Funny thing, when you have mental illnesses you know you didn’t ALWAYS have them, like sure they were always there genetically but they were dormant until a certain point, but when you look back on your life you can’t find that point where the dormancy ended, you can’t imagine your life before the illness. What’s more is that every time you think you found it for some reason it doesn’t feel quite right. The best you can do for yourself is find a way to help manage the disease, that way you’re not finding when you were good vs bad. Instead you’ll be working toward a point you’ll be better and not need to worry about what you were before. Always seek help before it’s too late.
Alexi, Echo and Shade had climbed through one building to another, traversing the remains of the city trying to follow wherever Echo was leading them. It’d been a few hours since the explosion and the sun was obscured by swirling dust in the sky. Everything had a reddish brown tint now.
“Echo! Where are we heading?” Alexi asks. The machine beeps in response. “Excuse me? What the hell is Shatter Point?” He inquires, once the word is spoken though, Echo freezes. Turning to face Alexi and out of no where a voice speaks from the small machine.
“Ah there we go. Alright you’re good now ECHO. Energy Combatant Hover Operator. This is your first test. Stationed in /static/ missile silo under command of /static/. Dr Ezra reporting. All functioning systems show green lights on my end. Alright Echo, how you feeling? You seem good.” The voice was sheepish, maybe a shy scientist. It was hard to tell. All that could be determined was he obviously cared about Echo by the tone of his voice.
“EZRA! What did I tell you about those robots! We have given you strict orders to focus on Project Shatter Point, now this foolish endeavor with pesky machines!” Bellowed a shriek, a woman’s voice carried through and made Alexi tense up.
“I’m sorry General. I had submitted my findings a few hours ago regarding the project. Shatter Point is dangerous and my findings all conclude the same thing. It’ll cause a cataclysm. At best we’re looking at the equivalent of nuclear Armageddon.
“I don’t think we have an accurate comparison other than old Religious end time stories.”
“Well it’s a good thing Religion isn’t anything but myths and stories right? If you think best case is Nuclear Armageddon, I presume you best work to make it more manageable, shouldn’t you?” The woman barked before slamming a door- presumably.
“Sorry bout that Echo, seems I gotta get back to work. Glad to see you woke up this time though. We’ll work on you when I finish this. Dr. Ezra signing off.”
Echo shook itself as if snapping out of a daydream and whistled confused.
“Seems me saying Shatter Point, activated some memory file you had stored away. Do you remember a Dr. Ezra?” Alexi asks. His head tilting and Shade panting at his side, his hand absentmindedly reached down to pet her. Echo began to respond, at first it was hard to keep up but Alexi did his best.
“So you’re like from before all this? Damn looking good for a couple hundred years old I’ll say.” Echo beeped smugly at the compliment. “But seriously, that’s impressive, you were made to assist soldiers in combat, well that explains a lot about your set up. Granted I think you weren’t finished based on how we’ve seen you in combat, granted that could have been caused by me when I woke you up. I did tinker a bit before hand trying to understand how you work.”
“It’s Pre World tech that grants that metal life if you can even call it that.” The Pursuer interjected, dropping down from above them, a ledge from a destroyed building’s roof hung over them, how he got that close without Echo detecting him was beyond belief. Alexi quickly drew not the wooden sword but the revolver aiming it at the hooded figure. He had one shot in that gun and if he was to take it, he had to decide if he would, it’d have to count. “Really? I’m the first person like you that you see in all this time and you react with attempt of violence? I’m almost insulted.”
“Who are you? What are you doing out here? How have you survived and how did you approach without Echo picking you up on their scanners?” Alexi barks. The hand holding the gun shaking, his other brought up to his back where the sword was sheathed. His eyes focusing on the Pursuer, watching every bit of him that he could waiting for any sign of hostility. He barely noticed Shade dropped into a snarling defensive state next to him and Echo had prepared to fire their multi-tool weapon.
“Parley.” The Pursuer said. The smirk on his face evident behind the hood. His hands raised, the fingerless gloves coating them in a dark leather. Slowly he reached for the hood and dropped it before returning his hands to the sides of his head, raised in surrender. “I evoke Parley which should mean something to you, yes?”
Alexi swallowed back and lifted the revolver back up returning the hammer to safety before replacing it in it’s holster on his chest and relaxing.
“Stand down you two, for now.” He says calming Shade with a hand near her face. “Now answer my questions.”
“I will, but first my terms, as I did call for Parley and all.” The Pursuer replies. “This meeting shall not go violent, from either side. No matter what is discussed no matter what truths are learned and so forth. No violence. We shall remain civilized. For every question I answer you are to answer two of mine. Once satisfied with questions I’ll take my leave and you shall be free to do the same. Do we have an accord?” Alexi sighed and extended his hand nervously. The Pursuer smiled and shook hands before lowering his other and stepping out from the middle of the three and watching Alexi. “Shall we make our selves comfortable? A fire and refreshments perhaps. Just in case we’re here a while after all, no sense in making our legs tired when we could sit.”
“Echo, make a fire would ya? I’ll get the refreshment.” Alexi responds, not taking his eyes off the Pursuer while shifting his weight so the satchel slid to his front allowing him to reach in and find the scotch. “Scotch ok? All I got on me right now.”
“Scotch will be fine. Thank you.” Came the almost eerily polite reply. “You travel with no water or food? Only alcohol?”
“Echo helps me find food and water daily, to ensure I’m not carrying too much weight and not carrying anything that might attract unwanted attention.”
“I see. You named this machine. As if you were friends with a person instead of a soulless piece of metal, curious.” They asked, it was Shade, not Echo who responded to the insult by snarling until Alexi shook their head at her. After lighting a fire near some place to sit, Echo had lowered itself to hover close to Shade, obviously feeling more safe near the dog than the newcomer. “Did I offend the machine? How is that possible?”
“Echo is a conscious entity. Their brain may be digital and not analog but still has a working concept of feelings and knows when being degraded by others.” Alexi explains. Pouring out a glass of the scotch and extending his hand to the Pursuer with it filled. “So I ask if you’d apologize to them.” The request startled the Pursuer who simply looked up in shock after taking the cup of scotch from Alexi’s extended hand.
“I do guess I owe it—them, an apology then. My experience has never shown people like us treating their kind with the same level of respect or equality. I am beside myself with wonder.”
“Life is life. Digital or otherwise.” Alexi explains.
“Is that why you refuse to use that firearm? Or your blade on your back?” The reply came as Alexi sat holding the bottle in his hand and taking a quick sip from it.
“I cherish life yes. But will take it if my life or the life of others is on the line. I try to uphold a balance in the world, it seems that more balance is needed than I imagined. Now about my questions.”
“I know, I promised for every two you answered of mine, I’d answer one of yours. So far you’ve answered two so you get one back. I am out here because I seek something that is rightfully mine and has so far been denied me by The Brink, I hope to claim it as mine finally and return to my home.”
“That’s not cryptic, but I guess it’s a start.” Alexi responds. So I guess I need to answer two more for another huh. Well let’s get this over with.” Taking another swig of the scotch but not taking his eyes off the Pursuer watching them drink the booze as well, waiting for signs of how they handled the alcohol. Unlike him who grimaced now and again at the strength of the liquor this person almost seemed to drink it like it was water. Not phased in the slightest.
“Why have you come to The Brink?” He asks. “Then second question, do you even know what is out here in this dead zone?”
“First of all it wasn’t til recently I knew the name of this place. I simply wandered here from other places. I’ve been traveling for a year. I do not know what’s out here. I had stayed on the outskirts for the majority of my travels, it wasn’t until someone started tracking me and Echo that we moved inward, they kinda forced us deeper into the area. Maybe you’ve come across them. We haven’t seen them, but we only know they send bright green flares into the sky and attract those creatures- sending them after us whenever they are near. I honestly think that they were the one who caused that explosion earlier.”
“Oh so you saw that explosion too, I was wondering if I was the only one who did.” The Pursuer replied. “I’m glad you weren’t in it. I imagine judging by how it looked from where I was- that was a low yield warhead, and thank you for the answers, you get one more. I approached you without detection because I did so while your machine was in that memory loop, if I understand the tech of it’s time correctly- in those moments of playback no other features are active due to preventing excessive power usage. They- for lack of better terminology, become fish in a barrel while in that state.”
“Interesting, glad you seem to know your machines. Though I can’t lie it’s curious you were able to happen upon us that quickly without being detected sooner. Unless of course the radiation from the warhead disrupted most detection. Echo is that possible? Do you need to run a diagnostic?” He turns looking to the machine who beeped a few uncertain noises before whirling quietly and humming. Checking themselves to test the theory.
Excellent, while in that state it’ll buy more time before it realizes who I am. The Pursuer thought to themselves. Best wrap it up and get what I want before it puts everything together.
“You had two more questions so I have four more. I’ll make them quick so we don’t spend too much time dancing around meaningless details.” He says finishing the alcohol in one quick gulp. “Who are you? Where do you come from? Why do you travel all the way from your home and finally why do you travel with that machine?” He asked curtly nodding to Echo, his eyes looking almost malevolent at that point before returning to their peaceful demeanor.
“Uh ok. I am Alexi. That’s it, no need in, as you said, meaningless information. I’m from one of the settlements in the northwestern portion of the continent. There are a few up there but not all are as developed, I am lucky the one I am from was primarily untouched by the time before all this, and simply built upon it’s foundations of Pre World age. It’s not perfect but it’s home. I am traveling all the way out here because well I kind of ran away from home I guess. Which is silly seeing as I’m an adult and adults don’t run away from home that’s something children do. I travel with Echo because shortly after leaving home, I stumbled across him in a building I was scavenging for food and supplies, he was damaged so I picked him up, repaired as best I could and reactivated him. Since then he’s been my friend. I’m happy to have him along for the journey. He led me to here, not intentionally, we wandered all over the place and stumbled upon here somehow during a storm. I think his data storage was being interfered with.”
“Interesting, and you’re right it’s quite childish to runaway. I’d ask why you ran but you answered my four so I am owing you two. Let’s see they were- who am I and how have I survived out here alone. Well short version is they are tied together. I have survived simply because of who I am. Who I am is difficult, but like you did simply. I am Nathan. Nathan Novak. But that’s unimportant for before you wonder I have no history to speak of that concerns you I hope.”
That last part unsettled Alexi and noticed through the corner of his eyes even Shade seemed bothered by the way this conversation was going. He was beginning to wish Echo wasn’t running that diagnostic because of things got bad, he didn’t wanna fight around protecting Echo. Just in case. He had to keep this going until Novak left or Echo woke up.
“So those were my questions, I guess. I presume you don’t have anymore for me or?” He let the statement hang, gauging the response to figure out where to take things.
“I think I’m quite good actually. I appreciate our peaceful discussion, you can imagine with how wild these lands are why I hoped you’d prefer it of course. No need to taint information seeking with threat of violence right?” Nathan stood slowly, offering the cup back to Alexi who joined the standing man, taking the cup back and setting it where he sat, next to the booze.
“I do understand, apologies for the reaction to your arrival. Assume you understand why now. With being pursued by someone, and after that explosion earlier you know. We were a bit on edge and nervous.”
“Apologies accepted Alexi. I considered not approaching but the machine’s recorded memory intrigued me about who you three were. May we part here as friends then.”
“If not friends than at least not enemies.” The reply came almost automatically. Alexi watched as Novak did a half bow and walked off. Before too far Alexi found himself asking. “Haven’t heard of anything called Shatter Point have you? In your travels that is. Sorry for breaking the 2 questions for 1 rule and all but figured I’d ask before you go. I forgot all about it, ya know?”
Novak froze for a moment. This was it, the answer would determine what his intent was for interrupting them earlier. Novak didn’t move, save for a hand going to his chin, stroking it in thought.
“Shatter Point. Hmm, Shatter. Point. Not that I actively know, unless of course the Machine might be referring to- and this is just a thought. I have heard rumors of a location far in the center of The Brink, It’s told to be something beyond understanding. I never heard what the place was called but it might be worth a lookie loo?” Novak responded, not even turning. “Careful though. If what I know of this place is an indication and I’ve been here quite a while. The inhabitants don’t exactly like visitors, if you’ve already encountered some you know what mean. The ones on the outskirts are nothing. The further in you go- the more dangerous things are. It’s called The Brink for a reason. We’re on the edge of our world here. Step wrong we fall into the abyss of death. I wish you safe travels. Alexi.”