Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 10, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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I'm gonna plug this because it's pretty awesome and the artist does good work. For those who are curious here's the art inspiration for the ‘Inhabitor’: SFW Slime woman

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Chapter 10
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Tsury took a sip of the drink. This one lacked the skin that had made Otto give his own drink an odd look. Instead her drink was entirely alcohol based.

It was gratifying that he hadn’t hesitated to allow her to join in on the relaxing. Simply holding the drink helped her feel like she was a part of the group now.

Minmint was having fun feeding her partner and Tank was enjoying the attention. Tsury reached out and plucked another one of the wriggling bugs from the bowl. It rolled up into a soft ball and she moved it around in her hand. All she could see was a wide segmented shell, although it was pliable to the touch. She popped it into her mouth. It didn’t have any taste until she bit down on it.

It gushed! Tsury jumped as it squirted against her cheek. Even after the first one had exploded onto her hand she still didn’t know what to expect. Meals were an adventure for her when she’d only subsisted on paste for so long. The taste of the bug alternated between sweet and bitter. She bit again and it crunched nicely. ‘Fresh and juicy,’ Tanktantun had called it. She found herself in agreement.

“Your name is ‘Mem’?” Daniel asked loudly. Tsury looked over to where he was chatting with the Inhabitor.

The sentient slime molds were a rare sight normally, but often found in the company of Filmath. They had a natural understanding of fermentation and happily used that for the sake of making food and drinks. They liked nothing more than meeting and learning about new Sapients, if only to see what kinds of tastes they had.

“That is correct, is there something wrong?” Mem asked. It moved as it worked, placing itself in front of a strategically placed light. Tsury could just see Mem’s custom bone structure outlined by the light.

Tsury turned back as Otto laughed. Aurula didn’t catch whatever the joke happened to be, and neither did she. Still, Tsury expected the Leralin was in a good mood now. Her feathers had remained slim since they’d learned about that Human girl. Something about the situation angered Otto and Aurula was reading his mood. All Tsury knew was that it was keeping him from letting Tsury get back into his space.

“Oh! Look at that!” Otto said quietly. Tsury looked back to see the Mem’s body morphing. The orbs floating around within her body bounced around as unseen currents battered them. The form of the Inhabitor shrunk until it had mirrored a female Human form. It’s body had gone from nearly transparent to much more opaque. “Daniel amazes me sometimes,” Otto said with a quiet chuckle.

Tsury looked away to see the Monos entering the bar lift his snout. Him and his two subordinates. They were the typical redback breed of Monos. They were amongst the most common of the Monos types, a natural extension of them being aggressive and motivated.

The boss wore the typical harness, although stripped of its combat modules, the empty spots shining clean and bright compared to the grungy straps that weren’t covered. The group of them wore sparse primitive composite armor and simple loin wraps around their privates. The Monos dressed to emphasize natural combat prowess, regardless of whether it was earned.

The leader also wore red ribbon bands around the wrists of his upper and mid arms.

The Monos looked at Aurula where she sat leaning in close to Otto.

“First we get a lust bird, then that one goes and hits up Mem!” the Monos complained.

Aurula flinched and her feathers shrunk in a stress response. Tsury knew Aurula wasn’t afraid. Her crest would have popped up. Having it drop meant she was in a bad mood. The next bit of conversation didn’t help.

“What did you say?” Otto asked. Tsury hadn’t heard that deep tone of voice from him before.

“What, something stuck in your craw? You Humans should remain in your station.”

Tsury glanced around, feeling her her stomach and neck tighten up in tension. A tingle on her scalp warned her that she’d begun to involuntarily build a charge. She could see the general posture of the other Humans had changed. They seemed to know something was happening. Matchka turned around in her seat, tail lashing. The rest of them looked like they were getting ready for the fight.

She was worried about the other Monos at the bar and the several Filmath around the room. They had a temper when their food was threatened. This could turn into a messy fight. There were other patrons. A few kashto, a bunch of Veprutasians. They would likely remain apart from any mess that sprung up.

“But hey, if you want to back down I’ll happily take your blue bird-”

She didn’t even realize why Otto was standing up until his artificial hand was rising through the air. He'd gotten up specifically to punch the offender? The Monos had been caught by surprise as well. He went up and backwards, smashing down onto a table with a couple Filmath happily eating a big meal. Those Filmath ended up wearing that meal in the next moment. Now splattered in moist browns and greens they both rose with an angry roar.

The two lackeys jumped at Otto. Then a feathery ball of rage and talons smashed into one of them. “How Dare you!” Aurula’s shriek overpowered the translators and several Patrons, including Tsury, flinched at the piercing noise.

The Monos she attacked may have been able to fight with four limbs for a bit if he reared up. But Aurula was momentarily airborne and Leralin could fight with hands and feet. She buffeted him with her wings and he grappled with her limbs in fearful surprise. Tsury was stunned by how unexpectedly angry Aurula was.

Otto turned to see the second lackey coming his way and he too was grappling. “Oogh!” Otto grunted as the Monos punched him in the gut with a mid limb.

The one who started the fight was climbing up, but he wasn’t a problem for the Humans. The two angry Filmath knew who had sparked this fight and grabbed onto him with thickly muscled arms.

That took one out of the fight, but the group further down the bar didn’t hesitate to charge them.

“Sorry lovely!” Daniel to said to Mem with a shout, picking up the candybone cup in front of him. He whipped it at the first charging Monos, smashing him right in the face. The alcohol may have gone down Daniel’s gullet just fine. It did not agree with the eyes of the Monos. He cried out in pain and tumbled to the ground. He took the next Monos behind him down as well. That left three charging the group.

Tsury saw the Inhabitor lean on the counter. It seemed to be settling in to watch the fight! The Filmath further down the bar turned around and pulled a lever set into the shelf next to him. A composite curtain dropped down to cover the back wall and the various dishes and drinks displayed there. It also cut off the lights that had served to illuminated Mem’s form.

Another one went down with a face full of alcoholic drink. “Burns!” the Monos cried out as he stumbled sideways into another table, hands pawing at his eyes. The couple Kashto sitting at the irregular shaped table managed to avoid getting splashed by flying drinks or hit by the Monos. They fled backwards to avoid getting caught up in anything else sailing through the air, be it drinks or fists.

The two with drinks in their faces were out for a moment. The one who’d been caught up in the stumbling climbed back to his feet. The last two in the group arrived in melee range of Daniel. Daniel stepped sideways and Mike came up beside him. The Monos with their wider profile couldn’t both get in next to the men. And when the second one finally did come around by shoving the fallen table of the Kashto aside Tank squared off against the angry six limbed Sapient.

Finding himself facing a Black Kraltnin he visibly faltered. Tank held his arms balled up in front of him and his tail up high.

Tsury had been watching with tense shoulders from the other side of her table. She felt a hot current flash through her.

“Aiee!” someone yelled as they flinched away from her. They’d attempted to grab her shoulder and touched her vines. All of the static charge had expelled itself at once. Her crew knew better than that. She turned her head to see another bigger Monos. Had a whole ship crew decided to visit the Brane? He was holding his the wrist of his right hand, face contorted in momentary pain.

Tsury froze up in surprise and fear.

He looked at her and advanced slowly, and angry sneer twisting his face. A beige tail slapped him in the face and he recoiled in pain.

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Mike
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They’d practiced with the shared space, but this was their first practical test. And of course they’d gone and started after everyone had liquored up. And it was tight quarters in the bar. Brane was good enough to hold a bunch of people enjoying some light meals and some drinks, it obviously wasn’t meant for a brawl.

He didn’t know if it was the booze or not, but all of a sudden he understood the bleed problem. Otto and Aurula were pissed. He couldn’t tell who was angrier. It was different between the two of them though. His was an ugly dark smear of anger. Hers was a sudden wash of fire and offended rage.

Mike ducked the fist coming his way and drilled a fist into the side of the Monos who grunted with surprised pain. As he crumpled inwards Daniel’s fist smashed into the side of the bastard’s face. The Monos went reeling backwards.

Mike had fought Kraltnin a bunch of times. The Whites were weak and light. He’d fought a single Grey and that one had immediately been bigger, denser and stronger. It made sense that Blacks were leveled up.

Tank was giving him a hint of what it meant to be a Primary. The Monos struck Tank in the stomach and Tank barely flinched. They’d entered a grapple, tying up Tank’s arms and the upper limbs of the Monos. But Tank had actually coiled his long tail entirely underneath him like a spring. Mike’s attention shifted just in time to see Tank smash his legs into the body of the Monos to send him stumbling backwards, gasping in pain.

The two offended Filmath had the cause of the ruckus in a solid hold, pummeling the mouthy Monos black and blue. But the rest of the bar was only watching, treating the fight like an event.

Daniel cast around, looking for something to hold or throw. Mike almost twitched as Daniel involuntarily transmitted the feeling in his surprise. A silken hand absorbed his and he grabbed the rod placed in his hand. He looked at Mem in obvious surprise.

“Bring it back when you’re done,” Mem told him, “and do no worry, I’m no afraid of a mess. Have my own maker for new furniture,” The rod came out with an awkward ‘shlop’. The substance of her arm dropped against her leg and sunk into the limb. Daniel slapped the heavy rod on his palm to give it a quick test. He took a step towards the Monos they’d faced, The poor guy looked at Daniel just in time to have the rod tested out on his head next.

But Mike had another problem in mind.

Otto had rushed in close to the Monos, endeavoring to deal out blows from too close for the Monos to hit him with haymakers. That backfired when the Monos grabbed Otto with three different arms. Then the Monos undid his work when he brought Otto up close to gloat and Otto smashed his forehead into the idiot’s face.

The one Aurula had jumped was full of cuts. Her talons were damn sharp and she knew very well how to put them to use. That one was just trying to defend himself now. And she was still raging. All of her feathers had slimmed down tight to her body. Mike could see the outline of her harness when that was usually not the case at all. The flapping wings had the Monos flinching under the noisy barrage. She had planted herself on the ground, no longer airborne in the right space.

Mike moved to support the people who needed help most. Tsury had frozen in her chair after being spun around by the last Monos to arrive. He’d staggered back when Minmint had whipped him in the face with her tail, but now he was approaching them again.

Seeing how the trio were lined up, Mike strode over to the table. “Tsury, get down!” he yelled. She jumped, but didn’t hesitate to evacuate the chair and crouch. Mike grabbed the edge of the table and flipped it up at the Monos. He batted the tabled aside, only to receive the stool Mike had grabbed with his face.

A conversation registered in his mind. Between Matchka and Mem.

“Will use anything, won’t they?”

“Yes! Impressive!” Matchka replied. The Bellani hadn’t come off her own high stool.

Something clicked in his mind. He realized he was receiving her visual and auditory senses, making it really easy to track the fight. And her signal was the cleanest. Daniel was sharing any sensations that he noticed, so Mike felt the recoil as Daniel smashed the bar into the elbow of the Monos. Tank’s share was clean, but he was hyper focused on the Monos he was facing. All Mike knew there was that Tank had things under control. And of course, if anger was actually hot, there’d be muddy lava and bright fire where Otto and Aurula were fighting.

Aurula’s target broke first, “No more!” he cried, running to the door. The poor idiot who’d been getting pummelled by the Filmath who were wearing their meal fled next.

The bastard facing Mike yelled at them. “Where do you think you are go-boof!” Mike kicked him in the middle of the torso while he was distracted.

Realizing the serious danger he was in as Aurula changed her target, Otto’s opponent put his hands up. “I cease!”

Aurula lashed out with her talons anyways. The Monos flinched but Otto had caught her hand with his. One of her talons pierced into his palm. The sharp heat spilled across the shared space and shocked her out of her anger. Otto’s anger was still there, but it was clearly not directed at her. Physically, he didn’t react to the spike.

Probably because it happened so quickly.

Two had fled. Two couldn’t handle the liquids tossed into their eyes, although they swore a storm at the people who would dare to attack someone in the face. One had surrendered. Three were still fighting but had many more bruises than their opponents. The Monos collectively gave up, throwing their arms up and also yelling ‘I cease!’ in rapid succession.

Except for the one facing Mike. “How dare you grunts give up so easy,” He yelled, spittle flying from his mouth, a massive red contusion rising on his forehead. His eyes shifted to Mike, black beady things peering over his snout. “You’ll pay for marring my face, thrall!” he lifted his hand but faltered when a ball smashed into his face too, filling it full of alcohol. “Argh!” he cried stumbling backwards through the door he had just entered.

The rest of them abandoned any pretense at sticking around and rushed to the door to follow their leader. The two blinded ones did so as well, but with great difficulty.

There was a long moment of silence, broken by Matchka first.

“We made mess.” Matchka noted glumly to Mem.

“These Monos, often mess, although not literal. You, I ask minor redress,” the slime… woman, replied, her remaining arm leaning on the bar. “Drinks thrown, meals ruined, material cost, busted tables. Or perhaps…”

The second filmath behind the bar hit the switch and the shutter rose, revealing the hidden drinks and the lights that illuminated Mem.

Reassured that they might get away with this relatively lightly, Mike looked away to see Daniel walk over to check on Otto and Aurula.

The table Mike had thrown had broken on one side, shearing off a quarter of the surface. He righted it and placed it back where it had been. Tsury stood up and placed her stool where it had been, but didn’t sit down.

“Didn’t need to do that,” Aurula complained at Otto.

“He insulted you,” Otto replied bluntly.

“I am Leralin, I have the means to defend myself,” she said, holding her hands up. Her talons were indeed very sharp. One of them glistened bright red, while the others were covered in a wet, dull brown.

“That doesn’t mean I have to let-”

“Guys,” Daniel interrupted. Otto’s look was surprised. Aurula… predatory, she faced Daniel straight on and her eyes tilted forward slightly in what Mike realized was a very birdlike way. If Daniel was worried, he didn’t let on. “Otto, yer hand?

Otto looked down at his hand and recoiled slightly in surprise. “Ow,” he said and gripped reflexively. He hissed as his hand seized up in pain. Blood seeped from the puncture in his palm.

“Oh no!” Aurula exclaimed. “I did it again!”

Otto started chuckling.

“This isn’t a time for laughter!”

“Heh, hehe,ow, hehe,” Otto laughed. Aurula just cocked a single eye at him, her feathers slowly rising.

Mike wasn’t surprised at her confusion. As soon as Otto had started laughing that ugly muddy feeling had cleared up quite a bit as well. Figuring now was a good time he pulsed a disconnect command. Everyone on the crew jumped, except Tsury and Stacey, although Minmint did in reaction to Tank. They weren’t a part of the shared space.

Everyone dropped off rapid fire. Matchka was there the next moment with a small canister she’d pulled from her pouch. She spread a patch on his palm to seal the wound for the time being.

“Shouldn’t we… clean it?” Stacey asked, having come over to see how his hand was faring. “It’s kinda icky here…”

“Bar, sterile,” Matchka said, looking at Stacey.

“Uhh… really?” Stacey said, looking around the very moist building.

“Yes, sterilizing coat,” the Bellani explained.

Stacey shuddered slightly, “Well, if you say so…”

That was the end of the excitement. Tables were righted, meals were remade and Mem partly reimbursed.

From there most of them were done drinking, they picked through the menu and ordered meals. The food was… unique, but edible. Of all the people to be picky, Otto had the hardest time with the wiggling meal he ended up with. Mike wasn’t convinced it had all been dead, but it did taste pretty good.

“I expected that fight to be worse really,” Mike commented as they exited the door.

“To be worse?” Tank asked. “What did you expect?”

“I dunno, kinda thought the whole bar would break out in a big fuckin’ awesome brawl. Instead it was basically just us and the Monos.”

Tank turned his single eye on Mike for a solid few seconds. “I am happy there are not more of you. The mess would be impossible to clean up.”

“Hey!”

It had been a long day, they were all feeling the fatigue of being going so long. It wasn’t until they were standing outside the door facing his brother when he realized Daniel, Matchka and Mem had worked out a little deal.

“You’re… staying the night with the slime thing,” Mike stated flatly.

“Yeah, she’s curious ‘bout human drinks and foods!” Daniel said with a grin. “And if I’m lucky, maybe she’ll figger’ out caffeine. Turns out them ‘Inhabitors’ know all about fermentin’ and makin’ all sortsa drinks.

Mike crossed his arms and stared at Daniel.

Daniel’s grin widened. “And besides, she gave me her bone, maybe I can give her mine.”

“Aw fer fuck’s sake, I knew it!” Mike said with a laugh. “Okay, please come back in one whole piece!”

As they walked away it was Tsury who asked the question. “I’m not totally familiar with how it works… but how does Daniel expect to…?”

Mike sighed. “Oh… he’ll figure something out.”

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Aurula
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The rest of them went to bed. Aurula found herself fatigued, but not as much as expected. She had remained upset and confused about how that nights events for longer than necessary. By the time her mind had sorted itself out she’d passed into night watch mode. She could remain mentally awake for awhile as long as she didn’t also remain physically active.

A holdover from primitive times when Leralin needed to keep an eye on things while sleeping.

It had taken her a bit to realize there was a difference between Leralin and Human public interaction. It had made sense when she, wondering why Otto had been so quick to jump to her defense, had looked to Stacey and Mike.

Humans were stronger than average, of normal speed and prodigious endurance… but they had no proper natural weapons. To physically strike an opponent they risked lacerations and bites to exposed flesh. They risked losing the hand that was a better manipulator than weapon. They weren’t as strong natural grapplers like the Monos and lacked the claws of the Kraltnin or indeed talons like she had on her hands and feet.

She nervously preened her wing as her mind worked.

In Leralin society, a male didn’t need to defend a female if she was healthy. It was instead rude to do so. But Stacey was clearly smaller than the rest of the Humans, and Cynthia had been as well. Otto’s reaction was a natural Human reaction. That the physically stronger gender protected those who lacked strength was sensible…

She knew she just had to work through it. This was an instinctual complaint at this point. She knew why the discrepancy was there though, which meant she could now see her way past it. Still, Aurula knew she was going to be annoyed with Otto for no good reason for a couple more days.

A blip registered on the interior Shuttle sensors. She, Otto and Matchka had opted to rest on the shuttle while the rest had chosen to stay at the Hotel. She was fine holing up in a nest. Changing sleeping spots for a night or two was disruptive. Otto seemed to be of the same mind. Matchka just didn’t want anyone else watching the ship.

Otto was accessing the dataspace. She joined him.

“Oh, Aurula,” Otto sent by reflex. “I’m sorry ‘bout tonight I-”

“You have already apologized,” Aurula interrupted. “It is a racial different that is to blame, not you.”

“Oh,” he said. She wondered if that felt as awkward to him as it did to her.

“Well,” Otto finally continued, “I’m gonna check on the girl, ‘Sing’. I’m having a hard time sleeping.”

“Ah, is there a way I can help?” she found herself saying.

“Hmm, yeah, there is actually. It’s not hard, but it requires lots of attention,” Otto replied. “More things than I can easily keep an eye on.”

She had been sitting in the pilots seat. Aurula stood up as they talked and headed to the bunk she was supposed to be sleeping in. It would be more comfortable there. “What do I need to do?” Aurula asked as the door slid open at her command.

A set of package controls arrived in her space, set up to run on the empty shuttle SI core. “Honestly, it would be better if I was a proper code setter I think,” Otto began as the packages unpacked for her. “Much of what I do should be automated, the crash course from SPIRE and Clouds made me competent enough, but I feel like I’m full of holes.”

“Otto,” Aurula said with a sigh, “what do I need to do?”

“Oh shit, sorry, this is a monitor package. I’ve set it up to watch local traffic and AI defences,” he started, actually explaining the task. “The box town surveillance has more holes than a net, but the rest of the station is much tighter than I first thought. I need you to watch for incoming connections incase my activity draws any attention.”

“And if there any of these ‘incoming connections’ you speak of?”

“The second package can be used to fend off simple AI defenses and temporarily distract more directed traffic. Just long enough for me to disconnect us if needed.”

She curled up in the bed she’d opted to sleep in alone for the night as he explained just what station connections he was worried about.

“Otto?” she interrupted.

“Is it necessary to get involved with this girl?”

“I… well…”

“She is not related to us, and I am pretty certain you have no intention of taking her with us. What do you plan to do?”

“Anything, something,” he replied with strange confidence. “Anything is better than nothing, which is what she’s got right now.”

“I know you have something more than that,” Aurula told him sternly.

The sigh carried through the vessel space. He’d started leaking again, although much less so than she remembered. “If I can do it right, I can give her back her father.”

That was probably the best answer he was going to give her at this time.

She kept an eye on the traffic as he asked. He bounced himself around several connections she hadn’t even realized he’d compromised during their walk around the station. A couple AI monitor routines activated and she directed them away as he had asked.

He snaked his way into the box town and she suddenly understood why he was worried about splitting his attention. Every single box was watched. It was all automatic, linking back to central utility nodes. All of them only watching for specific markers, but taking in a approximately twenty Leralin days worth of records, the newest day overwriting the oldest.

The security was loose, but at the same time it didn’t take much activity to draw an AI response when there was supposed to be almost no activity at all.

She switched from redirections to false negatives. The AI checked to see what was going on, she told it ‘nothing’. The AI defense was poor enough to get away with it.

And then Otto’s dataspace presence flared to life in barely restrained fury, almost shocking her out of the connection.

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Sing
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She did her best to stifle the sobs, smothering her face into the thin bedding.

‘Selling yourself to the aliens!’ he had shouted as he struck her again. And again. ‘You have no RIGHT to leave here!’

She’d expected it, she knew it was going to happen! He hadn’t beaten her for a few months. She’d figured out enough ways to deflect his anger. Enough to know when she could get away with a slap, cuff or punch instead of a full beating.

But they were Earthers! She wanted to know about it so badly! What was it like? How did the sun feel? What was the rain like. Did they ever swim? Stacey had been so kind and so fun! Tsury was older, but sometimes seemed younger than Sing and it made her giggle. The Kraltnin were polite, but that was so much better than the ones who lived on the station. Then she had seen the other men and the pretty blue bird. The two brothers had smiled and one shook her hand and gave her a candy while telling her to keep it secret. The last one had looked at her from afar, but even though his eyes were sad, he still wore a friendly smile.

Sing cried bitter tears into the bed.

‘You WON’T leave me! Not like HER!’ he’d said as he struck her again and again.

She choked back another sob. It wouldn’t do her any good to be heard. The neighbors had no sympathy they would share, and her father would only ‘find her a reason to cry’.

Sing understood! But mom hadn’t left on purpose. She’d died to the spots! It struck randomly, without warning to those who worked in… entertainment. The Mining was much harder work, but no one caught any alien diseases. She’d heard of ‘Oween’ who could make ‘vaccines’ with a little time and some blood, but there was nothing like that for the slaves here.

She had died and he went from her loving father to the person he was now. She choked back another sob. If he heard her…

A voice spoke to her, terrifying her silent.

“I’m sorry Sing,” a voice resounded in her head. “I know how you feel.”

Who was that? She didn’t know that voice.

“Have patience, hopefully in the morning it will be better.”

Sofly, in a quivering voice she couldn’t help but ask, “who?”

There was no answer.

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Byung-ho
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He woke up all at once as a shock rippled through his mind. His eyes snapped open, only to see darkness. That was… not normal at all.

“What is-?” he started. “Hello? Sing? Why is it so dark?”

The lights were never off like this. There was always the slightest of illumination from the sensor in the corner. Total darkness just didn’t happen.

“What is happening in here?” he called again. There was something there. He knew it. The presence loomed over him in the darkness.

Byung-ho tried to throw off the scrap of cloth that masqueraded as his blanket. He tried to swing his legs sideways as he sat up. None of those things happened. He remained locked in place, laying down on… on nothing.

His temper flared. “Show yourself!” he yelled. “Don’t hide you coward!”

He blinked as he… realized, he was upright.

A figure sat crouched in a chair. The details of it were indistinct… but human. It was hunched over, legs spread wide. Its left arm lay across its legs and it’s right hand served as a rest for its chin. Byung-ho squinted his eyes, but it remained out of focus. Still he was pretty sure it was a man.

The figured stared at him in silence, seemingly unwilling to speak. There were no eyes to be seen, but he could feel it.

“What is wrong? Do you have a hole in your head!” he spat at the shadow.

The shadow dropped its head and a sigh echoed through the space. A man. The left hand lifted up and the shadow cradled his head in his hands. “It would be so easy,” he remarked.

That was… he hated to think ‘ominous’… but it was. “...What would be so easy?” he asked, doing his best to keep a steady voice.

The head lifted up and there was a pressure in the space unlike anything he’d felt before.

“I know what you have done,” the shadow said. It wasn’t answering the question. He continued, his voice dripping with regret. “She doesn’t deserve that.”

For a moment he felt his blood run cold. Then it switched to hot fury. “What right do you-”

“WHAT RIGHT DO YOU HAVE,” It thundered back. “SHE IS INNOCENT OF THE WORLD.”

Byung-ho could only groan in pain as the voice crashed through his mind.

“She is my daughter, I have-”

“YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BREAK HER.”

“She wont-”

“NINETY NINE OUT OF A HUNDRED TIMES SHE WILL GROW INTO A FEARFUL AND WEAK WOMAN,” the voice roared out again. The next message came in a quiet voice that thundered all that much louder for how soft it was. “All because you let yourself be broken first.”

“I-” he started, then froze. The voice didn’t cut him off this time. It didn’t have to. It had struck him in the heart and he realized he had no way to respond. This shadow saw through him like a piece of glass and he knew it.

He couldn’t threaten away this shadow. There was no person he could scare away. He had no control over his body to allow him to leave or lash out.

“It would be so easy,” the voice had said.

It sighed again. “Still. You are her father, and it is clear that a part of her cares for you yet.”

He remained silent, waiting for whatever judgement was to be laid down by this interloper.

“So I’ve decided to try something with you, Byung-ho.”

‘What?’ he thought to himself.

“Heh, ‘What?’ he asks,” the figure shook its indistinct head. “That slave implant, I’m sure you’re familiar enough with it,” a short, dry chuckle followed the comment.

His stomach twisted. What did the shadow do?

“Understand, I sympathise with you, the loss of family is a terrible burden. To lose those you love, a horrible wound.”

“...”

“But your daughter also bears this wound. What right do you have to inflict further punishment on a child who doesn’t understand?” the voice almost begged for an answer, but he had none to give. “That recorder in the corner of the building, it clearly states that her mother used to live here, and that she is the child of the woman and you. It also notes in a very simple manner than your production had dropped alarmingly since she passed.”

It… it recorded that?

“You are suffering just as much as Sing, but taking it out on her will never make either of you any happier... “ He paused for a moment, shook his head and seemed to look away. Before Byung-ho could say another word the head snapped back and the shadow resumed talking. “So I’m going to put a new… shackle… on your implant instead, to try to help move things in a better direction. It’s very simple really. I have set her as a… how do I describe it…” the voice drifted off for a minute. “... Yeah, think of her as a slave boss who can’t issue orders.”

“For… for what purpose?” Byung-ho asked.

“Oh, that’s simple… ever see someone try to strike a slave master?”

‘Oh,’ he thought to himself as he understood. And he did. If he tried to strike her again, the implant would enact swift punishment on him for trying, possibly even just thinking of doing so.

“It’s awfully imprecise, it might even tweak you for talking badly to her.”

He tried to muster his anger, but his response came out in a fearful quaver. “What right do you have?” he found himself asking again.

“What right do you have to strike her?” It sighed at him. “She deserves better, and she deserves it from you,” it drifted off for a minute. “She does still love you, you know. Or at least the memory of who you were before everything went wrong. But she doesn’t need the anger you’ve disguised as ‘discipline’. What Sing needs is her father.”

Not wanting to let the shadow have the last word, he tried to speak. He couldn’t. Just like his body wouldn’t move, he lacked the ability to talk. Then he realized he hadn’t even been talking. It was his thoughts he’d been sending. This was happening with the slave band!

There was no struggling. No moving. No speaking.

No nothing.

The shadow had taken any possibility of action and disappeared in the next split moment. He didn’t realize until now that it was even gone.

Terror rose in his gut. He strained everything, just to do something. With a strangled, tortured cry he fell out of bed. Byung-ho rolled onto the floor gasping desperately for air, hopelessly tangled up in his blanket.

The dull white glow of the sensor provided slight illumination to the room, just as it always had.

He stared at the bland, grey ceiling for a long time. The shadow had said much to him, but one thing in particular had struck him in his core. And it wasn't the threat that stuck.

‘What Sing needs is her father.’

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End Chapter
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