasing a flood of phazon and awakening the test subjects, at least those that were still alive.
He left. The facility filled with the tormented screams of thousands, and the scientist smiled. No one else would ever know.
Tejed uttered a surprised hiss as the phazon spilled all over the floor, pooling at her feet and already crawling like the living thing it was up the machinery of her legs.
"Fuck," she muttered, casting a glance over at Kayleer. Already he seemed to be succumbing to his greatest fear, his eyes going wide at the phazon flood that seeped over his feet as well as Gin's. Corrupted pirates lurched onto the floor, their extremities twitching even though their bodies had long since died. The remaining few who still clung to life so tenaciously shuddered at the power coursing through their corrupted veins, and as one turned on the hot blooded entities that graced their presence.
Protectively, Tejed stepped in front of her friends, putting herself in harm's way first to keep them safe.
"I got this," she growled over her back, unsheathing her scythes.
The space pirates had long since abandoned the idea of phazon infusion. Once they had sought to use it as the ultimate steroid for their soldiers. But after numerous tests, they soon discovered the mad loss of sentience was the eventual result. Only one in a thousand pirate test subjects maintained their will by the end of the testing, and so the risk was decidedly too great to produce on a massive scale.
After the widespread infection and the battle for Phaaze, the race set to purge themselves of the substance, giving rise to a new generation of uninfected pirates.
Kayleer knew the history. It had come as a relief to him to know no further phazon infusions were dealt to his species or any other in an effort to create super weapons.
He never would have guessed that the Federation under which he had so dutifully served for years would be conducting the very experiments that drove his race to the brink of eradication.
Kayleer watched in horror as the mutatious abominations rose from their tombs and looked to him hungrily. Their dark skin was dotted with luminescent pustules and sores. The viral lifeform within them had putrified their flesh over time. Many had lost limbs or entire sections of their body to the stuff, and fell limp and lifeless to the floor. Those that were still alive moved with a strength and ardor that spoke of the steroidal infusion of phazon in their blood.
They were no longer sentient, by any stretch of the imagination. Kayleer could tell. Where a typical pirate might call out something hateful or violent in his native language, all he could hear were unintelligible roars. And though they were wordless, they spoke of pain, of anguish, of hatred and bloodlust all warped together and retched out through a phazon-spewing throat.
Kayleer immediately replaced his helmet and stared at the rising army of infected pirates. He wanted desperately to run. But he could not see an escape in any direction. The legion covered every corner of the facility. They walked, limped, carelessly over the dead bodies of the failed test subjects.
They roared, almost in unison, launching their putrid bodies at the three unassimilated intruders with a single purpose. They would not rest until they were like them.
Tejed roared right back, pumped up on adrenaline and a steady increase of phazon to her system. Snarling she tore her helmet from her head, as she was wont to do, letting her brilliant white hair flow free from the confines of her helmet. Where Kayleer and Gin saw fit to protect themselves from the corruption, Tejed saw no point. As far as she was concerned the corruption was simply another tool that she could use for her own gain, ignoring for now the adverse effect she was certain it would have on her sanity.
First and foremost, though, she sought to protect. She had made a promise to Kayleer back on Torvus. She would keep him safe from infection. And she was not going to go back on that promise, no matter how dismal the odds seemed.
Eyes now blazing feral orange from her rage she cleaved through the first of many phazon mad pirates, throwing up an impressive spray of blue-tainted blood in the process. But for each one she cut down, two more took its place. Even as the orange of her eyes faded and dulled to bright caustic blue she still left only the tiniest of dents in the encroaching army.
"KAYLEER," she yelled, her voice raw and deep. "Gin… Th-there's too many of th-them."
It was hard for her to speak rationally so her speech came out stuttered and fragmented, punctuated only by the grinding of her teeth as she fought the urge to turn on her friends instead.
Kayleer was doing his part to fight the onslaught, tiring his power reserves as he let loose round after round of plasma fire. He kicked and slashed away those that came near him, only to have another drove of infected pirates overcome him a moment later. Phazon was eating away at his armored feet on the flooded floor.
Tejed was right. This was a losing battle. The facility was locked down, even the entrance to the phazon conveyor room from before was sealed tightly behind steel doors. The facility went upwards for what seemed like an endless amount of floors, each with an identical number of compromised test pods, an identical number of loosed corrupted test subjects. They fell from the levels above and joined the massing legion, each on a mission to tear apart the trio of intruders.
Surely there were more rooms than this one. Surely there were rooms for uninterrupted research, for sample-taking and smaller biocontainment.
"Fighting is useless, we need a way out," Kayleer cried, ramming his suit's prongs into the corrupted flesh of one of his assailants.
Frantically he looked around, looking for an opening, a door, any escape. His scanning HUD aided his search. On the second level, he spotted the obscured frame of a door. It had not been affected by lockdown procedures, as its mobile rims glowed green with use rather than red.
"Up there!" he called, pointing.
Gin was the first to react. He latched on to the nearest walkway underside and started climbing his way up to the second level. Kayleer followed, trying to weave his way to Gin's position through the onslaught of animated cadavers.
"Come on!" he yelled to Tejed. She scythed down another pirate and rushed to meet him. He boosted her up to the second level, making sure she was safe before grabbing on himself. Just as soon as he got his first arm up for the ascent he was pulled right back down.
A putrid splash and the clanging of metal on metal resounded through the facility walls as Kayleer was pulled by the infected back down to the first floor. He struggled to stand, but found himself held down on all limbs. Struggling, eyes shaking with fear, surrounded by phazon and countless victims of its infection, he was helpless as one of the pirates reached a powerful arm to his face and tore his helmet off.
The infectious assailant roared, seeming to fill with glee at the sight of the exposed face of his victim. His eyes, dead and blue, showed no expression as he slashed at Kayleer's throat. The rest of his attackers followed suit, tearing apart his armor with a collective effort that rendered it like tin foil.
Cut and slashed, blood exposed to the infectious blue toxin, Kayleer's worst nightmare came to life. A terrible roar filled the room with a sound of such pain, horror, and anguish that despite its alien sound the meaning was universal. The mutagen made contact, seeping its tendrils hungrily into Kayleer's body.
Kayleer writhed on the floor. His attackers seemed to have become neutral, now regarding him as one of them. His body retched in reaction to the unstoppable burning sensation that filled every inch of his body as the virus worked its way into his blood, heart, and mind. His roars flowed out, each time warping to something different, changing with the addition of the phazon in his blood to something deadened and hissing.
After a moment the burning stopped, replaced by a chilling sensation that spoke of evil pleasures, as though the infection was something so integral and symbiotic that it was needed. Kayleer stopped struggling, letting more and more of it into his blood as his eyes turned hideous blue.
He rose up. Armor in pieces, surrounded by his brothers and now sharing their purpose. He looked to Tejed. His mind was gone, and the phazon continued to flow into his body to fuel his murderous intent. He roared, a cloud of sickening azure billowing out of his lungs, seething with power.
The pull at her mind was strong, a voracious animal inside her that demanded release and integration.
"No," she seethed, frothing blue at the mouth. As long as she was of her own free will, however strained that was becoming, she would be a target. The corruption had her strong but her intense need to help Kayleer was just that little bit stronger, enough to keep her rational and sane even though her body was twisted with phazon.
It seemed the tides had turned. Where thrice before she had tried to kill him, now it was him who looked at her with deadened blue eyes. Kayleer was gone. In its place, another one of them, of the legion. Kayleer had lost his mind and his will and that very fact filled Tejed with sorrow, which quickly warped into rage.
She leapt back down to the lower level, unwilling to leave him. She tried to speak but her voice broke and blue blood spilled from her mouth.
Roaring mindlessly, Kayleer launched himself at Tejed, and all she could do was grab his arms and hold him back as he snapped thoughtlessly at her face. She snarled back, baring her fangs.
"I will not k-kill you," she stuttered, the mere act of speaking an effort. Easier said than done. Mindlessly he bit at her, trying to draw blood, to get her will to submit to that of the hive mind, and though she wanted to use her scythes and behead him here and now, the thought was completely out of the question. So she did the next best thing; she brought him up against a wall and smashed his head into the thick steel, hoping it would knock him out.
The result was instantaneous: he went limp, catatonic, his mandibles lolling at awkward angles. Without another word she slung him over her shoulder and pushed her way through the corrupted horde to the spot where she had last seen Gin. Up above, she could see the glowing green of the door he had disappeared through, and without another thought in her crazed head she jumped and dug her claws into the wall.
Gin motioned to Tejed to hurry, offering a hand to pull her up. The second floor was slightly less overrun than the ground level and so the pair had an easier time escaping.
The doors clamped shut behind them. Gin located the door controls, those which allowed it the electricity to open and close, and promptly drove a mechanical fist into it.
It sputtered sparks once before dimming offline, leaving the horde to claw at the now non-functioning door.
Gin allowed himself a sigh of relief. Their makeshift barrier would only hold for so long, but at least now they had a chance to catch their breath, collect themselves and think of a plan. He turned his attention to the disheveled, clearly infected pirate in Tejed's arms, and for a moment, fatigued, he did not recognize it.
The glowing blue blood leaking from the virtually unarmored pirate's body left Gin few hints at recognition, all he saw was one of the legion. "What the hell are you doing, bringing thatin with us?!"
"How c-can you not recognize him," she snarled. It took Gin only a moment to realize who the pirate in question was, at which time he grew sombre.
"He got infected?"
Tejed nodded once, and Gin swore underneath his breath. Tejed was one thing, but considering how much control she was showing right now she posed no threat. Kayleer was something completely different. If he regained consciousness there was no telling what he would do. He wasn't the same as Tejed. He hadn't been exposed to phazon long enough to build up an immunity to it. He was unpredictable.
Gin eyed Kayleer not with disgust, but a curious sort of pity. He didn't understand what the corruption felt like and he didn't relish finding out any time soon. Quickly he looked back, glanced around the room. There was a door in the far wall and he ran towards it, Tejed close behind.
Neither of them knew where they were going, but anywhere was good so long as it was awayfrom the horde.
"Do you know if he can be s-saved?" Tejed breathed, her heavy footfalls so loud in the echoing hallways. Gin didn't have an answer. There was too much going on in his mind and though he presented his calm controlled side, in reality he was very, very confused. The words printed on the doors they passed meant nothing to him, the sterile white halls a façade masking terror and horror.
It was all too much, even for him.
Unexpectedly there was a shaking hand on his shoulder, and surprised he slowed down and turned. Tejed had found something and had stopped him, and he followed her pointing fingers.
"A… A medical bay?" he spluttered. "What use is a medical bay?"
"They might have something."
"Like what?! This is phazonwe're talking about here, Tejed. PHAZON."
"Don't talk to me l-like I don't know!" she yelled back, claws forming into tight fists as the anger took hold. Blue tinted breath hit him in the face but he didn't flinch and she calmed only slightly. "They are working with phazon. Maybe they have a cure."
She thrust her face into his, delighting in the reaction she gleaned from him.
"We are checking it out," she commanded, mind already made up. There was always that chance, no matter how small. Gin rolled his eyes in frustrated annoyance and followed her. The resulting room was sterile and clean, so different than the main atrium they had almost been killed in. Machines lined the walls and filled the air with their soft insistent beeping. Nonplussed, Gin meandered in, sure that they wouldn't find anything of value.
"There's nothing here but Federation grade medical equipment," he said with a sigh. "I'm pretty sure they don't have some fancy phaz-"
Surprised he walked over, and what he saw astounded him. It looked like a one person mobile hospital, but the tools it sported were like nothing he had ever seen before.
"It's… A cure," he said quietly, astounded. "I guess they… Found a cure."
New growls and screeches sounded down the hall, reminding them of their predicament.
"Oh god, we can only save one of you," Gin realized. He looked up at Tejed, still very much in hyper mode, and the unconscious Kayleer in her arms. Gin activated the machine, the glass rolling back smoothly, and stepped away. Without a word Tejed carefully lay Kayleer inside the machine, and looked expectantly to Gin.
"…Are you sure?"
She nodded once, and with a sigh he activated the device.
You can't fight me.
Oh, but Kayleer, I'm here to stay. To run your mind. It's not yours anymore. It belongs to us...
No, NO! GET OUT!
Though he tried to fight it, it was useless. His body was knocked out of commission but Kayleer's mind was still at work. Desperately he tried to overcome the corruption within him, to regain control over himself and purge the mindless drive to kill and infect from from his brain.
It was futile.
It is futile.
The pirate's eyes blazed open. Unfocused, sinister blue with warped vision that showed a whitened, monotone world, only bothering to color the important, fleshly vulnerabilities of prey. The monster was angry- it had been confined. It could see two creatures on the other side of the glass, two living things it so desperately wanted to get its flesh and metal claws into, so desperately wanted to infect like it had this body.
It scraped at the glass, trying to claw its way into the prey-filled room outside. It roared, spewing phazon over the shiny perfection of the glass before it.
The pod held- it was built for this. It was built to withhold the abuse of a phazon-mad creature within it, to hold an infected human, whatever weapons he might have, in order to purge the alien creature within him.
After years of illicit research, one of the few beneficial results, if only for the scientists at work in the facility, was a technology that could tear the phazon out of one's system.
Four mechanical arms extended, grabbing the limbs and holding them down. The pirate howled in frustration, finding the continued confinement unbearable. Its phazon-filled breath fumed against the glass as roar after roar retched its way from the beast's throat.
The machine was indifferent to its struggles. It succeeded in restraining it and then extended a single, complex needle into its abdomen.
Nanobots. Tiny, complex mechanoids built to seep into the cells and consume phazon. Decades of development rendered the tiny things effective at purging the blue cancer from an organism's biology. The ultimate phazon cure, and one that was kept from the light of the public due to its origins and a blatant lack of necessity to human kind.
The process was incredibly painful. The phazon in the pirate's system was literally torn away, separated from the cells it had so forcibly forged a symbiote with. The nanobots worked their way through Kayleer's bloodstream, seeping into every vital organ and every extremity. He continued to roar, no longer in frustration but in pain and withdrawal.
It lasted about ten minutes, until finally the mechanoids had finished their work. The glow faded, and slowly the malevolent voice faded from existence. He could move again, now of his own will. The nanobots congregated back into his abdomen and left the same way they had come. The machine flooded with decontamination fluid and washed away the last of the phazon. Finally it let go of the pirate's limbs, and the glass retracted.
She wanted to immediately scoop him up into a big hug and hold him close, but even Tejed knew how bad that idea was, considering her current state of mind. So she stood a little to the back and let Gin do the talking, because every time she tried to speak it only succeeded in making her angrier.
Carefully, Gin helped the very confused pirate from the machine, surprised himself that it had actually worked and pissed off that he Federation would keep such a thing completely secret. It wasn't the first time they had done things strictly for their own well-being, and the more Gin discovered, the more he hated working for them. He vowed that the moment he hit Earth again he was going to take up a different job. Or at least stop hunting for the Federation.
"How are you feeling?" he asked quietly, noting how hard it seemed for Kayleer to stay on his feet.
The words came in as a blur as Kayleer slowly regained brain function. He let out a groan. Everything hurt, literally everything. He was covered in his own blood and even though it was purified he felt the long overdue pain of being torn apart by the horde.
Everything was a haze. He remembered fighting- in his head. He remembered hearing voices and failing to offer the slightest bit of resistance to them. He remembered his own consciousness being pushed aside so something else could make use of his body.
He remembered, before any of that, having his armor torn off and being exposed, bare, to the volatile mutagen he feared so much. Finally that fact came clear to his recomposed mind; he had been infected. But... he realized it was gone now.
His stance faltered. Still bleeding and severely weakened, it was difficult to stand. He clutched his head in his claws-it hurt the most, and somewhere in the blur of fogged memories he remembered being slammed against something, hard, before everything went dark.
"Ughh," he growled. "What the hell happened..."
In his daze he was oblivious to the terrorized noise of the infected pouring in from the walls around him.
Louder and louder came the noises of feral fury from outside their small haven. Acting fast, for their time ticked by in preciously scant seconds, Gin pulled the smallest of explosive devices from his suit and planted it on the wall, setting the timer to a scarce three minutes. Without a word Tejed grabbed Kayleer and slung him across her shoulder and ran, following Gin. Thinking rationally for the shortest of moments she grabbed a datapad before they booked it out of there as fast as they possibly could.
Behind the doors finally crumpled and the infected masses began to pour in, hindered only by the bare width of the doorframe.
Gin angled towards a service door in the back, Tejed's heavy footfalls sounding close behind him. When they were through Tejed turned and kicked it once, twice, effectively destroying the internal mechanisms and rendering the door useless. Gin gave her a look, as if to ask if that was really necessary, and she just smirked back before handing Kayleer the datapad.
"Hold onto this," she stammered, her breathing heavy. She needed her claws free for the next part: an empty elevator shaft. They needed to get back down to the first floor and go out the same way they came in. In under three minutes. Gin was first, having already jumped down and slid down the smooth walls. Tejed was next, having dug her claws into the steel before jumping down, effectively shaking the entire floor.
Something blew to their left: a vat of phazon. Growling Tejed pushed Gin forwards in an effort to keep him from getting infected, too, shielding Kayleer from the corrupted rain. Using her now free claws she proceeded to do what she did best: rend and tear her way back to the entrance they had come through, leaving a bloodied swathe of corrupt and dead bodies in her wake.
"Over here!" Gin yelled, having already reached the exit. A quick slash later and Tejed was there, too, already feeling exhaustion tugging at her mind under the haze of phazon-induced fury. The darkened corridor they had come down before was now lit in flashing red and blue from the containment breaches.
"FUCK," Tejed yelled, coming to a halt. "There's no atmosphere out there."
So close and yet so damnably far. It was far too much of an injustice to save Kayleer after all this, only to have him wither and die without oxygen to breath. As always Gin was quiet. He accessed his ship from his suit and a moment later instructed Tejed to get down. They were cutting it close. Already there was no more than a half a minute remaining, before they'd all be incinerated in the resulting phazon based inferno.
The crash was loud and caught Tejed completely off guard. Coughing she looked up, waving the dust away. Gin's ship, still as sleek and black as ever, in the center of the facility with them. She eyed him sideways and allowed herself a gruff laugh. Never in all her years would she have expected Gin to do something so drastic. But done it he had, and with the breathable oxygen rapidly siphoning from the complex, they quickly ran onto his ship.
It was a blessed relief to see the terror of the blue corruption rapidly grow smaller and smaller, until the facility ceased to exist and the moon Hades seemed silent once more. Gently Tejed slung Kayleer from her shoulder and set him down on the floor.
"Don't get too comfy," ordered Gin. "There's enough phazon in that complex to-"
He was cut short by the explosion, muffled as it was with no air for the sound to travel through. The dark of space turned brilliant blue, then white, before fading into deepest red. The shockwave travelled through all dimensions of space and hit them a moment later, rocking the ship almost gently. Until finally, it ceased, and when Tejed looked back out the window, Hades was gone.
Against the brilliant double rings of the gas giant, there was nothing left but a cloud of rock and debris.
Slix rushed from the overhang of the ship where had been so patiently waiting since the trio's departure. He rushed to meet his injured master and merely circled around him in concern- there was nothing for him to repair.
Hades was gone, as were the terrible experiments that had been conducted on its surface. The pirates were dead, set free, and that fact gave Kayleer some solace.
He was silent. He had so much to say and yet no idea how to say it. He had been torn from the grip of corruption even though Tejed had had the chance to free herself instead. An act of such selflessness and mercy that he was truly humbled.
He kept his gaze on the floor and spoke softly, his natural, guttural voice rasping struggled through his translator.
"I made a promise," was all Tejed said, the corruption leaving her system painfully slowly. "Do you s-still have the datapad?"
Gin looked over at them, surprised. He hadn't noticed Tejed grab anything in their mad rush to escape and the thought itself hadn't occurred to him. Sheepishly he resumed his work: setting a course back to Earth, before standing and approaching them.
Kayleer looked to his claws. He had hardly noticed when Tejed had given it to him but he had dutifully held on to it.
Data. Results. Information from the countless experiments conducted on the imprisoned sentients in the facility. Phazon infusion rates, mutations and augmentations, all recorded and transmitted into the small digital data receiver.
"I guess we have our proof," he said solemnly, handing it to Tejed.
Snarling Tejed quickly threw the delicate little device to Gin, sneering as he fumbled but didn't drop it.
"I don't want to look at that anymore," she hissed angrily, turning to leave.
"Where are you going?" asked Gin, surprised.
No more words needed to be said. She was utterly exhausted, even more so than usual. Sleep would do her, and everyone else on the ship, much good. So with no more words and a steady cloud of blue with every breath, she turned and left. At this point all she cared to experience was the bliss of sleep.
The two watched as Tejed stormed out of the room.
"What was she thinking..." Kayleer whispered. He raised his voice, turning to Gin. "Why would she save me... she's been suffering through it for years. I didn't deserve to take her only chance," he rasped, shaking his head.
Tejed had been carrying phazon in her system for years, enduring the insanity, the voices, the inhuman, murderous drive. And he? He was infected for less than an hour and immediately he had lost his mind. "I was already gone, she should have cured herself," he couldn't help repeating himself. Kayleer was overcome with a hideous guilt and he could not stop regretting Tejed's decision.
Gin did what he was finding to be his go-to response these days: he shrugged. He didn't have the answers Kayleer was looking for, and he didn't understand why Tejed did what she did half the time, either. As far as he was concerned her mind was an enigma that nobody would ever understand.
"Maybe she thought you were more important."
He watched as Kayleer's confusion only seemed to intensify, afraid that he was simply no help in this matter.
"Look, if you really want to know, your best bet is to ask her," Gin said quietly. "She's the one with the answers, not me."
And without another word he turned and disappeared from the pilot bay, presumably to the nearby connected kitchen. Not only was he tired, as well, but he was also hungry. It would take a while to get back to Earth at their speed. He had purposely set the ship at a slower rate to allow for some much needed rest, so he was going to make the most of it before they made planetfall once again.
At this point Kayleer was too ashamed to face Tejed. After what he had cost her, he couldn't bear it. He opted for now to merely remain alone on the pilot deck. He rested his back against the ship and felt the chill of metal on his bare and bruised skin. His black, pirate blood dirtied the floor around him. He realized he must have been infected and assimilated fairly quickly if his injuries were not enough to kill him.
He had asked why she had done it, but the question was purely rhetorical. He knew why. Had he been in the same position, he would have done the same for her. He didn't need to ask anyone to realize that.
But that fact didn't stop him from feeling guilt for the resentment she surely had for him. She had every right to be mad, and it continued to amaze him how much self-control she exercised despite her corrupted state.
Regret would do nothing for either of them. The fact was that, somehow, he had been purged of infection. It was possible.
"How?" Kayleer spoke to himself. Slix trilled at his feet, keeping a distance and circling with concern at injuries he was not used to seeing on his usually armored master.
Though Kayleer's suit was gone, the spinal interface to which it was attached was still intact. It contained the blueprints and data for his suit as well as a medical log of everything that happened internally. Kayleer desperately wanted to know what had happened to cure him, so the order he gave Slix was simple; "Retrieve medical log."
Without hesitation, the little mechanoid clambered to Kayleer's back and jacked a wire from his forehand directly into the metal sheathing. He remained for a moment before retracting it and returning to divulge the data. It ran over his large, blue eyes in Aetherian writing as Kayleer read.
Functions normal. Functions normal. After a while, the parts he was looking for. Unknown parasite present. Terminal infection. Then, unknown mechanoids in bloodstream. Shortly after, functions normal. It made no mention of his physical injuries, as those could be manually observed.
"Nanobots; so that was how they did it," he said. Slix's eyes flashed back to their usual blue and he stared almost expectantly at his master. Kayleer smiled. "If I can build you, then one day I can repay my debt to Tejed. Phazon-consuming nanobots can't be impossible to replicate, can they?" He turned his gaze to the hallway Tejed had disappeared down into, then to the expanse of stars that lay just outside. "Once this is all over, I promise, Tejed, I will find a cure for you."
Sleep was proving a hard thing to accomplish. Despite the fatigue and exhaustion that plagued her mind she found herself wide awake, staring despairingly at the darkened ceiling. Though she had retracted her suit, her skin still burnt to the touch like a perpetual fever and she couldn't manage to slow down her racing mind.
The thought that maybe she had made the wrong choice in saving Kayleer in place of herself never crossed her mind. It had been the right thing to do, and she had made a promise. Tejed Jenal never went back on her promises, it was one of the things she prided herself in most.
That said, she was regretting her decision to take off her helmet and let the phazon infect her. While the overdose and subsequent corruption had helped them stave off the Federation abominations, it hadn't helped her keep Kayleer from getting infected.
In that vein her promise had been broken.
Suddenly very sad she rolled over onto her side and hugged the pillow close to her face, squeezing her eyes shut and uttering a shallow sob.
"I broke my promise," she cried. The anger melted away with the blue of her eyes, and her entire body sagged, heavy with guilt. It may not have mattered in the grand scheme of things, for the pirate was alright now, just tired. But the idea that she had indeed broken her promise hurt her mind more than the phazon ever did.
Distraught, she curled into the blankets and allowed herself to cry uncontrolled, not caring if anyone heard her. In the back of her mind she hoped she'd cry herself to sleep, and she let the sorrow overtake her.
He could hear her crying. That exclusively human response that seemed to be their go-to reaction for everything, whether happy or sad. Despite Tejed's apparent genetic existence being more space pirate and phazon than anything else, she was still human at her very core.
Kayleer remembered what she had said to him the last time she cried.
Was that all she needed? He knew that as the human she was, she hated to suffer alone. Sighing, he rose to his feet. Still limping slightly, he made his way to the lamenting sounds. He opened the door. She was there, sobbing, confiding only to the indifferent bed she lied upon. Quietly he stood above her and placed a hand on her quivering shoulder.
"Tejed...," he began, looking for words. "It's going to be alright. I promise."
No surprise hugs this time. She was too tired to move, her muscles crying out in pain every time she tried to move them. Stifling her crying she turned her head and looked up at Kayleer, noticing for the first time how much of a mess he was.
"It'll be alright," she parroted. "But will yoube alright? Even though I… Broke my promise?"
Others before herself, always. Kayleer's health was more important to her than her own well-being. Same with Gin, and her sister, and her entire family. Why worry about herself, when there were so many others who deserved even more?
"You broke nothing," he replied. "You said you'd take the brunt of it for me and you did," he paused. It was true, she had, in a self-sacrificing way he never would have imagined.
"Thank you," he finished. And that one simple phrase was filled with so much meaning he didn't feel it was expressible in any spoken language he knew. Words were not enough. He knew the human well enough to know what would get his gratefulness across, and so, stomaching his pride, he wrapped his arms around his friend and embraced her.
Despite his nature, despite the action not coming with ease to any part of him, Kayleer felt it was necessary.
She was dumbstruck. Kayleer had always adamantly refused physical contact. It wasn't so much beneath him, as it was simply something his species did not partake in. So to have him embrace her in such a manner left her thoroughly confused.
But the confusion melted away and she accepted his gratitude and his thanks, hugging back tightly. The tears had stopped and her sorrow seemed to have lifted for the most part. For the time being, she was grateful for the contact he was offering her.
But a moment later she had to pull away. The tug of fatigue was too much for her to ignore and considering she was going on almost four sleepless days, it would be a godsend to finally fall asleep for more than a measly hour.
"Thank you," she said softly, thankful for the simple act of him being there.
Nothing more was said. Kayleer had done all he could do to thank her, at least until he found himself the years of time and devotion it would take to replicate the nanobots that had saved him. He wasn't even sure it was possible and so he kept it to himself for now.
Tejed pushed him away and sighed. It was obvious to Kayleer that she was exhausted, and now that her spirits seemed to be lifted somewhat he decided it was best she be left alone. She needed rest, more than anyone else.
So with a last, comforting touch he let his hand rest on her shoulder for a moment, giving her a look of empathetic concern before closing his eyes and giving a shallow bow.
"Get some rest, you need it," he said simply. With that he respectfully up and left her to it.
Gin watched as Kayleer left the room and took up a vigil by the window watching the stars stream by. The sounds of Tejed's sobbing had stopped and the ship was peacefully quiet. Already it seemed that the pirate's wounds were less grievous. The blood had ceased to ooze and the open wounds seemed to have stitched themselves back up that smallest of bits.
"Fast healer?" Gin asked quietly, almost afraid to break the soft veil of silence that had settled over the ship.
Kayleer turned abruptly to who had addressed him. Had Gin heard everything?
It was true, pirates were fast healers, they were engineered to be efficient. But that wasn't something Kayleer really cared to discuss at the moment.
"How long have you been standing there?" he asked sharply.
"Not very long."
He took a sip of his tea and turned his attention to the stars. He thought it best not to mention how much of their conversation he had heard. Privacy was a beautiful thing, and he didn't want to infringe on theirs. Quickly he changed the subject.
"Will you be fine by yourself? I need some sleep, too."
Kayleer could tell he was lying. But calling him out on it would do no good. He realized he was more self-conscious about his interaction with Tejed than he should have been, and quickly he shrugged it off.
"I will be fine," he growled. And with that he left to reclaim that familiar, comfortable spot down in the cargo bay.
Finally much needed rest had been attained and, silent and dark, Gin's ship made the slow journey back to Earth. Past the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri and its two bright companions. Through the cloud of dust and debris that separated the rocky planets from the massive gas giants. And finally, hours and hours past, into the same space shared by the bright blue marble that he had been born and grown up on.
Gin had been the first to awake, thanks to Computer's incessant prodding. After the tedious process of authorization, his ship flanked on both sides by massive Federation vessels, he was allowed to make planetfall at the designated drop point for Federation bounty hunters. Almost quietly, his ship landed in the yard, and across the way he could see Tejed's ship sitting docile.
It pleased him to know that Jarvis had returned safely. That meant Tejed had her ship again. Which meant, of course, that he could kick her off to hers and have his all to himself again.
He started getting ready for his imminent departure, the datapad with all the incriminating evidence clutched tightly in his hand. Gin had decided that he would do this himself, instead of weighing down Tejed and Kayleer with, after all the action they had gone through, was nothing more than glorified paperwork.
It was strange how things went on Earth. No one would ever know what had transpired on Hades. All the data would be wiped, he knew it. The only memory of the incident would live on in their heads, and even that in time would disappear. It was actually kind of depressing, thinking about it. There would be no public trials, because the information probably would never escape. There would be only the smallest of closure. Maybe in time the Federation would crumble and their lies would escape, but probably not in his lifetime.
Thinking left a bad taste in his mouth and with a sigh Gin leaned up against the pilot chair and watched the sky.
It had been a while since he had seen blue sky again, and even though it was choked with air traffic it still made him smile, as home tends to do. He took a moment to watch the sky, before debating whether or not to wake his companions.
Kayleer snapped from his trance and looked out a porthole. They had made planetfall.
The architecture outside was familiar and human, but as Gin had said, they were on earth, a place Kayleer had never previously been. The human homeworld. Unlike many space-faring species, humans had kept their origin planet intact and in use as a base of governmental operations.
A new planet, for him at least. But Kayleer was hardly excited. He knew what they were there to do.
Gently Gin tapped at Tejed's door, and a moment later it opened.
"I felt the ship land," she said, smiling tiredly. Gin glanced at the datapad he still held, thinking as Tejed walked past and into the pilot bay. It made her feel good, to know she was home again after so long. It was almost euphoric. Slowly she stretched out her arms, then her legs, then finally her back and her neck, eliciting loud pops and cracks from her tired joints.
"So what do you have planned?" she yelled from the front of the ship. Whatever he decided on, she was sure it would be the best plan. He was the one who came up with these things, not her. As far as she was concerned it was crazy Australian magic he was weaving.
"…Something," Gin replied quietly, holding the datapad up to the light. A plan was worming its way into his head, something that surpassed the endless bureaucratic loops that the Federation, and indeed, human government in general had a habit of putting people through.
It didn't take long for the Federation-grade hacker to hatch a plan. Within days, he had broadcast the information from the data pad to every receiver on earth.
Photos and timesnaps of phazon-infused pirates, records of phazon use and testing protocols, everything, all under the unmistakable Federation logo.
There was no amount of scrambling or scapegoats that could cover up what had been revealed. The names of every researcher involved was made public, and the Federation was forced to blacken their names, putting a bounty on each of them and trying the ones that were caught for war crimes.
The higher-ups who had authorized the experiments were soon brought to justice and stripped of their office, and within a few months of the turmoil, things had quieted down. The people's faith in the Federation was shaken by the conspiracy, but in time it would be forgotten. After all, it was merely the treacherous mistake of a few, and not the whole. At least, that's what was seen in the eye of the people.
The trio had done all they could do. The Federation was put under orders to seek out and shut down all, if any, remaining phazon testing facilities. Whether or not said facilities would ever be exposed was yet to be seen.
In the aftermath of the governmental turmoil, Kayleer decided his future. He resolved to abandon the Federation for good, abandon the on-going war with the pirates. He had done his part. If the war was ever meant to end, it would do so when both parties evolved.
It gave Tejed a sense of pride to know what she had helped to accomplish. What had started so innocently, letting Kayleer aboard her ship on a spur of the moment idea, had turned into a fight for their very lives, and had ended with the Federation put to rest.
Phazon testing, at least by her people, had been wiped clean. And the reality of it made her feel good.
But there was no happy ending for her. Tejed still never regretted her decision to save Kayleer. She regarded it as one of the defining moments of her life, when she had triumphed over the corruption that graced her everyday life just enough to realize that someone else was in grave danger. And when she could have cured herself, she gave it to him instead.
Phazon was wiped clean from Earth, from everyone and everywhere except for her, and that alone was painful. It left sour a sour taste in her mouth. While everyone else was mentally stable, she was still very much out of it. There were days when the anger was too strong, and the excess corruption that her body created needed to be purged. There were days when the sorrow was like a cold, dark blanket, and suicide weighed heavily on her mind. And she would always experience those days, because the one cure that could have saved her had been incinerated in the explosion of Hades.
She still didn't regret her decision. Instead she set her mind to the future, and the gleaming marble of Aether suspending silent in front of her ship. She sighed heavily and cracked her neck, rolling her shoulders as she did so. She was sore from being on her ship so long.
"Ready to go?"
She looked back and smiled at Kayleer, masking her indecisive thoughts with happiness. She was happy for him. He would be home, soon. Back with his Luminoth brethren. For him to be happy made her happy, and though a flimsy mask, her smile was sincere.
Kayleer looked at the person who had single-handedly given him his life back. The person who, on a whim, had invited him into her life and as a result had helped to purge a great injustice from the face of the galaxy. He owed his life to her, and silently he vowed to spend the rest of his days trying to repay her for all she had done for him.
He nodded, and the pair made planetfall together for the last time. Tejed had opted not to remain. She had resolved to live a life among the stars, for fear her corrupted mind would bring danger upon others. Thusly she had doomed herself to wander. And despite his pity and his desire for her to remain, Kayleer knew she was right. Even though she had saved him, even though she had a will of iron, she was infected, and until that fact changed, she would always be dangerous.
It became Kayleer's mission to free her from that lonely life. And while his friend was off on her dismally lonely journeys as a bounty hunter, the engineer was at work.
In the darkness of space it is often hard to reliably keep track of the passing of days. Digital aids can only do so much, showing blank facts and providing no observation. Years fleeted by, passing insignificantly for a person who had quite literally nothing to look forward to.
The lonely hunter rose from the pilot chair, intrigued. A transmission had come in from someplace she knew was familiar, and yet she was having a hard time remembering why.
The guttural, growling voice rasped together with the deep, mechanical sound of a translator. It was sent long ago, perhaps weeks, the radio waves only having just recently arrived. But despite their long journey, the hunter heard them bold and clear.
"Tejed," it began. The voice was deeper than she remembered. "Return to Aether when you can. I...I have a gift for you."
"Aether," she muttered, intrigued. Her memory had always been a tricky, strange thing. Places and names and meanings filtered through like odd sized rocks, grabbing memories that were ancient and letting pass through memories that were fresh and young. Tentatively she reached up and wound a finger through her hair, confused.
She wanted to go so bad. Kayleer was there, and despite everything she said and did and tried to tell herself, despite all that the voice inside her head and the phazon told her, she loved him. And she didn't want to hurt him. It was the only reason she had set herself adrift by her lonesome for so long. As a free bounty hunter she was chained by no rules, and she could engage in the bloodlust that she needed to keep her sanity in check.
To take that insane bloodlust back to Kayleer, despite the will she could exert if she so wanted to, seemed like the worst of ideas.
Confused and stricken by a headache, she leaned forward and held her head in her hands. Her skin was hot. It always was. She felt sick to her stomach. She always did. The voice in her head was feeding her malignant, cancerous ideas. It always was. Truth be told without Kayleer beside her, she had gotten worse, and her haphazard appearance only confirmed it.
"Would you like me to set a course to Aether?" Jarvis asked tentatively. It was a simple yes or no question, but Tejed was having a hard time saying either. Yes meant seeing him again, but putting him in danger. And no meant staying alone, and getting worse.
"I don't knoooow," she wailed, perilously close to tears. "I just wish he were here right now."
The headache was from the insanity. She knew. Every day her head hurt more, almost as if her mind was slowly coming even more unraveled. Maybe if she honoured his request and paid him a visit, she'd feel the tiniest bit better. Maybe…
"Yes," she blurted, looking up quick and instantly regretting her decision.
"I mean no-I…"
It was too late, Jarvis had already set in the new course. She watched with confused eyes as the nearest stars became streaks, and the fabric of black seemed to move of its own accord. Eyes wide she slumped back in her seat and started chewing on her claws, face twitching.
"I could turn us around, if you like," her computer offered, but resolute she shook her head.
"As you wish."
She almost dreaded seeing Aether again, and she didn't know exactly why. Something awful had happened there, but she couldn't rightly remember. All she remembered was Kayleer. She remembered him far too well, and though he didn't make the headache go away, it made her feel that tiniest bit happier.
"What kind of gift?" she whispered, gnawing desperately on her claws. "What kind of gift could you have for a monster like me?"
Jarvis remained silent, and Aether came closer by slow, slow degrees.
Kayleer headed to a familiar boggy clearing. A wry smile creased across his mandibles when he saw a familiar sight break through the clouds.
It was raining, just as it had been their first day here together, throughout the arrival, the battle, and the aftermath. Torvus was always rainy. It was perpetual and serene, the pattering of droplets an integral part of the natural rhythm.
The hull opened. His old friend stepped out. Though he wasn't sure what part of her genetics was showing it the most, he could tell, she had aged.
The tireless engineer was alone, unaccompanied by even the dutiful, familiar mechanoid who had helped him to build the small device within his hand. He had perfected it, made it painless and ideal. And thanks to the Luminoth and their resources from Aether's purging, had had the chance to test it.
Sleek, small, and silver. The tiny hexagonal device had a malleable underside, made to fit and permeate. An injection of tiny mechanoids with only the most benevolent of purposes. It was deceitful in its simplistic appearance.
"Reverse engineering, it's rather hard, when you have nothing but concept to work from," Kayleer laughed, remembering the fiery destruction of Hades. "I know it doesn't look like much, but, hopefully, it will purge it - for good."
Slowly he approached her, respecting her space for fear she might react violently if she was surprised. He gestured with a mechanical hand, pointing to her chest- more specifically, to her heart. In his other he raised the device. "May I?"
She eyed him quizzically, feeling the smallest bit of doubt. It wasn't that she didn't trust him, but it had been so long that she didn't know what to do. She stared at him, then at the device. She cocked her head to the side, her face twitching and her body trembling, before muttering an almost inaudible 'yes'.
Shakily he placed it right above her mechanical heart. It latched on, almost undetectably, and the tiny little purgers entered her blood.
Almost instantly she jumped back, surprised. Already she could feel the old weight of anger flaring like a supernova in the back of her mind. Intense and primal. She let out a startled growl and glared at Kayleer, knowing with certainty that he had backstabbed her. The voice in her head and grown into a scream and this time she couldn't block it out.
"What did you do," she hissed. The thing in her chest did not hurt, though she viewed it with blackened hatred. He had been waiting all along, she surmised. Waiting to catch her while her guard was down and plant a dagger in her back.
"Worthless," she seethed, taking a heavy step towards him, sinking into the fetid mud. "You're WORTHLESS!"
But then something completely unexpected happened, so much so that she stopped in mid step, her voice caught in her throat. Her core body temperature was falling, by slow degrees. She felt cooler, a lot cooler than she had in many years. The fevered temperature of her skin faded and confused she straightened, looking wildly around. The constant headache dulled and disappeared completely, and when she held her hand to her head she realized she couldn't hear the voice either.
"What?" she breathed, listening. It was quiet. So quiet. Torvus sounded beautiful, without the mindless drabble of the voice to drown it all out. The thing in her chest clicked once and fell, but she caught it before it hit the mud. It glowed the most brilliant of blue. Like the sky of Earth. Shocked she took a step back.
Words were impossible, for they could never convey the true meaning of one's emotions.
"I mean I-"
She looked up and saw him watching from a safe distance, yet where once she would have felt the urge to rip and tear, now she felt normal. Normal. She felt… Sane. Impossibly so. The sheer oddness of it all was so overwhelming. What did sanity feel like? It felt like normalcy, something she was missing for upwards of two years now.
She smiled wide and laughed, the once homicidal insane tones of a person suffering from phazon madness gone completely. Without hesitation she leapt at Kayleer and tackled him into the mud, laughing and crying at the same time.
"Kayleer you fucking genius," she cried, feeling the cracks and tears of her ravaged mind sealing themselves bit by bit.
"You god damned fucking genius."
In the mud all she did was hug him tight, not so much afraid to let go as she was thankful in every possible way. The rain felt amazing. The bog sounded beautiful. And the whole of reality seemed that much more brighter.
This time Kayleer fully expected every reaction he had gotten from her. He wasn't surprised when he was met with anger, and he wasn't surprised that when it was all over, she was literally beside herself with happiness. He himself was overjoyed that his years of effort had created a cure. She was cured. She was free.
This time Kayleer didn't object to being tackled, in fact he appreciated every moment of it. He returned her tight embrace. He felt her glee, clear and beautiful, mixing perfectly with the tranquil sounds of the world around them.
In the blissful aftermath, there was nothing left to be anxious about. Tejed was the first to stand, the sucking mud playing havoc with the delicate machinery of her legs. Smiling she reached down and took Kayleer's hand, pulling him up as well.
Understanding, Kayleer gave her a w
y smile. No matter how sane she was, the mud of Torvus would never agree with her legs. Almost playfully, she led him to the mud splattered and debris streaked hull of her ship, and motioned to the top.
The sleek hull offered Tejed no resistance, her claws easily biting into the molded steel exterior of her ship. Though Kayleer struggled to keep his footing on the unfamiliar ground, she was there to pull him up. Relieved to reach the flat, manageable top of the ship, he sat down beside her.
Night had begun to fall over Torvus. The loud ruckus of daytime fauna slowly gave way to the gentler noises that accompanied the Aetherian night, and Tejed allowed herself to lean gently against Kayleer.
Kayleer sat straight, supporting her as she trusted her full weight to rest on his shoulder. He listened to the sounds of Torvus night, the soothing, placid sounds of the creatures he had grown so familiar with, now he could finally share with another. Though they were nothing new to him, the sounds elicited a curious sort of wonder in Tejed now that she could fully hear them. Against the muted clockwork chime of her mechanical heart, the sounds of Aether struck a comforting chord and she closed her eyes, at peace. Tejed drifted off to the lullaby of the natural world into the first peaceful sleep she had managed in ages. No nightmares, no terrors, only serenity.
Kayleer followed dutiful suit, his eyes fluttering shut and his head coming to rest on Tejed's. Two heartbeats, resonating together, as the pair of harmonized beings drifted off into bliss. Two promises, kept and absolved despite the odds that had been presented.
One moment, as long as eternity was short. As the universe continued its infinite dance, the spill of life all around them loud in the silence, there was nothing to experience but happiness, pure and absolute. In the dark, they both smiled. The universe was finally at peace.