Gray Katie (Writchal Edition)

Entry Writchal #3
Tema: Hidup-Mati


Dark fumes rise to the heavens. The field reeks of burnt metals. Caitlyn hesitantly reopens her eyes; she thought the blast consumed her. She screens her face with an arm as she supports her body with her other arm. The battle vehicle that once stood there with all his pride, the symbol of ArC’s ground dominance, is now left in flames. It has become nothing more than a hunk of aesthetically strewn together metals; its parts are scattered all around, never returning home.

Amidst the barren parts is her android comrade lying just several inches beside her, her face is to the ground. Caitlyn crawls to her position and flips her around. The body remains there motionless. Her eyes are fixed to the reddish gradient of the sky, blanketing the field. She let out a deep breath as she reaches for her face, closing her eyes. Inside, she wishes that her storage memory could be recovered. The universal design doesn’t allow that to instil sentience in the Androids. So, when they fell in battle, their memories, personalities, and anything that makes them a person is gone. The unit, if recoverable, will be salvaged and recycled to give birth to a new one.

Caitlyn then catches a growing rumble. A glance to one side brings her a sight of three squad of Vindicators’ Guards supported by their tank, Gauntlet, advancing to her position. They are most likely catching up with the rest of their lines. But that requires them to march past her.

So, Caitlyn stands up to her feet as soon as possible and begin sprinting away from them.

Decisions have always been a gamble, especially amidst the heat of a battle. She thought she could dive through the flank of that exposed Vindicator’s land-ship and deals some damage. The damage however, is negligible, and that maneuver just cost her the entire platoon. Four tanks lost in exchange for nothing.

And now she has three squads of enemy infantries and a tank on her tail, especially when one of them has spotted her.

The Gauntlet’s machine gun opens fire at her. She raises her arms, shielding her head from tiny shrapnel and dust that kicks off as the cartridges fall just short of her. It appears that the shot is not intended for harm, merely to pin her down. But she doesn’t intend to let herself fell captive to those grunts in crimson-outlined armor.

Caitlyn keeps on running. Her effort eventually brought her to a wooded region. There, a concussive grenade round unfortunately struck a tree trunk beside her, toppling her balance, blurring her sight. Then another one falls and her back hits the ground again.

“Ghh…huh…!” She grunts as she quickly attempting to regain herself.

But a squad of Guards is already on her, weapons trained to her heads. She decelerates her breath and, with a heavy heart, she raises her hands.

As soon as one of the Guards is about to pull her up, the ground behind the Guards burst out dirt as far as about a quarter up the tree trunks. Caitlyn screens her face as the dirt rains on her. As the Guards’ attentions turn elsewhere, they are met by a hail of machine gun fire. The barrage takes three Guards down, before the remainder of the squad scatters away like they have just seen eldritch superstitions.

“You, there!” A rough male voice blaring through her utilizer. “At your eight!”

Caitlyn turns around, surprised to find an ArC tank a hundred meters from her, still in his ghillie coat. She makes haste toward its position with no second thought.

“Thank you.” She says, her breath heavy.

“Thank me later, lady.” A voice from the tank says. “We gotta get out of here first. My crew is dead, and I am left on manual drive as they passed.”

She doesn’t need the voice to say it again. They are both in a precarious situation. And the only way out can be achieved through cooperation. Besides, the ArC can’t afford to provide their nemesis with an intact technology of their own. She has to command the tank.

“I’m going to turn on your autopilot.” She says to the voice.

“Yes, hand over my tracks back.”

Caitlyn turns her glance around her for a second before climbing up the tank and enter through the turret hatch. Two motionless body greets her as she reaches the tank’s interior.

“They’re both humans. A rocket scores a direct hit and the shockwaves took those poor souls.” The voice says.

Caitlyn takes a deep breath and casts aside her sentiment for the moment. For if she doesn’t make it, if the tank doesn’t make it, there would be no one to attend their funeral. She steps over them, reaching for the tank’s control panel. Her fingers run swift on a keyboard, typing a command that grants the tank the ability to steer themselves.

“There we go!” The voice yells, seemingly relieved, as soon as Caitlyn pressed a button on the keyboard. A sudden jerk of movement follows, throwing Caitlyn’s head against the tank’s interior nearest to her. “Sorry, for that.”

“It’s okay.” Caitlyn rubs her head. “Now get us out of here.” She says to the voice.

The engine rumbles louder and the interior begins to vibrates as the tank turns and increases its speed.

“By the way,” The voice speaks again. “Since I’m about to go wild to drive us home, get those safeties off me and man the weapons, got it?”

For a moment she thought she is going to be the one who would provide the orders. Instead it’s the other way around. In terms of survivability however, it doesn’t matter who gives the order. One just has to trust the other party they are cooperating with.

Caitlyn taps on some buttons on a panel beside the keyboard and flicks a lever. “Safeties off and manual weapon system on.”

“Here we go!”

She holds on as the tank accelerates past the redline. Safeties off allows enhanced movement feature such as more speed and sensitive turning. Those features have proven to be advantageous in moments that requires quick armoured response. But they are harmful to the tank’s integrity. Using them continuously in a long duration or within short but frequent timespan with no repairs in between could cause significant breakdowns.

Right now, withdrawing is the top priority. So breaking past the tank’s limit is an essential decision that Caitlyn has to take.  She just hopes that he could last long enough until they return to friendly lines.

Suddenly Caitlyn catches a loud rumble. The tank’s hull is being hailed by a rain of dirt as shown by the screens which is connected to the tank’s optic. It appears something is aiming for them but missed.

“Is that a Gauntlet firing at us from behind?” The voice says.

Caitlyn scrambles to turn the tank’s periscope behind. She takes a closer look to one of the screens. There she indeed finds an enemy tank dashing through the trees, slowly creeping towards them.

“Yes, it is.”

Another shell lands near them, barely hitting the tank’s engine compartment.

“For Primus’ sake, that was close!”

“We have to do something.” Caitlyn says.

“I thought we’re rushing straight back to base.”

“Their next shot is going to land at us. I doubt your integrity is enough to withstand an AP round from that thing.”

“Alright,” The voice sighs. “Pull the smoke triggers and hang on tight.”

Caitlyn presses a button that launches smoke grenades from both sides of the main gun on the front side of the turret. Each fragment in a split second they reached mid-air, creating a white smoke screen that should obscure the visions of their chaser. A second later they emerge on a relatively flat plain. The tank turns hard right, drifting in the process. And as soon as its front hull turned, it slams the reverse gear. With the presence of the smoke screen, that Gauntlet won’t discover that the tank’s turret is aimed at their left when it emerges from the wooded area.

Not long after, the screen extrudes and shifts along a metal vehicle that clears through them.

“Fire!” The voice yells.

Caitlyn pulls the trigger. Another rumble followed up by flames bursting from the target vehicle.

“Got him.” Caitlyn wanted to cheer out, but her composure doesn’t allow her to.

“Nice shot, lady!”

Caitlyn just nods.

The tank turns left and cranks up his speed again. As he does so, a voice comes through the interior speaker as well as Caitlyn’s utilizer.

“51st Tank Platoon, are you the friendly triangle behind the crimson line?”

            Crimson line? Caitlyn freezes for a moment. She wishes that the phrase never has to come through the audio system.

“Command, please specify ‘crimson line’ over.” Inside, she already knows what that supposed to mean. She is just still too petrified on what that implies.

“There’s a whole Guards battalion ahead of your position. And a platoon of Gauntlet just broke off to meet you. Contact ETA 30 seconds.”

Just as she thought. As far as her experience went, fate has never been kind to her.

An enemy tank platoon, at the moment, consists of three Gauntlet battle tanks and various support units. Each has more armour than her own. On normal occasions they can still go toe to toe, holding each other in place while reinforcements swing around and deals with the other for good. Usually it is IFVs equipped with AT rockets, but sometimes squads of infantries with anti-tank missiles could do the job as well.

In this case however, the Gauntlets outnumber hers. In addition to that is the wavering hull integrity of the tank, thanks to the rocket hit. She is sure that one or two shots from the Gauntlet could turn her tank into a ball of flame, even from the front.

“Requesting support over. We can’t hand over this tank to the enemy!” Caitlyn replies frantically through her utilizer.

“The 12th Combined Proxy Company shall break through the battalions and hold a point for three minutes. If you don’t find yourself there when that time runs out, destroy that tank immediately.”

“But sir-”

The transmission cuts.

“Damn it!” Caitlyn slams her thigh.

“It’s just you and me now lady.” The voice comes through again. “I believe in you.”

The tank believes in her. For the first time ever, a tank entrusts his life to her. She doesn’t even believe in herself. Not after the shenanigans that costs her an entire platoon. It’s even a fortune that she is here at the moment. And that’s because that concussive round fell on her just some distance from an abandoned tank.

“Hey lady…” Caitlyn raises her head as the tank addresses her. “Have you ever enabled safeties off before?”

Caitlyn recalls her experience of working with tanks of the same design before. “I don’t think I have.”

“Did you know that my loader would also go wild under that condition?”

“If you meant faster…”

Caitlyn’s words are interrupted by a loud rumble. A shell lands just in front of the tank, barely missing him again.

“Contact! Direction 45.” The voice yells. “Yes, yes. I meant faster.”

Caitlyn sees three crimson triangles on the radar screen advancing toward her. Peering through the periscope, the enemy tanks look just as real and menacing. There’s no more time for her to think. She has to make another decision.

She quickly brings up a screen that shows the terrain in a kilometre radius from her. On one corner she spots a sort of an orchard with dense foliage.

“Take us uphill, toward that vegetations at 330.” Caitlyn says while pulling the smoke triggers twice in a considerate interval. The screens not only obscure vision, but also disrupt radar, concealing the vehicle for a brief moment.

“Got it.” The voice replies. The tank turns toward that direction.

Caitlyn fires another smoke screen just as the tank about to enter the orchard.

“Just so you know that’s my last smoke screen.”

“I’m aware of it.” She nods. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it. I’m putting a waypoint on the screen, take up position there.”

“Heading over.”

“Turn off any lightings you have.”

Darkness is already upon them. The tank is still covered in his ghillie coat. With the help of the foliage, those Gauntlets should have a hard time finding them here.

“All flashy things are off.”

If they indeed decide to scour the orchard. Caitlyn doesn’t wish to stay put while knowing a company is bleeding their way to clear a path for her. That’s just doesn’t seem fair to her. She has to put some effort, to do her part. She has to fight back.

“Now we wait.” Caitlyn says, gently touching one side of the interior to her left. “Then let’s see how fast your loader works under safeties off.”

“Understood.”

Then the radar picks up the three Gauntlets ahead of them heading to their left, seemingly unaware of their position. Caitlyn’s gaze falls at the periscope screen ensuring that the enemy tanks are there.

“Do you see them?”

“I see them.”

Caitlyn trains the main gun at the lead tank. Her attention leers for a brief moment to the amount of AP rounds available. It is enough. She then takes a deep breath.

“Here we go!” She says, pressing the fire button hard.

The main gun of the tank roars again. Followed up by another, shortly. And another. And another. Five shells are fired toward the enemy’s lead tank in quick succession. Two falls short. One got deflected and the other two disables the main gun. The other two turns their turret as soon as the shells hit.

“That was fast.” Caitlyn astonished.

“I told you.” The voice replies. “Anyway, no time for cheers. They’re on to us now. What’s your next plan.”

“Charge them.” She says. “Full speed ahead.”

The cabin is silent for a moment.

“What?”

“I said charge!” Caitlyn raises her tone. “Go, go, go!”

The tank jerks forward before going downhill at an incredible speed. The inclination allows them to reach such pace in a short amount of time. Caitlyn brings herself to a seat and straps the safety belt.

“I don’t like the looks of this.”

“Don’t stop!” Caitlyn yells again. She turns the turret ninety-degrees to the left.

The Gauntlet they’re rushing to perhaps know what they’re up to now. But it is too late for them. As they’re turning their front hull to Caitlyn’s direction…

“Arrgh!” The voice grunts

Two pieces of steel collides under the dim glare of the stars. The head-shattering noise echoes to the corner of the plains; every critter that caught them tremble and scatter in terror. The crash is enough to throw Caitlyn’s head to the interior in front of her again. Even in the presence of the tightly strapped safety belt. Of course, being an Android, she is able to withstand the slight metallic bump on her forehead.

Caitlyn hastily releases the safety belt and scrambles to the weapon system again.

“Hit the reverse gear and turn right!” She says.

The tank reverses and turns to the right, circling behind the Gauntlets’ formation. The one that they crashed into doesn’t show any further movement. Perhaps the crash is sufficient to knock out the crew.

“My head is still ringing from that crash.”

“You don’t have one.”

“If I had one.”

Caitlyn turns the turret toward the immobilized tank and fires straight to the engine compartment on their rear. The 125mm AP round shot through a rifled barrel makes a quick work through the Gauntlet’s rear hull and butchered its engine. As Caitlyn turns the turret to face the last Gauntlet, she notices where its turret is aiming. And on a whim…

Stop! Stop! Now!” She yells, slamming on the cabin’s walls while holding tight on something. And just after they stops, the ground in front of them burst dirt to the air. A shell just landed there, barely hitting them.

“That was too close!”

Caitlyn presses the fire button, launching two consecutive shot toward the Gauntlet’s side, slightly to the rear. The enemy tank then burst into flames.

“Ha! Take that!” The voice cries.

“Go, now! Get us out of here!”

The tank swing around, accelerating past his redline again. Caitlyn takes the chance as the tank passes the enemy lead Gauntlet that got its gun disabled, and fires a shot at their tracks. It hits, and now that Gauntlet is no longer near a threat to them.

“We made it! We made it!” The voice cheers.

Caitlyn gaze falls on the screen that shows three disarmed Gauntlet that grows smaller as they get further. They sit helpless amidst the flat plain, lit by the moonlight. Their crimson outlines are still visible within this distance. She takes a deep breath in the absence of their threat. A brief pause that allows her to cool down. And a relief that she managed to get over them and emerge alive with additional kill counts. Fate isn’t so hard on her after all. For now, she just nods and replies gently.

“We made it.”

But amidst her cheering heart and relieving tension, the voice utters something…

“Uh-” Something that she wanted to hear the least.

“What’s going on?” She asks, pretending that it is not a dire concern. It could be one indeed. But pretending gives her a better edge of remaining calm; an attitude expected of all leaders and commanders.

Just as she finished asking, a bang from the rear hull echoes its way to the cabin and catches her attention.

“What was that?” She asks before taking a glance at one side of the control panel. Something definitely goes off, and that doesn’t appear to be good news since the result is the gradual reduction of the number shown by the speedometer.

“That’s my engine.” The voice says as the tank finally comes to a halt. “That’s an example of what would happen if limits are broken for too long.”

“An example?” Caitlyn shakes at what that implies. “You mean there’s more damage you are sustaining?”

“Loader is actually not in a decent condition now.” The voice says. “Sure you can use it, but there’s a high risk of the shell exploding before it leaves the barrel. That should spell your end.”

            Damn.

“I should be able to repair you.” Caitlyn says. She just came out of an engagement victorious, one where she is outnumbered. She is so close. There has to be friendlies waiting on the other side of the prairie. Once there they only have to drive a bit further through the gap that they made, before finally reaching safety behind their lines.

“I’m afraid…” The voice pauses. “That’s not an option.”

“Why?”

“I’m getting target locks from along direction 300 to 60.” He responds. “We’re surrounded.”

Caitlyn climbs up to the hatch as soon as the voice ends his statement. As soon as she does, she finds crimson pointers trained at her. Some of the glare caught her eyes. The infantries lurking in the darkness begins to creep forward, revealing themselves. She takes a deep breath.

“Well, that was a good fight. We’ve resisted well.”

“It’s good knowing you.” Caitlyn says, raising her hands.

When the tank is about to commit a self-destruct sequence, the Guards that surround them suddenly, and collectively, turn their sight to the skies behind them. Caitlyn hears it too, something is splitting the air, across the sea of darkness above. A second later, it falls on them. Particularly on the Guards, hailing them with missiles and gunfires.

Caitlyn quickly ducks, leaving a small part of her head still exposed so she could see the events unfolding. That thing sweeps above them in a split second. But it’s enough for her to make the form of its silhouette.

The ArC’s attack aircraft, Cosmos.

Its flyby is followed by an artillery barrage that scatters the Guards.

“51st Tank Platoon, this is Captain Fort of the 12th Combined Proxy Company speaking.” A voice comes through her utilizer. “We have utility units advancing to your position and commence extraction shortly. Two Vertices squad will reach you prior to their arrival for support. Over.”

“They’re here! We’re saved!” The tank says to Caitlyn. He then proceeds to reply. “This is the 51st Tank Platoon speaking. Allow me to personally express my gratitude for you Captain Fort.”

“Mine as well.” Caitlyn follows.

“That can be done later when we got you out of there.” Fort replies.

All in all, it is safe for her to assume that she is indeed finally safe. She collapses to a seat in her cabin, her head resting on its headrest.

            At last…

It has been one hectic evening for her. She wishes that fate allows her to have her much needed rest for the day. Especially when she hasn’t calibrated herself in the span of the week thanks to the operation.

“By the way, I haven’t caught your name.” The tank speaks again.

He’s right. For some reason, they managed to survive without knowing each other. Perhaps that owes to how overwhelming the odds are against them. But now that they made it, she guesses that it’s the right time to shake hands.

“It’s Caitlyn.” She says to the voice. “Grauwelle Caitlyn.”

“Grauwelle Caitlyn, eh?” The voice says in a tone that should show him forming a smirk on his face if he ever had one. “What a beautiful name.”

Caitlyn grins and shrugs at that response. “Thank you.” She turns her sight down believing that she could do better than that, if only not due to the exhaustion and adrenaline of breaking through enemy lines to withdraw. “How about you?” She asks the voice in return.

“Mine is Protivotankoviy,” The voice speaks with a sign of confidence. “I suggest you find an alternate name based on that, because I doubt you could spell that amidst the chaos of battle.”

She turns to tank’s ceilings while reaching deep into her processor. It doesn’t take long for her to come up with something.

“PT.” Caitlyn says to Protivotankoviy. “I’ll call you PT.”

“Sounds brilliant to me.” PT replies.

“Good.” Caitlyn nods.

“And how about I call you…” PT speaks again. “KT.”

Caitlyn shrugs. That sounds quite unsettling to her. But to honour the tank that has helped her out of the enemy lines, she’ll just let that one pass.  “Fair trade, I guess.”

“If they allow you to be my commander, that’d be our callsigns okay? Just between us.”

Caitlyn waves two fingers besides her head. “Aye aye.”

She then chuckles. Throughout her career, she never thought that the Automatons could develop a personality like PT. It felt like she was conversing with a human or another Android. It comes as a strange tingling feeling to her core. It warms her that she could learn more about PT. At least, when he came out of manufacture, his first battle, and how he got here. And for some reason, Caitlyn wishes that they assign her to be PT’s commander.

Fortunately, fate would have it her way.

–**–

            The Ground Combat Vehicle Mark V ‘Redeemer’ is ArC’s battle tank that have seen deployment countless of times, dating as far as The Primus’ conquest. Weighing about sixty-nine tons, it sports a 125mm rifled gun with an effective range of 4500 meters, as well as an automatic loader to allow rapid and accurate fire volley. However, it can take less hit compared to the TeV’s counterpart, the Gauntlet. In compensation, it is able to move swiftly from one point to another. The Primus demands a quick death of his enemies in battle, and the tank is that demand manifested. They are most devastating when used in cover or to flank enemy positions. Their high explosive shells can damage any enemy equipment, or straight up destroy most of them.

Caitlyn stares out the window of her hab. Three days flew past without PT. She requested several days off to command to rest herself. Mostly a mental concern. She just saw her own platoon got decimated because of her decision. The faces of her dead comrade often come to meet her when she closes her eyes. It’s hard for her to imagine how it would feel for them to lay dead on the battlefield knowing no one would come to extract them; especially for the human personnel, who have families back home waiting for their return. The command granted her request, considering they also need to do something about the 51st Tank Platoon.

The clock eventually hits lunch break for the day. At least that’s how it should be for the human personnel. Nevertheless, she decides to leave for the mess hall. She marches past a crowd of Proxies filling the hallways. Some groups are having conversation on one side, some hurries past in a fraction of a second; stumbling on almost anyone in the hallways. At one point, one of those men nudge Caitlyn’s shoulder. He glances around to state a brief apology. But Caitlyn only leers at him without any words.

The mess hall is even more crowded; A mix of individual chattering and the clatter of dishes being stacked are the noises that dominates the space. Caitlyn utters no second thought as she walks toward a certain fridge on one side of the mess hall and grabs a battery from columns of them stored there.

She rushes to an empty seating around the corner as soon as she spots it. Once she sits down, she plucks the charging tube from the battery. The hatch on her nape opens, revealing a circular notch sticking out from her neck. Caitlyn plugs one end of the charging tube to that notch, and the other toward the notch on one side of the metallic cylinder the size of her grip. She takes a deep breath as azure sparkles travel along the surface of the charging tube from the battery’s notch to her notch. Her core is filled with relief that she even finds a vacant space amidst this space crowded with a mass of personnel.

Caitlyn takes a glance at the brand on the battery.

Prime Respite.

An odd name, she thought. The company have been supplying rations to the men ever since the late period of the first war. A long-time dedication. She sometimes wonders the story behind their dedication to The Primus, especially their name which is apparently an adaptation of his name. Are they an independent company? Or just another property of The Primus? Either way, she couldn’t deny that a lunch break is always delightful with their battery tin.

“Oh, look!” A girl voice coming from her left. “It’s Caitlyn!”

She turns her attention, finding two girls standing just across her separated by the length of her seating.

“How are you doing, Caitlyn?” The other one says.

Caitlyn sighs. They are her colleagues during her times in the NCO school.

“Good day, Alezia, Lyzmy.” She waves to the two of them before grabbing her battery tin and standing up.

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Lyzmy asks her.

“We just came here. Don’t you want to have a bit of a chit-chat with us? This might be the first time we’ve been together ever since we graduated.” Alezia follows.

There are truths in her words. The burden of tasks on her shoulder have exploded ever since she became an NCO. Her duties now involve administering a unit, which have consumed a huge portion of her times. She even barely has times for herself, let alone to converse with others during leisure. She is indeed, free at the moment. But she just doesn’t feel like it. And it’s not that these two girls worsen her burden at one point before. They went through the NCO school just like how they went through various operations and battles. Trusting and supporting each other have been the norm among them. But now…

“I need to be alone, for a while.” She says to them, sharing a brief glance.

Alezia and Lyzmy don’t even look disappointed; instead worries cloud their faces.

Lyzmy sighs. “Fine, take care Caitlyn.”

Caitlyn nods before marching away from them, putting her battery tin in the pocket of her coat. From the corner of her eyes, she can see them conversing with each other. And amidst the hubbub of the mess hall, she could catch some words coming out of their mouth.

“…when…she become this? How?”

“Shh…let her…”

She pities herself that she has to instil worry on her comrades.

Back at her hab, she finds a maid with a blonde hair of shoulder length with small side-braid to her left temple standing in front of her hab door with her sight to her pad. It doesn’t take long for the maid to notice her arrival.

“First Sergeant Grauwelle Caitlyn,” The maid presents a salute as soon as Caitlyn reaches her. “Maid Corporal Genesis Zenith, reporting.”

Caitlyn takes a second look at her. An Android. She is clad in her combat gear. Her sight is sharp and her figure is firm. Given that she is a maid corporal in the frontlines, tough times which mostly involves firearms should be her best friend. And her face doesn’t show any sense of worry or anxiety that she might die anytime soon. She appears more than willing to spill Vindicators’ blood at any times without any doubt.

“How do you know it’s me?” Caitlyn asks.

“I am well informed that this hab here is yours.” Genesis replies.

“How long have you been standing there?”

“Not much,” The maid replies. “Only fifteen minutes. Or less, probably.” She checks the time shown by her utilizer strapped to her left wrist.

Caitlyn sighs. “Very well.” She says gently. “State your business, maid corporal.”

“The command has a new order for you. And I am here to take charge in supporting you.” Genesis says, handing the pad to Caitlyn.

Caitlyn grabs the pad and read the document it currently views. Apparently, reports came to them that some TeVs are spotted moving towards a settlement recently captured by the ArC. A counter-attack perhaps. And she is ordered to provide armoured support for the current garrison of that position, holding them off and buying time whilst command is assembling a unit to consolidate it.

“How about my reinforcement?”

“Command is still taking care of that matter.” Genesis says. “For now, they expect you to make do with what you currently have.”

Caitlyn takes a deep breath.

“And in accordance with that, I shall be the second personnel in your tank.”

“And the Creeper?”

“My colleague is going to operate that utility truck.”

“I assume you are capable to operate the tank.”

“I have been trained in that field, and have gone through plenty of drills.” Genesis nods. “You only need to provide me with directions, ma’am.”

“Very well.” Caitlyn hands over the pad back to Genesis before entering her hab. She unpacks her combat gear, pausing for a second to gaze on her helmet as soon as she pulls it out of her container in the hab. It is the same helmet that has accompanied her throughout her carreer as a tank crew ever since she is a Recruit. It is still there with all of its glories; a witness to all the hard-times Caitlyn have went through. Especially the annihilation of her previous platoon.

Once she has her combat gear strapped, Caitlyn emerges out from her hab and locks it.

“Let’s move.” She says to Genesis.

Genesis nods, maintaining her sharp sight. She locks the metal cap on her head as soon as Caitlyn begins to march away from her hab.

It is time. Duty calls her again. Her break time is over. She once again has to smell death amidst the roaring 125mm guns. But it is so that there can still be foods on the dinner table for those children. At least, with the presence of PT, the smell of death possesses a different flavour.

The garage has always been crowded during operational hours. It is a large space able to hold up to thirteen Redeemers, a number worthy of a tank battalion. Utility-class Proxies and Maid Sections are those often found scurrying inside and within the vicinity of the place. They conduct repairs, inspection, and other labour to ensure the proper function of the combat vehicles in the field.

A laser welder hisses as Caitlyn marches toward her new tank platoon. There she sees a Redeemer, a Creeper, and another maid scrutinizing the Redeemer, probably inspecting him.

“KT!” The tank greets her first as soon as she is nearing him.

“Good day, PT.”

“Come get to know this maid, she has been decent to me.”

Caitlyn raises an eyebrow. “Define decent.”

“You know, good old talks during inspection. Kept me delighted throughout what should be a boring procedure.”

“So you call him PT, huh?” Genesis asks.

“For convenience.” Caitlyn replies, waving her hand at her.

“It appears that your tank has an extraordinary interest in talking with others.” The maid on the tank says. She has a long hair with pale golden hue that is barely reaching her waist. Her two locks that extends to her chest on both sides are tucked into black rings with a chipped side. She is also clad in her combat gear. Her metal cap is already locked on her head.

She jumps down from PT’s hull and presents a salute as soon as she puts her pad aside. “Maid Lance Corporal Charlotte Cavatica, at your service.”

Caitlyn salutes in return. “How is PT doing, Maid Lance Corporal?”

“Last inspection is yesterday. Result is the same. Everything is in check, ready for action.”

“Excellent.” Caitlyn nods. “Everyone assumes your position and let’s head to that distressed grid.” She says to Genesis and Charlotte.

“Yes ma’am.” The two maid replies in unison.

Genesis rushes toward the crew’s cabin inside PT through the driver’s hatch while Charlotte hops swiftly to the Creeper’s driver seat.

“By the way,” Caitlyn speaks through the utilizer as she follows through the turret’s hatch, addressing both maids. “Allow me to call you by name. You can just call me Caitlyn in turn.”

“Understood, Caitlyn. Charlotte should be fine.” Charlotte replies through her utilizer.

“Call me Genesis then, yes?” Genesis says to her directly as she enters the crew’s cabin.

“Can do.” She then proceeds to run her fingers on the control panel. “PT man the gun for now, and keep on watch.”

“Sensor on maximum awareness. Looking out for hostiles.” The tank exclaims.

Genesis pulls a lever. The engine roars. The cabin vibrates though it is barely noticeable.

“Oh, and…” Something suddenly struck Caitlyn’s processor, something that she missed. “I haven’t caught the Creeper’s name.”

“Khorosho Priyom.” The utility truck replies through her utilizer. Her rough voice is of a female in her adolescence. “Thought for a moment there you’re going to forget me.” She says, her humming engine also comes through Caitlyn’s utilizer.

“It’d be a sleepless calibration for me should that happen.” Caitlyn replies.

“I told you, she won’t forget.” Charlotte voice is heard through the channel.

“Garage Control, this is the 51st Tank Platoon currently comprising of a Redeemer and a Creeper requesting clearance for departure, over.” Caitlyn speaks through her utilizer via a channel that can be heard by everyone in the platoon.

“51st Tank Platoon this is Garage Control,” A male voice gently replies to her. “Command wanted you in K8-2-8 to assess the incoming TeV incursion. You’re clear to head there, over.”

“Appreciate that.” Caitlyn says.

Genesis hits the gear and turns to align PT with the garage’s main pathway. The Creeper follows close. The large garage door shifts to the sides. Every personnel on the garage’s main pathway swiftly moves aside and make way for the departing 51st Tank Platoon.

“Here we go.” Genesis accelerates PT to maximum speed.

Caitlyn climbs up to the turret hatch. The light of day falls on them as PT emerges out of the garage. She puts a hand on top of her helmet as the breeze streams against her face. To PT’s flanks are sporadic mass of Proxies and Maids. On one side are the Maids hauling crates into carrier trucks, the Runners. On the other are Direct-class Proxies filling armoured personnel carriers, the Crescents. Caitlyn catches a platoon of them departing the base, perhaps reinforcing another position along the front.

Then a squadron of Cosmos streaks through the skies above her. She watches them disappears in the distance. It must be exciting to see all your enemies from above. The way they move and maneuver in the field. Satellite tracking could only do so much. Sometimes they don’t update hostile presence on the map until after contact is made. Hence ground forces still have to rely on their senses.

“Hey Genesis,” Charlotte voice comes through her utilizer. “Don’t you think you’re driving too fast?”

Caitlyn glances behind her, at the utility truck. She is indeed, getting further and further.

“You’re at top speed already?” Genesis replies.

“You do realize that KP is way heavier than that tank, right?”

“Let us regroup at a point before advancing to the desired position.” Caitlyn opens up her utilizer and marks a point at the map. “There, I’ve marked it for you.”

“As you say, Caitlyn.” Charlotte responds.

“The path that’ll take us there should be secured. There has to be no Vindicators around.”

“Guess I’ll see you there then, Charlotte.” Genesis chuckles.

“Fine.” Charlotte sighs. “But you owe me battery tins if I don’t find you there.”

Genesis continues speeding up as Caitlyn turns her gaze to the front again.

Suddenly a notification on her utilizer. She brings it up and her breath is caught when she finds out that it’s PT.

“Good to have you back, by the way. I suppose you’re feeling well now?”

Caitlyn types her reply. “Why are you sending me text messages?”

“This is personal, ok? I don’t want that maid to eavesdrop on our conversation.”

A tank wanted a personal conversation with her? It sounds weird at first glance. But that peculiarity is sending a warm tingling to her core. One that drives a smile on her face. She decides that she would go his way. He has saved her anyway, and he has yet to receive anything in return from her.

“Fine.” She replies. “What is up in your mind?”

“Still the same question.”

Caitlyn shrugs. “I hope so. Enough to do this one task I suppose.”

“At one point, I was worried that you won’t be able to lead anymore.”

“I need a break, PT. It’s not every day you’re responsible for the death of an entire platoon.”

“Don’t think about it too much okay? The dice just doesn’t favour you at that time, and there’s nothing you can do about it. At least you got me out of there alive.”

“I think you’re right.”

Caitlyn can see the sign. PT is quite a talkative Automaton. He just lost his crew, and his other Redeemer partners as well. It must have broken him, the way the destruction of her platoon broken her as well. She shouldn’t have locked herself in her hab.

“I’m sorry for leaving you alone.”

Silence.

She crosses her arms on top of PT’s turret hull before hiding her face there. She shouldn’t have said that. Her action has left him worried. It is indeed the right thing to say. But maybe it’s not the right time to say that. Caitlyn slaps the turret hull with her left hand repeatedly. PT must feel weird reading that statement, as much as she is cringing for sending it. She wishes that she didn’t write that. She wishes that she could be more patient in sending that message.

But to her surprise…

“Hey, it’s not like I’m your priority.” PT replies. “As long as you’re fine, I can take more hits to my rear than an average Redeemer could.”

His words brought a smile to her face. Maybe he felt that clapping on his turret.

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

They continue their advance as soon as they regroup with Charlotte. A small settlement lies ahead of them. The buildings are hollow and worn down, most likely a product of artilleries and air-strikes. Caitlyn sees some Runners arrayed diagonally along a sidewalk, their front is facing an aisle too small for them to drive through. The Maids are unloading the Runners of their crates. It must be the first wave of supplies that just made it to the place. They drift off the sidewalk once they’re empty, turning to the direction from which they arrived and hit their top speed.

Caitlyn turns to her utilizer and speaks through the local channel.

“This is the 51st Tank Platoon, notifying of arrival. Command has yet to reinforce us, so you only have one Redeemer at hand, over.”

“Good to see you again, first sergeant.” A familiar voice replies. “This is Captain Fort of the 12th Combined Proxy Company. I’m the one commanding the defence of this position. Supporting us is the 94th Foot Proxy Company, and they have Amplifier Proxies entrenched in critical choke points to suppress enemy advance, over.”

“They told me to support your defence. Do you have any specifics?”

“We will hold you in reserve for now. Depending on the situation, you might not need to fire that big gun of yours.”

“Well isn’t that convenient?” PT’s words come through the utilizer.

“We’ll see how kind fate is to you today.” Fort replies.

“Understood.” Caitlyn says. She then switches to her platoon’s channel. “Genesis, Charlotte, we’re going to stand by at the settlement’s centre, over.”

“Command received.” Genesis says.

“Heading there.” Charlotte responds.

“By the way first sergeant,” Caitlyn receives Fort’s words again. To her surprise, he speaks through the whisper channel. “Maid Corporal Genesis Zenith is with you right?”

“Yes, she is with me.”

“Good.” He responds. “Report immediately if you see something strange happening to her, over.”

What?

Caitlyn sets her sight ahead of her. That part of the captain’s words caught her attention. What could he possibly mean by something strange?

But before her processor wander around that topic, her sentiment of obedience caught up. She has to reply to the captain’s words first.

“Yes, sir.”

Not long after, KP pulls up to PT’s left, stopping slightly behind. That is when Genesis emerges out of the second turret hatch just beside Caitlyn. She stretches her arms high overhead, making it looks like she wanted to detach them from her.

“Aah…” She breathes out a piece of air.

Caitlyn puts her head on her left hand as her gaze falls upon Genesis, her left elbow is standing on the turret’s hull. She wonders whether that counts as something strange that happens to her.

It doesn’t take long for Genesis to notice. She turns her glance toward Caitlyn.

“What’s the matter?” She asks.

“Captain Fort asks me to report any strange occurrences centred around you.”

Genesis’ wide-eyed gaze falls on Caitlyn for a moment. She chuckles a few seconds later.

“Eh, it’s just the captain,” Genesis waves her right hand before her face as she tilts away from Caitlyn. “He is always worried about me.”

Her bubbling joy left Caitlyn pouting with a slightly frowned face.

What a naïve girl.

It’s a wonder for one to have someone in higher places constantly concerned about them. They should cherish such blessing since it leads to their higher chance of survival. The command doesn’t really care if she is lost and unrecoverable in battle. The events three days ago show just that. It is only when they see a Redeemer cruising through the field that they begun their contact. Because, obviously, it is an expensive equipment that the command hardly could afford to lose. She however, is not. She is just one amongst millions other Androids that the ArC could arm for the war.

Caitlyn is quick to brush that expression away as soon as she feels like replying.

“You’re such a fortunate one, aren’t you?”

“Not really.” Genesis shrugs. “You are aware that the Maids are sometimes sent into combat, right?”

“Sometimes, yeah.”

“If there is a list of descending priorities of Maids that will see combat, I’d be at the bottom-most one.” Genesis crosses her arms. “Not fair as far as I deem. Charlotte got to be one of the highest on the list.”

Caitlyn smirks at that implication.

“Ah, because you’re the captain’s crown jewel, eh?”

Genesis puts her arms on her waist and bends toward Caitlyn. “I don’t have any relations with Captain Fort, alright.” She then leers away for some reason. “Although to me he is indeed, quite.”

“It is fair, I think.” A calm voice coming from their left. The two glances down and finds Charlotte leaning against PT’s side armour. “As a commanding officer, would you like it if you see one of your men charging the enemy formations by themselves despite the clear order of retreat or withdrawal?”

Throughout her job as a platoon leader, Caitlyn have seen at least one Redeemer that break formation so they could charge the seemingly vulnerable enemy flank. It is the tank commander’s will. He was hungry for personal glory. And his rash action has costed the entire platoon. These kinds of people are indeed a burden, and it always annoys her when it happens.

Caitlyn now turns a curious gaze toward Genesis; one of her eyebrows is lifted. She wonders, whether Genesis is that kind of person.

Genesis returns Caitlyn’s gaze with an apparent, although slightly, worried expression. “Charlotte, come on.” She says, turning to Charlotte.

“Maybe, like me, you could top that list if you spent more time in the sniping range, sweetie.” Charlotte turns to Genesis with her left eye shut and a wide smile to her face.

Genesis sighs while sinking into the hatch. She crosses her arms on the turret’s hull and places her chin there.

“My anxiety always gets me whenever we wait for them to come. So, I thought it would be better to just get it over with.” She pouts.

It appears that murky skies just gloomed over her. Caitlyn understood that feeling. Who is not terrified knowing death is on the other side, slowly marching toward their position? Losing a life means ceasing everything you’ve worked for so far. The longer it takes for that certain death to arrive, the more space available for one’s mind to peer through time, remembering both their past achievement and those that are about to come. And the more reminiscent one becomes, the more willing one is to hold on to their lives. And hence their reluctance to engage the enemy.

It is perhaps this that Genesis despises.

Caitlyn pats her shoulder in an attempt to cheer her up.

“It’s fine, Genesis.” Caitlyn says to her. “We’ve all been through that. It is unpleasant indeed. But this is war, everything is unpleasant. Hence we at least have to think of a course of action that could make it a bit more pleasant on our side.”

Genesis rises back. Her sight gradually turns to Caitlyn. “I guess you’re right.”

“And since you’re my driver,” Caitlyn continues. “I trust you to get me and PT out of this alive, okay?” She raises her right hand; the tip of its index is touching the tip of its thumb.

Genesis straightens her stature and replies with a similar gesture. “I’ll see to it.” She returns Caitlyn’s smile.

“Good.” Caitlyn pats her back.

“You know you could just force me on the wheel and get us out of any pickle, right?” PT voices comes through.

Caitlyn slams her hand hard to the turret’s hull, maintaining her grin toward Genesis.

“You know that doesn’t hurt right?”

Caitlyn tilts her head to the right. “Please forgive the tank.” She says.

Genesis shrugs, turning her sights forward. “No problem.”

“Incoming!” A yelling that comes through Caitlyn’s utilizer.

A ball of flames burst on the roof of a barren house some distance ahead of Caitlyn, followed by a loud explosion noise. Black smokes spew outward, trailing above in accordance to the wind. Charlotte nimbly rushes back to KP, while Caitlyn and Genesis submerge and closes the turret hatch above them.

“There they are.” Genesis says as she scrambles back to the driver seat.

The rumbling continues, some are stronger than the others. The cabin trembles slightly as the shells keep on pounding the ground in proximity to their position. Then huge tremors with deafening roar, that of a bellowing beast, permeates inside PT. Caitlyn and Genesis hold on to something to keep themselves stable as instances of shockwave burst through them.

“We are being shelled, you two are okay there right?” PT asks.

“We’re fine, PT.” Caitlyn replies.

“I hope those Maids got to shelter in time.” Genesis says.

“I’m safe inside here, right?” Charlotte’s voice comes through the utilizer.

“My armour is thicker than that metallic lump with firing mechanism there.” KP says.

“Hey!” PT responds in a raised tone, his rough voice blares through all their utilizers. “Who do you call metallic lump, huh!?”

“It can be anyone. Too bad I don’t have fingers to point that out for you.” There’s a slight chuckle in KP’s tone. One can picture a smug forming on her face if she has any.

“Well I wish you’re not responsible for babysitting me, dirty hag.”

Caitlyn chuckles at what that implies. PT can land a shell or two on that utility truck’s hull. That is, when the command is not looking.

“Smoke screen to the east.” Says a Proxy.

“Another one to north-northeast.”

“And to the southeast.”

Caitlyn checks out the map shown by one of PT’s screens. Judging by the smoke deployment, the TeV is commencing an assault along the settlement’s frontiers. This position must have been essential to them. Hence the defence must hold at all cost. She hopes that more reinforcement is coming to consolidate their position there.

“Platoons of Guards are advancing through the smoke, supported by Carapaces.” Says another voice which is drenched deep in commotions of rapid rifle fire, cartridges ricochets, and 20mm shell impacts.

Carapaces are TeV’s walking metallic shell. Creeping on six legs, they are armed with two 7.62mm machine guns and a double-barrelled 20mm autocannon to provide dense fire support able to tear through fortifications. Their thick armour meant that they can survive even more hits than the Gauntlets.

“There are eight of them coming from this side.”

“An additional four is spotted emerging from the north-northeast.”

Fort’s voice then comes through, “Twelve Carapaces, copy. Direct Proxies, unload your RPGs on those things. Maids get two crates of those rockets to the outposts along defence line beta.”

From PT’s periscope, Caitlyn sees the Maids sprung into action, loading the available Runners with crates supposedly filled with anti-tank rockets. The work is done in such a pace that left Caitlyn’s eyes wide. In fifteen seconds, the Runners, two of them filled with AT rockets crates, have already left the scene.

“You Maids are an impressive breed.” Caitlyn turns to Genesis.

Genesis shrugs. “I mean, our master zips from one side of the battlefield to the other in mere minutes if not seconds.”

“Sir Microv Edward?”

Genesis nods, her hands are tapping on the steering wheel.

Caitlyn heard a story of that man, the second highest authorities in the ArC, one of the few that possess superhuman abilities.

“It’s a basic drill for us frontline Maids. They even gave us enhancement modules to speed up the job by ten folds. But of course, the speed never matches that of our master. He is on a different level.” Genesis continues.

It is said that he personally supports the defence of five chokepoints at the same time during the Siege of Vaniyya in The Primus’ conquest. And whichever point he is in, the Vindicators’ advance there is halted. Such is the power of The Primus’ right-hand-man. She couldn’t imagine what The Primus himself is capable of.

“We owe a great deal to you then.” Caitlyn grins as she crosses her arms.

“Sort of.” Genesis replies, turning her attention to Caitlyn. “But our master has ensured that you don’t.”

But still, such a great feat is worthy of something in return to them from the Proxies themselves. At least, that is how it should be as Caitlyn thought. Because logistics are the backbone of every military force.

“Our recognition should suffice, I guess?” She says.

“But of course,” Genesis turns her gaze ahead, leering at Caitlyn with her left eye shut. “Who wouldn’t notice cute girls in maid uniform running around the battlefield armed with carbines and an emitter katana?”

Caitlyn chuckles. “You are indeed a sight, huh.”

“We have Gauntlets making a run for our position.” A calm voice in contrast with the roaring RPGs in the background, followed by even more bullet ricochet.

“Copy,” Fort replies. “First Sergeant Caitlyn, I believe your tank demands something to shoot at. Go around them from the hills to the north and give them a pounding.”

“I do think demand is an overstatement.” PT replies first.

Caitlyn nods to Genesis the second Captain Fort provides the direction. She turns PT around and drive the tank along the path leading to the hills that he mentioned.

“We’re heading there, sir.” Caitlyn responds.

“Be careful you three.” Charlotte says through the platoon channel as the tank dashes out of the settlement.

They eventually reach the hill. It is an elevated position with a rather lightly wooded area. They could assume a position where PT’s gun just peeks out of the hill toward the two Gauntlets to the settlement’s north-northeast. If they return fire, their shot would unlikely hit them since they have to fire uphill. Even still, PT can survive some hits from the front. And if situation gets critical, Genesis could just hit the reverse gear and bail out of the position.

“Take us there, Genesis.” Caitlyn says, marking a position on the map that’s visible to both of them. “We should be able to fire down on them from there.”

“Taking us there.” Genesis replies.

But as soon as they climbed the hill…

“Ow!” PT cries.

Along with that is the shaking of the cabin in the wake of a missile crashing to PT’s front hull. Unlike the Androids, the Automatons don’t have pain receptors. The way PT responds in such a manner when hit in the face by a missile is probably him being shocked at the sudden reduction of his hull’s integrity.

The cabin shakes again as two more rockets hits PT’s front hull.

“We have contacts!” Genesis yells.

In front of them are two squads of Guards supported by a Carapace armed with anti-tank missile launcher instead of the autocannon. PT fires a shot at the Carapace but that just bounces off its front armour.

“No penetration!? You can’t be serious.” PT exclaims.

Caitlyn pulls the smoke triggers. “Back up! Back up!” She says.

Genesis hits the reverse gear and PT gradually rolls down the hill.

“We can’t support them like this.” Genesis says, glancing at Caitlyn.

“Well we can’t go there without any support either.” PT replies. “Unless of course, you fancy going out in a blaze of glory.”

Caitlyn falls silent. Available forces are all tied down in the defence of the settlement. There’s no way she would ask for reinforcement from the captain. Even if she does, her request would most likely be denied. But she has to take care of those Gauntlets, to alleviate the defences and save as much men as possible. She could send a request for air support, but that is too expensive for such a small detachment facing them.

There is one option left for her.

“Genesis,” Caitlyn turns to her. “I’ll leave those Guards to you.”

“What?” Genesis asks, her eyes meet Caitlyn’s.

“Charlotte claimed that you prefer to charge the enemy. Thus, I assume that you are a capable fighter.”

“Well, sort of.” Genesis tilts her head.

“Then get out there, and take care of them.” Caitlyn says while running her fingers on the control panel, turning the autopilot on. “PT will take the wheel. We will handle that Carapace.”

Genesis nods. “Very well.” She grabs her carbine that is leaning against the left side of the cabin, and loads a magazine. Then she opens the hatch above her and jumps out of the tank.

“We’re counting on you, Genesis.”

Genesis only raises her right thumb as she advances into the smoke screen. As soon as she vanishes into the smoke, Caitlyn hears a barrage of gunshot from beyond.

“Let’s hope she’ll make it.”

“That maid looks tough. She’ll be alright.”

Caitlyn nods as she assumes control of PT’s gun. “Take us a few more meters north, we shall make our return to the hill there.”

The Carapace, seeing that its big target gone, should now be unoccupied. Which means, there is no guarantee that it won’t lay fire on Genesis. She is not only facing hostile fire from the ten Guards, but also the Carapace’s machine guns. Caitlyn grips her fists at that scenario which most probably is occurring at the moment.

Hang in there, Genesis…

They make their climb again on the other side of the hill as soon as they circumvent a small part of it. Caitlyn’s breath caught when they come across a sight of five Guards running to the right, against the direction of their previous climb, followed by the Carapace that slowly creeps backward; its machine guns firing at the smoke screen that’s about to clear up. Caitlyn takes a quick glance to what the walker is firing at. There she finds Genesis cowering behind a tree trunk solid enough to brave the machine gun fire; bracing herself with her head tucked. After a closer look, Caitlyn finds that with her is the TeV’s anti-tank missile launcher.

Unfortunately, her back is against the side where Caitlyn is. So perhaps she is unaware that they have returned to the fray.     When Caitlyn is about to notify her, she emerges out of cover and fires a missile at the Carapace. It hits the walker’s missile launcher, but the damage appears to be negligible. And as soon as she is about to return to cover, three of the machine guns’ cartridges make it through her.

The maid collapses.

“Genesis!” Caitlyn cries through her utilizer.

“You bastard!” PT yells out. “KT, hit that trigger!”

Caitlyn turns and sees that PT has his turret aimed at the walker’s missile turret. Without any doubt, she slams on the trigger.

PT’s gun roars as soon as the Carapace align its front to PT’s direction. The 125mm armour-piercing shell slips inside the Carapace’s launcher barrel, and further into the high-explosive missile loaded inside.

Within a split second of contact, the walking metallic shell burst into flames, its parts rocket as far as the tree-tops before falling down in fiery pieces reek of burnt metals.

“PT,” Caitlyn says as she scrambles out of the tank. “Assume position slightly behind the marker that I’ve previously set.”

“Roger.” PT moves toward the designated point as soon as Catilyn jumps out of him.

She then takes a thousand steps toward Genesis. Electric sparks are leaping out of the holes on her body formed by the 7.62mm cartridges. Caitlyn draws her ear closer toward Genesis’ chest. She could still hear a faint hum coming from within. It indicates that her core is still functioning. Perhaps her consciousness is shot by the shock of bullet impacts. But she is still alive at the moment, and can still be saved.

Caitlyn straps Genesis’ carbine to her, before putting the unconscious maid body on to her back. She trots toward PT’s location.

“Uh, KT.” The tank speaks to her.

“What is it?”

“The Gauntlets are pulling back.” He says. “Their turrets aimed at our position.”

Caitlyn puts Genesis on PT’s hull before climbing it, doing so while processing what the tank words’ means.

“They are aware of us now.” She sighs.

“Well at least we tried.” PT says. “At least they pull back right?”

They indeed pulled back, which provides a breathing room for the defenders. But they will definitely return. And by the time that happens, they would already have this position fortified as to prevent further flanking maneuver such as what they were trying to achieve. It would then be difficult to contain those Gauntlets if the settlement is not reinforced anytime soon.

“First sergeant, the Gauntlets to the north-northeast are pulling back. But I don’t see any shots landing on them.” Fort’s voice comes through.

Caitlyn scrambles down the hatch, laying Genesis down inside the cabin in an as much as comfort deemed possible in such a cramped space.

“Our position has been compromised.” She responds. “They have stationed two squads of Guards and a Carapace prior to our arrival. We took care of them but Genesis is down.”

“Artillery, take cover!” A Proxy voice that spikes as soon as Caitlyn finishes her sentence.

That yelling prompts her to peek out of the hatch. She is met by hails of projectiles trailing through the blue sky, before finally landing at several points in the settlement. The thundering explosions follow a few seconds after the shells land on houses, streets, and decorations. Caitlyn cranes her head up, tracking the trajectories of those shells. Her gaze eventually falls to a direction where the enemy artillery is most probably stationed.

“Charlotte, are you still there?” Caitlyn calls her.

“Still alive. Receiving artillery fire but KP is still holding so far.”

“Genesis is down.”

“What?” Charlotte asks in her calm tone that doesn’t imply any sort of concern.

“She got shot and need attention. PT could use some too.”

“Guess you want me there, don’t you?”

“We’ll rendezvous at a mid-point just like previously.”

As soon as Caitlyn says that, the captain’s voice interrupts.

“First Sergeant Caitlyn, can you see where did those shells come from?”

Caitlyn turns her gaze to the previous direction where her suspicion of enemy artillery presence rings.

“It is about five degree west of north sir, a few clicks from my position.”

“Excellent,” Fort commends with a slightly raised tone. “Now get there and blow them to hell.”

“But sir, Genesis is injured and I could use some repairs on PT.”

“Denied.” Fort states. “This artillery barrage doesn’t stop those Guards from picking us off from the distance. We have to abandon our position.”

“Don’t we have reinforcement coming?”

“I don’t know what the command is doing back there. But there don’t seem to be one anytime soon.” Fort’s voice is mixed with the trembling noise of crashing high-explosive shells, as well as machine gun fire. “We are about to stage a fighting retreat, but with that artillery piece lying around I’m afraid it would take less than a few seconds for it to be a full rout.”

Caitlyn falls silent. Her situation is just like three days ago, the time when she met PT. All alone deep in enemy lines, as her comrades are retreating. Why does it have to be like this? Why she has to be the one that advances while everyone else is falling back? It was a fortune that she and PT made it out alive back then. She doubts that it would occur again for the second time. This time there’s almost no guarantee that there would be allies breaking through to get to them. She might have to break through the enemy lines by herself.

“Hey, KT.” PT calls out to her.

She turns towards one of the screens that shows a wiggly line with peaks that spikes whenever PT speaks.

“We can do this.” He says to her. “We’ve made it before. We’ll make it again.”

“First sergeant!” Fort’s voice becomes louder. “Do you hear me? Are you there?”

Caitlyn shuts her eyes, trying to ignore the captain’s voice.

“I’m not sure, PT.” Her hand touches the screen with the line as she turns her gaze down.

“Hey, listen.” PT’s voice gentle down. “We’ve been through hell okay? That’s why they’re depending on us. They wanted us to go because no-one dares to do that. We can do this, I believe we can.”

A tank asked her to believe that they could make this daring assault. Just like what had happened before. The thought of that left a bubbling impression in her core.

“Caitlyn, what should it be?” That’s Charlotte voice coming through.

“I’m going to take the maid’s word for it. Remember what you’re fighting for, and remember just that, nothing more. Then, we charge their position and show them who’s boss.”

Caitlyn grips her hand that she placed on the screen. If only PT has a hand…

It doesn’t take long for her to nod.

“Very well.” She moves to her seat and man the gun again. “Direction five degrees west of north, full speed ahead.”

“That’s the spirit!” PT exclaims. “Five degrees west of north it is.”

Caitlyn then pulls up her utilizer. “Captain Fort, we’re advancing toward that artillery piece, over.”

“I’ll make sure something is up for you back here, once you are done.” He replies. “Also, there will be air supports for you. They’re going to abide my request for this one.”

“Much obliged, captain.”

“Yeah they better be!” PT yells out.

“Caitlyn?” Charlotte calls for her again.

“I’m after that enemy artillery so you could safely retreat.” Caitlyn replies.

“I wish fate sides you this day.”

“Thank you.”

Caitlyn glances at the speedometer. It shows Redeemer’s top speed. They are now cruising toward the enemy artillery position. There might be some Guards stationed there for protection. But with careful approach, they could sneak up and snipe those damned cannons, and haul away before those Guards could catch up to them. She and PT just needs an elevated position so they could fire down on the enemy position.

And as fortune has it, Caitlyn finds a slightly higher ridge after a careful observation of the surrounding environment. In addition to that is a dense vegetation covering the whole ridge, allowing an excellent concealment should the enemy return fire. Caitlyn orders PT to slow down as to not give away their position. They prowl ever closer on a designated position along the ridge. And as soon as they reached it, as soon as they got view on the enemy artillery position…

“Whoa…” Caitlyn’s mouth gaped.

“What the hell is that…” PT expresses his astonishment with a tone that mimics a whisper.

Down there is a plaza of a barren village. Perhaps it is once used as a place for the townsfolk to gather. And on that plaza are two massive tanks, two times the size of PT. Their large hull is carried by four pieces of tracks, two on each side. Their overwhelming turret bears the weight of two 155mm barrels, something that Caitlyn sure is able to penetrate PT’s side in a single volley. Their barrels are currently angled upward. The implication of that sends shiver down Caitlyn’s spine.

“This is the enemy artillery that is bombarding the settlement?”

“Those shots originated here right? There’s nothing else around here but those two monstrosities.”

            Monstrosities…

Even PT is afraid of that thing.

And the affirmation of their fears is served on a silver platter not long after.

Their barrels roar in turn repeatedly, firing a salvo toward the heavens. The ground rocks in their wake, the trees shed their foliage for each shell that leaves the barrel. Even one of the desolated structures in their proximity collapses. It is as if they brought doomsday with them, a representative of a mythological titan who quakes the world with his raging roar. PT’s cabin vibrates hard. Caitlyn cowers as the tanks keep on firing, tucking her head and covering her ears. She couldn’t imagine what sort of madness that drive one to create what even PT refers to as monstrosities.

The firing soon ends, and Caitlyn collapses to her seat. It feels like she has just gone through the end of the world and survived. But that took away all her energy, her spirit. She is not sure whether she alone could bring such a massive machinery down.

“Do you think we could pierce that thing’s armour?”

“No.” PT replies. There is no continuation to his statement. “We can deal damage. But alone, they would be negligible.”

After finding no Guards around, Caitlyn reaches for the last glimmer of hope of taking that thing down.

“But at least they are artillery pieces, right?” She asks. “They’re not meant for direct combat.”

“KT! Brace Yourselves!” PT yells frantically, as he hits the reverse gear.

Caitlyn attempts to do what he told her, but the movement transition happened too fast that she is thrown to the front side of the cabin.

“Aah…!” Caitlyn yelps as she braces herself in the wake of terrifying shockwaves that quakes PT’s cabin. “PT!” She calls out to him.

The shock is so powerful that it topples PT’s balance. But he quickly regains it.

“What was that?” Caitlyn says.

As the dirt rains down and the dust clouds clears up, PT opens his mouth again if he had one.

“Death…”

From the other side of the dust clouds emerges the same monstrosity that they have observed from the ridge, slowly creeping toward them. Caitlyn’s breath is caught as its size grows ever more overwhelming as the tank approach them steadily. Their barrels are straightened, aimed at them. And in the seconds between life and death, Caitlyn’s processor freezes; her mouth gaping in the sight of that monstrosity.

“That’s it!” PT shouts. “I’m getting us out of here!” His words, and a sudden jerk of movement snaps Caitlyn back to reality.

And just as PT drives away, two shells land on where they were standing.

“Bloody hell!” PT yells again. “KT! Are you there!?”

“I…” Caitlyn stutters, her breath heavy. “I’m here…” She holds on to the vibrating cabin as she tries to recover herself.

“Thank the Primus you’re okay.”

“Get us…” Caitlyn pauses, catching her breath. Her core is still quaking from that last shot coming out of that monster’s barrel. She looks deep to find herself. But all she finds is only the thought of getting annihilated by its shell. “Get us away from that thing!” Caitlyn then cries. “Anywhere away from them!”

“That’s what I’m doing right now! Stay calm and get your processor back in shape.”

As soon as he said that, he suddenly stops. Caitlyn once again got thrown to the cabin’s front as there is no deceleration. PT just stops as if he crashes into a massive boulder strong enough to hold his advance.

“PT!” Caitlyn cries at him as she rubs her head.

“I can’t move!”

“What’s going on!?” Caitlyn asks, her tone is filled with all the concerns that she could come up with. She looks around and finds the displays of the screens surrounding her are getting distorted and covered in statics. “What’s going on!?” She asks again with a louder tone.

“That bastard snared me!”

In the next second, Caitlyn could perceive a backward movement occurring. She scrambles out of the hatch and turns her gaze to PT’s rear. There the monstrosity has its turret aimed at PT. But there is something different about it. There is quite a space between its two barrels. And in that space is a large circular compartment. That compartment is now opened, firing a crimson beam that is holding PT in place.

Even worse, the beam is pulling PT closer to it.

And then the massive tank aligns its front toward PT’s rear. As soon as that happens, some contraptions emerge out from under the front hull. They then unpack, revealing their cylindrical shape that is perpendicular to the tank’s width as well as the sharp thermal blades attached to them. Caitlyn soon realizes what they are as they begin to spin at an uncanny rate.

“PT, drive…” She says as soon as she sinks back into the hatch. “Drive! Drive!” Her voice gets louder with each word.

“I’m at full speed!”

But despite of it, they keep going backward; they are being dragged backward.

Caitlyn scrambles for the turret control and tries to turn it to the tank’s direction. But it doesn’t work.

“Turn your turret and unload some AP on that thing!” Caitlyn yells

“I can’t either!”

Caitlyn can hear the noise of the spinning blades gets louder and louder. She dares herself to peek out of the hatch. And that is a mistake. As she is greeted by the sight of the blades that gets closer, their song for her demise grows ever evident. And she feels that her soul, if she even has one, just departed from her.

“DRIVE, YOU USELESS JUNK! DRIVE!!!” She yells out an order to PT in an unusually deafening tone.

“I CAAAN’T!!!!”

Caitlyn sinks and cowers.

By that point, the spinning blades barely reached PT’s rear.

When suddenly an explosion occurs on the massive tank’s circular compartment. And that releases PT from its grip. He nimbly rolls off, leaving the monstrosity behind further and further in a short time span, as another explosion occurs on the tank’s track.

Two Cosmos streaks past overhead.

“We got you covered 51st Tank Platoon.” Says one of the pilots.

The massive tank should be able to fire on PT. But for some reason, it decides not to.

“Thank…” PT pauses. “You.”

“Where are you going? I thought you’re heading for that artillery.” Says the other.

“Negative.” PT replies. “We have to abort. The enemy have a new toy that caught us off guard and renders my commander combat ineffective.”

“Roger that.” The first pilot says. “Command is evacuating the settlement at the moment. There will be gunships escorting you, they are on their way to your position.”

“I appreciate that.”

Caitlyn only listens to that conversation in silence, all while she is regaining her senses.

“KT…” PT calls her out.

But Caitlyn remains silent. Her hollow sight is turned down. She gathers the remainder of her strength and position herself beside Genesis.

“KT…” PT calls her again, in a gentler tone.

She takes a glance at Genesis’ composed face. Of course, she is unconscious and didn’t experience the horror that she has just witnessed.

“KT?”

The vibrating cabin and the hum of PT’s engine blows a drowsy breeze into the cabin. Too much have happened to her for the day, most that makes it up comes from the recent occurrence, the encounter with that monstrosity. The image of that massive hunk of machinery is still vivid in her processor.

Caitlyn wonders…

“Hey KT, please tell me you are there.”

Whether closing her eyes could make it disappear. Whether following Genesis up could help her forget that monstrosity.

And after taking a deep breath, her heavy head falls on Genesis’ right shoulder and her sight turns dark.

“Hey KT!”

–**–


Writer: PrimDom

Prime Respite (Part 8: Final)


Chapter 8: Final

It’s sunrise when the Proxies pour down the island in response to their leader’s call.

Trails of dark smoke sway as they rise to the heavens. The grandeur of the gardens an hour ago is nowhere to be found. Only shredded decorations remain, shadows of their former self. The ground reeks of heated shrapnel, those that came from the same muzzles that defiled his serene respite. Who would’ve seen that coming? Who would’ve thought to send a force to raid a mansion of no strategic value?

Then something come to his mind. His personal computer inside is an archive to all his reservoir researches. It’s his secret that won him his conquest, and the seat above every ArC personnel. Hence everything about them has to be as far as possible from everyone. Who knows what those thralls might come up with now that they have uncovered it. His world dominance has dropped from certain to probable. If he wishes to remain on the top, he has to do something.

How they concluded that he stored his reservoir researches in his mansion is beyond him for now. Maybe fortune sprinkles all over them as they made their decision. Maybe they have agents among his men.

“Microv.” He then calls to his subordinate. “How’s Lena?”

“She requires our finest medical treatment if you wish her to live.”

He takes a deep breath.

“Looks like someone is concerned.”

“She was, mesmerizing. The fragrance that she left on me resembles that of the hyacinth I picked once in my dream. She…care for my well-being, and committed herself to it. Who am I then to deny her of my compassion?”

“Even though you’re charging her?”

“That is another story.”

He begins to turn to the remaining three children that has attempted to drive those thralls out. The girl, Julia if he is not mistaken, has a wrapping around her abdomen and her left thigh. The red marks on them appear vivid and fresh. One of the boys have blood streaking down his temple and an arm supported by a sling, while the other has bandages covering his left eye and another on his shoulder.

“The other children then?”

“They’ll live alrite.” He responds, nodding at them. “They’ll recover. Though not sure about that boy’s eye.”

He peers to his left, to the Proxies that gathers up the other children who, unlike the three, aren’t as fortunate. They’ll receive a proper burial. But for now…

He steps past his subordinate and confronts the children, his posture seemingly towering over since the children are on the ground. Was there any more of those thralls’ agents? Among these three, perhaps? He might be able to answer but that would require quite a delay. There is however, one thing for sure.

“You’ve opened your arms for a hostile agent.”

The three shares a glance. Julia speaks up. “Sir, how are we supposed to know that she is a Vindicator?”

“Regardless. Since there’s a written regulation concerning such deed, you too shall be charged.”

Julia gasps. She gazes down in silence, her face turns to ground with a hint of tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks.

“Charged?” The boy, which bear the name Lennard as Microv told him, asked with his unusually low tone. “Charged, huh!?”

He then stands up. “Hey, listen up.” He says, taking a step closer. “Who the hell are you!?” His yell causes all the Proxies watching him ready their rifles. “We are meant to serve a leader indeed. But in turn, that leader has to protect us, provide for us. After then we would abide by their words. But you…” Lennard points his left index to the Primus.

“Your war had milked us to the very edge, till there’s nothing left!!! And then you just cast us aside like toys that you don’t want to play with anymore!”

“Are we obliged to serve you then? Do you have the right to boss us around then?” He proceeds to point at the arrays of his comrades’ corpses laid side by side. “No, we aren’t. No, you don’t! My friends lost their lives, believing they did the right thing for you. You should be grateful that we even listen to your rally.”

A silence ensues. A standoff between the most powerful man in the world, and a fragile boy with a broken wing. The Proxies share a glance to each other, considering whether or not they should take immediate action.

“What!? Now you’re planning to kill me or something? Execute me in this very moment maybe?”

“Lennard.” The boy named Zen calls out his friend.

“I’m spitting facts here, Zen! Are you going to deny those truths!?”

The Primus is silent. Heat begins to converge on the top of his head. But as much as he is willing to unleash it, he doesn’t intend to repeat the accident that costs his office’s maid colonel her beauty. Especially against a young boy that’s already a victim both from the thralls’ incursion and his own ambition. He turns to gaze at the mesmerizing sunrise in the distance. The gradient sky that signals of the rising sphere of light. The magnificent view caught his attention for a few moments. And before he realizes it, the heat on his head disappears. Now he can view things the way they should be viewed. The way everything the boy said is true.

He takes a deep breath and turns back to the boy.

“As much as I have torn families apart, I can’t be cruel to my own citizen who obeys me with their heart.” He says with a gentle tone.

His calm response surprises Lennard as he relaxes his muscle. Microv lifts a finger, and the Proxies turn down their rifles.

“But written regulations remain the way they are. Stepping over them is treason, and ought to be dealt to maintain order.”

The three children share a glance. Lennard looks down at his feet. It means he’s still going to charge them for allowing hostile infiltration.

The Primus steps closer and holds Lennard by his shoulder.

“However, I have a proposition. A compensation for you children.”

–**–

It’s a week after the incident.

I trudge along a hall with my cleaning equipment, occasionally pressing my left arm to my abdomen, where the remainder of my stab wound is. Despite the hull of my torso plating, the daggers that struck there felt incredibly painful. I wonder…

Hunnggh!

The noise that I made as I wrinkle under the flaring wound. I thought I was fully recovered. Turns out the pain still lingers after seven days of treatment. That golden-haired girl was really meant to kill.

Ouch.

They sent me back to Creatio Genetrix. I was in the treatment bay when I regain my consciousness. To my surprise, the maid colonel herself is beside me as soon as I open my eyes. But what comes out of her mouth was a terrible news.

“…Thereby, Valeska Helena, is under charge for the violation of private properties, especially the properties of the Primus himself…” She said.

And for that occasion, he confiscated all my life savings, as well as cutting my accommodation to just enough for my daily needs.

“I’m sorry…” is the only phrase that she uttered after, before she leaves the room.

I let out a deep exhale as that fact come to haunt me again.

Now how am I going to buy a land and restore my family’s wealth?

I was so close. Yet I lost it all.

Given my cut, I’m not sure how long until I have enough. That is assuming land prices aren’t rocketing due to scarcity in accordance with population growth.

Everything just goes on simultaneously within my head. They are too much for me to process. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what should I feel. And then a sniffle comes through. My sight remains on the floor, but I believe anyone else near catch that. This failure, it cuts deeper than those daggers that had stabbed me. I raise my left arm to cover my eyes as they begin to well up.

But with that, gone are my sights. And that happens, again. I slipped.

All my body, from head to feet crashes against the floor. I couldn’t bring myself together, thanks to the injuries that are screaming due to the collision. So I remain on the floor, cowering to hold against the pain.

Why does this happen to me?

I don’t understand. What sin have I committed to deserve this? Maybe restoring my family’s wealth isn’t meant to be my path. Maybe following them up is one. If only that fall lands a nail in my coffin. If only the empress wasn’t there to shield me. If only the flames that evening consumed me. If only my dad didn’t bother to fertilize my mom. Damn it. If only the slipping could just kill me right here, right now. I would greatly appreciate it, even though I have nothing to show my gratitude.

Mom, dad, forgive me. I could only go this far…

“Lena!” Suddenly I heard a female voice. I wish it is my mom. I wish she would come, pick me up, and caress me like old times.

To my surprise, I’m really picked up. Oh, how I miss you mom.

“Lena, please stay with us.”

Of course, mom. Why would I…

Wait, us? Ah, of course.

I reopen my eyes to a face of a girl calling out to her surroundings. Her arms are around my back, supporting my body. She then leers back on me.

“She’s back!” She shouts before wrapping my arm around her shoulder. “Come on.”

“Hnggh!” I grunt as the injuries whine again when she is helping me to stand. I press my left arm against my stomach.

“Thank…” It’s the only word that comes out of me as the pain stands out.

That’s when I see other maids gathering near me.

“She doesn’t look good, initiative treatment perhaps?”

“Lena, Lena, have you had your breakfast?”

“I can get you something from the lounge.”

“How about some rest? I’ll handle your tasks.”

The chatter goes on. But I’m in quite a physical pain that prevents me to reply. I just ask them for a place to lie down. They then bring me to one side of the hall. What they do is quite astonishing. One of them hastily pulls their half-apron and lays it on the floor. Another sits on her calf on one side. And the girl that is supporting me carefully lays my head on the other girl’s lap, the one that is sitting on her calf.

It appears that these maids suddenly concerned about me. I appreciate that. But if it isn’t genuine, then why bother?

“W-why are you helping me?”

The four maids share a glance.

“Um…” The girl that helped me up speaks first. “I heard about your stories. I’d love to hear it from you.” She taps her indexes against each other. “My name is Zara. How about we become friends in turn?”

Friends?

“Hey, hey, me too!” The girl that offers me her lap exclaims. “Oh, it’s Anne by the way.”

“I’m Saskia. Pleased to meet you”

“And you can call me Thalia.”

Ah…friends. Something that I have been missing since that fateful evening.

–**–

A year passed.

The days I’ve spent with Zara, Anne, Saskia, and Thalia paid off. They make time flies fast. And for some moment, I forgot that I still have to pay for my charges. That the Primus confiscate all my life savings and cut my accommodations. The colors they brought brings a new flavor to my gray, tasteless world. I still am heartbroken over the fact that I’m going to need perhaps another decade to purchase a land. But with them here, they don’t hurt as much.

I appreciate them. Some more to my debt list.

It is then when I got orders to pack all my belongings. They don’t specify the purpose, only saying that I’m about to be moved somewhere else. It’s probably something to do with my punishment. I’m being moved somewhere for my arrest. Well, I’m in no state to disobey so I just follow their orders.

I bid farewell to my new friends, saying that we shall meet again. And then I take off.

I’m still in my maid uniform when the air transport lands. To my surprise, I return to the island of the Primus’ vacation site. I’m then put in a transport along with my belongings. As the trip goes, I gaze out the window. Out there are majestic arrays of trees and mountains. It feels peaceful. Something about them soothe my pain and ease my worries. Before long, I find myself wanting to stare at them for the rest of my life. Perhaps it’s the greatest joy that I could obtain for the moment.

I grin at that thought. Nature really is fascinating.

Eventually the transport stops.

I step down to a sizeable piece of flat-land. On the other side is what appears to be a farmhouse. The sight left me in awe. And along with that astonishment is a ponder. Why would they bring me here?

“Here we go.” The transport man says to me as he walks up beside. “We’ll be taking care of your belongings. For now, they’re waiting for you.” He says, pointing his thumb at a specific direction.

“Why am I here?” I ask him.

“Just, go to them over there.” He says.

I turn my gaze to the direction he is pointing. There I see a large group of Proxies, and three familiar faces beside them. They are Julia, Lennard, and most importantly, Zen. My heart is relieved. I am all stuffed with glee at the fact that they survived the incident.

I stride to them.

They wave at me as I draw near.

“Lena!”

“Over here!”

That’s Julia and Lennard yelling in turn. Zen remains calm beside them, with a grin that warms my heart. I notice an eyepatch on his left eye. Nevertheless, that doesn’t reduce his gorgeous features.

“It’s been a while, isn’t it Lena?” Julia says with her captivating smile.

I nod. “I’m glad you’re all still in one piece.”

Everyone then turns to Zen. “Well, not exactly…” Lennard says. “But acceptable.” He shrugs.

I also turn to him. My feelings got in the way, forming way too many words to convey. I couldn’t decide what to say. So I just wave my hand saying,

“How are you, Zen?”

“I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” He says, nodding at me.

“Hey,” Lennard barks again. “You two haven’t see each other for a year. Is that anything you have to say?”

Zen and I share a glance. His gleaming eyes gaze straight into mine. It is an enchanting moment. I couldn’t believe I manage to find a stranger of my age, to whom I would give my compassion. I think I am fortunate that he also feels the same way.

I glance to Lennard. “Maybe the rest will come later.”

“Ehh, the rest?” Julia says with a smug. “Do you really plan to do that later?”

Uhh…what?

“Julia, please.” Zen says to her.

“Alright, alright.” Julia raises her hands.

Ah I see. That. When a couple hasn’t seen each other for a long time, what would they do? Normally, a hug, a kiss, and then…

“Ah look, Lena is red again.” Julia chuckles with a hand covering her lip.

Again? I take a deep breath. Oh well… That might be too mature. But I’m not denying that I would do that with him.

In any case, I decide to change the topic. I gently shake my head.

“By the way,” I say. “What’s going on here? And what’s with all the Proxies over there?” I point at the large group of Proxies with my thumb.

“Well…” Lennard says, pausing midway to leer at Zen.

“I think it’s better for the man himself to explain the case.” Zen says.

The man?

Not long after, someone comes out of the farmhouse. It’s sir Microv. It doesn’t take long for him to turn over here.

“Hey,” He directs his yell toward the farmhouse. “The delinquent lass is here!”

Oh my…Even after a year, he still refers to me with that phrase.

Then a middle-aged couple I’m not familiar with emerges out of the farmhouse. They turn their gaze this way. The ones that come after them are Colonel Iva, and the Primus, respectively. They all stand there in silence for a second. The Primus moves first, gesturing to the rest behind him to follow up.

“Are you still in pain?” He asks.

“Physical?” Because I still have some inner pain that still lingers. The loss of my parents, for example. “They’re long gone by now.”

“Excellent.” He turns to sir Microv. “That’s one medical achievement.”

“One for the books.” Microv responds, tapping on his utilizer.

“How is your mansion doing, sir?” I ask him a fake question, hoping to break the ice after a year lacking of words exchange.

“Rebuilding. Should be done any time soon.”

As he turns to the direction where his mansion is supposed to be, I guess it’s time for the real question.

“So, sir…” I call him again. “What’s all of this?”

He turns to me. “This is your land now.”

“Huh…?” What!? My land!? Wait, he can’t be serious. Am I in a dream right now? There’s no way this is happening. This…this is just a dream right. Right?

“He’s telling the truth, Lena.” Julia adds. “I don’t think a person like him would pull this huge of a prank.”

“Whoo…” Lennard follows up with a clapping. “Congrats.”

Still, I couldn’t comprehend the fact that he just gives me away a land this vast. It takes me five minutes’ walk to get here from my drop point. There has to be something behind this. This is too good to be true.

“B-but…why?”

The Primus glances to the spacious empty land to his right.

“The confiscation of your life savings, as well as your accommodations’ cut is directed for this.” He says. “It’s an alternative for you, and your friends, to pay for the charges.”

“I have to cultivate this land.”

He nods. “Think about it. Not only you’ll achieve your dream, but this island will also flourish like it once had.” He then turns to me again. “But you have a condition in turn.”

 Ah yes, here they come.

“From now on, you will no longer be a part of the Creatio Genetrix’s maids. Reapplication in advance will be denied. And in the next five years, you will have to reach a certain net worth. Success means you’ll keep everything, and a pardon will apply to all of you. You are still pardoned if you fail, but you have to forfeit all of this as I assign someone else to take over.”

I nod. “That means I won’t be receiving any more accommodation from you?”

“And no more salary.”

“I understand.”

“Instead, this couple will accommodate you.” He says, pointing to the middle-aged couple who step forward. “Come get to know them. They’re your godparents now.”

Godparents? I gape at the fact that he went this far as giving me godparents.

“Glad to see you, Lena. I’m Glas Weisskopf. Just call me Weiss.” He says. Mr. Weiss then turns to his wife. “Give it a go, honey.”

“With pleasure, I’m Rosemarie. You can call me anything around that. Rose, Marie, or perhaps Mrs. Weiss.”

“Pleased to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Weiss.” I present a bow.

“I think I like this girl.” Mrs. Weiss says to her spouse.

“Colonel Weisskopf is a shining fella on the front.” Microv barks. “So captivating that our enemies are all going for him. So dangerous that Mrs. Weisskopf keep wishing for his safety twenty-four seven.”

“I appreciate the introduction Mr. Edward.” Mr. Weiss nods at sir Microv.

“And those men there, are his.” Microv continues, nodding at the direction of the large group of Proxies. “They’ve seen countless unpleasant times that we consider them to retire.”

“But of course…” The Primus speaks again, raising his hand. “That is if you succeed, in five years.” He says. “Your failure equals to sending him back to the front, as well as his men.”

Hearing that, Mr. and Mrs. Weiss turn to each other with a smile that seems to be forced.

“What if I reject your offer?” I say to the Primus.

“Then you’ll return to Creatio Genetrix and live up with your cut salary and accommodation until you’re pardoned. Your friends will be a subject to the Proxies discipline, and will be sent to the front along with Colonel Weisskopf and his men. This place, will be my private property.”

That left me in silence, pondering of the situation. If I succeed in cultivating this land under the timespan that he proposed, I’ll be the lady of this land. Just like my mother. And my family’s name will be restored in the process. I can’t imagine what happens next if I fail. Well, I’m not concerned for myself. It’s more about Julia, Lennard, and Zen. Perhaps even Mr. Weiss. I believe Mr. Weiss have seen quite a thorn in the front. Meanwhile, Julia, Lennard, and Zen have gone through a rough beginning. If they are all sent to combat the Vindicators in the main stage…

I don’t know. Now it’s not just my family’s wealth at stake, but also the lives of Julia, Lennard, Zen and these men. It’s no longer personal. And due to that, my doubt is over the roof.

Apparently, my silence is noticed by everyone. From the corner of my eyes, I see the Primus jerks his head, gesturing for everyone to disperse for a moment. He then approaches me.

“Sir…” I stutter.

“You’ve made it this far. You have no reason to be discouraged.”

“They’re in danger, sir. You said you’ll send them to the front if I fail.”

“That is if you fail.”

“But the first task that I am entrusted with ended in failure.”

The Primus sighs. “Take lesson then, Lena.” He says with a gentle tone that somehow feels heartwarming. “No one has ever succeeded in the first try. But I believe you’ll succeed now. After all you’ve been through, and given your determination.”

I turn to everyone who is now standing within distance from me. They all seem to be cheering out for some reason, getting to know each other. Especially the maid colonel.

“Retirement is cool, indeed.” That’s sir Microv barking in the distance. “But I ain’t stopping now. Who the hell is up to sweep his mess along the way?”

His mess probably refers to the Primus’.

“Can I talk to Zen please?”

The Primus nods. He strides to where the crowd is and gestures for him. It doesn’t take too long for Zen to come after me.

“What’s the matter?” Zen asks.

“Did you know that he’s sending you, Julia, and Lennard to the front if I fail?”

“We’re aware of that, Lena.”

But not only that. They will be assigned to Colonel Weisskopf’s unit which, as far as sir Microv’s description goes, apparently tends to bear the burden of dangerous tasks. The fact that there remains around fifty men left in his unit implies the numerous amounts of casualties associated with achieving the objectives given to them. The odds of survival are certainly minimal at best. Zen probably won’t survive another day in a mission handed to his unit.

“The Vindicators have killed nearly all of your friends that night. It’s dangerous out there.”

Zen takes a deep breath. “Look Lena,” He says, getting even closer to me. Perhaps the closest one. His bright captivating features this close begins to drive me wild. “You shouldn’t be concerned about that. Focus instead, on how to make the best of these and succeed.”

I turn my gaze down. “You know I led a team once and failed. And that’s only for a simple task of caring for the Primus.” I mean, owning a land is indeed my dream. But, “I don’t know about cultivating this land under a deadline.”

“Don’t worry Lena.” He says. “The frontlines are brutal places. I’m pretty sure Mr. Weiss and his men have little to no desire in returning there, even though they’re made for it. And that’s why I believe they will also do their best to help you, alongside us.”

My sight is raised back at him. This feeling blossom even brighter within as I trace the details of his features. Eventually, I give in to my temptation. I step closer, placing my hands on his chest just below his shoulders, and leans my head against it.

“If you’re going to the front, then I’ll come with you.” I say gently. I believe I have the sufficient fitness drills. But for the role, anything could work. As long as I’m with him.

“If you insist…” He says, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.

My heart races, like a pendulum that sways faster with each tick. The smooth texture of his shirt provides a comfort for my head. I silently rejoice in the presence of his delicate scent that pervades to every corner of my nostril. The vast grass lands in spring where he offers his hand while wearing a glimmering royal suit is now within grasp. Only without the glimmering royal part. Nevertheless, I remain grateful.

Who would’ve thought that it would come to this? For the first time ever, nothing else feels matter for me. Just him all the way. The way his warmth permeates within me raises my confidence by a huge amount. No matter what the world has to offer, I believe I could withstand it. I want to stay like this forever.

“But for now, let’s do our best together. Promise. At least you did something for the best of this place.”

I nod. “You’re right.”

Zen then turns to the crowd. “Do you want me to get them?”

“I’d be much obliged.”

Zen walks to them. And in the next moment, they all come marching here. I turn to the Primus and make my statement be heard by everyone here.

“I’ll accept your offering. And I shall meet your demand as well.” I say to him.

“That’s the spirit!” Lennard shouting at me.

“Way to go, Lena.” That’s Julia cheering me up.

“I’ll be here if you need me.” Of course you will, Zen.

The Primus turns to sir Microv and Colonel Iva. He then pulls out his utilizer.

“There are some starter seeds that you could work with in the farmhouse’s storage. There will also be some transport at your disposal, including a cargo ferry that should carry your commodities abroad. Here are the licenses and contracts that you’ll need. The number of the net worth is also attached. The name of this place is for you to decide. Register it once you are assured.”

I retrieve all the documents he sent to my utilizer.

“Do you need anything else?” The Primus proceeds to ask me.

I take a deep breath. “I think that’s everything, sir.”

“Colonel Weisskopf?”

“All is well, sir.”

“Take care of them, that’s an order.” The Primus points at him.

Mr. Weiss stands in order and salute him without saying a word.

“Yeah, I’m blaming you if one of their arses caught fire.” Sir Microv points at Mr. Weiss.

“Hush, Microv.” The Primus says. He then turns to Colonel Iva. “Iva, parting gesture? This could be the last time you see her.”

She nods before stepping forward. The maid colonel has been silent through this moment, but she never seemed more joyful before.

“Ma,am…” I salute her.

Colonel Iva present a gentle smile toward me, a genuine one that she never seems to be able to commit before. “Drop that formality. You won’t be taking orders from me anymore.” She says.

“Uhh…” Just as she said, I gradually lower my salute. “As you say, Ma’am.”

“Ms. Iva.”

“Yes, Ms. Iva.”

“Thank you.” She nods at me. “For that, for your service…” The maid colonel makes an unexpected pause. “For everything…”

I, of course, notice what she is referring to.

“I’ve heard about you from him.”

Colonel Iva steal a glance to the Primus behind her. He sighs and turns his gaze down. She turns back to me and nods. Her eyes however, starts to glitter.

“Thank you for trying to protect us.” I say to her

In a split second she grabs me and hugs me with all her might. Her face is against my left shoulder, which begins to feel damp. Sniffles and whimpering come after.

“I’m in your d-debt…forever.” She says.

“Ms. Iva…”

The prestigious maid colonel who appears to be strict all the time falls apart before me. The Primus turns around and takes several steps away, followed by sir Microv.

“I don’t know what you did. But one night, when he told me to bring him a chocolate pudding, he raises the spoon and put it into my mouth piece by piece. He proceeds to brush my hair, dropping the best fragrance he has as he tidies them up. And as I lay on my bed, he gently put my blanket on before sitting next to me for bedtime stories. When I give in, he kisses my forehead, wishing me a good night before apologizing.”

A tear comes running down my cheek.

“Thank goodness…” I say. “How I’m relieved to hear that, Ms. Iva.”

She nods on my shoulder before letting go. After wiping her own eyes, she pulls out her napkin and wipes her leftovers on my left shoulder.

“Promise me you’ll not fail.” She then says. “I’ll not be the only one who mourn should you fail. Hana, Rina, Eri, and Theo will as well.”

Now that the maid colonel, Ms. Iva, mentioned it, I have to succeed. As it’s not only for my family’s wealth, Zen, and the lives of others. But also for her, as well as my fallen team.

Hana, Rina, Eri, Theo…If you are watching, listening, I hope you note this.

“Don’t worry, I won’t fail.”

She sniffles once more. “Tell me if you need anything. I’ll gather all the help I could get.”

“Don’t be too harsh on yourself, Ms. Iva.”

“But for you, I insist.”

I nod.

“Iva!” That’s sir Microv calling her out in the distance. “Transport is here. Your father wants you to come over as soon as possible.”

“I’ll be going, take care Valeska Helena.” She says to me before trotting to catch up with Microv.

This has to be the greatest prize in my life. I never thought that I’d receive something like this. Despite the condition, this is something that will make me forever indebted to him. Imagine the possibilities. I could expand my family’s wealth. I could get a place for Uncle Bark who had ransomed me. And perhaps, Hana’s last will…

Will I ever see him again? Will he still be alive once this place reaches its pinnacle? Will I ever be able to repay him?

My body surges first before I knew it. I call out for him once more.

He turns around.

“Thank you, sir.” I say, bowing to him with teary eyes. But now, they are tears of joy. “Thank you for everything.”

“Thank me later. When you’ve reached that net worth.” He says, stroking my head.

“I promise to see you through to your end.”

He gently shakes his head. “You don’t have to.”

I sniffle as I raise my head. And he wipes my tears.

Ah…

“If only Iva is your age, if only Genesis and Katrina are still alive…You all would make the best of friends.” He says, turning his gaze to the skies.

Despite all of his misbehavior, he is still a human. Despite all of his cruel deeds, he only longs for a daughter. His hostilities and ruthless tendencies arise to protect the tender part of his soul, the part which he couldn’t give to anyone since there’s only a tiny remain of them.

“Don’t stop disciplining people, Lena. That’s an order.”

That’s the last thing he said to me, before departing with his transport.

I wave farewell as everyone converges on me.

“Hey Lena, you might want to give this place a name.” Lennard says to me.

“I concur.” Mr. Weiss adds. “Just, not after this island.”

“I suggest something that could encourage our gear to grind this land, to meet his demand.” Zen says.

I look around, trying to find the perfect phrase. Fortunately, it comes when I stare at his transport that gradually disappears in the distance.

“Prime…”

“Oh, so we’re naming it after him?” Lennard asks.

“Not quite.” I respond. It’s more of how this island functions as his primary venue for his leave.

“Prime Respite.”

–**–

A calm day. The foliage is rustling at the presence of a smooth breeze, blowing down from the top of the hill. Here I stand, on a decorated courtyard at one serene part of the island. A resting place for its inhabitants who have passed away. Their memorials are carefully established using ceramics which shines every evening, emblazoned by the setting sun. It is as if the spirits sit upon them, together watching the mesmerizing view of the sun meeting the sea.

“And so that’s it, as told by my mother herself.” A middle age man says to me.

“Did the she ever meet the Primus again?”

The man shakes his head. “Sadly…” He says. “She would stand here at the end of every week, gazing at the sky, waiting for his return.”

“But he never came back.”

“Well, what should I say?” The man pulls his pipe out of his mouth. “My mother’s foundation has created such a noise in his vacation site. He probably migrated to another one, he can do whatever he wants.”

My glance turns on the stones that lies before me. There are four of them laid side by side.

Karl Schneider Luetzen

Valeska Helena

Julia Ferrata

Wilhelm Lennard Santoso

The names that are inscribed on each stone from left to right, respectively. They who have established the greatest contributor to the Creationists’ cause. It is said that he, who was once the most powerful man in the world, named me after the girl on the right. He claimed that she was captivating, not only in figure and feature but also heart and soul.

On another layer a bit lower than them, lies another four.

Tanaka Hitohana

Shabrina Agonskaya

Erika El-Nabila

Fiona Theodora

The maids that accompanied Mrs. Lena on that fateful task. Even though they decided to abandon her, she still wanted them to be buried alongside her. The first one, Tanaka Hitohana, is a remarkable maiden. As my great grandmother puts it, ‘Without her, the Terran Vindicators are toast under the march of the Artificial Creationists’. Even though they lost, they went out in a mighty blaze visible to the ends of the world.

“Yuki!” A woman’s voice calling me from behind. I turn around, finding her marching to my position. “It’s getting dark. You need to return to the inn.”

“Sylvana come on…” I say to her. She is my great grandmother. “Just a bit longer.”

“I’m afraid that is not possible.” She says, crossing her arms. “As a daughter of the most powerful man in the world and the greatest theocratic monarch, you too shall manifest their discipline.”

“Well, well,” The man, Mr. Valeska Kolya Luetzen, says to Sylvana. “This woman fits the description laid by my mother.”

Sylvana takes a deep breath. “I have no choice. The ArC is a menace. The raid I had conducted once was to undermine their logistics as much as possible.”

“Don’t sweat it, my lady.” The man bows before her. “I was about to thank you for saving my mother.”

Sylvana’s gaze returns to Mr. Kolya. “Blinded by hatred, my men ran wild like savage dogs that would pounce at any flesh in sight. I couldn’t control them. Imagine if they catch up to her first, instead of me.”

A silence ensues. Sylvana and Mr. Kolya gazes upon each other for a moment.

“Anyway, I’m here to pick our young empress.” She says, grabbing my hand and dragging me away from Mr. Kolya. “Come, you have to study.”

“No, no. Wait!” I squeal in a way so that she let go of me. “Sylvana, please…”

But instead of letting go…

“Aeliana Julia Kinetica Pratama Tribhuwana,” That sounds terrible. “Your delinquency throughout the day has pushed me into a state where I couldn’t tolerate them any further this evening. You shall return to your room, immediately.”

“Aw….”

“We shall part here for a moment, Mr. Kolya.” Sylvana says, glancing at him. “I appreciate that you look after her through the day.”

“With pleasure.” He shrugs, putting his pipe back in.

“Goodbye, Mr. Kolya.” I wave to him.

“Till next time, her majesty.”

As we stroll under the crimson shade of the setting sun, I glance at Sylvana who is still holding my hand. The decorations on her figure are radiant before the light of the evening. To her, I call out.

“Sylvana…”

“Yes, my dear?”

“Why did you save her, of all the others? Even though you ordered the destruction of her village?”

She halts her steps and gazes down.

“It’s my subordinate who did that.” She said. “I was outraged when the result came out. I hustle as soon as possible to try and restrain my men. But it’s too late.”

“Still, why would you do that?”

“If you’re fighting monsters, you have to see that you don’t become monsters yourself.”

Don’t become monsters yourself… I turn my gaze forward for a moment, pondering at her statement. It’s when another question pops out.

“Do you regret saving her, then? Since she is the reason behind the apparent perpetual rotation of the gears of ArC war machine.”

Sylvana turns to her left. Toward a magnificent view of huge interconnecting domes, floating around the island. The domes that house sanitized environments, sustaining thousands of lives scarred by the wars, providing them a decent life.

“No,” She shakes her head and grins. “Not at all.”

–END–


Prime Respite

Prime Respite (Part 7)


Chapter 7

And just when I thought this mission couldn’t get any worse. I hunker down in the bunk, my back against its door, with my combat gear strapped; A set of shoulder, knee, elbow guard, armlets, greaves, and a torso plating able to generate protective shield. Fortunately, the armor used for daily drills are heavier than this one. Hence, this should be convenient for me.

“Situation?” The Primus’ voice comes through my utilizer.

A moment ago I received a call from him, informing the presence of hostile forces in the island. Their objectives aren’t yet clear and their position isn’t yet known. Thus, he ordered me to stay on guard.

 I link up my utilizer to the surveillance cameras across the mansion and skim through their footages. He made this feature accessible to me just now. In fact, he made all the remote features of this mansion available for my use.

“Still no one, sir.”

“Hang tight, I’m heading there.” He says before cutting off the transmission.

I take a deep breath. We still don’t know how lethal this hostile force is. The Primus told me to expect the size of what a speedboat could contain. Regardless, I’m not sure I myself could mount a resistance to keep them at bay. I’ve also contacted Zen about this. He said that he and his colleagues are already on guard, per sir Microv’s warning. He promised me that we would rendezvous first before confronting this threat, as soon as they’re spotted.

I hope this mansion isn’t their objective. I thought, cowering even deeper. But I think that’s too much of an expectation. Even though I had combat training, I never wish to see the real one myself. Not ever since that evening. It is also the reason why I left Uncle Bark, who lives just behind the front and is a potential target for hostile raids, for the capital that’s safe behind all of her sons and defenses.

As my sweat trickles down my face, and my fist clenched to hold against the shivering, I wish so that this will be over as soon as possible. Why does things keep getting worse over time? I just wanted to accomplish my duties as a maid. Why does this incursion have to occur?

“Oi delinquent lass, it’s your Household Manager again.” I’m surprised to find sir Microv’s voice blaring through my utilizer. This time he speaks with a gentler tone, compared to the last time he talks to me. “As much as how my word pierced you that night, which it might did, I wanted to you to stay calm. You’re a combatant citizen, so stay calm and remain on watch. Depending on their strength, you might not need to participate in butting their arse.” He says.

“Where are you right now, sir?”

“Hustling for the place where your boyfriend settles.”

For a moment, I remark how he just mentioned that in a situation like this. I slap myself, trying to dismiss that. There is a greater concern.

“Excuse me sir but, do you really believe that you’d made it here in time?”

“We would if Microv modded his module.” That’s the Primus’ voice.

“What good does it do if you aren’t slapping in a synergized configuration?”

“You know you can just install those that shows a percentage of performance increase on their tags.”

“Hmmh,” Sir Microv chuckles. “You mean like how we could just throw all our armors to take the thralls’ fortified positions? Sure I can.”

These two people. They are aware that there are hostiles roaming this island without knowing their whereabouts. Yet they still able to throw leisure conversations. Was it a feature only available to the most powerful man in the world? And perhaps his direct subordinate?

“Anyway, maintain that alert stance.” The Primus says to me.

“Y-yes sir.”

I take a deep breath once again. And just as I do…

I hear gentle tapping on the floors outside. Footsteps. Steadily creeping across the mansion. When I skim through the surveillance footages, two of them shows armed men with crimson outlines on their combat gear. It’s them, the Vindicators. The people who razed my village. They’re here.

But how? How did I miss them? How could I not see them coming? There are surveillance cameras installed outside. Perhaps, my thoughts are too occupied, that I didn’t check the footages often. I quickly disable the transmission function of my utilizer and send a warning message to both Zen and the Primus. Please come quick…

In total there are six men on the mansion. Turns out not to be a large force. One of the footages however, ripped my heart out of my chest and tear the flesh to which my bottom jaw clings. It shows a girl with the same maid uniform as mine.

“Hana…”

Why? How long have you been scheming with them? Is this the reason why you left me? Most importantly, where are the others? Rina, Eri, Theo? Did you…?

No…

She strides to the stairs and climbs it. Her steps are gentle, almost devoid of noise. Is she coming for the Primus? Are they here to assassinate him? I guess it’s a fortune that he is not here for the moment. But still, he is in danger if he decides to come here.

I have to do something. But I can’t confront them all by myself.

It’s when I receive a message from Zen.

We’re mobilizing.

Yes please, come here as soon as possible. For the first time ever, I desperately want a boy to come over to my place.

Perhaps I could get the jump on Hana. I check the surveillance to see her breaching the door to the Primus’ room. That’s one property violation. She roams around the room, her sight constantly looking around. A moment later, she brings up her utilizer, perhaps contacting her units. Before long she thrusts her short sword through the Primus’ bed, perhaps out of a frustration of not finding the man here.

She then proceeds out of the room and head to the top floor, where the Primus’ personal office is.

As I notice that the armed men are scattered all around, I gently push the bunk door open. It creaks, but hopefully not enough to alert those men in the mansion. I slip out, taking one gentle step after another. I direct the energy of my combat gear to suppress the noise of my footsteps. Since this place is massive, I believe they won’t notice me unless I get near them.

There are two stairways and they are segmented by each story. I constantly shift to whichever would raise the bare minimum of their alertness. But as I reach the topmost story where the Primus’ office is, my shin crashes against the last step. It doesn’t hurt that much but it makes quite a noise. I quickly press my hand against my mouth as I hold my body with an arm.

I leer downstairs and sees a man turn his glance to my direction. There’s an obstruction of course, but I can see him paying attention to the noise that I made.

Damn it. Once he gets around the obstruction, he’ll spot me. I’ll be done for.

“Pavio!” A voice blares from the other side of the room. To my relief, that man’s attention turns to him. “Look! This man adored Julius Caesar!”

“So?”

“There’s a bit of me in him, and the other way around yeah?”

Whilst they are occupied with anything they find, I hastily foot it through the final step. I begin to prowl to the office room. From the distance, I can see Hana standing before the Primus’ personal computer. I gently pull out my short sword, the wakizashi, as I near her. I make up a rectangular object as I get closer. That looks like a hard-drive. She must be retrieving crucial informations.

Seems like I am the only one standing between her and the reality where those details are published widespread. I can’t let that happen. That hard-drive shall not go anywhere.

And also, this is for your betrayal…

Since her torso is as protected as mine, a sweep through her neck is probably the best option. But once my blade is going for that point, she casually turns around and meet my wakizashi mid-air with hers.

“Sweet Lena…” She says, with a smirk that obviously humiliates me. “I am no Maid Color Sergeant for nothing.”

She shoves my blade away and proceeds with a powerful kick to my stomach. I got thrusted back. Before long, my back crashed against the wall, breaking a picture and a plant decoration in the process. The injury isn’t serious thanks to the shield generated by my combat gear.

I quickly rise up and rolls to the side to avoid a slashing wave from Hana. It struck the wall where I crashed and left a slashing mark. The wall is too thick to cut through, the wave only made it just some tiny distance deep from the surface.

“So we really settling this with force?” She rotates her katana around. “I’ll drink to that.”

If it is down to this, I don’t think I have a problem handling it. As the maids of Creatio Genetrix, we both are trained under the same martial art. I only need to hold until help arrives.

Then I leer to the sides, toward the hard-drive sitting just before the monitor. At least I have to stop the transfer as soon as possible without damaging that computer.

I pull my katana and commit three slashing waves before hustling around Hana to reach the computer. But she beats me to it and meets me with a slash to the stomach. I’m fortunate to notice that and mounts my katana just before it to block Hana’s strike.

“This is the reason you left me? Because you’ve been working with them all along?” I say as I struggle keeping her blade at bay.

“The Primus must pay for his sins.” She exclaims.

She shoves me away but I’m able to launch a sweeping attack against her. But it appears that Maid Colour Sergeant is more than just a rank, as she successfully parries my next eight successive strikes.

Hana counterattacks with two nimble and strong blows. I slightly stagger away from her. But as soon as I recover my stance, she dives toward me with one powerful slash that drags my footing back. Just as I recover from the shock of her katana crashing against mine, Hana launches me to her flank with her kick.

I rise back to some distance between her and me. My stance is on, and the tip of my katana leans to her direction. She remains in place as I hear footsteps gathering behind me. I leer to find six men training their rifles at me.

This, is bad.

“Those men are trained to kill you know?” Hana says. “Make one move and you won’t see the next dawn. Surrender now and we’ll spare you.”

Damn it. Why does everything keep getting worse for me over times? Will this actually be my end?

“Hana, why are you doing this?”

“Five…”

What!? A countdown?

“Hana!”

“Four…”

“Hey, listen!”

“Three…”

“They’re going to shoot me anyway, might as well spare me the motive behind your merit.”

“Two…” She keeps on counting. Her smirk gaze turns into a glare. “One…”

Ah, I think this is it. This is my end. I close my eyes as they begin to well up. For a moment, I can see their faces zipping past me in the dark. My parents, Uncle Bark, Rina, Eri, Theo, Zen, sir Microv, and The Primus. I have, once again, failed them. Even if my gear is made to withstand projectile damage, it does no good under a barrage of one. They would still gun me to death even if I turn around and parries every bullet coming for me.

A gunshot. So that’s it…

But only one shot?

Not only that.

Its faint roar seems like it doesn’t come from anywhere inside the mansion. There must be someone else. I sigh a relief. It seems like they’re on time. Hana however, doesn’t seem to be amused anymore.

“They’re closing in, the militias.” A voice comes through her utilizer. A voice that somehow, I recognized. But I couldn’t remember.

“All of you get down there and hold our position.” She says to the six men. They then hustle downstairs with no second thought.

Whoever fired that shot, I’m in your debt too. And that makes me think for a moment, to grab a paper and lists everyone to whom I am indebted.

I reopen my eyes and directs a grin at Hana.

“Well, looks like it’s just us now.” I say to her.

“Not bad for a corporal.” She says. “Guess you really deserved to be one.”

“Hana.” I call her name again. “Why are you doing this!?”

Hana is silent as she gazes to her feet. Her arms are relaxed, she doesn’t have a stance on. But that doesn’t mean I have a chance. Based on the encounter just recently, she could mount her stance in a split second, deflects my strike and counterattacks like flipping a hand.

“Why am I doing this?” She says, her tone deepens. “How could I not? He took my parents from me!” She yells, extending her left arm, pointing toward The Primus’ seat.

“You’re not the only one who suffered such fate!” I yell back.

“But that is not the case!” Her left foot shifts slightly forward, her sight is sharp like a pike piercing through mine. “My father was a master of his domain. He led his people to resist against The Primus during his conquest. I was a child back then. I see him return home every night bloodied, filthy, all soaked in the odor of war. It’s so that our belief’s presence in this continent is preserved.

“But our resources are not as abundant as The Primus’, and our men aren’t as well armed as his. When it’s over, my father was forced to surrender so that his legacy remains intact, his people, our belief. Do you know what The Primus did next?”

I squint my eyes. Given his personality, his stance toward the believers, and the motive behind his hostilities to them, I think it’s obvious.

“Of course, we all know what he did. But how he did them…His men led my father and his people to a camp deep within the woods. When the lights went out, and everyone starts dozing off, he lobbed fire on those camps. My father, along with all of my people, perished in one night. The women are sold to slavery, my mother included. I was fortunate to be raised in an orphanage. But when I return for her with my prosperity as a color sergeant, she has already passed away, overworked to death. And that is long before I’ve even gained this rank.

“It’s true, that given one’s will, they could prosper under The Primus’ realm. But prosperity my crap! What good are gold and silver if the people that shared your compassion aren’t there for you!?” She yells at that last question; a tear comes trickling down her cheek.

Such atrocities…

Typical of The Primus’ will to erase the believers off of this world. But how wouldn’t he do them? The believers have sinned him, taking his daughters away two times. That should have been an equal trade.

In any case, that doesn’t mean the Vindicators are all-righteous guardians that protect their subjects from miseries.

“Do you think the Vindicators stick away from the wicked merit of The Primus?”

“They are the most powerful believers’ nation in this continent. They protect us all, and allow our belief to remain in this world, of course they are our savior.” She says, nodding in my direction.

“Well,” I take a deep breath. “Your wretched empress also burned my settlement and massacred everyone but me.”

Hana raises an eyebrow.

“My parents, their legacy, their wealth, all perished in one evening.” Heat is building up on my limbs’ end as I utter those words. As miserable as it is that evening. It is as if I want to surge forward and commits wide and quick slashes.

So, this is what it feels like. This is what anger feels like. This is what The Primus felt when he lost his wife, just so that a believer girl could stay under his roof. This is what he must have felt like when he lost his daughters two times to the same people.

“Heheh…” I hear Hana chuckles. That chuckles gradually turn into a wicked laughter. She takes a deep breath at its end. “I guess we really have a reason to murder each other, don’t we?” She flinches her head.

“Loud and clear, sarge.” I respond with a gentle tone. But my expression says otherwise. To Hana, I would seem to be no longer hesitant in committing to the fight. My sight is now all covered with a violent intention. I will not only stop her from extracting anything from The Primus’ personal computer.

I will kill her. Here, and now.

Our roars are silent, thanks to the maid discipline of maintaining our grace. Powerful shockwaves blast through under our greaves, propelling us forward against each other. Once more, our katana clashed with a might of an even greater magnitude. As our sight pierce each other, I realize. This will be a bloodbath.

–**–

The local militia breaches through the main gate and hastily assume a position around the first level of the mansion. Some open fire, suppressing the hostiles as a handful of theirs climb toward the fourth level. The mansion complex is too large for the militias to isolate, so there is a chance or space for the hostiles to escape.

“Push them up everyone! Step by step!” Fred yells out from a cover in one of the gazebos.

There are three hostiles opening fire to them. Meanwhile they split their forces in two platoons, each consists of fourteen men. And it’s divided further into two squads.

Still, those three men held firm. It seems like they’re part of an elite force. So far, the militias haven’t been able to take any of them down. Meanwhile Fred and Julia’s squad each have already lost two men.

“Julia,” Fred speaks through his utilizer. “We’ll flank them from the left. Give us covering fire.”

“Roger.” Julia responds. “All units, rise from cover and spray some lead.”

The remaining boys and girls that she is leading stands up and fire full auto toward the hostile position. One of the hostile men peeks out, fires a controlled shot and takes down one more of Julia’s squad.

“Two of you come with me!” Fred says to his squad.

The remaining two opens fire to cover them.

“Zen, Lennard, how are your progress?” Fred asks to the leader of the third and fourth squad.

“We’re taking heavy losses!” Lennard responds. “Zen is trying to enter that mansion, and my squad follows him up for cover. We’re down to three men!”

“How about you, Zen!?”

“Doing fine.” He replies gently through his utilizer.

“What do you mean fine?” Lennard grumbles. “That charge literally costs you five of your men!”

“At least we had one of them. Two more.”

“Damn it, hang in there I’ll reinforce you!” Fred says.

“You two, continue the flanking maneuver. I’ll head there and fire at them from behind.” He says to the two boys that follows him. They nod and commit to that order.

It is certain. These soldiers aren’t just regular soldiers. They must have been special forces. This is bad. Neither The Primus nor his right-hand man shows a sign of being nearby. Under this weight, they will be slaughtered very soon.

If only Vittoria is here. If only she is here to turn the tide and push those hostiles away from this place. Other than being a bloom in the kitchen, she has shown herself to be a prominent combatant. If she is here right now, they surely stand a chance against these forces.

Bullets fly, muzzles flash, and the noise of the rifles clashing against each other roar through the night. After a brief sprint, Fred suddenly halts in the presence of a shaded figure. But that figure has a prominent feature that makes them noticeable, even when being shaded by the darkness.

The golden hair.

“Vittoria…?” Fred utters her name.

“Yes, it is me.” She says stepping out of the darkness, revealing her strapped combat gear with crimson outlines.

It’s a sight that left Fred trembled.

“Wh-why?” He asks. “Have you…all this time…” His jaw left open. His figure remains sturdy on the ground, but the revelation shreds his will to nothing. Fred wishes that this is just a dream. That the golden haired-Android, to whom he shares a compassion with, in that crimson outlined armor is just his mind trying to mess up with him.

But it’s useless. As she walks closer to him, her presence becomes ever closer to reality.

“Vi-vittoria…”

Vittoria reaches for his right cheek. She strokes it gently, before turning her gaze down.

“I’m sorry, Fred.” She says. “But thank you, for everything.”

In a split second, she pulls out her thermal dagger and thrusts it against Fred’s chest, at the point where his heart is supposed to be.

Fred’s sight wavers. “Ah…so that’s it.” He says before collapsing.

Vittoria embraces him while getting on her knees. She strokes his back for a time before putting him down beside her. She places his hands on top of his stomach before pulling out her dagger.

“Fred! Fred!” A voice comes through his utilizer. “Fred, where the hell are you! Answer damn it!” That sounds like Lennard.

But it doesn’t matter.

He’s going to have a taste of her dagger too.

“I’m sorry everyone.” Vittoria says.

–**–

The sound of clashing blades echoes throughout the mansion. The slashing waves emitted by the blades flies here and there, wreaking havoc to the mansion’s interiors. Plenty of vases, shelves, tables, and sofas got sliced. The very least is that each got a slashing mark, which still counts as a property violation if the owner is concerned.

A shockwave topples me back. Thankfully, I land on my feet. But as soon as that, Hana charges again with incredible force. I pull back before swinging my katana forward, meeting hers. The gust that comes with her surges through me. But I held my ground.

I shove her katana away and make a sweep for her stomach. She steps back and pulls an uppercut, which I barely dodge by leaning back. I think I would be done for when she activates her emitters. It turns out, she didn’t. Perhaps all the energy reserves her gear can offer goes to enhance her mobility and strength. The slashing waves emitted by our weapon might be powerful, as it could slash enemies from a distance. But it drains a lot of energy to maintain the emitters.

And as my misfortune has it, Hana’s strikes are even more powerful than before.

Her blade sweeps for my head from left, then right. It’s a mighty strike that could sweep my head clean. I manage to parry them, but at the cost of my energy reserves since I have to enhance my strength against such powerful blows. She proceeds with her momentum after the right sweep, spinning once for another sweep with an even greater magnitude.

I don’t believe I could hold that one, so I crouch. Luckily, I see an opening. Hence, I swing my katana upward, against her left shin. But it only damages her greaves.

She then spins her katana, its tip aiming straight at me, and thrusts it. I dodge to the right and dashes through, slicing her left arm in the process.

“Agh!” She yelps as blood spurts out of it.

Hang on? Blood? I thought our combat gear have shields.

I’ve recovered my stance as that thought comes to mind, a slight realization. But the slight delay gives Hana an opportunity to launch a charged slashing wave to my direction.

“Hngh!” I grunt as the force throws me back. My back crashes against the wall. Thanks to my shield, I survived. But it’s gone now. I stand up to the fact that I’m no longer safe from her dangerous attacks.

But it seems that she doesn’t have her shield either.

“Impressive.” She says, leering to her wound. “The maid discipline really is formidable.”

Ah…

I pause as I catch my breath. Her attacks are truly devastating. The strain on my muscles are compensated slightly by my gear. But if I don’t have the air to move them, what purpose does it serve?

It seems like I should’ve died a few moments ago. Her violent moves are meant for a quick takedown of her adversaries. I assume no one have ever made it alive. That’s the reason she disables the shield feature of her gear, to conserve her energy reserves. But now she’s fighting me, another maid of Creatio Genetrix with the same training, the same drills, and the same gear. The card that she used to rely on couldn’t work on us.

“I guess a more careful approach is better.” As soon as she says that, azure light flashes around her, indicating an active shield feature.

Now this is trouble.

She now has a shield on, meanwhile I’m completely vulnerable. I absolutely couldn’t keep this up. Given her fierce melee prowess, she’s untouchable on a one versus one duel. I’ll be the one who would fall first.

“What’s wrong? Tired already?” Hana says, followed up by her smirk. “There’s more from where that came from.”

I can still hear gunshot from outside. Zen and the others must still be fighting against those men. If I let her defeat me, then she could reinforce her men and slaughter everyone.

No…

I can’t let that happen. I won’t allow her to touch Zen.

My glance turns to the railings. Beyond them is a gap that links directly to the ground floor. Most importantly, the living room which is close to the kitchen.

I think I know what should I do.

I take a deep breath.

“If you’re not coming for me, then don’t mind if I do.” Hana says, readying her stance.

This is it…

She surges forward just like what she did before. Her blade shines, indicating an incoming slashing wave, as she raises it over her right shoulder.

As she’s nearing the right point, I leap forward, thrusted even more by the shockwave that comes down my feet. I land on one foot on her left shoulder and use it as a step to propel me for the gap. Another shockwave that comes down my greave slams her face against the wall behind me. And with that, I begin my fall.

I use my remaining energy reserves to reinforce my feet.

The loud thud as my feet meet the ground floor trembles nearby properties. And with that, I ran out of my energy reserves. With no second thought, I hustle for the kitchen. The fact that Hana hasn’t followed up is a fortune. She probably takes the stairs for one or two stories before dropping down to ease the fall and conserve her energy.

She’s probably saving them to finish me off with the most powerful slashing wave she could come up with.

“You can not hide Lena!!” She yells.

I don’t respond.

In the next seconds, I finally reach the kitchen. As soon as I do, I slip on my long skirt. My face crashes against the floor. But it’s not as painful as when I am not wearing my combat gear. That, however, isn’t in my plan. As embarrassing as it is, it might be the distraction that I need. I crawl backward as I hear footsteps rushing in this direction. I hope it’s Hana. Then I grab on to the stove handle to help me up.

Sure enough, it’s her.

“You’re bold to come after me.” I say to her.

“Well, rank prerequisite.” She says.

“You know,” I gaze downwards, deliberately showing my weakness. “That was an excellent fight.”

“Do you think I’d back down?” She shakes her head. “You’ve missed your chance to surrender.”

“No.” I say. “I’m saying that this is your end.”

She strikes me with her malicious smile. “Said someone who is cornered to my mercy.” Hana takes a deep breath. “Fine,” she says raising her katana, its blade begins to shine again. “I’ll make this quick then. You won’t feel a thing once it is done. That is for being the first to wound me, physically.”

I nod.

Hana then charges. The same movement as before, presumably more powerful. In a split second, I jump, roll, and slide to my left, barely avoiding the vertically aligned slashing wave that was coming to my direction. At the end of my slide, I sweep kick a one legged-table. Its face is now to Hana’s direction.

And that’s it.

The gas compartment of the stove is split in two, along with the gas tank inside it. Our contempt gaze fell on each other as the gas bursting in Hana’s proximity. She doesn’t seem to care about it, as she ready her katana again. But this is the end.

The Primus provided me access to every remote-controlled system in the mansion. Including the stove. So, I raise my left arm and presses a button on my utilizer, within Hana’s sight.

Fortunately, the stoves are lit. And with all the burners active…

It’s as if time has stopped. As the mansion tremble under the thunderous swarm of the ember monarchs, I cower behind the table, concealing myself from their rage. A sudden glimpse of the past. That evening, when columns of them rain hell upon my home. The evening where I lost my parents. There is nothing but flames blazing here and there as far as the eye can see. I reach for my father as he returns inside the mansion for my mother. But the mansion collapses first before they make it.

The incredible heat is reminiscent of that time, when I try to find safety by myself, across the sea of flames that ready to pounce on me at ease. The dark smoke fills the scene, blinding my sight. I could only make up those that is really close to me. I couldn’t think of where to go, still consumed by the loss of my parents. When I failed to track my friends amidst the noise of crackling embers and adults’ screams, I trip and fall to the ground. It is when a flaming debris collapses on to me. I thought I was toast, meeting the same fate as my parents.

But now I remember…

I remember a monarch that comes to my aid. The largest of her kind. She braved the debris with her majestic ember wings that has a flash of crimson across them. The wings flutter as she pulls me tight in her embrace. The debris doesn’t scratch her by a bit. She doesn’t even flinch as it crashed on her back. The sole warmth that the lone monarch brought, so it is her. The empress herself, Tribhuwana the second.

Then the heat diminishes. I reopen my eyes as I realize it. I rise from cover, to a room filled with crackling fires. Since there’s no flammable materials around, these fires won’t last long.

On the other side of the kitchen, I found her. Her back is against the wall, and her head is tilting to one side. I thought she is dead, until I notice that her body is still pulsating gently. I approach her. She is all-bloodied from head to toe, shrapnel injury. There are two sizeable pieces of metal sticking out of her left thigh and her stomach. Burn marks are also visible on her arms, hands, and a bit of her face, defiling her beauty.

It doesn’t take too long for her to look up on me.

“Ghh…ghh…” She shut her eyes as tears streak down her cheeks. “I’m sorry…Mother. Father…” She whimpers.

I kneel down and land my finger on her lip.

Her eyes, glittering, turns to me.

“I’ll make this quick, for that chocolate cake.”

She sniffles at my statement. But it doesn’t take long for her to shut her eyes again and nod.

I move around her and kneel again. My left hand holds her chin up, pressing the back of her head to my stomach. Then I pull my wakizashi, putting it just on her throat.

“Do you have something to say?” I ask her.

“I hope…” She halts as she spits blood out of her mouth. “Your family’s wealth is restored in no time.” Hana then raises her sight to gaze on me, who is facing down on her. “And promise me Lena…by then, you will protect innocent families…so there won’t be, a second me. There won’t be…any more…broken houses.”

My teeth are clenching against each other, and it’s never been this hard. It takes another second for me to realize that my eyes are welling. It’s hard to believe she just said that at her last moment.

“There won’t be a second me as well.” I reply.

Hana gives her last smile. And that’s when I run my blade across her neck.

“Rest in peace, sarge.” I say, reclining her body on the ashen floor reeks of burnt ceramics, putting her hands gently on her stomach.

I place both palms of my hands on my face, taking a deep breath while running them across it.

How many more people like Hana out there? Those who are wounded by the conflict? Those who bled and lost under The Primus’ gruesome ambition? Who is at fault here? Who is to blame? Everyone has their reason for their deeds. Everyone has their loss that justifies their motives. If that’s the case, then will there ever be someone to blame?

Or maybe it’s never about finding the root where it began…

If two branches could speak, would they be concerned if one towers higher than the other because it used up the provisions that are meant for their shorter counterparts? Or would they just go along living side by side as if there has never been any conflict between them?

Then I realize that it is already silent out there. The gunshots are no longer heard. My nerve rises over the roof. Did Zen succeed? Or is it the other way around?

I…

I obviously couldn’t stand a chance against those men, especially in my current condition. If there’s one thing that I could do, is to destroy that hard-drive on the Primus’ desktop.

–**–

He was right to be suspicious of her since that night when she separated herself for stargazing. She has pretty much committed lethal takedowns to the remaining militia. Lennard is wounded and unconscious, presumably dead. Perhaps the same fate also befalls Fred and Julia since they’re not responding. He survived thanks to his superior melee skill. But it costs him a stab in his left shoulder and a slash through his left eye and his right thigh.

Still, surviving now won’t do anything. There are still four of those elite forces left. And with his wound, there’s no way he could take them all by himself.

Nevertheless, he still drags himself across and leans against something solid. That something might have been one of the railings before getting blasted away by the projectile exchanges.

He pulls out his pistol, aiming it at the four men who are cornering him, and opens fire. Of course, the bullets ricochet. These four men still have their shield active. That shield, projected by their combat gear, deflects the incoming bullets. Even if they don’t have their shields, the bullets would still bounce off or just sticks into their body with no significant outcome since they’re Androids.

“Hey, kid. Just give up. We’ll spare you.” One of them said.

“Yeah, promise.” The one next to him follows up.

“Never.” Zen says, reloading his pistol and opening fire again.

“You know, I feel bad for him.” The elite force says. “Let’s just end his suffering.”

As one of them trains his rifle at Zen, his colleague who stands at the rightmost points to the left.

“Uh…”

They all turn to that direction, and finds two men leisurely marching to them. They quickly form a line and aims their rifles at them. Zen also turns to the direction they are facing.

“Picking a fight with a wounded seventeen-year old? That’s some flogging for you blokes!” One of them says as he stands at some distance from them.

The other is still catching up. Once he is near the first one, he bends over with his hands on his knees.

“Goddamnit, you’re ruining my entrance.” The first man says to him.

“Your entrance shall accompany these thralls to whichever abyss you’re sending them to.”

“Fire!” One of the elite forces shouts out. In the next second, bullets are storming the two men’s direction.

“The Primus is here! Repeat, The Primus is here!” The other yells through his utilizer.

For a moment, Zen is shocked and tries to reach for the two men. But as soon as he does, he’s greeted by the sight of the first man leisurely extending his right arm to their direction. The bullets don’t go further than his right hand. It is as if they enter a sphere held by his hand, and keeps on bouncing inside the sphere with blue wiggly lines bounding them.

It is not long until the elite forces ran out of bullets. They turn down their rifles, astonished by the spectacle they are witnessing.

“So,” He says to The Primus beside him. “As usual?”

“As usual.”

Then the bullets are arrayed into a rectangle as wide as the elite forces’ line. Its sharp end points toward them. And all of a sudden, the bullets turn blue with electric sparks flying around them. In a split second, the bullets surges through the four men at blinding speed. They collapse thereafter.

It’s not the first time Zen witness such wonder. He saw it just few days ago with Lena on the same garden. But still his gaze filled with astonishment. How could one possess such power?

“Scientia, victrix!” The first man yells out. His loud voice blares through the night.

“Now take care of the wounded,” The Primus says “I’ll tend to the minor nuisance inside.” He then turns around and strides for his mansion.

“There’s someone else there?”

“There’s no way that one-person radio someone else beside him.”

“Rite…” He says before turning to Zen. “Now, hang in there. First aid coming through.” He reaches into his one of his mantle’s pockets.

“I’m twenty-one you know?” Zen says to him.

“Eh,” The man shrugs. “You all look the same. Somewhere around that year-olds.”

 Zen takes a deep breath. He wishes that Lena is doing fine.

–**–

I hustle back upstairs. I think the transfer should be done by now. But it doesn’t matter. I could just destroy that hard-drive.

As soon as I return to the office, I am surprised to find someone else there. And how petrified I become when I recognize that prominent feature of her.

The golden hair. The girl behind that vendor. She is now clad with that crimson outlined armor, the harness of the Vindicators. So, the one that warns Hana and her men of Zen’s arrival with the others, it’s her.

Noticing me, she puts the hard-drive inside one of her pockets. I take a step back. Her face remains indifferent just like when I met her that day. But that’s what menacing about her.

Then I realize something. The firefight outside has ended. Could it be…

No…

“Y-you…you killed them all?”

She turns to me and says, “I’m afraid that’s an improper way to initiate a conversation.”

“You killed them all.”

The girl raises her right hand. “The men are doing well. I am just easing their burden.”

That means…Zen.

No…No…No, no, no. It can’t be true right? He…he is still alive right? He can’t be killed that easily right? Right? Right?

She sighs. “Now excuse me, I shall take my leave.” She says as she begins to stride at the nearest office window to her. That window head straight outside. Presumably, this girl is going to jump through and hustle away.

I’m not going to let that happen. Not after what she did to Zen, Julia, and Lennard. She is going to pay.

“The Primus is here! Repeat, the Primus is here!” A voice, all soaked in the roars of more gunshot, blares through her utilizer.

This is my chance.

My body surges on its own. Before I realize it, I’m already standing between her and that window she is heading for.

She sighs again. “Do you really want to do this?”

“Over my dead body.” I say, raising my katana to her direction.

Without a warning, like a sudden jerking that allows me to react, she just shoves my katana away. And in a split second, her dagger pierces through my stomach.

“Agh!” I grunt as blood begin to spurt out of my mouth.

Her dagger somehow manages to penetrate my torso-plating and dive through my stomach.

Yet she doesn’t stop there.

As soon as she pulls out her dagger, she crouches and slashes my left thigh, followed by another one to my right shin. Both scores a hit as my blood streaks out. I haven’t even processed this hole in my stomach, yet I have to receive more?

Then a quick and strong blow to my right thigh with the butt of her dagger. That topples my balance. My sight is to the floor. As I’m about to fall to my knees, she uppercuts my face with her fist. A robust fist that indicates her synthetic nature. I lost her when she slips past me. That is when she stabs me again from behind, just some distance to the right of the previous stomach wound.

 “AHH!” I made no effort to suppress my loud yelp as that dagger pierces my stomach again, only from behind. My gaze turns to the ceilings, to the lightings installed there. They begin to blur as my head throbs harder.

As if I haven’t had enough already, she proceeds with a slash through my right arm before shifting back to my front. There she pauses and stabilizes me for some reason, making sure I’m still standing. With the last of my strength, I train my sight at her. And there it comes. A diagonal uppercut against my front torso.

My gaze once again turns to the ceilings as I see my blood droplets flies all around me.

Hah…huh.

The force of that swing pushes me slightly back. But that is when she commits a mighty kick against my chest, supported by a shockwave.

My body flies through the window pane, penetrating it. Yes, my body. Because I’m not sure that I’m alive anymore. That’s not even counting the fall. I heard something break as soon as my back hits the ground. They’re probably my bones.

“Ahhh…”

I’m not sure I could survive this wound. Even if I do, I’d probably be disabled for life. With my blurred vision, I make up the outlines of that golden-haired girl perching on the remains of the window pane, before finally blasting away. She disappears into the darkness, soon after.

Maybe I’ll see her there again.

In the darkness…

Because my sight is blacking out.

A breeze blows through the night. Those monarchs with their dazzling ember wings, they’re here again, circling above me. There’s a handful of them. The way they flutter around along curly trajectories, forming an ever-shifting pattern illuminated by a small garden torch, is such a relieving show. The radiant theatre with a background of the serene night sky makes an excellent anesthetic. For a moment, I forgot about my wounds.

“…Z-Zen…look. Beautiful…aren’t they?”

My hand then reaches out, hoping for more share of their warmth. To my sorrow, they begin to disperse. Fluttering away, leaving me alone amidst the shivering night.

Ah…so cold…

Feels like…sleep…


 Prime Respite

Glittering Shores

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


The azure sky is embellished with the exquisite hue of the setting sun. Sunrays fell upon the water surface below as it drifts into the horizon. Their ever-shifting texture scatters those heavenly light to an ever-changing direction. Like a lighthouse that flickers from the far distance. Only they are minuscule, and there are countless of them across the waters.

Here I stand, amidst the golden sands. The heat is gripping my skin. The waters periodically creep for my feet. Sometimes they come close, sometimes they wet the soles of my shoes. I crouch at a distance where the waters wouldn’t reach and lay my right hand on the sands. Their smooth feature is bearing on my right palm. Then I scoop them, raising them closer to my face. The grains stream down my hand as I loosen my grip. Some remains on my palm until I shove them away.

I look around as I try to remember how I got here. The clear view of the sky and the wide space surrounding me is in contrast to where I was before as far as my memory goes. The air of both freshen my lungs, but it was colder then. The winds flow through me. The loose part of my uniform sway at their direction. Seagulls fill the sky as they streak through the clouds.

For some reason, I am not concerned. The absence of my parents, my friends, and a way back. I don’t feel the need to think about them.

Then I rise up and walk along the shores. My sight is fixed to the sparkling waters along the way. The way they glitter reminds me of the sky that night. Perhaps the most beautiful moment I’ve ever had.

I take a deep breath as I come across a boulder formation. There’s no way around it, so I have to climb it if I wish to go through. Fortunately, it isn’t that massive. And the climb is as ease as taking stairs, only with a bit more care. From one of the boulders, I can spot a hut in the distance. It appears to be desolate, but I don’t have a choice. It’s getting dark and I’d need a shelter as soon as possible.

As I clear past the boulders, I notice something else. Rather, someone else.

A girl. A high-schooler just like me.

She stands bare-footed at the edge of the shore where the waters would creep past her feet. Her skirt is two inches above her knee, exposing her fine thighs as it flutters in the wind. Her hands are clasping each other in front of her chest. Her face is just above her clasped hands, perhaps less than an inch far.

I’m having a hard time believing what I’m seeing at first. But as I shorten the distance between us, her form grows ever clearer. That’s really her. An extraordinary girl that couldn’t be mistaken as any other person.

My eyes begin to well up as joy is bursting within like fireworks.

Not long after, she notices my presence. That’s when I raise my pace.

I call out to her at the top of my lungs. Then she waves her arm overhead.

Thank the Sentinel.


Writer: PrimDom

Prime Respite (Part 6)


Chapter 6

The Primus really does the housework by himself. Although there are several tasks that he missed, it is still remarkable. The most powerful man in the world sweeping the floor, mowing the lawn, watering the garden et cetera is a mythical sight. Who would’ve thought that he would agree to do those tasks?

My job is then reduced to meal preparation for both of us throughout the day. Again, he insists that I do so therefore I have no choice. By the time I had my dinner, the fever is gone for good. My well-being is restored and I am ready once more for my duty. Now that the other four maids are gone, the Primus told me to just work on the essential tasks for the day, no need to care for them all. That is to prevent another exhaustion.

I mop the floor as he is lounging on his couch in the spacious living room. He stares to the ceiling, seemingly full of thought.

“Lena.”

I quickly stand at attention as soon as my name came out of his mouth.

“Yes, sir?”

“I’m going for a hike tomorrow.”

That doesn’t sound good. The last time he left is because he’s having a problem with me.

“Don’t worry, you’re doing fine now. It’s just that I’ve reached the lowest point of the island two days ago. Might as well reach its peak.”

I let out a deep exhale. That’s a relief.

“Are you sure, sir?”

“There’s an old hiking path there that I could follow. Besides, Microv will wait for me at its start so it’s nothing to worry about.”

“What’s sir Microv up to?”

“A discussion of our situation. I couldn’t tell you the details. They are just necessary affairs.”

“It’s fine, sir.”

“He believes that the shivering ambience of the peak, topped with the choirs of crickets could bring clarity for his processor to think.” He says. “Personal preference I guess.”

“I understand, sir.” I respond, pretending to flow along.

“I don’t need to ask whether you’ll be fine here alone for a whole day, right?”

I chuckle. “I promise not to overwork myself.”

“Excellent.” He exclaims, rising from his couch. He then heads off from the living room, presumably to his room on the third story. “I’ll make preparations then.” He says as he climbs the staircase.

“Yes, sir.” I reply before continuing to mop the floor.

I conclude the evening by tidying up the bed that I slept on all day since yesterday. I won’t be sleeping there anymore, I’d probably miss it. But well, at least I should be grateful that I got to sleep inside a lavish room.

Once done, I return to my bunk. A knocking on the door prevents me from tucking all in to the blanket. I button up the collar that I just loosen, and put my pin back on top of it. Of course, behind the door is the Primus. I would freak to oblivion if it’s someone else.

“Are you comfortable on that mattress?”

“It’s where we are supposed to sleep sir.” I say to him. “I mean, of course the bed yesterday is amazing I’d say.”

“You know you could rest there for another night, or two perhaps.”

I’d love to but, I can’t. That’s just…not how it works.

“But sir, I couldn’t consent to fall for the pleasure that your lavish properties have to offer. I’m still your maid after all. I still think I don’t deserve what you’ve did to me yesterday.”

If I were to indulge myself in such wealth, I have to earn it through my own blood and sweat. Yesterday was just a mistake. It’s not meant to happen. There’s still some time left before his leave is over. I can fix this. I will not disappoint.

I thought of something that I should say next. Somehow that makes me turn my glance away from him.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you were doing yesterday.”

“I understand.” He says. “Hang tight to that pride of yours. It’s what makes you an ArC citizen.” He turns around and starts walking away. “I’d leave early tomorrow. Please consider adjusting the breakfast.”

“Understood sir.”

“Good night.”

“Good night, sir.” For some reason, the realization that he just wished me a good night comes after I close the door to the bunk. And I am once again out of my mind that he just did that. In any case, I do hope that tonight will go well for both of us.

The scorching heat I felt that evening is present again once I close my eyes. But this time, it’s different. It’s pitch black. I look around and finds no crackling embers, no dark smoke whatsoever. Just empty. Aside from that, it is cold. Not a shivering one, but the one just right to balance the flames that’s supposed to be all around me. I wonder where does this come from? How could it lead up to this?

Then a wisp blinks to existence. Its ember glow is against the darkness that envelops me. It whizzes here and there following a random path, like flies trying to find an exit from a bedroom they got themselves into. A moment later, the glow grows brighter. It takes me the next two seconds to realize that it is heading to my direction. Gradually, I make up its petite frame. It’s a monarch. The same one that rained ember upon my village.

It reaches up just in front of my face, struggling with its elegant wings to maintain its level. And before I know it, my left index rises up to meet the lone monarch who then sits on it.

Strange…

What is it doing here? And the consuming heat that it supposed to bring isn’t there anymore. There’s just warmth. And somehow, I am grateful that it is here.

–**–

The Primus left as soon as he had his breakfast. He left me words that has me astonished to this moment.

“You should take a break too.”

It takes me thirty minutes to process that while I’m doing some tasks, as I doubt whether he really meant them or not. That’s when I receive a call from Zen. Aside from his gratitude for my recovery, he said that he’s going to spend his leisure in a park on the outskirt of the town. I first couldn’t believe what I’ve heard. He really told me that he is going to be somewhere, as if I would come to meet him there.

I mean…of course I would. Why not? That’s the reason why I am walking there right now. He had lent his hand for me a couple of times. This shall be my gratitude.

I follow the path that I took when I went for groceries. On the town, I trace the path on its edge that should bring me to the other side, where the park is.

It is located on a hill surrounded only by pathways and grass plains. It’s a convenience for those in town who sought urban-free respite. The park is not that enormous. In fact, it is smaller than the Primus mansion’s fourth layer, the same layer where the mansion is on. Its perimeter is decorated with ebony fence crawling with flowery vines. The entrance itself is made out of bundles of flowers. The combination of both is a sight for sore eyes.

After a minute of wandering around the park, I finally found him.

He is sitting on a bench overlooking a small fountain just several meters away from him. His rifle is still with him, leaning against one flank of the bench.

“It pleases me to see you’re doing well now.” He says as soon as I approach him. For the first time, he directs a grin at me.

Oh, how vibrant this view is.

“I heard that you’re the one who carries me to the bed.”

“His order.”

“Of course.”

He sighs. I then sit beside him, my legs tight against each other, my hands are overlapping on my lap. This is the second time we sit together like this. But due to how messed up my feeling was that night, I don’t think I could count that as being in tune with this one. Therefore, it’s safe to say that this is the first time we spend a moment together.

It’s warming up within. But I’m sure it’s not the fever.

As my heart races, I begin to wonder. I wonder whether he sees this moment the same way I see it.

“What do you plan to do here?” I ask him.

“I thought it would be nice if you decide it.”

“But you’re the one who invites me.”

“I’ve covered every corner of this park already. So, I suppose I’ll just depends on where your curiosity is pointing.”

Wow, this boy. Imagine having a rendezvous with a girl and being indecisive on what to do next. He seems to be a thoughtful person. The irony that he didn’t thought of anything to do when inviting me drives a smile on my face. It is tolerable however, if this is the first time he’s up for this sort of activity.

“Well, I hope you don’t mind then.”

“Hmph.” He chuckles. “Go ahead.”

I pick a corner where the flowers are. Their vibrant scarlet petals stand in contrast with their surroundings. Zen says that each of them represents every person in the island who went abroad to serve in the Primus’ conquest. They sow the seeds before heeding the call. Their relatives, be it their wives or children would come here every day to care for the sprouts. Of course, none of those people returned.

Since that’s the case, it’s best not to pick them up.

While moving on to the other section of the park, Zen tells me how this island, despite being remote, was once a prosperous place. That is until the Primus’ conquest. Other than manpower, he bit a huge portion of the resources available from this place. By huge I mean all of them.

What they get in turn, is a platinum figure of the ArC insignia that stands on top of the fountain in the middle of this park. Compared to his mansion however, the insignia is minuscule. No one would notice when it’s placed side by side with the only gargantuan building in the island.

It’s remarkable how not even one person here decided to revolt, or at least protest. Or maybe climbing the gate to his mansion for a taste of looting. No subversive activities whatsoever. I couldn’t determine whether it’s fear that’s holding them back, their lack of pride, or just simply being faithful to the Primus. Zen couldn’t either. But I have doubt that the last one would be the case. That just seems ethereal and unfitting for human beings.

Attentions are turning at us as we move from one section to another. It’s unsettling to be the attention center, especially in a moment like this. But perhaps a moment like this is what causing us to be the attention center. Maybe the sight of a maid of Creatio Genetrix leisurely walking alongside a male partner is one that never occurred around here. I couldn’t help it. This is a chance for me to spend more time with Zen, and there’s no way I’d let them pass.

And so that’s how it goes for the rest of our walk in the park.

When we head out, we stumble upon two more people that Zen seems to be accustomed with. They greet each other in turn. Another boy and a girl. My sight couldn’t turn away from the girl. She has such exquisite features that left me speechless for a moment, especially her white skin and long straight hair. For some reason, those made me insecure.

“So,” The boy says. “This is the girl you’ve been looking forward to?”

Looking forward?

“Ah seems like you have an excellent taste, Zen.” The girl follows up. “I think she’s lovely.”

Huh?

She then approaches me and gives her hand.

“Hello, my name is Julia.” Besides her features, are her eloquent voice that left her even more endearing up close.

“Pleased to meet you.” I shake her hand. “You can call me Lena.”

The boy steps forward. “Mine is Lennard.”

“Pleased to meet you too, Lennard.”

He then chuckles. “The fact that Zen’s indifference twenty-four seven could impress a maiden is amazing.”

“Uhh…” is the only word that I could utter for the moment as I turn a weird face to Zen.

Zen shares my glance for a moment before turning back to them.

“Now you just made her nervous.” He says.

“Excellent sign then. That means she’s really into you.”

Ehh!? That’s when Zen turns to me.

“I hope their words just slips past your ears.” He says to me, pointing at them.

“Don’t be like that, Zen. You see how red her face has become.” Julia says, clapping her hands.

Really? Me? Red? I quickly put my hands on my cheeks and sinks my head. But I guess it is already up for show to everyone.

“Aren’t you supposed to patrol the town?” Zen asks.

“We got the outskirts.” Lennard responds. “And just happened to stumble upon you.”

“I see.”

Zen turns to me again and sighs.

“Oh well, guess no use in denying it.” He says. “Lena, we’re officially couple now.”

What!? I freeze in place to that statement. My heart skipped a beat. And I think I just got struck by a lightning bolt. I mean really? Am I…am I in one of my fever dreams?

Zen scratches his head. “Of course, that is with your consent. Our next dating activity would be to wander around town in accordance with these folks’ patrol path.” He continues. “What say you?”

“Eh, right away?” Julia says.

I can’t believe this is really happening. But well, since he doesn’t hide it anymore…

After a long pause of me gazing down at my feet, I clasp both hands in front of me and nod.

“Gladly. I consent.” I say.

“Really!? Accepted immediately?” Lennard’s jaw dropped.

Julia gasps, covering her mouth.

Even Zen opens his mouth slightly. Perhaps he too couldn’t believe that I would come up with such response in a brief timespan. Then his grin returned. Truly a captivating sight.

I look down, closing my eyes and slightly covering my lips as I let out a tiny giggle. As much as I wanted to yell out for this exhilarating moment, I have to remain calm. It’s in our discipline. Although I believe I have violated it about two times in this mission. I have to be grateful that there are no higher-ranking officials that catches me during those moments.

“Ahh alright, alright.” Lennard blurts out, stepping past us. “You lovebirds can go up your business waltzing, teetering, and giggling like no tomorrow. I’m proceeding with my duty. Come, Julia.”

Julia follows up. Just after she steps past us, she halts a moment and leans toward us.

“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow us.” She whispers and winks.

And of course, we follow them, ignoring Lennard’s apparent inconvenience. I believe he is actually fine with that. We share a lot of stuff throughout the day. Mostly how we feel about this town, and our past.

Notably, Lennard’s past. He was once a part of a decentralized reign which is divided among many clans. Despite the peace, those clans hate each other, always seeking opportunities to climb toward total dominance in the reign. And so war is of the norm. To mitigate this, the central government conducted a game every season, joined by the clans. It’s a bloodless conflict where the victor could obtain an accepted yield of other clans’ ownership. Basically, the clans wager their prosper for a chance of a better one.

He was part of the Santoso clan, who have wagered much since they are faithful in his skill. But he was sabotaged at the final phase of the game. And his clan lost that much. Disillusioned, the clan master decided to execute him, his own son. Only thanks to his butler that he escaped. He lived here ever since.

So it seems that everyone here have an unpleasant past. They who once lived a decent life, until the unfortunate fell upon them. Just like me. If I have a spare fortune, I might return here and improve the quality of this place. I don’t know when will that time come. But it will come.

I return back to the mansion as soon as the clock hits evening. Zen accompanies me all the way back. The most memorable would be when the back of our hands just happened to touch, and Zen just proceeds to cross my index finger with his. That was half the way up to the mansion, and remain that way until we reach the place. His warmth, his scent, lingers there. For a moment, I am attached to my right index. I find it hard to pull it away from my nose as I climb up the mansion’s gardens.

That was a wonderful experience, one that I’m sure would linger in my mind for the rest of my life and would probably emerges in the slightest of my leisure.

“Zen…” I mention his name as I gaze into the mansion’s magnificent ceilings.

–**–

The two men had initiated their hike at sunrise, now the sun has set when they reach the peak. The darkish gradient of the sky on top of the bird-view of the remote island is an astonishing view that left them silent. Their coat flutters in the wind as their sight sweeps from one side to the other.

“So,” one of the man barks. “I take it that she doesn’t mess up anymore?”

“You were too harsh on her, Microv.”

“Guess I was too harsh on anyone by your standard.”

He sighs. “I mean you burst through every door that you came across.”

“Well, apology. Breaching doors are what I am made for.”

Their sights then turn to the dark skies filled with glimmering stars.

“You know, for a moment…I thought you’re already too old for this.”

“See where the reservoir has brought me.”

“You almost popped like a bubble back then. It’s a goddamn fortune you survived.”

“That’s what it means for one to take risks.”

A silence ensues as both takes a deep breath.

“It’s been a while isn’t it?”

The Primus nods. “I wish we have a full team here.”

“I miss her.”

“You’ve made an excellent couple.”

“That kid was a sweet lass. Never seen anyone like her before.”

“You were too busy grinding your gears in the warzones.”

Microv chuckles, “What else should I be doing? Massacring discount ostriches that ate our crops? Bloody hell, even my ancestor wasn’t good at that.”

“I believe you’d do that to fill your leisure.”

The Primus pulls out a bottle of water and takes a sip from it.

“Would you look for another partner?”

Microv shrugs. “No idea. My arse is wrinkling you know. If there’s another, our flesh has to be the same. For her safety.”

A stream of air streak through the Primus’ mask. “Right. For her, ‘safety’.”

“Katrina might break apart if I do it, literally.”

“Such reason really held you back.”

“At least snuggling wasn’t so bad. Love it when she rubs her nose on my chest.”

The Primus then let go of his backpack and sits down. “I hope the reason we’re here still lingers within your memory.”

“Of bloody course, they do.” Microv says, vigorously turning to his master. “But first, get a snoop on this.”

Microv hands him his binocular and points to a certain direction. The Primus stands up and grabs the device, training it to the direction his subordinate is pointing.

Over there, he sees what appears to be a speedboat parked on the most remote section of the shores. The binocular’s night-vision feature allows him to peer through the darkness.

“What an odd little fella.” Microv barks.

“Can you make out its details from here?” The Primus asks, still peering through the binoculars, adjusting its magnification and focus.

“If only it isn’t so far as well as so dark.”

The Primus, realizing something, turns down the binocular.

“Microv…”

“Yea?”

“This island has a notable dock you see. There’s still an active community managing that.”

“Rite. This island has been a great contributor to our cause.”

“The question now…” He pauses, turning to his subordinates. “Why would someone land a boat on a point that’s barely noticeable, with no overseer whatsoever, instead of the docks?”

Microv returns the gaze of his master. After leering back to the direction of the boat, he realizes what comes into the Primus.

“Prick…”

It’s because they don’t want to be noticed.

“Those crimson thralls…” Microv says.

“How fast can your module make you run?”


Prime Respite

Prime Respite (Part 5)


Chapter 5

It’s blazing hot. The columns of monarchs shed their embers upon my mansion as they soar across the sky. Prancing flames are all around. My parents scramble through them to put me out of the predicament. Dark smoke that fills the scene forces me to cover my face with my arm, obstructing most of my sight. When my mom lags behind, my dad returns inside once he places me on the terrace. That is when the mansion crumbles upon them. I couldn’t forget the sight where I reach for my dad, to no avail.

Mom…! Dad….!

And they perished. Along with the mansion. Along with their wealth. Along with my people. Then that crimson-eyed lady emerges from the flame, striding to my direction. Her hand reaches out for me, her flaming hand. The heat has stripped me of my strength. I am in no condition to struggle back.

So I give in…

Then I…what?

What happened? I thought as I regain my vision. I think I was mopping the floor. Then…

It’s warm and damp in here. I find it hard to open my eyes. The air that I breathe out feels similar to those in hot air spring. Along with my barely moving limbs, are the bone crushing pounding on my head. It took me another minute to realize that something soft is pressing against my forehead, a wet towel I guess? I lift my hand to meet my neck. For a moment, I thought I was lifting the base of fresh dishes, but it’s actually my skin. Ah…I take a deep breath as I face that I am now confined to this cushion bed.

Hang on…

Cushion bed? I thought I’m lying on my mattress in the bunk. It takes some time for my vision to clear up. As I gaze upon the room once more, it turns out I’m not in the bunk for the time being. I’m somewhere else, I think…Judging from the lavish interior with carved furniture, I’m still in his mansion.

I struggle to sit up. The cloth that I thought to be a towel fell to my lap. It’s a fever compress. My forehead starts to flare again as I remember, that thanks to my exhaustion I couldn’t really tell where I was going. It is before I slipped and slammed my head on the floor. Everything is black thereafter. There’s a window to my left, just beside a fancy bookshelf, that led only to darkness. How long have I been out? What time is it?

How flared up I become when I look at the time.

“Oh no…his dinner…”

But I can’t make it. Sitting like this has already consumed a huge portion of my strength. As the pounding on my head grows stronger, I couldn’t force myself to stand. Especially when my whole body is as flaccid as wet petals.

It is when the door creaks open. What comes after is a sight that I can’t believe I get to witness. It’s the trolley that I used to serve the Primus’ meal, and he is behind it.

“Huh…?” A silent ensues as we stare at each other.

He shut the door and brings the trolley beside me, before tapping into his utilizer and draw it close to my neck. That is when I flinch, as soon as the back of his left palm touches my skin.

“Lie down. Hold still.” He says, drawing his hand closer.

I do what he said. Then his utilizer reaches my neck. From the corner of my eyes, I can see it projecting a number into the air. The Primus, seemingly astonished by that number, sighs as he closes the projection.

“This place is a five-maids work. Why insists in doing all of them by yourself?”

“I’ve messed up plenty of things. I thought I must not fail any further.”

“Well, look where you are now.” He responds, grabbing the compress while rubbing his fingers. He puts it on the bottom-most tray of the trolley, before opening one of the metal cloches and puts a plate full of biscuits on my lap. I stare at them for a moment, processing the implication that he has prepared this for me.

“Have at them, before the main dish.”

Main dish? Did he really bring me an entire dish? Well I don’t mind if he didn’t bring me a dessert, that’s too much of an expectation.

Seemingly impatient for me to consume the biscuits, he nods at them. Of course, my hesitation is at its finest. But given my condition, his generosity, and how south everything had gone this far, I have no choice.

I take a considerate bite off the first piece. The biscuit has a sweet taste with a delicate coconut scent. It takes me three bites to finish it. When I take another piece, he strides to the other side of the bed, closer to the window that led outside.

“How are they?”

I decide to finish the second piece first before replying.

“It’s excellent, sir.” It actually tastes like normal biscuits, but I feel the need to appreciate his effort a bit more.

“No, it isn’t.”

Oh well. Turns out he himself is aware.

What should I expect? It was a fortune that he even went through the trouble to bring me these.

“Was it supposed to?”

He nods in silence, before stepping to gaze out of the window. “They are jollies under Sofiana’s hands.”

I stop chewing as soon as I heard that. “Pardon, sir?”

“My wife.”

“Um,” I think I know what happens next, but I’m not sure I have the strength to drive it out of me. “Is she…”

“Gone.” He says, his gaze still fixed to anything beyond that window pane. “She left me on a stormy night, not long after the end of my conquest.”

“My condolences, sir.”

He then leers at me.

“It is since then that I became the slacking man you see for the past three days. In the absence of an offspring, how could one’s ambition remain without their other pair? That is the reason why my meals are way off the norm, and why vegetables never made to one these days.”

Surely what he is doing is bad for his health. But if he is consciously doing it…

I really don’t like the implication.

“You wish for organ malfunctions to take your life.”

He nods. His face might be concealed behind his mask that he is wearing. However, it is apparently useless, in terms of hiding his feeling, when one comes this close with him.

“All so that a pious girl could remain under my protection. She knew that I was determined to cast her out of my doorstep, and decided to leave beforehand. When Sofiana heard this, she decided to take her place and left me instead.”

Clearly, he’s the Primus. His hostile stance toward the believers, those who believes in divine powers and worship them, is a common knowledge to everyone in the continent. His decision that moment could be purely out of spite to the girl just for being pious.

“Why she’s even there in the first place?” I ask him.

“Sofiana picked her from the street. A fragile girl who has nowhere to return to. She raised her, for the remainder of her teenage, like she is of her own blood. She gave her protection, like how all mother should to their children. But still, a thrall is a thrall. Unless they let go of their belief, they won’t ever find my fond gaze shining down on them.”

That just sounds like a household quarrel that doesn’t end well. But the loss of loved ones will always be painful, regardless of the cause.

It is not long that I wonder…

“Who is the girl? What is she up to now?”

His response isn’t immediate. But it shook me, as soon as it comes out.

“Iva.”

That left my jaw open for a moment. And I think my biscuit fell from the clutch of my fingers to the plate again. “The maid colonel?”

“Correct.” He says, turning to me. “She is under direct command from Microv himself, my right-hand man. That is the result of his care for her. I was fortunate that he is willing to supervise her.”

What? So she was his daughter all along? Well not quite, since he doesn’t acknowledge her.

I nod in silence, picking the piece that I dropped.

“Have your tea, the closest mug to you.” He continues.

“My gratitude, sir.” I reply, turning to look at the mug he is referring to.

I take a sip of the tea, which turns out not to be a tea after all. Sure, the liquid has a somewhat black feature. But it tastes somewhere between bitter and sour.

The Primus then steps away from the window. He drags a stool beside me and sits there, taking a deep breath.

“That’s actually not a tea. It’s a guava leaves extract. My father used to make it whenever I fell ill.”

Whatever it is, I hope it hastens my healing just like what he is implying.

“Feeling better?” He asks.

“I think…” My body is still warm, my head is still pounding, and my limbs are still as weak as noodles. But they seem to be not as bad as they were. “I think I’m recovering.” I continue.

“Don’t forget the main dish.” He says.

“What did you bring?”

He strides over to the trolley and hands over another plate covered with a metal cloche. Seeing that, I put the remainder of the biscuits back on to the trolley to make room for the plate he is handing. What lies under the pot is, an omelet I suppose? It has a perfect circular shape, with noodles protruding out of it.

“Many have thought of my inability to cook. They’re about one percent wrong. And this is the product I am most proud of.”

“You made this yourself?”

“It’s a mix of two eggs and an instant noodle, baked inside the chamber of a rice cooker. Nothing special.” He says striding back to the stool on the other side of the bed.

Now that stare falls upon me again. Apparently, he wants me to taste this dish that he made. I couldn’t help it. Letting him stare at me like that for quite some time isn’t good for both of us either. I begin to slice a piece and puts it in my mouth.

“This is…” I say, as soon as I’m done chewing. “Delicious.” And yes, I’m not playing around. Even with my fever tongue that was supposed to alter any taste that comes to it, this omelet still tastes over the top.

“Glad you like it.” He says.

“Were you making this too back then?”

“Only when Sofiana isn’t cooking, which is a rare occurrence in times of her presence.”

“Ah…” I respond, putting another piece into my mouth.

This woman, Sofiana, seems to be an essential person in his life. I mean, she is his wife. And he seems to cherish her more than his own life. To think that their bond is severed by a difference in view…I wonder whether she is scarred by her decision as well or not. This view of his, where did it come from? How could it root deep into his flesh and blood?

“By the way…”

He turns to me while rubbing his finger.

“Why did you hate those believers so much?” It’s hard to believe for a moment that I just brought myself to ask that. I stare back as his gaze turns into a glare. Perhaps he has no intention to share that story to anyone. But my curiosity keeps gearing. “Was it because you’re a man of science, that you’ve come to resent the thought of divine presence?”

“No.” He stands and strides to the middle of the room, his sight fixed to the ceilings to the right. “It not that I don’t believe in divine powers, that I drove their screams and tears. It’s something more personal.”

“Does it hurt if I know?”

“They are responsible for the absence of my daughters.”

He really doesn’t acknowledge the maid colonel as one.

“You mean…”

“They took them away, two consecutive times.” He says, leering at me. “And no matter how hard I try, my daughters will never be safe, until those thralls are purged from this world.”

Which means there is a possibility of truth to the event told by Eri.

“And all your atrocities, only to make space for your daughter?”

“For each of their dying breath, my sprout shall inhale upon them and bloom to the skies with exquisite vibrance.” He turns to the window and steps before it again. “In addition to that, there would be lesser opposition to scientific fruition.”

“They are in denial to the prosperity that you sow?”

“The old senate were devout thralls. My province was once a state-of-the art among the others. We saved the nation from collapsing. Our secret was none other than renouncing the core belief they held dear to allow technological development beyond the boundary. But they didn’t like it, and decided to get rid of me.”

“But you beat them to that.”

He nods. “Thanks to the technology that I’ve developed.”

“What is it?”

“Classified. It’s not for you to know.”

I nod gently. “I understand.”

“One thing is that it’s keeping me alive until now. I will not pass away, until the last of the thralls’ banner lies under my feet, torn by the might of my Androids.”

How long have that thing extended his life, I wonder?

“When is the last time you lost your daughter?”

He raises his right hand, unfolding his fingers one by one starting from his thumb.

“Fifty-three years ago.”

Fifty-three years? Considering that he has been a father for several years during that time, he has to be at least about eighty years old now.

“What happened to her? Is the unfortunate you just claimed to had befallen her literal, or…”

“Rather. Those thralls have instilled their values on her. She embraces them with great vigor and confidence, believing that it could bring salvation to civilizations. That is before she abandoned us. And as she delved further down those values, she left an even greater mess for me to take care.”

“What mess?”

He strides before a sizeable silk cloth, apparently hung on to something, in the middle of the room. There seems to be something hiding behind the cloth which I just noticed. The Primus pulls that cloth off, revealing a large picture of a gorgeous woman in crimson clothing, clad with lavish decorations that speak of her royal nature. On top of her head is a diadem that somehow seems familiar.

“Do you recognize who this is?”

I do recognize her, based on my father’s description. The founder of the Terran Vindicators, Katrina the Great. He used to tell me about the woman when I was little. My father was in charge of several merchants, and they all find great success in her theocratic realm.

“You were the father of the founder of the greatest believers’ realm in existence?”

“Not only the greatest, but also the most sophisticated of the thralls’ states.” He says, gazing at the picture. “She was once a frail high-schooler, who is dying from starvation, that I found in a dead city. I’ve raised her for six years before she left. During which, she accomplished a remarkable feat.”

“So she was great before her title.”

He nods. “An Android with long, straight peanut hair. Her sweet crimson eyes and her flawless features would be the first thing you’d note about her.”

Crimson eyes? For some reason that rings a bell. The nightmares that I was having, where my parents perished in a twister of flames. A woman with crimson eyes, gazing down upon me, reaching for me.

“I was in supervision when Katrina labored to create her.” He continues. “The Android took her place when she passed away.”

“Tribhuwana the second.”

“Her name is Sylvana…” He says. “She had conducted a massive raid that devastates our frontier’s logistics over the past six years. One of the most devastated sectors, I believe, is your settlement.”

He knows about that? The devastation of my birthplace…The evening where I lost everything.

“My village seems to have clung onto you.”

“Because Sylvana was there, overseeing the destruction herself.”

Those crimson eyes, so it belongs to a Vindicator empress all along. My family is taken by the same faction that allows them to prosper…A realization that petrifies me. The empress might have done that in retaliation of what the Primus has done. So the question is…

“Why did you let that happen?”

“My power requires further consolidation. That shifted my focus from the front.”

“But you’re the most powerful man in the world.”

“But I’m still a man. I’m no divine.”

I gaze down on my lap, noting the most prominent possibility that would occur if he had prevented the event that evening.

“My parents could still be alive today.”

“I guess the thralls have taken what’s precious for both of us.”

“No.” I exclaim with a higher tone. “You’re the reason my precious are gone.”

The Primus stands there in silence. Based on his expression, I think I just snapped at him again.

Damn it, not the second time.

I sit here dumbfounded. He went through all the trouble to bring all these provisions to help me recover, and yet this is how I treat him?

I…

In the next second, I already drop the main dish back to the trolley and cower under the blanket. I can’t stand this. I’ve crossed way beyond my boundaries. I am ashamed of myself. I wish I never exist.

What happens next however, subvert my expectations.

“I’m sorry.” The phrase that I heard, followed by a pat of cloth on top of my head. “Please consider your medicine before shutting your eyes for good.”

His steps then grow dimmer, before the door creaks open. As soon as it shuts gently, I shove the blanket by a little to peek over it.

He’s gone, leaving me the remainder of the provisions on the trolley and another compressor on the blanket, where my head supposedly was. Just beside the pillow is a band filled with four pills. Perhaps it’s one for tonight and three for tomorrow. Because this fever came from exhaustion, I believe it shouldn’t take too long to recover. I take a deep breath before putting a pill on my tongue and shove it down with the guava leaves extract.

Not long after, my vision sways again. I hope that’s the medicine taking effect. I rest my head on the pillow and put the compressor on my forehead. I relax my muscles as my drowsiness drags me to nothingness.

–**–

The pitch-black view beyond is filled with splashing waves. The girl stands still with her eyes wide open to the nothingness as the wind flows past her.

“Vittoria.” Fred calls out to her, who is standing at a solitary point on the shore.

She turns around. “Thank you for coming.”

“Of course, you said you need this.”

“Fred…” She says, suddenly turning her gaze down.

“Yes, Vittoria?”

“I…wanted to explore this island.”

“Oh…” Fred sighs, seemingly unimpressed. “You have any problem with us?”

Vittoria crosses her arms, gripping her elbow in a slightly cowering manner. “No, it’s just…”

“It’s just?”

“This island might be a remote one, but it’s still enormous compared to me. And my existence so far only covers a tiny bit of it.”

“So you’re curious to what’s over there on the other side?”

Vittoria nods. “At least there will be something new in my journals when I got home.”

“You can afford a ticket home now?”

“By the end of next week.” She says. “I believe I can cover most of this island in less than that timespan.”

“I see.” Fred replies. “We’ll just help you prepare then.”

“I’d appreciate it.” Vittoria says.

Without Fred noticing, she lurches forward. In the next second, she is already sticking to him, arms wrapped around his waist. Fred stands still for a moment, having a hard time perceiving what just happened. That is before he wraps his arms around her shoulders. The heat of their skin interfering with each other amidst the cold night gust, keeping them warm.

“Safe trip, Vittoria.”

“Thank you.”

–**–

Bad news for today is that I wake up a bit late. Good news is that it’s not too past his breakfast time. And the fact that I’m waking up feeling better tops that even more. I button up my collar and tuck my pin on its center.

I stumble upon him as soon as I leave the bedroom. His silent gaze falls on me again. As much as how things went for the last couple of days until last night, I’m still his maid, tasked to serve him during his leave. So, I commit to the standard procedure.

“Sir…” I say, bowing down.

“You seem to have recovered.”

“I’m about to make your breakfast.”

He turns around. “Make sure you have yours just after. Then return to your bed.”

“Sir?”

“That’s an order.”

“Y-yes sir.” I nod with vigor.

“And…” He says after taking a step away. “That green dish you made me yesterday, I want them again this morning.”

That…left me astonished. It’s a statement that I don’t believe I would hear. How blooming my heart becomes as soon as that left his mouth. Yes, I made him his preference. But alongside that I still slip in a plate of vegetables. The fact that yesterday’s dishes are the leftovers of those he didn’t touch the day before, which I only warmed up for the day, brings an even brighter glee within.

I stand still, processing the excellent news, making sure that I’m not in one of my fever dreams. No, I’m not. How he suddenly changes are beyond me for a moment. But I’ll just appreciate it. Whatever he found or whoever he met out there when he spent the night outside, I owe them a great deal.

So I rush to the kitchen, tagging along my excitement. For a moment, that fever of mine isn’t felt.

I hit the stove and brings the necessary ingredients on the table. As soon as the dishes are on the table, the Primus leisurely walks in. I again bow to him as he sits on one of the chairs.

“Sit down.” He says after grabbing a plate.

“Sir?”

He gently shifts his gaze at me. And that’s a confirmation. I shouldn’t resist any further. So I sit down a chair away to his left. My fever kicks in again. I think I was too vibrant with the dishes that my condition is shoved away. Although temporary, it’s enough to make my head unbearable.

Suddenly he places a plate before me.

“Enjoy the meal.”

“Do you really want me to have my breakfast alongside you?”

“I don’t see the issue.” He says, scooping several pieces from the dishes.

“But those dishes are meant to be yours.”

“You made them. We can have an equal split.” He says, opening his metallic mask. The azure tear on his right cheek is visible again. A fissure on his feature. “On top of that, you’re still recovering. And I believe my dishes have better nutrition for your metabolism.” He continues, inserting a spoonful of spinach into his mouth thereafter.

Hearing his statement makes me feel horrible. This trip has all been a mistake. I believe it won’t go like this had I’m not the one in charge.

“I want to apologize sir.” I say, gazing down on my lap.

He doesn’t say anything, probably still chewing the piece that he put inside his mouth.

“About everything. Including my attitude last night. I believe they all have driven you upset. And it feels wrong if I could just get away with them. Perhaps I deserve more than just the punishment for the desertion.”

I hear him sigh as soon as I finish that sentence.

“There are no charges for making me upset.” He says.

What!?

“But the colonel…the caution to not make you upset is the last thing she addressed during the briefing. And was laid with great emphasis.”

He halts midway and places his spoon back to his plate, his fingers are still latching to the other end. “Because I’ve done a terrible thing to her.”

I remain in silent as I glances upon his face that turns to sorrow.

“My anger was at its peak, for the first time since I lost Katrina. Then she spilled my tea on my favorite book, when I was reading them. Knowing that she is the reason Sofiana left, my safeties are off. Then a mighty blow on her left cheek, so powerful that it topples her, so powerful that blood gushes out of her mouth and nose.

“Worse is, she doesn’t even attempt to defend herself. She just gazed at me with her glittering eyes, with her slow breath, as I clench on her collar when she is on the floor. If Microv and Derrick isn’t there, she would be gone by now.”

So that’s the story behind the bruise on her left cheek. What a pity, a woman as elegant as her having her grace defiled by a man who couldn’t hold his anger. I mean everyone have a limit, beyond which they would snap. It’s just unfortunate that she was there when that happens to the Primus.

“Anger can really turn people into something terrible.”

He nods. “I was so consumed, that Microv has to deliver a blow of the same magnitude to restore my sanity.”

“How does she behave before you now?”

“She would still greet me with vigor, even though I never return that radiant warmth of hers. I couldn’t bring myself to see her, thanks to that scar which screeches for me every time I see them.”

He then let go of his spoon and put both of his hands on his face.

“As much as I don’t like you for screwing over my meals, I don’t intend to let that happen for the second time. Getting away from you is a way to prevent that.” He sighs.

Ah…so it turns out, he was protecting me when he left the mansion that day. It seems like the inconvenience of this leave fell on both of us.

“That’s the reason why she is hellbent on telling everyone to not upset me.”

“How about last night, when I dismissed you by hiding under the blanket despite your effort to care for me?”

“You were mad at me for something that I did. That shouldn’t count, considering how common that occurs.” He says. “But I will if you don’t have these dishes as soon as possible.”

Eh?

“R-right sir.” I was so focused at his stories that I forgot to pick the meal for myself.

“By the way,” He says when I lean forward to grab the dishes. “How do you end up on Creatio Genetrix?”

“Pardon, sir?”

“You’ve heard a portion of my past. I don’t think it’s fair if you don’t share yours.”

I place my plate down and stare at it for a moment.

“Where do I begin?”

“I heard your parents are the wealthiest there.”

“My mother owned a vast swath of land with several workers. My father was a business man who has plenty merchants abroad, even in the Vindicators’ land.”

“What happened next?”

“I was the only survivor of the incident. The Vindicators are about to take me, until they stumble upon one of my father’s merchant, who paid a high price to ransom me. I call him Uncle Bark. He is in debt since then. His colleagues cut communications and declare their independence. Right now, I’m still unaware whether or not he is done with his debt.”

“So why did you leave?”

“I don’t want him to spare a coin or two to feed an extra mouth for an extended amount of time. So I worked as a housecleaner on a local bar and gathered as much as possible to travel further inland, toward ArC’s capital.”

 “How old are you when you left?”

“I was thirteen at the time.”

“Why the capital?”

“It’s the safest place I could think of. I don’t want the incident on that evening occur to me for the second time.”

Indeed, the decision to leave is a hard one not because I’m not up for the obstacles that awaits me. Leaving the person who had saved and determined to protect you, so that you could live in a guaranteed safety, is selfish. Even though I promised him that I would return with more wealth and assist him with his debt.

“I was fortunate that a lavish restaurant would hire me. It takes another year before I heard that the Creatio Genetrix are recruiting maids. At that moment, I was grateful that they accept children like me.”

“Everyone is wounded by the conflict. It’s a system that I applied when I was a governor. A workplace for orphans. Glad to hear those sleepless nights also got you out of trouble.”

Really?

That makes me owe him even more. In that case, one might see him as a ruthless dictator. But one shouldn’t deny that all of his misbehavior resulted in the order and prosper of his realm.

“I guess I’m in your debt.” I grin at him.

He nods. “What are you planning to do?”

“I’ve been saving to buy my own land. To restore my family’s wealth. To restore what I’ve lost that evening.”

“How about the man that had you ransomed?”

“That…” I can’t believe I have to say this. “Once I have accomplished that objective.” Even then I’m still not sure whether I’d have the chance. And there’s also a possibility that he is already gone by the time it happens.

The Primus nods as he ingests another content of his spoon.

“Whatever you’re up to,” He says after he’s done chewing. “Give it all of your heart, the way you’re willing to change me. This is my appreciation since you seem to be determined about it.”

“I-I will.”

For a moment, I couldn’t believe that he just said that. A silence ensues. What are the odds that one gets to sit side by side with the most powerful man in the world, having a breakfast, while sharing both of their past? I couldn’t know for sure, but it has to be incredibly tiny. It feels weird. Few days ago, we were quarrelling. But now it seems like we’re father and daughter. This could be the experience that he wanted. Even though he knows me only for a couple of days, I have no reason not to play along considering everything that he has provided for me, both directly and indirectly.

“I want you to take your medicine after this. Then you shall return to your bed.”

“But who will do the cleaning? The laundry? The dishwashing?”

He sighs deeply, covering his forehead with his left hand. “Who do you think will do it?”

I really despise the fact, and my question is just a way to confirm whether he has someone else to handle the maid duty.

“Uh…” And I don’t think there’s any.

“I haven’t moved a lot in a while. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“But, sir…”

“You making the breakfast is enough. Now finish your meal, have your medicine and return to bed.”

Well, how could I insist if this is the case?

“As you wish, sir.”

“Excellent.” He sighs again.

I turn to see his plate is empty. He does possess such an appetite this morning.

“Did you know that Katrina almost died one day?” He continues as my spoon is about to enter my mouth.

“What?” I halt my hand.

“I had to trek all the way north to harvest the only magical flower that could cure her.”

Huh?

–**–

The noise of the roaring waves fills the scene. The skies are elegant with their reddish gradient. Thanks to the horse that Fred provides for her, she could make her journey to the shore on the other side of the island in several hours. It would normally cost one half a day to get there via hiking. As soon as she reaches the shore, a speedboat tear through the waves, making its way toward Vittoria.

It lands along with six armed men and a girl with ArC’s maid uniform.

“Sorry you have to trek this far. This is safest point where we could land without raising any alarm.” The maid says.

Vittoria steps down from the horse. “It’s fine. I take it that you’ve taken care of the other maid then?”

“They’re away from our worries now.”

“Great.” Vittoria nods. “This place only has a number of militias. And they’re not as well armed as us.”

“We should be able to take them with ease then.”

“They might be well trained though. I suggest you keep your men entrenched after they have secured a position inside the mansion.”

“I’ll trust them to you I guess. Their shock of knowing the truth should be our advantage.”

“They won’t know what hit them.” Vittoria says.

The maid nods. “It’s Hana by the way.”

“Vittoria, in case you forgot.”

“Your gear is on the boat. We’re heading there once you don your crimson. Then we’ll rest and commence the attack on the next night.”

“Understood.” Vittoria says.


Prime Respite

Prime Respite (Part 4)


Chapter 4

The seagulls gawk to the edge where the sky meets the sea. Their near identical blue blends in the infinitely far, mixed with orange and reddish gradient blessed by the drowning sun. Three of the maids lean against the ferry’s railing, gazing into the distance. Their thoughts sink, just like the sun, into possibilities of punishments for their desertion.

“Hey, I…” Eri speaks up. “I don’t know, I feel wrong.”

“Imagine what they have to say for our action.” Theo follows.

“The Primus will be mad at us, won’t he?” Rina says, her sight fixed to the ocean floor.

Eri takes a deep breath. “Oh my…” She whines. “I can’t believe I agreed to do this. Do I still have face on my return to the continent?”

“His leave takes about two weeks, right?”

Eri and Theo nods.

“Perhaps we might reserve another session of our seat here to return to the island.”

“And ask for an apology from him?” Eri asks.

“What else can we do? At least we realized we messed up.”

It is when the other maid, Hana, comes marching to their side.

“No, we’re not.” She says. “It’s Lena. She has the instructions yet she decided to disobey them.”

The three shares a glance. It is Rina who turns to meet her.

“But still, running away won’t do good either. How long do you think you can last with the Primus on your tail?”

Rina has a point. Their desertion is a disobedience to no one but the Primus himself. They just abandoned their purpose to serve the pinnacle of the authority. Who knows what consequences await? It could be death. If they return, they would probably still be punished. But at least they can still hold up to their dignity as the maids of Creatio Genetrix.

“We’re not going back.” Hana says, her sight sharp, her fist clenched.

“Maybe only you.” Rina states. “I’ll return with the others. Right gals?” She says turning to Eri and Theo.

“Yea I’m coming with her.” Eri exclaims.

“I shall redeem myself.” Theo says.

“You can leave us if you want.” Rina says to Hana before turning around.

But just after she takes a step to return to the railing, Hana’s right arm spring round her neck. On her hand is what appears to be a dagger. From the corner of her eyes, Rina sees the dagger carve a path through. It was too late to fight back. Once she realized it, the dagger has finished its job.

“Rina!!!” Eri yells at the top of her throat.

“No.” Theo follows.

Rina lays her right hand on the fissure running across her neck as she falls to her knees. Her hand wet with red liquid streaming out of the fissure. There’s something she wanted to say, but she couldn’t since that function has just been taken away from her. Hana shoves her, and she collapses.

“Hana, w-what…” Eri stutters calmly, with a taste of disbelief, as she gazes upon the body of her friend laying lifeless on the floor. Seeing that, she couldn’t resist the urge boiling inside. “Why are you doing this!?” She cries, pulling out her katana.

Theo follows suit. “Treachery.” She exclaims.

Hana sheathe her dagger and pulls out her katana. Her sharp sight, turns into one with full intent to kill.

“I said, we’re not going back. You are, not going back.”

–**–

It’s past breakfast. The sun is already bright above. But he can still give in to his drowsiness, thanks to the breeze transitioning between land and sea. His coat separates him from the sands, a makeshift mattress. The experience of sleeping in open ground with no shelter is reminiscent of the days when he was still scavenging supplies from hollow towns and settlements. The days after the annihilation. Before he settled in a hub, he used to rest in desolate shacks or buildings. Basically, anywhere he deems comfortable. Which is why resting on the shore like this doesn’t bother him.

The only thing is, he hasn’t had his breakfast. In fact, he hasn’t had anything at all since the night two days prior. Thanks to that his stomach is twisted.

“Sir…” He heard someone calling his name. Its voice is of a teenage girl, probably in her adolescence.

Since he couldn’t sleep anymore, he ran out of his sleep hours, he decides to respond by turning his gaze at her.

“Ow,” She flinches. “You’re awake.” She says. She has a long straight hair that goes all the way to her waist.

He responds with a deep sigh before turning the other way.

“Pardon me sir, I don’t think that is a place suitable for your rest.”

“I’m fine.” He replies.

“Ah, I don’t think so.” The girl states with a calm, charming tone that adds well to her alluring nature.

He leers again at her.

“When a prominent person like you decided to rest in a place like this, there’s no way anything is the way they are.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m turning seventeen in a week.”

He rises to sit, impressed by how the girl deduced that there’s a problem boiling inside him.

“So you know who am I?” The man asks.

“Of course. You are the leader of our glorious nation, the Artificial Creationists. The most powerful man in the world.”

He takes a deep breath as he picks several grains of sands with his right hand. “How should I live to that title, if a problem like this already pushed me to the edge?”

It is when his stomach grumble. The girl notices.

“Excuse me.” He says.

“Ah, you haven’t had your meal.” She then brought up her utilizer and begin to type into it. “There, please hang on a second okay sir?” She presents a smile that brightens her face even more.

“What should I call you?”

“Julia, sir.”

“What do you want?”

“Nothing,” She says. “I just happen to patrol around here and found you lying on the sands.” She turns her gaze to the horizon in the distance.

“Then why sit here with me?”

“I’m just taking a break, I’ve scoured a vast area just now.”

“This particular point seems to be convenient.”

Julia turns to him. “Wow, you’re quite the one with negativity.”

“You know how I’ve always adored girls of your age.” He says with a higher tone. “In addition to the meal you’re offering, you clearly are seeking my attention.”

The girl takes a deep breath. “Have you always been like this?” She says, her voice remains gentle despite the somewhat provoking tone of the man. “People can be genuine too, you know?”

The way Julia maintains her composure impresses him even more. He squints at the sands, trying to come up with an example of a genuine intention ever since he took power, which grounds the conversation to a halt.

The foliage behind them rustle. The splashing waves adds to the arrangement.

“Hmm,” Julia hums while turning her glance above, seemingly in an attempt to break the silence. “Ah, think about us. We could choose to live our life without concerning what’s going on out there. In fact, everything here is sufficient for our daily needs. But we decided otherwise.”

The man turns to her. He sees straight to the white of her eyes. The gentle touch of a girl entering her adolescence, such tenderness has been missing from him for decades. A reminiscent of how he got this far, the will to raise a daughter that shall see him through to the end. The first one hasn’t even seen the daylight, when the thralls took her away. The second did well sustaining the frail within him, until the thralls’ light blinded her away. His conquest is to ensure, that no thrall shall take another blossom that he nurtured.

“We ship our commodities abroad for the economy, and all of our men to meet your army quota.” Julia jerks her head. “That leaves us children here to guard the remainder of our people. And as your conquest goes, we begin to have less and less to give. And you start to toss us aside as you gain more territories.”

The girl’s glance turns into him, along with her bright smile that stuns him.

“But have we ever once protested against you? Especially when you are here? Or perhaps loot some of your valuables in your mansion?”

“I believe…” He mutters in a faint voice that hopefully doesn’t catch the girl’s ear. “It’s hard to believe there’s nothing behind that community effort.”

Julia chuckles, still with her heart-warming smile. She then gently shakes her head. “That’s our obligation as your citizen.” Her gaze turns into the point where the sky meets the sea. “As long as the beacon of civilization shines bright, as long as it marks its presence in history, that’s all that matters. I believe you are leading us there.”

Even though there’s a hole in her statement, that they still want the beacon of civilization to mark its presence in history, it is not a thing that they could be blissful of in practice. In fact, it might even be a grace that would never shine back upon them. To think that there are people striving for such cause…and not even once he thought of such dedicated communities…Maybe he really stands upon the sweat of countless people, excluding Microv, Derrick, and Sofiana, that wishes nothing in return from him, other than the wealth of his realm.

Maybe that’s what Lena is thinking. Looking back, ever since Sofiana disappears, his gears spin ever more sluggish. As if they lost the fluid that grease its surfaces and ease its rotary motion. Maybe she’s really willing to restore the discipline that he dropped, with hope that he would perform better than he is currently. And the improvement of his performance meant the quality increase of the citizens’ life.

The man nods. For a girl of her age, that thought and determination of hers are ought to be admired. One really could learn from anyone.

“An even simpler example is,” Julia continues. “Notice how I didn’t overpraise you with your titles. Instead, I view you sir as a conversation partner on par with anyone of my age.”

Even though it’s rough, it’s indeed simpler to grasp. Presenting over the top courtesy and adulation shows how one wishes to be noticed for either promotion or commendation, something that improves their privilege.

“Where were you educated?” He asks.

“Well,” She turns her gaze downward for the first time. “I wish I was.”

No formal education, as expected. Since this island’s resources are dwindling, it shouldn’t be able to sustain an educational institution.

“How are your parents?”

“My father died in the defense of Vaniyya. Which eventually fell before we retake it again.”

The battle where Microv fought to the very end, spared only through the fondness of the head of the Vindicator’s army at the time, the first empress herself.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Julia tilts her head and grins as soon as she glances at him.

“We’ve won anyway. You don’t have to worry.” She takes a deep breath. “My mother…, she was a labor in an orchard.”

“Was…”

“She just passed away due to a fever.”

“You couldn’t afford a cure?”

“Herbs commodities that made it here are rare. Hence, they sell them at a high price. Even with my job as a cook in the militia…well…” She cowers, resting her head on the wrapping of her arms. The girl who has held her composure wither under the fact that she couldn’t save her mother despite her effort. Perhaps even her father.

“My condolences.”

She nods in silence. Her eyes turn weary, as if it starts to drizzle.

As time flies, the man begins to drown in his thought. The silence through the passing hour along with the soothing atmosphere of coastal scene hastens the pace of his neuron. His daydreaming breaks as soon as Julia turns to her left. He follows her sight. In the distance, he makes up a figure running toward him. It appears to be a girl, of similar age to Julia. Her golden hair is full of brilliance under the daylight.

Julia rises up and waves at her.

“Over here!” She yells, although she never needs to do that.

“Here’s the package you’ve ordered.” The girl says.

“Much obliged, Vittoria.”

The golden-haired girl, apparently named Vittoria, nods with a stiff expression.

Julia then hands out the hand-sized container to him.

“Are you sure?”

Julia grins. “It’s not good to skip your meals you know? And it’s improper to reject when someone is giving you one.” She winks.

He raises his hands and let her place the container on them. Under the lid, are rice and blobs of other cuisines that isn’t in his preference. He suspects those are vegetables that he never knew.

For a moment, he turns his glance at Julia who sits again beside him, willing to ask whether she has other kind of cuisine that perhaps grazes his preferences. But the fact that the other girl, Vittoria, is willing to go through all the trouble of preparing the meal and delivering it here, even though she is an Android, holds him back. It’s impolite to ask the host for something else when they provide such treat, especially when there’s the bare minimum in their storage.

But clearly, he couldn’t reject it either. He has no choice. He raises the spoon given along with the container and scoop a piece into his mouth. His jaws begin to prance as the piece is basked in his saliva. Along with it is a taste that he had long missed.

Uttering no second thought, since he is starving, he scoops another piece and another. Eventually, the container is empty before he realized it.

“Ah, you’ve such an appetite.” Julia exclaims, clapping her hands.

“Impressive indeed.” Vittoria follows.

He takes a deep breath when Julia hands him a bottle of water. After taking a huge sip, he hands the bottle back.

“I’m in your debt.” He says to them.

“No really, you are not.” Julia says.

“It’s our duty to protect and serve the people.” Vittoria continues.

He squints at Vittoria as soon as they both stand up. The details of her features, especially her crimson eyes, and her pale skin, they trigger a reminiscence inside him. It’s like he has seen her before. But he couldn’t remember. Still, the fact that there’s a person in this struggling island that could afford an Android is disturbing.

“This doesn’t seem to be your birthplace.” He says to Vittoria.

“Ah,” Julia slips in. “We found her washed up ashore four days ago sir.”

“I am indebted to their deeds.” Vittoria nods.

His glare remains for a time, through the silence as he digs deep into his mind. But there’s still nothing to be found. In the end, his exhale is the thing that comes through.

“Perhaps I was being too cautious.”

Julia then hands out the container and the bottle to Vittoria and tells her to return. Vittoria gives a brief nod before hustling into the distance.

“Well then, I shall continue to patrol.” She says to him. “We’re still lacking manpower, even the cook has to do the patrol.”

“Don’t die.” He replies.

She bows before walking around him. Soon, she is nowhere to be found. He continues to recline on his coat, his sight to the skies covered by a formation of foliage that sway from one side to another.

And time flies. His daydreaming led to him skipping the time again. The peaceful atmosphere is just what he needs before he heads off for further conquest. Somehow things are getting messed up in his mansion. The reminder for his meal, the emptying of the fridge, they just felt unnecessary. Not to mention that he has punishments for the maids in mind. That girl Lena could really mean for the good of him. But his leave means his leave. A moment where he can do anything he want, being himself, slacking all day long, eating as much of his favorite food as possible, all that stuff. Being disciplined throughout the moment feels a bit off.

That aside however, he at least has to appreciate what Lena is doing. All of his personal maids, including those that accompanies him during his leaves, not one come up with merits that improves him as a person. Everyone is just following the procedure handed to them, which makes them no better than a mindless virtual intelligence in an endoskeleton doing household tasks.

And thus, he wonders…

How did this all began?

It’s not long until he notices something.

“Iva…were you that terrified of me? After everything between you and I?”

He finds himself climbing uphill when sunset comes, his coat hanging on his shoulders. This time, he’ll be in time for the dinner that Lena makes for him. The discord between him and that maid shouldn’t go any further, especially on his leave. Things will just turn bitter for everyone. Lena would be a subject to Microv’s wrath, and he himself won’t have the leave that he wished for, since his stomach is empty most of the times. Even now he wished to be in his mansion as soon as possible, and have anything that the maid made him. Anything.

This will be a sign of his appreciation. He shall rekindle his interaction with her.

“Sir…” He suddenly heard someone calling him from behind, followed by the noise of his panting.

He turns around to see the boy from yesterday.

“What do you want?” He asks.

“Lena isn’t the one that doesn’t answer my messages immediately.”

For a moment, the fact that they have been chatting for some time sounds quite disturbing. He stands in place with an eyebrow raised in the face of it, although his expression isn’t visible. It takes another second for the implication to seep in. Knowing that, he turns around and increases his pace. The boy follows close. On his way, he wishes that he’s too ignorant to understand what that implies.

It’s indeed dinnertime when he arrives. He opens the door to the unusual humid and steamy air of his mansion. From the spacious living room, he could make up a stream of high-pitched noise. He leers at the boy.

“Check every corner,” He says. “I’m heading to the kitchen.”

“Excuse my incursion, sir.” The boy bows at him.

“Accepted.” He responds while hot footing to the kitchen.

The steam is even thicker there. He finds a pot on an active stove with boiling water. After turning off the stove, he opens nearby window panes, trading the steam with the air outside.

“Sir, she’s here!” The boy’s voice echoes from another room.

He hurries there and finds the maid lies unconscious on the floor, alongside a mop that could squirt cleaner’s liquid to the floor. Her shirt is soaked by her sweat that covers her face all the way to her nape. And from the man’s point of view, he could make up what appears to be a bruise on her forehead. The boy is putting two fingers on the base of her head, just under the jaw where one could catch the beating of their veins. He then turns to the man who is standing beside him.

“She’s alive. But her condition is problematic.” The boy says.

“Lift her up.” The man responds with his gaze trained above and around him.

“Sir…?”

“Did I stutter?”

As soon as the boy places the maid on a bed, inside a room that he led him to, a flash of the past sparks inside his head. A glimpse of someone who was once in her position. A someone he used to cherish like his own daughter, even though she is not of his blood. A someone whom he risked his life to save.

Katrina…

–**–

The tender waves are dimly lit by the moon and the stars. The wind breezes through as armed Androids climb to the main deck of the adrift ferry from their speedboats. It carries cargo abroad for a fair share of gold from the main continent.  There are not so many citizens on board, but the Androids remain cautious as they scatter to the corners of the ferry. Innocents who are caught amidst the incident have their hands on their back and their face against the deck’s floor.

An Android officer then steps into the deck following his men. In total, there are ten more men on board, including him. He strides toward the maid with his head high. Hana salutes him as he walks over the bloodied bodies of the maids that were once her colleagues.

“Such convenience that we have two eyes on the island.”

“Request permission to engage sir.”

“Engage?” The officer says, raising an eyebrow. “Her majesty’s daughter has confirmed the absence of any ArC facilities in the area.”

“But his mansion is there.”

“What are you expecting?”

“He has his personal device in that place. In addition to this ship we are taking, we might extract useful intel stored there.”

The officer squints at her. “Can you name one useful intel that we would find?”

Hana falls silent. Her eyes shift from left to right continuously as the officer glare down upon her.

“We’re not going then. This ship is enough.” The officer turns around and gestures to his men to take control of the ship.

“Wait…”

The officer turns back to the girl again, finding her with clenched fist and sight to the floor.

“Please, sir Warren. Let me have him. At least let me lay waste to his properties.”

“You have no idea what you’re up against.” The officer responds calmly.

“He’s just a slacking man who left his responsibilities to others. I can deal with him with a single swoop of my blade.” She insists.

“We only need to win over him, not murder him directly.” As soon as the officer says that, something glimmering in the face of the night fall from her eyes. It reflects the dim light of the moon as it plunges to the floor, wetting it. Seeing that, the officer eases down slightly. “Grudge, isn’t it?” He says.

“He took my parents away from me!” She exclaims, raising her face with glimmering eyes toward the officer. “At least they could rest in peace once I’m done.” She sniffs.

“I guess it doesn’t matter if you are killed in the process.”

Hana shakes her head.

The officer takes a deep breath. “I’ll have six men extract the intel you’ve promised. You can go and seek out his head.”

His statement is like a huge boulder that suddenly falls upon a narrow stream of tears, blocking their path. Hana begins to grin; Her face returns to shine with a glimmer of hope.

“Thank you, thank you very much sir Warren.” She puts her hand together and bows to him.

“You’ll have her support, but I’m only extracting her and the intel. Understand?”

“Understood, sir.”

The officer then calls out to his men. “Six of you come with her for a one-way trip.” He points at Hana.

Along with her bursting determination, a dim groan reaches her ears. She turns to the source of it, from one of her colleagues that turns out to be still breathing.

“Hh…hHan…a.” The girl with shoulder-length and slightly wavy hair calls for her, extending her bloodied arm.

Hana walks to her and kneels beside her. The girl grabs her forearm with the remainder of her strength.

“P-please…don’t do this…”

Hana sets her sight downward for a moment. “I’m sorry.” She says before pulling out her dagger and thrusts it against the dying girl’s chest, toward a point where her heart is supposed to be. It’s not long before her sights turn empty, and her grip on Hana’s forearm is let go.

“Now ready yourself.” The officer calls her from across the deck.

Hana quickly stands at attention. “Yes sir.”

“The Sentinel be with you.” He says, tracing a line from the base of his neck to his chest.


 Prime Respite

Prime Respite (Part 3)


Chapter 3

The sun just set. The delicate scent of the broth emanates through the dining room. Vittoria shut down the gas stove as soon as she is done slicing a cucumber. That’s when another girl comes up with a pile of small plastic bowls.

“That smells delicious.” She says. “I never thought you’d make an excellent cook.”

Vittoria leers at her while pouring the broth into each of the bowls before putting it aside. “This is the particular activity that my parents taught with the most excellence. They wanted me to be a decent housewife once I am married.”

“Ah, impressive.” The girl responds while shifting to the other side to place the bowls on to the trays set out on the counter. “With these, I’m sure everyone would set out with their stomach happy.”

“I…” Vittoria stops midway. “Would be grateful, if my dishes could fulfill that.”

“With this tempting smell, I’m sure everyone won’t let it pass.”

Not long after, two boys burst into the kitchen. They are Fred and Lennard.

“Julia, Vittoria, are you two done?” Says Lennard.

“Yeah, I can smell something great and that tickles my stomach.” Fred barks, like he usually do.

“How about you two help us out?” Julia smiles to them, her hands crossed behind her hip.

“Well if it meant larger portion…”

“Fred…” Lennard leers at him with a bitter sight.

“Okay, okay.”

The two boys help assemble the remaining platers. Then the four of them delivers the meals to the front counter of the dining room, where everyone else could take them. There are no chairs nor seating of any kind. So everyone just sit on the carpet-covered floor with their meals on their laps.

Vittoria sits between Fred and Julia, without any meal in her lap since she is an Android. It is not long before someone shoves a spoon into their mouth and yells out,

“Hey Vittoria, I swear I never had something this tasty since I’m here.”

“Yeah. Could you stay for maybe a week after you could afford a ticket home, please?” A girl follows up.

Similar cheers from twenty other teenagers fill the dining room. An incoherent choir to which her heart blooms and prances. She never thought that the praises hit gently on her soft spot. Her response is a simple smile that she directed toward everyone.

“It’s lovely here isn’t it, Vittoria?” Fred asks with a smooth tone.

Vittoria’s heavenly glee turns at Fred, blinding his vision. “I concur.” She responds.

“Hey, Fred!” A boy cries out from one corner. “You’re rooting for her aren’t you?”

“What the hell did you say!?” Fred yells while training his spoon at him.

“Uh, oh.” Another boy’s response follows up. “Looks like someone just got exposed.” He says, rolling his eyes.

“Come here you!”

The two boys make a hustle as soon as Fred’s tall stature rises from its seat and begins to march at them.

The chatter here and there across the room is in contrast with her solitary bedroom that saw the most of her shedding petals. The genuine cheers and jeers are a fresh breeze to the dull well-mannered speech of her servants which is most probably staged to exhibit proficiency in serving her. She breathes a relief knowing that her mother’s words could actually led her to such experience for once. However, it’s not long until the gray clouds her face.

A notification from her utilizer. The receiver is wired to her system, hence there’s no need for the utilizer to blip when it receives messages. Which is essential at this moment, since she strives to prevent anyone from noticing.

“I will be absent for a moment.” She says to Julia and Fred.

“Alright.”

“Be careful.”

Vittoria nods before standing up and proceeds to the back. At the moment, everyone is busy with their own conversation. Even if they notice Vittoria’s leave, they aren’t really concerned. She goes all the way to the backyard of the small barrack, where there’s no one to see her.

Then she opens her utilizer.

==||==

From: Ag_Bloom

I’ll convince the rest to board the Ferry before dawn break, according to the schedule you sent me.

==||==

Her will to respond is suppressed by a gentle voice calling for her from behind. She hastily retracts her screen and leers behind her. From the corner of her eyes, she could make up a figure leaning against the side of the door, gazing upon her.

“Zen.” She says after turning around.

He jerks his head in silence. Thinking that he is curious of what’s going on, she turns her gaze to the skies behind her, before returning it to him once more.

“The stars. They’re magnificent.”

A chill starts to run down her endoskeleton as the boy lifts an eyebrow. She wonders whether he really saw what she did. She begins to heat her core, preparing to execute a backup plan should this one is foiled. But just as the water boils, Fred bursts through the door.

“Hey, hey.” He proceeds pasts Zen and head for Vittoria.

Zen leers at him as he nudges his shoulder.

“Tell me you are alright back here.” He says to both of them.

Vittoria turns away from him while Zen exhales and head back inside without saying anything. Fred turns his attention to Vittoria.

“Nothing.” Vittoria says, trying to shove his worries away if there is any. “I hope my parents, if they are still alive, see how I long for this moment.”

When she glances back at him, she finds his face with a little hint of red. His mouth is gaping, and he is frozen in place.

“You…the gathering right?” He stutters.

“What else?” Vittoria replies.

“Right, right. Reasonable indeed.” He says while rubbing the back of his head.

Vittoria then head back inside, followed by Fred.

–**–

“Ears on me, you delinquent lass.” His voice, so loud that it trembles the whole room, comes through my utilizer. His overwhelming tone is like a thunder splitting the sky. The following shock shoves me deeper into a point where I have never reached before. It’s the Primus’ right-hand man, Microv Edward. He’s the supreme leader of the maid section. Colonel Iva’s rank is just below him. “One more grumble and I swear to shove your arse down a pit where you’d wish we had executed you instead. Do you hear!?”

“Y-yes, si-” I stutter. And perhaps because of it…

“Do…you…hear!?” He calls it out even louder.

This feeling. The shivering view of my parents perishing into the ember to save me, the overlapping screams of my scattered people as columns of monarchs flew overhead in harmony. I can’t believe that this man brought a similar experience just by raising his tone.

“Yes, sir.” I respond with a sturdier tone. But then I begin to sniffle.

“Rest sort it out as well. For failure won’t spank only her.” He says. “Off you go.”

For the first time in years, a tear streaks across my cheek. A pain is throbbing my heart. Despite of it, I gaze up to everyone else. Theirs however falls bitter upon me. In the next second, Hana turns away from me in silence. Her sight is no longer as sharp as before. Her face is one that lacks of any will. She marches into the bunk without leering back. The maiden that I thought I could trust the most is the first that wavers.

“Hana…” I reach out to her, but to no avail.

“I’m sorry, Lena.” Rina says before following her.

Theo nods two times with her eyes closed without saying anything.

“Rina, Theo…” Still they ignore me.

“Um…” Seeing everyone walks away from me seems to have driven Eri nervous, evident from how she taps her indexes in quick succession. She then turns to me. “Uh, Lena. Just do what the man said okay?” She says. “This is for your good, for our good, for everyone. Okay?”

“Eri…, everyone…” The only words that came out of me as soon as Eri shut the bunk’s door.

Here I am left alone again.

It’s way past dinnertime already and we have no more task on the list for today. The Primus, once again, didn’t touch his meal. I wanted to reach for the bunk’s door, but somehow couldn’t. Something inside prevents me from doing so.

Then my tears break free.

“Damn it.” I grit my teeth. I can’t look up to them like this.

I don’t know what I was thinking, I found my body hustling to the main gate before I realize it. The delay between each step shortens as time goes, and the load in my head inflates with each step. My composed march to the main gate turns into a rush once I cleared past. With all my might, I split the night at a blistering pace, my legs from knees down whimper in the process. I couldn’t tell where I am going. All I know is that I’m taking myself as far as possible from everything. Eventually, I collapse under a sizeable tree, my face fell flat on the ground.

My tears are flooding, and I couldn’t resist the urge to commit all my voice into the weep.

Why did it end up like this? All I did is for the best of the Primus, for the best of his reign, and for the best of the citizens. How couldn’t they see that? How could they refuse the deeds that clearly will benefit the realm in the long term?

Suddenly I feel a presence. My breath is still caught, but I decide to raise my head and wipe my eyes. I was surprised to see who it is.

“Are you okay?” It’s Zen. He then kneels before me as soon as he asks that question. “What are you doing here this late?”

A small orange glow illuminates the place, originating from a lantern hanging on a wooden stake protruding out of the tree’s trunk. His face reflects off the glow, in stark contrast with the surrounding darkness. I see a pair of stars chasing each other as his eyes gaze down on me. It is as if the light comes from him instead of the lantern, even with his indifferent face that shouldn’t radiate anything.

The faint brilliance sweeps the glitter in my eyes away, and for some reason it manages to breathe my will back to life. I rise to my knees as I wipe the remainder of my tears away.

“I…” I sniffle. “I don’t know. Maybe I just need some space.” I say, turning my face away as I sit on my calves.

Zen exhales. His face remains indifferent. “Well, I guess you are welcome to stay.”

Just when I begin to wonder what he is implying, he sits before me, his back against the tree trunk. Those lustrous eyes now turn to the night sky glittering with stars from one end to the other.

“Wh…what are you doing?”

That indifferent face of his turns to me. “This place is my contemplation haven.”

“You don’t have any patrol duty?”

“Not my turn. But I’m on standby.”

A silence ensues for a moment. I never sit beside a boy I just met before. Especially one that drives this feeling inside me. This blooming feeling that still finds me scrambling for words to describe properly.

I shift and turn a bit so that my bottom sits on the grass while my back leans against the trunk.

“What happened?” He suddenly asks.

“What?”

“There has to be a reason why you are crying up here.” He says with his face remains to the stars.

For a moment I am reluctant to share the reason. But knowing how he seems to be the only person I can talk to at this moment, I don’t have a choice.

“I wanted to change someone else’s behavior, but to no avail.”

“I see.” Zen responds.

Somehow, I was expecting more whereas I should have known that it’s the reply that he would provide given his personality. However,

“Well,” To my surprise, he continues. “One does barely step out of their status quo.”

“Excuse me?”

“Change has always been a subject of opposition. It’s never easy for anyone to move out of the place they are already comfortable with.”

My gaze falls to my feet as I come to realize. It is indeed difficult. But that doesn’t mean we should forever refrain from making a change. We won’t go anywhere if we don’t struggle to change ourselves. As long as we have the will, we would emerge victorious beyond our comfort zone.

“But they could if they have the will.” I say.

“But the problem doesn’t just stay there, it goes further to what preventing the will to rise in the first place.”

“What preventing the will?”

“Say, if you’re to organize a mass for one common goal, a change for better life, but then finds out that they’re only benefitting from you and ditch you on your most dire of needs, would you be willing to organize another mass?”

That feels too extreme. If it ever happens to a person, then it has to be traumatizing.

“You wouldn’t.” Zen answers that on his own. “Even when someone else is rallying, you would remain still, no matter how hard they try.”

I think I can agree. It’s almost impossible to overcome a traumatizing experience. The monarch swarm flashes into view as soon as I thought of that. The hellish view where only fear and despair can be found. The ember tide that sweeps through my village, engulfing everything including my parents. I wish every night that I can rest soundly without ever seeing such calamity unfolding again.

I snap back to our conversation and make my remark.

“I don’t think that could ever happen. What kind of person devious enough to benefit from a person who strived for their well-being?”

“My people, my former ones.”

His former people?

“No way…”

“The lower classes folk that I strived to protect, those I have created an association with for their own good, ditched me. My parents and the other higher classes took away their rights. I struggle only to alleviate their pressure. Until one night when I heard that the higher classes were plotting against me. My parents didn’t even bother to protect me, so I seek protection from the lower-classes. They denied my request, even exposing me in the process.”

Oh my goodness.

“I’m…” I feel like I have to say something, but I couldn’t come up with anything. “I’m sorry.”

His gaze turns on me again. “I was accompanied by my best friend when I left the little town, but covering me had cost him his life. And that’s how I end up here. Far from everyone, even the concerns of protecting the weak.”

“But you’re a militia in this place.”

“And so it seems. But my effort in every patrol is nonexistent. I even drift here for my personal solitude despite the order to stand by the posts.”

I exhale. That’s unfortunate. So far, I’ve only received warning from sir Microv. But the unfortunate that befall him drenches me in ponder. Should I really proceed carrying out my plan and risk a fate worse than death? Or should I just stop, and abide the orders that have been laid out?

“Could you, by any chance, restore the will that you’ve held out before?”

He directs his gaze back to the stars and exhales. The expression that he is showing makes me feel dumb for asking such question.

“I don’t think I have the heart for that anymore.”

That incident must have left a deep scar in him. And it’s most likely why he appears to be exhausted all the time. The lower-classes’ refusal have stripped him of his will. And now it seems like he only works for himself. If there’s one thing that he’s protecting, it’s probably the remainders of his heart.

“If you think you are willing to make a change, you have to be prepared for consequences such as those.” Zen shrugs. “I hope you don’t end up like me.”

With him, the night flies without a care in the world. It’s already late when I return to the mansion. Zen accompanied me all the way. I told him it was unnecessary, but he insisted that a girl of my age shouldn’t walk along a dimly lit road by herself. I never walk alongside a boy before. Even more awkward is that he is five years older than me. Regardless, it’s a sweet experience that pats me in the back, one that I barely had in years.

When I head inside, I notice something. The Primus refused to have his dinner, and we have had our dinner. Which means that the dishes that we washed, should have dried out by now. However, one of the plates is still damp, with droplet running across its curved surface.

Not long after Theo comes into the kitchen.

“Lena, how are you?” It feels odd that she asks me that, but I do appreciate that she concerns me after that scolding from sir Microv.

“I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” I flinch my head.

“I guess that extra plate serves you well.”

Extra plate?

“What?”

“So it’s not you who made that noise?”

“I was outside, catching some air.”

“We were all in the bunk when that porcelain noise occurred.”

It seems like Theo is speaking the truth, she’s not the kind to lie. But if they’re not the one who is having a late-night snack, then it is…

I sigh. “He was snacking again, wasn’t he?”

“Apparently.” Theo says.

“Let’s just have our rest for now. It might have been a lot for us today.”

“It definitely is for you, I guess.” Theo smiles at me.

I smile back. I can’t be sure whether her smile is genuine or not, but it shines an encouragement. Knowing that at least one of the maids is still with me restores my confidence, enough to meet the next dawn. Everyone else is already wrapped up under their blanket. Theo follows suit not long after.

My mind drifts to what Zen has told me. I begin to consider whether I should continue with giving the Primus a proper meal, in proper times. Doing so would free me from sir Microv’s haunting words. But the prime value of this nation would remain tarnished. His improper meals might be irrelevant and insignificant. Yet, how many times have irrelevant and insignificant things caused the fall of kings?

Without my consent, those thoughts lull me to my dreams.

–**–

Day three. I wake up to my alarm at the same time as yesterday. I slept late, so the reluctance to rise from the mattress is immense. I even have a hard time opening my eyes. But I have to. There’s a work to be done.

However, as soon as I put on the maid uniform, a sight shocks me to the core.

“Hana? Rina? Eri? Theo?”

They’re nowhere to find around their mattresses.

“This…” This is a joke isn’t it? “Please tell me this is just a child’s play.” I say as I roam around the mansion. It turns out they’re also not in the mansion. My heart begins to race as I begin to search the gardens.

“Hana! Rina! Eri! Theo!” I call them out, as I trot around the garden.

Oh no.

For a moment, I couldn’t believe it. They’re really gone. My gaze turns to the direction of the settlement, where I got the groceries yesterday.

“Could it be…?”

No, no, no.

I streak alongside the dawn breeze flowing downhill, rushing my way to the settlement. My heart beats at a rate that I never thought it would reach. There’s still five kilometers left once I reach the main highway. That’s when I begin to lose my breath. The exhaustion from last night’s burst still has their grip on me. I couldn’t make it in time. Just as I thought of letting them go, a motorcycle comes up beside me. A brief grateful bloom from within when I see who it is.

“Z-Zen.” I call him, stuttering due to my heavy breath.

“I see four maids boarding a ferry for the mainland.” He said with a louder tone.

“Yes please.”

I hop into the backseat as soon as he flinches his head, gesturing me to head in. The motorcycle splits the air, which forces me to grip its back tail. We arrive at the settlement ten minutes later. Zen has to reduce his speed since crashing, no matter how minor, would cause inconvenience for the settlers. It takes another five minutes before we arrive at the docks.

I then hustle in as soon as Zen stops before the main entrance, hoping that there’s still time to catch them. How could they decide to abandon me? Have I really been that mistaken?

The ferry’s horn blares. Two men with uniforms blocked the path leading to the ship as soon as I reach it.

“Pardon, ma’am. You have to show that you’ve reserved a seat inside.” Says one of them.

“Please, let me in! My colleagues are there and I need to get to them!” I frantically gesture for the ferry, hoping that he would let me pass.

“The leave schedule is here. Do you have the receipt or not?”

“No, no. You don’t understand!”

Not long after, his colleague near the ferry gives the greenlight. The horn blares again. The staircase is lifted, and it begins to drift away from the docks. Only then I am allowed a pass.

I sprint all the way to the end of the docks.

“Hana! Rina! Eri! Theo!” I cry out their names at the top of my lungs.

It’s when Hana appears on the starboard deck and gazes upon me. But it’s too late. The ferry has gone far from the docks. I only see her waving at me with a bitter face, not saying anything. I probably won’t hear it either.

“No.” I said, as I collapse to my knee.

Why? Why is this happening to me? I raise that question as my eyes begin to well up. I can’t believe this. Just why. I was about to make things right. Why do they have to leave just as that is going to happen?

But my lament hits a sturdy wall. It’s too late. No matter how hard I cry, how deep my regrets are, they won’t change anything.

“Lena.” I hear Zen’s gentle voice reaching out to me.

I don’t respond, still soaked in my weep. Then I feel his hand on my right shoulder.

“There’s nothing you can do about it now.” He says.

Even if my weep won’t solve anything, it is still hard for me to stem these tears and get over it. I probably become an attention center in this dock, but that doesn’t matter. It’s like a small cut on the skin after having pikes pierced through my chest.

“Lena,” When Zen says my name for the second time, he raises my face to meet his. “Hush.” He said.

His cold hand is holding up my face. But somehow, I felt only warmth. His ebony eyes gaze straight into mine. I feel my soul is being embraced. His smooth feature which I already found captivating, is heavenly this close. For a moment, everything feels fine. And the wound that the maids have inflicted upon me seems irrelevant. The pair of stars I saw last night return. This time they bring a painkiller that I never thought exist.

“Zen…”

“You are the Primus’ maid, so behave like one.”

“B-but…how could I?” Especially when a charge is waiting for me on the other side due to my inability to maintain the integrity of my team. “He is not going to forgive me for this.”

“Listen, you still have a chance. The Primus is still depending on you to take care of his mansion. He still needs you. You have to cast aside this regret of yours for a moment.”

I sniffle. He then releases his hand from my face. The hands that gave me warmth, enough to contain my tears.

“I…don’t know.” I say. I really couldn’t come up with any thoughts right now. This is just too much for me to wrap up in a brief amount of time.

“I’ll take you back. All the way before the Primus himself.”

It’s an astounding declaration. He’s going to stand with me in confronting the most powerful man in the world.

“Are you s-sure?” I stutter again.

“Come.” He says as he grabs both of my hand, pulling me up, during which I could only stare at his face in astonishment.

Zen pulls up his utilizer and speaks through it, seemingly telling his colleagues. Together we reach the doorstep of the Primus’ mansion, again. We climb the path through the gardens after getting through the main gate. And he is there, on the bench sitting at the fourth layer.

“Where have you been?” He asked while we’re on the staircase to the fourth layer. “And I don’t remember giving you permission to invite strangers.”

Zen and I share a glance before climbing up the stairs to meet him. So far everything didn’t go well between the Primus and I. That makes me wonder what will he pull out of his sleeve and lay down on me.

“Where are the others?” He continues asking.

“Sir…”

“The other maid decides to abandon their duty.” Zen steps in front of me before I can finish my sentence.

The Primus turns his menacing gaze at him. When he gazes back at me, Zen is pushed back down the stairs. He is now where he was a few seconds ago. But nothing is pushing him. It just happens. I am left gaping for a moment. This superhuman power, perhaps it is why he is feared by everyone. I tremble as I think of anything that he might be capable of.

“Continue.” He says, calmly.

“With due respect sir, the other maids have abandoned the mission.”

“That scolding last night was too much?”

Perhaps he was referring to the night where sir Microv yells at us.

I lower my gaze. “It…was.” I said. But then I add, along with returning my gaze to him, “But I never thought of abandoning my duty.”

He is probably squinting at me right now. Zen is still in the same position, possibly held in place by the Primus. What else can he do with his powers?

“Regardless, this lack of discipline will not go unpunished.” He said.

Indiscipline…

Those words of his probe my nerve, provoking another rapid development. I now shiver not due to dread, but irritation at the irony just before me. For a second, my urge stacks up. And I don’t even think twice about it. I take a deep breath.

“Sir.” I say. “You have no right to dictate our lack of discipline.” I point at him.

His face might be concealed, but his mask couldn’t hide the gesture of raising an eyebrow. “Did your head crash into something yesterday?”

“No.” I take a deep breath. “I won’t let my discipline be judged, by a person who doesn’t have his meal properly.” I state, glaring back at him.

It is an intimidating sight. His stare is that between contempt and resentment. Even though his face hides behind his mask, I can still feel it. In fact, his mask makes it even more terrifying. Maybe that’s where the fear factor is all along. One couldn’t determine his feeling at any given moment. Feelings lead to actions. And since he’s the most powerful man in the world, it’s hard to determine what would he do next. But at this point, I’m pretty much used to it.

I take a deep breath. I guess that’s it. I’ve crossed the line. Perhaps it’s all I could manage against the most powerful man in the world. It’s something to be proud of however, since none survives his first glare. If he were to struck me down, right here and right now, it’ll be worth it.

It’s when I can feel something thrusting for my left cheek. A quick blow, perhaps powerful enough to cause a long-lasting scar.

“Not again.” A dim voice that I manage to catch coming from him.

Then something comes in to block it. They reach out and grip the blow that’s supposedly aiming at me. It’s hard for me to make out what it is, because both happened at a quick succession. And they left a shockwave that tosses me back. My back hits the path first. Zen rushes over and helps me recover. As soon as I do, the Primus is already walking inside.

“Get that boy off the lawn.” He gently says as he enters his mansion.

Zen and I share a glance.

“What was that?” He asks.

“That’s the highest authority snapping at me.”

“No, I meant the…”

I raise my hand and stops him midway. He must have meant the occurrence of the shockwave. I was as curious as him. But right now, I don’t have the space for that. That’s why I pretend to be oblivious.

“You should leave now.” I say to him.

He sighs and nods. “Stay safe, Lena.”

I nod back. It’s the last thing he said before he shut the main gate and off with his motorcycle.

With that, I enter the mansion. Suicidal thoughts start to flare in my mind. My limbs move at a slower pace, as if they are bound by weights. So much so that the distance between everything feels longer. I don’t know whether I can work in a state like this. I’m going to need a daylong idle. Contemplating, or even lamenting, everything that I did. Or perhaps considering to resign from this duty.

No, anything but resigning. I can’t let him view me as a deserter either.

But I can’t be idle. With everyone’s gone, all the task falls on me. I have to work on them. The Primus has already charged me for my inability to keep my team together. Let that be the last. I have to keep working. That’s when I thought of entering the kitchen and prepare his meal. This time, I resolved, to only make his preferences. But only serve them at proper meal times.

I come knocking at his room as soon as I’m done making his breakfast, since he’s not found anywhere. But there’s no response. I take it that he might not be starving yet. So I place the meals on separate metallic pots and put them on a heater to keep them warm. This is what the colonel told us to do when there’s still plenty of leftovers. We were told to standby for another cook because it is known that the Primus prefers that his preferences aren’t served in a succession.

It’s time for another task. Laundries, groceries, watering, sweeping, inspection, documentation, etc. I now have to do them all by myself. This place is so vast, that five maids is required to take care of it. No doubt, there will be tasks that left out. But I have to try. My duty is not over yet.

Come on, Lena. Cast your sadness aside for a while.

I proceed to water the gardens as soon as I’m done sweeping the mansion. And I find that it’s already past noon when I’m done watering, my second task of the day. I haven’t procured any groceries, so I rush for the grocery bag and head for the market. Unfortunately, most stands have close up shop. Hence, most items on the list is nowhere to be found.  Not only the tasks grew in numbers, I also have to deal with lesser groceries. Which is another problem, since that would hinder me in cooking his preferences.

The sun is setting when I came back. Comparing it with yesterday, my walk is slower. I can’t determine whether it’s due to my exhaustion or my unhealthy emotion this day. I’ve been working across the mansion all by myself. One thing for sure is that I sit with my limbs numb as soon as I put down the groceries. My head falls on the table. Just ahead are his meals that I place on a heater to warm. I examine closer, to find that it is still untouched since the morning.

This is strange.

When I knocked on his room today, I told him that I’ve made his preferences. Though I’m afraid that it’ll be the last thanks to the insufficient acquired grocery items. But why he still didn’t touch his meals? I decided to head for his room again. I knock on the door, only to hear no response from him. Since there’s no reason for me standing here waiting, I grab the door handle and turn it. The shock that comes when I found out that it isn’t locked is dwarfed by the one when I see that the Primus is gone.

Great…

Now him too.

This duty is a mistake in the first place. I shouldn’t have been assigned to this.


Prime Respite

Prime Respite (Part 2)


Chapter 2

The heavens are smiling down on earth. A river of sands resonates under their joyful spirit. Seagulls are gawking as they soar over them. Crashing waves shake the grains’ formation. The trees rustle as their branches shakes hand. An elegant arrangement. No concerns could linger as the breeze free of urban dust sweeps through the coastline. They flutter and scatter in their presence, away to where the heavens touch the sea.

“Who would occupy an island amidst nowhere with no strategic value?” A boy barks.

“Since the island we’re talking about is not under sufficient central’s watch, any opposition could pile their strength here and stab the capital from the back.”

“I think it’s just Zen who wants to stroll the shores. We still have the watch towers.” Fred responds.

“There’s still people up there, and therefore a chance that they miss something.”

Fred rubs his chin while leering upward. “Maybe we could conduct more discipline…”

“No use Fred.” The other boy exclaims. “No matter how discipline a watch can be, as long as they are human, there will always be a part of an event that went overhead.”

“Hmm.”

“Still though, it doesn’t really matter if the capital falls. As long as the people here are safe.”

As Fred drowns in his contemplation, another boy that they have been following for some time suddenly stops.

“Fred, Lennard, look.” He points ahead of him.

Fred and Lennard squints at the direction he is pointing to. There lies a figure with their face on the sands. Fred quickly rushes over the apparently unconscious figure.

“Fred, wait!” Lennard shouts as Fred gets farther.

He then flips the figure. It turns out to be a female Android, identifiable through the dim hum of the exhaust that Fred catches when he puts his ear closer to her chest. It also indicates that the Android is still active. She has a bright golden hair tied into two small bundles hanging on the back of her head. Her clothing is damp with grains of sands sticking all over.

“Quick, we’re carrying her back.” Fred says turning to Zen and Lennard.

“We don’t know who this lady is.” Lennard responds.

“That is a later affair.”

Just as Fred about to drag her into a shade…

“I-” a faint voice comes out of her mouth. “Where…”

“Y-you’re safe now, don’t worry.” He barks, stuttering in some part. “Can you tell us you’re name.”

It is that moment when her eyes flicker as it greets the bright day again.

“Vi-Vittoria.”

–**–

The sheer size of the mansion left us gaping for ten seconds. Its grandeur stood firm on top of a hill, shining all the way to the horizon. Creatio Genetrix is obviously greater, but this mansion is a personal residence. Before the building are four layers of gardens with decreasing size laid on top of each other. Between them and the outside world are massive walls with magnificent mosaic inscription only the Primus could afford.

The first layer, the largest and the bottom-most, has four-meter-tall trees whose leaves shaped into conics with bulged base along its perimeter. Its timid slope links directly to the plains inside and beyond the outer walls. The second layer is smoothly linked to the first layer, and it is basically an open ground with carpets of grasses. The third layer is where the paving kicks in. There are intervals of stairs connecting the second and third layer. This layer is a haven for gazebos, decorative flowers, and pedestals. And the final layer is on level with the mansion. The fourth’s layer slope is vertical. It houses a fountain, a pond, several benches, chairs and shades. Just on the other side of the main entrance to the outer wall is a cliff that lead directly to the ocean.

We are sent ahead to prepare the gargantuan place. The labor mainly comprises of sweeping the dusts off the place. Rumor is that dust kills the Primus. The truth remains a debate. But the metallic mask everlasting on his face could shift them away from being myths.  The colonel suggests us to hand the task to one person, while the others are assigned to care the respective layers of the gardens. There has to be no room for mistake, especially in the first day. So, the colonel’s suggestion is our way to go. Eri would sweep the fallen leaves at the first layer. Hana shall mow the grasses in the second layer. Rina handles the sweeping of the pedestals on the third layer. And Theo shall restore the fountain and the pond at the fourth layer. I will be handling the dust in the mansion.

The sun almost dip below the horizon. We were just regrouping in the advent of our recently accomplished labor when we are notified of his arrival.

This is it. Our duty begins.

There’s a landing pad some distance from the outer wall. Eri, Theo and I stands by near where his jet would land. The cabin’s hatch opens as soon as the jet lands. And there he is.

The Primus, clad in his black mantle.

With him are his backpack and a suitcase. His stare falls at me as soon as we bow before him. Something about the light from his eyes is petrifying. As if they’re riddling through my body like bullets. I begin to lost count at how many times I told myself to shove it and remain calm. I wonder if Eri felt the same. Theo is probably losing herself. She managed to conceal it somehow.

My instincts led me to believe that Eri has the most energy of us all. So, I task her with carrying his luggage to the mansion. She steps forward when the Primus’ feet are at the landing pad.

“Allow me to lighten your load, sir.”

The Primus hands over his suitcase and his backpack to her. He then nods to me as soon as Eri hustles uphill, before following her.

“Theo.” I say to her.

She nods before turning toward the cabin’s hatch which is still opened. Right now, the crew of the jet is sweeping the cabin in case the Primus left anything inside. Theo would escort those remainder belongings that slipped through the Primus’ attention if there is any.

I followed close behind him. This leads to good news and bad news. The good news is I am walking close to the most powerful man in the world. The bad news is I am walking close to the most powerful man in the world. No one would dare to challenge the grandmaster of a grand militaristic reign. On the other hand, that is also an excuse for him to do anything he pleases toward me. And nothing could stop him due to the former reason.

It’s like marching across no man’s land under constant rain of explosive rounds. My body trembles with each crashing shell. But there are no shells, only our footsteps. I can hear the loud throbbing of my heart with each tick. This drives me to close my eyes and takes a deep breath. Along with it went most of the tension in my muscles. However, such brief interval reduces my awareness. And when I am least expecting it…

Ah…

I trip on my own foot.

Hooaah!! I hold it deeply as much as I wanted to cry it out. I rise back to my feet as soon as my face fell on the path. The Primus notices. He halts and glances back at me. I don’t share his glance until I’m done shoving the dust off my uniform. I nod as soon as I have done that. The pain is infinitesimal, compared to the thought of what would happen next as the Primus glance turns into a glare.

W-what would happen now? What should I do? My thoughts are screaming here and there like a hornet nest. The throbbing of my heart now pummels me into the ground. But on the outside, my face is as composed as it can be. It’s all I can manage now.

Fortunately, he turns back and begins to stride again.

“Watch your steps.” He says.

“Yes, sir.” I respond.

That was startlingly anticlimactic Especially the way it comes from a strict person who enforces discipline to his subjects. Regardless, that cures the tension laid upon me since he landed.

Eventually we pass by the outer wall’s gate, where Hana and Rina are waiting. They then bow before his presence. The Primus sight periodically moves from left to right. I leer back as soon as he reaches the third layer and finds Theo finally made it pass the gate. It appears that the Primus left nothing behind, and that Theo has been trotting from the landing pad all the way to the gate. Hana and Rina close the gate and follows Theo uphill.

Eri stands at attention just before the mansion’s entrance.

“Excuse me, sir. Where do you want me to place your luggage?” She asks. The way she utters that question suggests that this is just another day at the office for her.

The Primus sweeps his sight from his left to his right again, before approaching Eri.

“Hand it over.” He says.

“R-right sir.” Eri complies.

Once he got his luggage back, he turns to me and nods.

He then disappears into the mansion.

I take a deep breath before glancing to the team.

“So how was it?” I ask, with a relieving smile on my face.

Theo crumples with both arms gripping and rubbing each other. Her face looks like she has just been blessed with a pleasure.

“Ahh…The Primus.”

I sort of ignore that response and move on to Rina, who places her hand on top of her chin.

“Boy, walking behind him is surely an experience of its own.”

“How about you, Eri? You don’t seem to be nervous?”

Eri rubs the back of her head, while giggling. “Ehehe. Actually I do, that was just greater than I have anticipated.”

“But you made it.”

“Fortunately.”

Before long, the Primus surprises us once again by appearing through the entrance.

“Lights on. Unless you want something sneaking up on you.” It is the only thing he says before shutting the door on us again.

“Y-yes sir.” The only phrase that came out of my mouth.

I clap my hands before long. “Alright gals,” I exclaim. “Let us keep it up.”

“Ooh!” Eri shouts. Everyone pretty much follows a similar affirmation.

An excellent news it seems. I hope we’re seeing this through to the end.

–**–

“What!?” Hana yells, her voice nearly shook the whole mansion. “There’s no way he would accept this.”

This is a color sergeant standing up and shouting at me. I have expected that she might burst into this after hearing my notion.

“Aren’t you concerned for his health?” I ask. “He has undetermined meal schedules, and he never had any vegetables.”

“Lena,” Eri barks. “I may be up for anything, but not against the Primus.”

“You still plan to live, don’t you corporal?” Rina follows.

“Ah…upsetting the Primus.” Theo covers her mouth with her hand as she chuckles.

Of course, everyone would strive against the notion. There is no bound in wealth and prestige one could chase in the ArC. Such generosity however, comes at a cost. No opposition against the Primus’ will in any form. It has been a stern norm for the citizen to remain silent about what the Primus should do, simply because no one wishes for an unfortunate end.

But discipline is also the norm of this great nation. The Primus, however, doesn’t represent the core value he had imposed upon his people, even in the most basic aspects of his life. If he is to continue representing this nation, this discrepancy has to end. For the order of the ArC, he has to be disciplined.

“What do you wish to gain by taking the risk of upsetting him?” Hana asks, her sight piercing through me.

That firm sight of hers is discouraging, I’ll be honest. But I decide not to let mine down. It’s that voluntary merit which doesn’t provide back for the executors. There might not be any gain for us in several time steps ahead. But I’m sure that the citizens will cherish their leader even more, as he outperforms his current self in the future. This isn’t about us anymore, it’s about the whole nation. Not everyone has the chance like us. Nor everyone who has the chance are willing.

So I say to her, “A better future.” Something about my tone pulls that piercing sight back. “There will be none for us to gain. But the people will certainly appreciate what we did.” I add.

The kitchen room fell silent. Everyone is sharing their glance with each other.

Hana exhales deeply before speaking up again. “I admire your will, corporal. I hope they can brave the Primus’ wrath.”

“You will be safe behind them.” I said, convincing them that they have nothing to worry about.

Hana then turns to everyone else. “Come on, let’s get back to work.” She says.

I’ve ordered Hana to remain in the kitchen and prepare for his dinner with me. Meanwhile Eri will mop up the mansion, Rina will document the interiors, and Theo will inspect the Primus’ office. I bring up my notes as soon as the sound of knife clashing against the cutting board fills the scene. The plan is in motion.

I bring more ingredients closer to Hana so that she could cut them, while I ready the stove. It’s an eight-burner gas stove with a smart feature that allows it to be activated from utilizers. But that feature is currently accessible only by the Primus. I have to ask for permission if I am to use them.

As the pan and pot is on the stove, I notice how the color sergeant cut through the ingredients with haste. That sight left me in awe. I wonder if such haste is necessary to reach her rank.

“Don’t just stand there.” She says to me. “Take care of something else.”

“Oh, right.” I just realize that I was standing still doing nothing, and she pointed that out.

I fill the pot with water and the pan with a bit of oil. Then I proceed to mix the pieces diced by Hana with the seasoning that I’ve made. The kitchen is quiet as we process the meal, apart from the noise of boiling water and crackling oil. Turns out, Hana is not the kind of person who sparks the conversation. Either that, or she’s just lacking any remainder attention to give. Or she’s still in disbelief that we’re about to cook something not of the Primus’ preference.

“So, uh…” I say, in an attempt to reduce the silence. “How long have you dedicated your service?”

“About six years.” She said in a composed tone, in contrast with the one few minutes ago where she was sort of rebuking me. “I got the corporal rank in my third year, and my sergeant a year after for some reason. Maybe they just admire my service, maybe.”

Maid sergeants are the lowest rank allowed to command a group of maids. The one that asks me to deliver the Primus’ dinner is the sergeant I am assigned to. Creatio Genetrix is massive. Many times greater than this mansion and its layered gardens. It’s divided into smaller sections, and the maid sergeants are assigned to those sections. Other than organizing the maids assigned to them, they also are the one who files in reports to the colonel, who oversees everything.

“I take it that being a maid sergeant equals to hard labor?”

“Well it’s the kind that you should be able to handle.” She says to me. “A shift of course. Haven’t heard any sergeants who are handling double shift.”

“Do you think I’m fitted to handle double shift as a maid sergeant?”

She halts her hands and glances at me. “Probably. I can’t say for sure.” Her hands continue to process the meal. “You seem to be keen on becoming one.”

“I mean, if they provide a better salary for it…why shouldn’t I be?”

Hana chuckles. “Hard to believe that you’re such a gold grubber.”

Well…I jerk my head. “I have my reason.”

“Hope it’s good enough.”

I could convince her that it is. But now is not the time.

Eventually, his dinner is ready. We put the meals on the trolley, covering them with cloches. While that is happening, I ask the other maids whether or not they knew the whereabout of the Primus at the moment. Eri says that he is in the living room. So I proceed there with the trolley, leaving Hana alone to prepare our dinner.

I conveniently found him on the couch, his sight fixed to the television screen in front of him. Along with the exquisite narration that comes out of the speaker, the screen shows a cluttered blob of men with swords and shields clashing, topped with flaming projectiles flying overhead. The way I can see just beyond the blob suggests that it is viewed from a slightly elevated position, probably the height of a horseback. It took me a second to realize that those men hold the same stance and movement, which indicates that the scene must be a simulation.

I take a deep breath before approaching the left side of the couch, where his feet are on.

Here we go. Each step adds more to my nerve than the previous. Perhaps it’ll be over this mansion’s roof by the time I reach him. I will be opposing the Primus. Forgive me, mom, dad, if anything goes wrong.

“Sir, your dinner is ready.” I bow to him.

His glance, once more, shifts to me. But this time it’s a bit longer. I can see in his eyes, though they are concealed, that they speak of his disbelief at how this girl decides to ask him about having his meal. This is perhaps the most peculiar situation I have ever been in. It is said that not even the colonel dared to ask him the same thing. Hence the action that I took must be the most daring one.

Whatever turmoil they speak of that should boil within whenever one surfs through the storm are crawling out of every corner of my joints. There is a colossal wave building up behind him, ready to surge at me. But what came to me are mere sprinkles.

“Later.” He replies, turning his gaze back to his television screen.

Again, an unexpected response. But he’s still not moving for his dinner, so my job isn’t done yet.

“Sir, you are advised to have your dinner as soon as possible.”

“And who advised me?” He asks, turning his sight to me.

I think here comes the wave. The very one that probably have enough force to rip me apart. But for his own good, and thus for the country as well, I have to embrace it. Because that’s not how an ArC citizen should behave, let alone their leader.

“Your organs, sir.” I said. “The civilization residing inside of you requires it to function properly.”

It then comes down to a staring contest. Everything seems to have escalated in a rate beyond my comprehension. Just a moment ago I was walking alongside him. Now here I am enforcing a proper meal schedule, to which he’ll probably retaliate with discontent. And whatever grave consequences he has in mind will be upon me soon.

But he just turns down his head, followed by a dim exhale.

“Fine.” He says, shutting down the screen.

He sits up and opens the cloche, before silently gazes down at the group of dishes that Hana and I have laid on the trolley. It’s not long until he glares on me.

“I thought Iva had filled you in.”

“Yes, sir.” I gently nod. “But you are in dire need of vegetable consumption. Hence I decided that these dishes would be best for you.”

He sighs before grabbing the mug of tea that we made for him. He then takes a sip while standing up before leering to me.

“I’m not touching them. I hope you don’t mind appreciating your own craft.” That’s what he says before striding away, presumably to his room.

I attempt to reach out, but reluctance binds me to a halt. And so he got away with his tea. Here I am in the spacious living room, left only with the dish trolley as my company.

            Damn. Why do I even think that he will touch this firsthand?

That is when I am notified by Theo who requests my assistance. I left the trolley and head for the Primus’ office where she should be. The office is at the top floor. The room is visible as soon as one reaches the fourth floor. It is separated by a glass barrier which perhaps bear the same role as those in Creatio Genetrix.

His office here is basically a curved desk encircled by bookshelves filled with old books, folders, and stacks of papers. There’s a screen on top of the sizeable desk with flowery patterns inscribed on it. I assume that’s his personal computer. The floor is all covered by thick wool rug similar to that in his personal lounge.

I find Theo on one corner piling the books on the floor.

“What do you need, Theo?”

–**–

The lack of urban activities equals the absence of manmade lights diluting to the heavens. In turn, the dark sea above is glimmering with bright dots lining up from one end to the other. The brilliant display has kept her face stuck in place, with her sight straight upon them for the last hour. The hut is located on a hill near the shore. Given that everyone there had fell asleep, save for some that has patrol duties tonight, the rhythm of clashing waves is still evident at best. Along with the breeze that tightens one’s skin, once could drown in ponder without any care in the world.

Few minutes later, she notices an increasingly bright floor from the corner of her eyes. She turns her attention to it and finds one of the strangers that took care of her since she came ashore yesterday.

“I’m sorry if you aren’t used sleeping on places like this.”

The girl shakes her head. “It’s okay. It’s not my concern.” Her eyes meet his.

Fred flinches his head. “Good to know.” He says, turning off his flashlight. Putting aside his gears, he then sits beside Vittoria. “Thinking about home?”

Vittoria turns her gaze back to the stars. “You could say that.” She says, her voice serene like a lake amidst the woods. “But here, it is calm. And the stars are all on the stage. Unlike the night sky back home.”

“It isn’t like this over there?”

“My house is as solitary as this place. But the lightings throughout its vast garden deprived me of this feature.”

“But it must be pleasant there isn’t it? Lavish meal, tender bed, and maybe a personal service.”

Something about that depresses Vittoria. Her sight, which was glimmering with the light of the stars, stales and turn away from Fred. She faintly shakes her head.

“If they took my friends away, what purpose does they serve?”

Fred fixes his sight at Vittoria. Her golden hair still doesn’t lose its glow despite the darkness.

“As long as you’re contributing, you can stay as long as you want.”

“My parents will look for me.” She says turning to Fred.

Fred leans closer. “Hey, I get that parents wanted their children safe. But sometimes you have to be frank with them. Tell them that you want to have friends, to touch the society.”

“You…” Vittoria hesitates. She then turns her gaze to Fred. “You don’t understand.”

–**–

The shivering breeze flow through the plains, leftovers from last night. The skies strapped a dark azure hue which grows more vivid with each passing tick. The birds are chirping as they depart their nest. I feed on the mild air to maintain the motion of my gears. So weightless they are that I could dismiss the tension of my muscles. The foliage rises when I come across them, as if they’re saluting me. A beautiful sight to begin the second day.

Here I am marching, along an abandoned highway which leads to a tiny settlement downhill. There is no transport available for the maids in the mansion. Something about discipline and the integrity of the environment here.

The supplies brought from the mainland only meant for dinner on the day of arrival only. After that we have to procure groceries from the local settlement. It’s a regard to local economies. But given the frequency of the Primus’ vacation and their duration, I doubt the significance of this deed.

Then I stumble upon an arching post on this wide yet desolate highway. Leaning against one side of the arch is a boy, seemingly of my age, with dark grey hair and pale beige features. His sight is fixed to the other pillar of the arch. He seems to be of that solitary kind. Not once do I see his detached emotion changes into something else. Anything that should represent what a human is feeling at the moment.

Apparently noticing my approach, he finally turns his gaze at me. His appearance is that of the Proxy but only the coat, which is covered only by an old fiber armor referred as Kevlar vest. His gun is dangling to his right, its strap wrapped around his neck.

For a moment our eyes met. Something suddenly blooms within as that lustrous eyes fixed into mine, something that I’m unfamiliar with. My nerve once more undergoes a rapid development, the same one that occurs during my confrontation with the Primus. Both insisted that I hold my composure. But rather than against punishment like in the former, it’s more of temptation in the latter. And for the first time ever, I’m imagining things that shouldn’t be. A vast grass lands in spring where he offers his hand while wearing a glimmering royal suit.

I snap out of my wild fairy land as soon as he starts to walk in my direction.

“Welcome to Laot. We hope you don’t disturb the peace.” He then steps aside and extends his arm to the end of the highway ahead of me. “This way.”

That’s it? Nothing else? What a straightforward boy. I wonder whether this behavior exists within the vicinity of his friends.

“You don’t even run a check on me.”

The boy is silent for a moment, his indifferent gaze remains on me. “I believe you don’t intend harm to the people.” He jerks his head. “That uniform of yours, despite the blade on your hip, you don’t have the gut to oppose the Primus by harming his people.”

It’s true that I don’t intend harm. But the lack of gut to oppose the Primus? Sort of.

I take a deep breath. His composure is admirable. And the way he deduces that I am safe just by skimming my appearance amounts to the acceleration of my heartbeat, perhaps. The last time I felt this way is on that evening where I lost my parents, and that is due to adrenaline topped with the chaos circling around me. But this time, I feel serene. It’s like I’m safe from any harm.

“Anyway, where could I get groceries in this place?”

“There’s an open market at the town square. There might not be anything, since merchant ships rarely docks here. But I hope there’s sufficient.”

Judging from his manner, he’s probably underestimating the goods available there. They can’t be that scarce, can they? If it is, then it could be a problem. Nevertheless, I appreciate the humility.

I bow to him. As the Primus’ maid, an image of humble, obedient, and elegance has to be emphasized in everyone’s mind. But before I proceed, my mind blurts something that I never thought would even come up.

“I’m Lena. What’s your name?”

Hold on what? Did I just…did I just introduce myself to him and asks him his name as well? There should be no issue but…well, we should do our best to avoid unnecessary contact shouldn’t we? I stand in place as red berries are falling from the branches.

But to my surprise…

“I’m Zen. Pleased to meet you.” He nods.

Phew. I am times grateful when he replies.

“Pleased to meet you too.”

I nod back before clearing the arch. How surprised I am to find the boy still has his gaze on me when I steal a leer to him. I yank back my head to the front as soon as possible.

When I am nearing the market Zen told me about, I pull out my grocery list. There are not much people here in the town square. It is not that different compared to downtown during the end of my second shift. The market consists of individual stand with their particular product, instead of a large store under a single corporation. But the way the owners of their respective stands communicate with each other make it seems like they are an integrated system comparable to supermarkets.

I sweep from one stand to another. It’s exciting how I fill up the grocery list in a span of fifteen minutes. Well, most of it at least.

The last item on the list is available on a stand near an edge of the town square. There stands a young girl with golden hair. She has two little bundles just at the back of her head, each tied with a crimson ribbon. Her expression is quite detached, similar to Zen. But in contrast, the girl appears to be stacking with concerns.

“Four of them please.” I say to the girl while pointing to the items.

She just nods in silence and begins to wrap them.

“Here you go.” The girl says before handing the price, which then I paid with given credits.

“Thank you.” I said, bowing before putting the wrapped items in my grocery bag.

As soon as I turn around, I heard the girl speaks again.

“You are new here.” She says.

I turn back to her. Given that no one is around, and that she’s looking at me, she has to be talking to me.

“Uh, I don’t live here.” I reply. “My master does.”

“Your master?”

“His mansion is uphill,” I said pointing a thumb to the supposed direction of the place. The girl follows the direction of my thumb. “And he doesn’t live there either. He’s on his leave.”

“How long is he planning to stay?”

“About two weeks.”

The girl looks to her feet, her right hand covers her lips slightly. Her face meets mine again a moment later.

“I see.” She says. “Good day, it has been a great talk.” She raises her right hand.

That has to be a parting gesture. But her stiff expression makes it feel unusual. Nevertheless, I bow and wave back before making my way out of the market.

On my way back, I find Zen leaning against the arch pillar again. For a person to stick in the same position, doing nothing but watching over the surroundings this long, I think I’m impressed.

Again, he notices me and stands up. He nods and says, “I hope you enjoy your visit. Please come again.”

I bow in silence. Then I glance at him for a moment, specifically to the seemingly captivating features of his face. For some reason, that warms me and sparks a jolly in my heart. Then I clear the arch. That’s when I heard Zen says something.

“So, you’ve met the girl?”

Huh? That question compels me to turn my attention.

“Uh, never mind.” He says, turning his face away from me.

Perhaps he is talking about the golden-haired girl. Is there anything about her that I should know? Maybe she is a new inhabitant of the Laot? A migrant from somewhere?

But I don’t have the time to interrogate him. Having a meal is most probably the first thing the Primus do as soon as he wakes up. We better have his meal warm and ready by that moment. I continue my trek along the highway back to the mansion. This time, visibility is better compared to my walk downhill.

The maids have already taken to the field. Theo and Eri handle the gardens, while Hana should be sweeping the interior. Rina and I will do the cooking.

As I’m about to make a turn toward the kitchen, the Primus makes a pass. He walks before me leisurely under his polo shirt and his trouser, both black. On his right hand is a bitten block of cheese the size of his grasp. He then halts and glances at me. He still has his visor on, but this is the first time I get a glimpse of his face as his metallic mask is slightly opened, enough for him to shove the cheese to his mouth. What’s even more bizarre is the azure tear visible on his right cheek that left me gaping for the moment.

“Sir…” I stutter. My face is full of astonishment and disbelief.

“I haven’t eaten a whole cheese in a while.” He says before glancing away and continue his walk.

For a moment I stand in silence. I assume he took that from the fridge. If that’s the case, then I have to consider a prevention. I rush into the kitchen with my grocery bag. There I find Rina on one side of the counter, cutting an onion.

“Did you see him took that cheese?” I ask her while putting the bag on the table.

She just nods.

“Why didn’t you stop him?”

My word seems to have struck something as her knife stops midway. She then turns to me.

“Were you expecting me to stop the most powerful man in the world?” Her glance turns into a bitter gaze.

“It’s necessary to keep it that way.” I reply.

She then turns away from me. “I…I can’t Lena.” She stutters. “Abiding to what you’ve set for him is already a thorn for me. Do you really intend to shove our careers further down the stake?”

Damn it.

It appears that these maids couldn’t be brought to advise him directly. I guess I’m on my own. It’s my idea after all, and my responsibility should be the vanguard.

“Fine. You stick to what you’re doing. I’ll handle his control.” I say to her. “Right now, let’s just focus to preparing his breakfast.”

She nods, seemingly in hesitation. She probably thinks that preparing his breakfast isn’t necessary since she knew that he already has a block of cheese for that. And the way she cuts the onion seems like she is doing it to pretend that the Primus isn’t on the fridge, taking the cheese.

Oh well…

So, we make the breakfast and put them on the kitchen table. Yes, on the kitchen table instead of the trolley. Rina concerns me on that matter. I say to her that he will have to walk here and grab it by himself.

Now it’s time to notify him. I again ask the maids through the utilizer on his whereabouts. Eri says he’s lounging on a swing in the fourth layer. I spot him after a minute stroll. The seat of the swing is made out of arrays of teak planks which are fixed to a metallic frame. His head is lying at one of the cushion pillows placed there. He is flicking the air over and over with his right hand, while his legs are hanging over the other hand-seat.

He notices me as I step closer.

“I’ll not have something other than those in the list that Iva gave you.” He says.

“Would you rather not have anything at all for breakfast?”

“I have had a block of cheese. Anything in the fridge should work in a couple of hours, assuming you’ll deviate from my preference list.”

Such is the attitude of the most powerful man in the world. He has no respect toward those that made him his meals. Perhaps even to the meals themselves. As if his preference will always be available to him twenty-four seven.

“Sir, I warn you.” I raise my tone in such a way, hoping that he would hop off from that swing and have his breakfast. “You have to have your breakfast, immediately.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t bring it here, as you were instructed.”

“I see those legs function properly a couple minutes back.”

“There are plenty of things to think about that they barely move.” He responds, his right hand is still flicking the air. “Even if I do, there’s no guarantee I’d have something that you made. Judging by last night’s dish.”

This man…

Has he always been like this? This is the most powerful man in the world. The brilliant beacon of discipline for his citizens. How could he become one with such slothful attitude?

“I take it that you’re not taking your breakfast.”

“Unless you commit to the instructions given.”

So be it then…

I make sure once again that no one is in the kitchen. Then I take his food and throw it in a plastic bag, which then I throw into a bin. I proceed with the fridge thereafter, which I empty. Its content is placed in the kitchen shelves that I lock. The Primus doesn’t bother taking care of his own place. That’s why the maids that accompany him are given such feature, managing the locks and keys of this place.

For a moment, I couldn’t comprehend what I just thought. I felt like a mad woman. But on the other hand, it is the sense of discipline that he had enforced upon his subjects, upon us. It would be a shame if he himself is lacking of them.

Then comes lunch.

He is still in the same swing, only now he is snoozing. Thanks to the swing’s shade, he doesn’t risk overexposure of noon’s light. I attempt to wake him up, but to no avail. Guess he’s also skipping today’s lunch. I made the same decision as with breakfast.

Only an hour later, when I was about to clean the kitchen, I find him standing before the empty fridge. He glares to me as he shuts the fridge’s door.

“Why are you doing this to me?” He asks.

Once more, I let a stream of air in to fill my lungs.

“I have to, sir.” I say to him. “That’s not how an ArC citizen should behave, let alone their leader.”

His glare goes on, but I don’t back down. Rather I decided not to. There lies my fate, behind that glare reinforced by his mask. A fact that pierces through my heart like pikes, a bundle of them. Ironically, the pain isn’t there. Perhaps the previous confrontations have drilled through enough for the pikes to thrust without hindrance. Something that none have ever experienced.

Still, if his glares are pikes, then the consequences further behind is an entire cannonball. He will definitely charge me for this. Perhaps, execute me right here, right now.

But again…

The man takes a deep breath. And just walks past me.

I watch him disappear into the other room, as I stand here wondering whether this could really work out in the end.


Prime Respite

Prime Respite

“Discipline is the norm throughout the Artificial Creationist, abbreviated as ArC. The man behind that however, doesn’t represent the core value he had imposed upon his people. Yet he is the face of this great nation. Such preposterous discrepancy has to end. What will become of us if the people discovered that fact? For the order of the ArC, he has to be disciplined.”

To restore what she had lost during a massive raid, Valeska Helena (Lena) wormed up as a maid all the way to Artificial Creationists’ government center. There, a shaded man who runs the nation dwells, a man referred to as ‘The Primus‘. When he set his sight for a soothing break, the maid command assigns Lena to lead a handful of maids in his company. In a remote island near the equator, not only she has to cope with his indiscipline, but also the sins he had once committed.

A serial story written by PrimDom – G’19.
Illustrations by Von Grenadus – G’18.

  1. Prime Respite (Part 1)
  2. Prime Respite (Part 2)
  3. Prime Respite (Part 3)
  4. Prime Respite (Part 4)
  5. Prime Respite (Part 5)
  6. Prime Respite (Part 6).
  7. Prime Respite (Part 7).
  8. Prime Respite (Part 8: Final).