You give the man a wary nod, and he returns the gesture after a moment. He gazes at you for a long moment, and you resist the urge to flinch or falter underneath it. He seems familiar to you in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. Some whisper of a day gone by. You can’t quite fathom where this feeling comes from, as you remember nothing before you awoke in your virtual four walled cell. You wonder if this man knows any more than you, but you don’t find the courage to ask.
You are about to ask what in your mind is a safer question, how he acquired the shield or if he awoke in the room with it, when an opening similar to the one from your captivity opens beside the two of you. You wonder if it particularly safe to go near, and wait for the other to make a move. He walks towards it and motions you to follow.
The next area you enter appears as though it once was identical yours and the man’s, but has been destroyed by something, ribbons of the wall’s coding strewn about. Despite the damage, you fear the room is sturdy and inescapable as the others. You wonder what could’ve caused the damage when your eyes finally lock on to it. In the center of the room lay a woman armed with a sword who looks as if she may attack.
What do you do?
“Is this really the best idea?” Zeke scowled as they walked along, his eyes shifting back and forth uncomfortably as they walked through the back alleys and poorer parts of the ship. Of course good, respectable, Empress’ guard Zeke had never been back here – what with the semi-unfavorable company and surroundings. The usual finely polished surfaces were dulled, and the plush wall coverings were torn in places and stained with…something in others. The tall man found it entirely unpresentable and turned up his nose.
“S’wrong? Nervous?” Myos snickered, ruffling the rarely exposed crimson hair on the back of his neck and in doing so revealing the black outline of a star.
“No, and when did you get that thing?” Zeke said, gesturing to the permanent mark. Never had Myos been the type to consider getting something like a tattoo, or at least the last time his friend checked.
“‘Bout the same time you got that,” The boy with red hair answered, tugging the velvet ribbon tied around the other’s neck, topped with a pink heart pin to signify he worked for the Empress. Though it was clear the two events were tied, Zeke didn’t press the matter. His decision had long been a rift between them that he didn’t want to breach any wider if he could help it. Myos rolled the exchange off his shoulders as he was wont to do and continued talking. “And I frequent this place we’re going to, I know the chick that owns it. She can be a bit...you know... but whatever, we need more people to help us don’t we?”
“Help us do what, Myos? You really think that just because you have this idea in your head that a few people can change something means it’ll work?” Zeke said, stopping and crossing his arms over his broad chest in annoyance. He was never one to be happy with going along with Myos’ schemes though he usually ended up suckered into it anyway. The vermillion haired boy was strangely charismatic when it came to harebrained ideas.
“Well somebody has to believe in it. Do you wanna be a robot?” Myos said, face hardening as his jaw tensed, ready to throw a punch if his friend kept being an idiot. He could only tolerate so much of his friend’s nonchalance sometimes, and going against him now meant giving up on humanity. He flexed his fingers, watching as Zeke did the same - tight white fabric squeaking over the other’s knuckles and he forced his gloves to stretch with him.
“If you’re gonna goddamn fight, get the hell in here so the rest of us can bet on it,” a harsh feminine voice called to them from the doorway of the bar to their right. Both of the men turned to look for the owner of the voice and were greeted with the sight of a young woman with a harsh expression, befitting of the tone she carried. She was slim but angular, with long hair of various shades of blue pulled up in a high ponytail on her head. Though she appeared abrasive and raucous, she actually gave off a warm personality rather than a cold or detached one. The woman quirked an eyebrow, still expecting some sort of response to her statement.
“Hey Achernar, we actually came here to talk to you,” Myos called amicably, relaxing back on the heels of his feet now that the tension of the imminent brawl was over. He could switch from pissed to peppy at the flick of a switch, an ability that had served him well over the years and that Achernar had been privy to seeing several times before when Myos visited.
She pursed her cobalt coated lips and looked Zeke up and down, eyes catching on the various splashes of pink. She immediately scowled and gave the shorter boy a sidelong glance. “You brought a fucking guard? You retarded?” Achernar asked, stalking up the Empress’s official to examine him closer, cherry red eyes narrowing.
“Why? Is there some sort of illegal activity going on here?” Zeke asked, a thin smirk gracing his lips and he tilted his head to the side. Being a guard had made him haughty, and it didn’t take long for him to settle into the habit of flaunting his position in front of strangers. He had a tendency to give off a cross between smarmy and intimidating and it usually rubbed people the wrong way – as a lot of guards did in the less pristine parts of the city. Despite the fact that he should’ve been taller, he was eye level with the girl due to the blue knee high stiletto boots she insisted on wearing. Probably because of the spikes that covered the toes of the boots - most likely valuable in whatever line of work she was in. Zeke hoped he wouldn’t find out soon. Or ever.
“Of course not, sir,” Achernar sneered, barely resisting the urge to deck him. She already had a short temper and snobs like him did nothing but push her buttons more. “So what’s pinky doing here,” she asked, turning to Myos again and gesturing them both to enter the humble establishment she owned.
“Pinky? This color is the mark of one who puts their life on the life for the Empress,” Zeke replied haughtily, straightening his back even more to give him height advantage over the woman. Achernar balled her fists, lips curling back in a snarl and a thousand retorts bubbling up in her throat like bile. “Not that you would know anything about that.”
“What’s the Empress ever done for me, huh snooty? Think she pays my rent for my shitty living pod? Paid to help me get this fucking place up of the ground? That goddamn bitch never did a damn thing for me so don’t you fucking dare come in here and-” As Achernar got more and more worked up in her statement, her fist had been drawing itself farther and farther back before suddenly caught by Myos, who was shaking his head though his face betrayed his amusement at the situation.
“What’s so funny?” The bluenette snapped, shaking of the other’s hold and giving the guard one more final glare before unwillingly backing down. She had enough to worry about; she didn’t need ‘knocking a guard’s lights out’ on her personal record.
“I understand the feeling of wanting to deck him,” Myos shrugged, the fluidity of the movement barely jostling the armored piece on his shoulder.
“Well, who the fuck is he,” Achernar asked again, beginning to walk into her bar and walk away from the former violent situation. Despite the place’s unsavory neighborhood, she felt more comfortable and at home there than anywhere, so it usually had a calming effect once she got inside.
“He’s surprisingly one of my friends, and he’s here because we have a proposition for you,” Myos explained as they followed her inside to enter the small, secluded building covered with bright neon lights on every available surface in the interior. The bar counter and the stools were both chrome with a gleaming finish, and Myos had to remind himself not to look down lest he freak himself out because of the large koi fish that swam beneath their feet. It was an expensive and grueling process to put the aquarium in the floor, but Achernar had insisted and she wasn’t taking no for an answer. Myos agreed it tied the place together, but it still made him feel green around the gills and he worried he’d never get his ‘sea legs.’ In the center of the bar lay a completely boxed in square where several men were lined up and waiting for Achernar’s signal to start the next match. This bar was one of the fighting hotspots, men and women from all walks of life would come here to duke it out and make easy change by betting upon the rampant fights. While the practice wasn’t illegal exactly, betting on the harm of others was against the ship’s ‘moral code’ so if a brash enough guard was in the mood he could shut the place down. The ring itself was erected in such a way that it was difficult to inflict harm on your sparring partner in any way but with your own attacks and that’s why people liked it - you were getting your face smashed in by someone’s fist not the floorboards.
“What kinda proposition?” Achernar asked warily, taking her place behind the counter and pouring them all a glass of a fluorescent glowing liquid. It was her special cocktail, only available at her bar and nowhere else. A sort of secret recipe, as it were – Myos had no idea what was in it but man did people go crazy for it.
“I don’t drink,” Zeke said as he sat down, the pink ruffle of fabric that was attached to his belt fluttering against his leg when he did so. “It’s uncouth.”
“Pussy,” the woman answered immediately, never taking her eyes of Myos and downing her own drink in one gulp and slamming the glass on the counter when she was done.
The ravenette paled and Myos snickered, sipping at his own drink. “We know the Empress is planning something and something bad, so we want your help. We’re gonna start a revolution,” the lithe man explained, acid eyes practically glowing. “And I know once I tell you what she’s planning you’re gonna be so into it, it’s not even funny. Plus, you’ve got connections and we’re gonna need some battle technology, if you know what I mean.”
“Whatever it fucking is leave her out of it,” Achernar snapped immediately, face darkening. Zeke flinched in surprise again, breaking the woman out of her angry state to snicker at him. “But seriously, what the hell is this thing, and why is it so important you brought fucking pinky here with you.”
“My name is Zeke.”
“Good for you,” she responded with a flip of her aqua tresses, ignoring the taller man once again and waiting for Myos to speak.
“She’s planning on digitizing our emotions. The Empress is gonna make us all robots so we’ll be her like immortal servants or something, and we’ll do whatever she want, and we won’t have any choice! All our free will, it’ll be gone,” Myos explained, trying to keep his tone hushed, pupils dilating with the intensity of his words. Other patrons glanced their way, and so the three sat for a few moments swirling their drinks so they wouldn’t be overheard. The woman had no idea what exactly Myos was planning, but she was sure she didn’t need someone ratting them out to the nearest guard.
“There’s no way she can do something like that,” Achernar scoffed in disbelief, attention now diverted to playing with the chipping moulding on the edge of her side of the counter. Her attention was hard to keep, and she was skeptical of most things that went outside the norm of her everyday life.
“It’s true!” Myos said in exasperation, waving his arms wildly. “I heard them talking about it.”
“Who?” The blue haired woman asked, as if it were an interrogation.
“I don’t know, some guards,” Myos waved off. “I was in a restricted sector-”
Zeke cut him off immediately. “What were you doing in a restricted sector?”
“Somebody obviously wasn’t doing their job,” the redhead teased, flipping the pink fluff on the other man’s hip. Zeke huffed and gave no response. “But anyway, I figured we could get some people together and we could overthrow the Empress, and then we could govern ourselves! Like the colonies that used to have democracies.”
“Sounds great and all, but I still don’t think whatever you’re talking about it possible,” she sighed, about to throw them out so she could get on with her business. The men waiting on her to start the fighting ring were getting antsy.
“It’s already been done.” Zeke deadpanned, deciding now would be a good time to vouch on Myos’s behalf. “Technologic lobotomization was an old technique used to create powerful armies. You have no choice, you have to follow orders and live how she dictates,” he sneered, the creeping feeling of betrayal bubbling up again.“What?!” Achernar exploded, her voice more of an animalistic growl than anything. “Why didn’t you say so earlier! No bitch is gonna tell me how to live my life. I do what I fucking want, when I want, and nobody is gonna change that,” she said, punctuating her words by slamming her fist into the counter. “Count me fucking in.”