Chapter 51 – Discussions on Chaos

Chapter 51 – Discussions on Chaos

“Alright, let’s see… ah, there. Do you see that metal wreckage to the east?”

“…I think so. The one that looks like a mech’s arm?”

“Yep. Looks like it’s 4 kilometers out, or so…”

“Agreed. You think you can hit it?”

“Do I think I can hit it?” Selind scoffed and then passed Luke a wink before ducking down to peer through the sights of her sniper again. “A target that big, this close? This’ll be easy. Just watch!”

Luke passed her a quick glance before raising his binoculars to his eyes again. The two currently stood atop Compound Tresnon’s eastern wall, with Selind resting her gun on the ramparts atop the wall as she aimed at wreckage in the wastelands outside of Tresnon. Mid-afternoon sunlight shone on their backs, but neither of them gave the bright desert sun any attention as they focused on the piece of wreckage.

After a brief second of steadying her gun and taking aim, Selind pulled the trigger. Her gun barely recoiled, and Luke couldn’t even see any kind of flash — but the instant she fired, the wreckage in the distance exploded in a burst of energy.

“…Impressive,” Luke commented as he lowered his binoculars. “Laser snipers really do have some impressive range.”

“4 kilometers ain’t even half of what I can do,” Selind boasted, caressing the green and brown gun as she did. “I can hit a target 10 kilometers away with my trusty Lisarin! Given a good vantage point, of course.”

“That’d have to be one tall as hell vantage point,” Luke replied. “The horizon here is only around 5 kilometers away, at ground level. What are you doin’ to see a target from 10 kilos away?!”

“There are hills and mountains in Treséd,” Selind countered.

Luke nodded. “Fair enough. Still, though, 10 kilometers? I can barely believe it…”

“I think I’d have to say the same.”

Luke and Selind both glanced to the side, toward the origin of the new voice. Approaching along the wall was a man with light skin, silver hair tied back into a ponytail, and a rough goatee of similar coloring. He stood around average height for a Nimalian man — that being around five feet and ten inches — but even that left him an inch shorter than Luke, and two shorter than Selind.

“Well if it ain’t the Guest Instructor!” Selind remarked, turning to greet the man head-on.

“…Gavon,” Luke greeted cautiously.

“Selind, Luke.” Gavon nodded toward each of them in acknowledgment. “I was told the two of you would be up here.”

“You need somethin’ from us?” Selind questioned.

“Not really. That you’re here right now is a coincidence — an amusing one, though, I must say,” Gavon explained, turning to look out over the wastes as he did. He then reached under his drooping desert robes and pulled out a black and silver rifle, with a much shorter barrel than Selind’s sniper. “I was looking for somewhere to practice my shooting. That’s when I was told you two were here, doing the same.”

“Oh! Well, you’re more than welcome to join us!” Selind remarked with a grin, only to then pass Luke a wary glance. “Uh, is that fine…?”

“It should be,” Luke replied, his attention focused largely on the gun in Gavon’s hands. “…Is that an ARC-87 assault rifle?”

Gavon smirked in amusement. “It is. To be able to tell at a glance like that — more impressive than I expected.”

“Ha ha…” Luke laughed sheepishly. “I’ve always been interested in the weapons you can find around the galaxy. SERRCom’s aren’t bad, but there’s no denying that there’s better out there.”

“Still, that’s just a regular assault rifle, ain’t it?” Selind questioned as she gestured towards Gavon’s weapon. “Not enough range on that thing for my tastes.”

“Oh, I agree,” Gavon replied, “but I wasn’t given permission to bring my SR-24 with me. With the Bleeder situation around here, that should change soon, but for now I’m stuck with this. Though, I must say — even my sniper rifle can’t beat 10 kilometers.”

“Oh ho ho ho,” Selind chuckled. “You jealous?”

“It is impressive,” Luke pointed out. “Those kinds of ranges are the biggest advantage laser guns have over mag rifles.”

“You say that like just anyone with a Lisarin could hit 10 kilometers,” Selind retorted.

“Hmm…” Gavon passed her a challenging glance. “The NSD’s current gen sniper is the Imarin. The Lisarin is a couple generations old.”

“Yeah? So?”

“When an Imarin is set to full power, it has a theoretical maximum range of 25 kilometers before its laser stops being lethal — but sighting and aiming tech caps its effective range at 10 kilometers. The Lisarin, an older gun, has an even shorter effective range.”

“I was wonderin’ about that, too,” Luke commented.

Selind scowled. “Are y’all doubtin’ my 10 kilometers? I’ve done it multiple times, you know! Besides, it ain’t like usin’ this thing is easy!”

“Laser snipers are easy,” Luke pointed out. “That’s half the draw of using ‘em!”


“Luke’s correct,” Gavon stated. “Laser weapons are far easier to aim than mag or plasma weapons. Lasers aren’t affected by gravity or atmospheric conditions to nearly the same extent as physical bullets, so you don’t have to factor as many variables into your aiming. That’s a big reason why their effective ranges are so long.”

“Tch…” Selind snorted derisively. “Well, if it’s so easy, let’s see y’all give it a shot!”

Luke’s eyes immediately lit up. “Really?!”

“If both of y’all can hit that wreckage I hit in one shot each, then we can have a round at the bar tonight, on me,” Selind declared.

“I accept that challenge,” Gavon replied.

“Deal!” Luke remarked.

Selind drew back in mild surprise, her attention snapping between each of the two men. “Well that was fast!”

“Even if I miss, this is a chance to finally use a laser sniper,” Luke insisted.

“…You really are a gun nut,” Selind remarked with a sigh, and then retreated from her sniper, leaning against the ramparts as it was. As Luke approached the gun, she continued, “just… be careful with it, alright? Lisarins might be old gen, but they still ain’t cheap around here!”

“Of course,” Luke replied, stopping for a moment to search the wastes with his binoculars for the metal wreckage that Selind had found earlier. Once he had spotted it, he handed the binoculars off to Selind and then crouched down to grab the laser sniper. As he hefted it, he couldn’t help but think about how light it felt in his hands, compared to the SERRCom sniper rifle he was used to using. Nevertheless, he wasted little time in propping the gun up on the ramparts and then peering through its sights, quickly spotting the target wreckage.

Bullet drop isn’t an issue with lasers… he mused as he took aim, so I can aim much more directly. Atmospheric conditions DO affect lasers, but as Gavon said, the effect isn’t as strong as on bullets. I believe lasers care mostly about moisture in the air, and temperature gradients… well, we’re in a desert, so there shouldn’t be much moisture — and the wastelands look flat and featureless enough that the temperatures ought to be uniform. That’ll make this easy!

Another couple seconds of silence passed, with Selind staring at the wreckage through the binoculars, and Gavon standing quietly to the side. Eventually, Luke finalized his aim, took a deep breath… and fired. As soon as he did, he found himself lurching forward, a reflex from dealing with the recoil of his regular rifle — whereas this gun had little.

“Damn… you fuckin’ did it!”

Luke glanced up at Selind, who was still staring through the binoculars as a scowl crossed her face. He then took a quick peek through the laser sniper’s sights to verify. Sure enough, the metal wreckage he had been aiming at 4 kilometers away was in further smithereens than it was before.

“Good job!” Gavon congratulated Luke, and then gestured for him to back away from the gun. “Now it’s my turn.”

“Shit,” Selind swore, “me and my damn mouth. I shouldn’t’ve made a bet with two trained soldiers… and both self-proclaimed marksmen, at that…!”

“Uh… sorry?” Luke apologized uneasily.

“No, don’t apologize, this is entirely on me…”

“You’re also speaking too soon,” Gavon pointed out as he took up aim with the laser sniper. “I’m not used to using laser weaponry.”

“Neither was Luke,” Selind refuted, “and he did just fine!”

“Well, we’ll see…”

Luke stepped back to give Gavon some room, and as he did, he passed Selind an uneasy glance. She had already taken to peering through the binoculars again, so she couldn’t recognize Luke’s attention, or the frown he wore on his face. That’s right… Luke mused, it does seem like she prided herself on being a crack shot, and now here me and Gavon are, showing that using her gun isn’t actually all that hard… maybe I should’ve turned down the bet…

Selind suddenly whooped, drawing Luke out of his thoughts. “Ah HA! You missed!!”

“Huh? What?” Luke looked down at Gavon in confusion.

“…She’s right,” Gavon said with a sigh as he pulled away from the gun.

“I mean… you were damn close. Overshot it by only a meter or so, it looks like,” Selind declared as she continued to stare through the binoculars, only to put them down a second later and adopt a smirk. “But it still looks like I win this bet! Oh boy, now I get to say I did better than a Black Suns marksman!”

Gavon chuckled to himself, and then glanced toward Luke. When he noticed that the SERRCom officer was giving him a doubtful look, Gavon remarked, “I know what you’re thinking, Luke, and no. I wasn’t holding back.”

“What?!” Selind turned to glare at Luke. “What’re you tryin’ to say, here?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Luke quickly refuted, and then returned his attention to Gavon. “Still… the fact that I was able to beat a Black Suns marksman seems kind of… weird.”

Gavon simply shrugged in response. “As I said, I don’t usually use laser weapons. I’m used to mag rifles, and using my Gravitatechnism to manipulate bullet trajectories. You can’t do that with lasers. Now, I will admit that I purposefully turned off the aim enhancers on my prosthetic arm, but I feel that using them would’ve been cheating in a contest like this, anyways. I wouldn’t count turning them off as ‘holding back’.”


“With all that said…” Gavon offered Luke and Selind a resigned smile. “The fact is that the two of you were able to hit the target, and I wasn’t. You’re better sharpshooters than I expected, to be perfectly honest.”

“Ah, don’t mention it,” Selind replied with a grin. “It’s all in good fun.”

“…Weren’t you just complaining when you thought you were about to lose?” Luke questioned.

“Oh, c’mon. What fun is it to make bets if you don’t get invested?”

“I can’t say I disagree,” Gavon remarked with an amused smirk. “And in the spirit of the bet, it looks like tonight’s drinks are on me.”

Selind’s grin broadened even further as she playfully punched Gavon in the arm. “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! I like your attitude!”

“Well, I sure won’t say ‘no’ to free drinks,” Luke commented with a smile, and then looked over at Gavon. “Though, now that I think about it — you’re a Chaotic. And while you might’ve missed that shot, according to Selind, you were still close; that means you’ve received a lot of weapons training, right?”

“I have,” Gavon replied. “And I think I see where you’re going with this. You want to know why a Chaotic would bother with guns, when our powers are often more devastating than gunfire, don’t you?”

“Uh… yeah.”

“It’s true that Chaotic abilities can be very devastating, especially in a world where energy shielding is the predominant source of defense — given that many Chaotics can bypass energy shielding entirely. Nevertheless, the fact remains that guns can outrange most Chaotics. And more importantly than that, we can’t rely on our powers all of the time. Sometimes we have missions in Dead Space, or encounter a CENT field. When that happens, we have no choice but to fall back on good old guns.”

“This is actually what he’s here to teach about,” Selind remarked, looking over at Luke. “The Schools of Chaos have lots and lots of classes to teach young Chaotics how to use their abilities, and how to handle themselves when there’s Chaos Energy around — but they don’t teach much about how to handle yourself in a CENT field.”

“I see…” Luke nodded along. “Now that I think about it, it does make sense to cover this matter…”

“This kind of trainin’ could be good from a defensive view, too,” Selind pointed out as she handed the binoculars back to Luke and reclaimed her laser sniper. “Once Chaotics realize that they’re more powerful than guns, they often forget that they can still be killed by one. Against an unprepared Chaotic, nothin’ is better than a well-placed shot to the head. I’ve taken out plenty of Bleeder Chaotics that way, myself!”

Gavon nodded. “Agreed. Even if a Chaotic never uses a gun themselves, it can be very useful for them to realize that guns are still a very real threat on today’s battlefield, especially if you don’t have energy shielding. And certain types of Chaotics may find that a gun would complement their abilities rather well.”

“Like your sniping and gravity control?” Luke questioned.

“Exactly.” Gavon grinned. “Hell, on some missions I use gravity on my own bullets more than anything else!”

“Now that’s somethin’ I’d like to see,” Selind remarked. “You’ll have to show us how you do that sometime!”

“Sometime?” Gavon chuckled briefly before taking hold of his rifle again. “Why not now? This is a mag rifle, after all.”

“Sounds like fun to me,” Luke commented, passing the sun in the sky a brief glance. “We still have a couple hours of the afternoon left to burn.”

“Glad to hear it,” Gavon remarked, and then stepped forward to show off his rifle to Luke and Selind. “Now, first, before I do a shooting demonstration, you two might be interested in some of the specs…”

Several Hours Later

Late afternoon sunlight shone down upon Compound Tresnon, casting long shadows on the streets and buildings of the small town. A cool southerly breeze accompanied the orange-tinted light, causing Twy to reflexively shiver while she stood atop the roof of WCU’s dormitory. Around her were a handful of watercolor paints, as well as an easel laid flat and a sheet of paper that she had clipped to the easel to prevent the winds from blowing it away.

I suppose this would be easier if I just painted inside, she mused, glancing toward the setting sun while she did. …But the days are getting longer. If I want to appreciate winter for what it is, here, then I have to do it now. Besides, I can’t see the sunset from my room.

With that, Twy turned her attention back to the paper upon the easel. On the paper was a light sketch of a handful of giant trees surrounding a mountain, with a river flowing down the mountain and into the foreground. Twy took a moment to look over the sketch; she had quickly drawn it up a couple days ago, inspired by the giant trees she had seen in Relédiaka, and the mountains back in Nimaliaka. The fantastical beauty of the planet of Nimalia had inspired her to make a painting of something similarly fantastical, yet natural on its face — an idea that she had been eager to put down on paper the moment she had it.

It’s been a while since I painted, though… She glanced over at the watercolor paints that she had laid out, though hadn’t yet put to the paper. …And on top of that, I’m trying something new today. Still… it’d be a waste to just ignore all of this after Kaoné went through the trouble of getting it for me. And you know what they say — the only way to get better is to practice. Come on, Twy, stop stalling…

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in an effort to clear her thoughts. A moment later, she reopened her eyes, and then held out her right hand, into which she coalesced a small bubble of water about the size of a baseball. The bubble levitated just above her palm, calmly rotating in place as Twy focused on maintaining its shape; then, she carefully drew out a few droplets, maneuvering them through the air to dip into the currently dry watercolor paints. Starting with brown, she gathered up some of the pigment into the water droplets, and then moved them over to the paper holding her sketch, where she deposited the paint upon the sketched tree bark with her water in lieu of a brush.

“Hmm…” She stopped to look at the initial results, frowning when they appeared splotchy. Well, I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t use a paintbrush. Different types of brushes exist for a reason, after all. Still… I think it should be possible to emulate a brush with my control over water alone. I just need to practice more…

Thoughts of practice briefly turned her mind back to Ralak’s focus training a couple days ago. During that training, Twy had been able to zip small pellets of water through the air at such high speeds and accurate trajectories that she could pierce a training dummy’s head — and then thread the resulting hole with more water over and over again. But today, it took her the same amount of effort just to finely manipulate a similar amount of water in the paints.

“I probably just need to practice more…” she muttered to herself as she pulled another handful of water droplets out of the bubble in her hand, and repeated the process of gathering pigment and filling the paper with color. Slowly but surely, the trunks of the trees began to fill with the color of bark, at first uniformly — but then Twy adjusted how she deposited the paint, managing to create long streaks of lighter and darker browns based on how she moved the pigment-containing water droplets across the paper. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. Still, I feel like it’s harder than it should be… what’s different between now, and two days ago?

As Twy thought the issue over, and mused about all of the times she had used her ability to control water — ranging from the impressive display she had managed to show Austin back before they were picked up by SERRCom, to fighting EA’s mechs, to simple training in Treséd — she realized that her ability to control water had always been vaguely inconsistent. The words of Mote from over a month ago briefly echoed in her head:

A Chaotic’s abilities will always be moderately heightened in a true combat scenario, thanks to adrenaline. But combat showings, especially for novices, can be inconsistent…

If that’s true, then some inconsistency would be expected, but I feel like I’m seeing a lot more than ‘some’, Twy thought with a frown. There must be more to my powers… I don’t think that’s a stretch to assume, if we really are, uh, ‘Keys’. It seems like Phoenix has some kind of special ability, too… She thought back to the trip to Relédiaka, and how Phoenix had managed to foresee the Bleeder attack on the WTAC campus — even if only by a few seconds. And on top of that… I haven’t told anybody, but…

For a moment, she stopped painting and turned to look out over Compound Tresnon. If she focused, then she could sense seven hazy presences. Right now, there were four out in the town, two at WCU’s training grounds, and one within the dormitory. A quick glance over the roof’s edge confirmed Twy’s suspicion: at the training grounds at that moment were none other than Spike and Sky.

I guess I can sense where everyone else is she mused. Austin is definitely in the dorms, and if there’s four in town, then I’d bet those are Phoenix, Kestrel, Conrad, and Pierce. A weary sigh escaped her lips. I don’t know when I picked this ability up, but I feel like I didn’t really notice it until… I don’t know, the Relédiaka trip? Did I only get the ability then, or did I only notice it then? And does it have anything to do with how well I can control water at a given moment?

Twy shook her head and resumed painting with water. While she had many questions, there was no way for her to answer them on her own — so for the moment, she decided to focus on her paints instead. Once more, she dipped some water into the pigments, and then splashed the colors across the paper, finally moving on from brown to begin working on the leafy greens, and the rocky gray of the center mountain. Serene silence filled the air, broken only by the occasional sloshing of water as Twy contentedly painted in isolation, illuminated only by a setting sun and darkening skies.

It was the creaking of an opening metal door that finally ripped Twy out of her focus, drawing her attention to the nearest roof entrance. Striding through the door was a certain light-skinned, wavy-haired woman, her hands planted on her hips as she swept her gaze across the roof, seemingly in search of something.

Upon noticing this, Twy quickly brushed the last of her pigmented water upon her painting before waving toward the woman. “Looking for someone, Sky?”

“Huh? Oh!” Sky’s attention snapped to her sister, at which point she began walking over. “There you are! What are you doing up here? It’s so dark and chilly!”

“You didn’t have to come up here…”

“Well, yeah, but I was bored.”

“Weren’t you just training with Spike?”

“Only sort of…” Sky muttered as she stopped next to her sister and crossed her arms. “It’s kinda hard to train together when he refuses to touch me.”

“…Oh.” Twy frowned. “…Well, he is a Forcetechnic. He must be afraid of accidentally hurting you.”

“I mean, yeah, he’s said that, but, like… it should be fine, right?! He hasn’t accidentally crushed or damaged anything else while we’re here!”

“Just give him some time to get used to his strength. I’m sure he has your best interests at heart…”

“Ha,” Sky scoffed. “If he really had my best interests at heart, he would’ve fucked me at least once this past month.”

A reflexive grimace crossed Twy’s face. “What did I tell you about talking about your sex life with me?”

“Prude as ever, huh?” Sky retorted. “Maybe if you just put up and asked Austin out already, you wouldn’t be so red in the face every time someone says the word ‘sex’ around you.”

“Wh-what?” Twy’s cheeks flushed a bright red. “Th-that’s— that’s not—! I don’t—!”

“Relax! It’s a joke.” Sky smirked, only to frown a second later and avert her gaze. “…Sort of…”

“What do you mean, ‘sort of’?!”

Sky’s attention remained directed off to the side, her lips pursed as she pointedly avoided eye contact with Twy. Eventually, she released a frustrated sigh. “Nevermind. It’s whatever.”

Twy regarded her sister with a wary look. “…Sky—?”

“Hey, you got back into painting! Cool!” Sky bounced over to the easel Twy had left out, and the still-drying watercolors on the attached paper. “…Wow, you haven’t lost it, huh? This is pretty neat! Are these those trees from Relédiaka?”

“Uh…” Twy responded uneasily, her mind reeling from how quickly Sky had changed the subject. She doesn’t get abrasive with me like that very often. I guess she’s worrying about something? Pushing her when she’s frustrated rarely works out, though, so I guess I’ll play along for now… “…As far as I know, this view doesn’t actually exist anywhere,” Twy commented as she stepped up next to her sister. “I was just inspired by those giant trees we saw, and thought, if they can grow tall and thick enough to build an entire city above ground, then what if they grew taller than mountains?”

“That would be a small mountain, for those giant trees to tower over it! The ones we saw were, like, maximum 1 kilometer tall, right?”

“The painting is a fantasy, it’s not supposed to reflect reality…”

“…Oh, right. Ha ha.” Sky grinned sheepishly. “Well, it’s nice to see you getting back to painting, at least! I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve seen you paint!”

“Yeah…” Twy sighed. “College takes up a lot of your time.”

“Really? Spike and I always had tons of free time!”

“You say that, but then you always wondered why your GPA was so low.”

“…Meh, it’s fine, who even cares about GPA anyways? What matters is the piece of paper you get at the end!”

“The one that none of us will be getting, at this point?”

“…Oof, yeah…”

Silence briefly befell the two sisters as they awkwardly stared at Twy’s half-finished painting. Twy eventually passed Sky a surreptitious glance, only to be surprised that Sky was wearing a frown — bordering on a scowl, in fact. In an effort to distract her from whatever was on her mind, Twy asked, “what about you? Have you thought about getting back into singing?”

Sky’s frown was quickly replaced with a sheepish smile as she replied, “ah, well… I dunno. Maybe. It’s still, you know…”

“I think you should give it a shot. You always had a good singing voice. And now that we’re here, stuck on an alien planet… it could be a good way to remind you of home.”

“…Yeah… maybe…” Sky released a wary sigh, and then smiled again. “But hey, I was never as good at singing as you were with art and stuff. This painting looks really cool, after all! I can’t wait to see what it looks like when—“

“Sky…” Twy cut her sister off, a concerned look on her face. “Is something wrong?”

Sky remained silent for a couple seconds, still smiling, before turning away from Twy to hide her face. “Of course not! I’m feeling just as good as ever!”

“…Are you really?”

Another several moments of silence passed, with Sky still standing with her back to Twy, and Twy warily watching Sky. The sun had now descended fully below the horizon, leaving Compound Tresnon bathed in the darkening twilight of dusk; even in the dimming light, however, Twy was able to see her sister’s shoulders heave.

“Really can’t hide anything from you, huh, sis?” Sky eventually commented, turning back to face Twy — and revealing the forlorn smile upon her face.

“Few people know you better than I do,” Twy remarked, “and I’d bet that no one knows me better than you.”

“That’s the fate of twins, huh?”

“Some would say that.” Twy then stepped forward to place a reassuring hand on Sky’s shoulder. “…Do you want to talk?”

Sky sighed again, momentarily averting her gaze. “…It’s just… I dunno, sis. This whole situation with us being here… our powers, the Bleeders, whatever that old guy wants out of us…”

“You mean Pallan?”

“If he’s the one with that weird prophecy stuff, then yeah.”

Twy nodded once, withdrawing her hand as she did to place it on her hip. “’Weird’ is certainly one way to put it.”

“Yeah!” Sky emphatically agreed, “and that’s all I thought it was, at first. Some weird old guy’s expectations that no one was really paying attention to. But now that we’re here, and we’ve seen some other Chaotics in action, it’s like… it seems like we really are special, for some reason.”

“Are you talking about our weapons?”

“Yeah.” Sky reached out her hand, into which she summoned a long staff, with green and silver colorings on the ends. As she looked it up and down, she continued, “none of the Chaotics we’ve seen have done anything like this. None of the Bleeders, either last weekend, or a few weeks ago, and not any of the students here. And the Deans seem to recognize the weapons, too!” She then dismissed her staff in a quick flash of light. “Does this mean we really are destined to do whatever it is that that Pallan guy wants us to do?”

Twy exhaled warily. “Destiny? I think that’s a bit much…”

“Three months ago, I would’ve thought that suddenly getting superpowers was a ‘bit much’!” Sky countered. “But now, I don’t know what to think!”

“I suppose…” Twy muttered in response. For a brief second, her conversation with Austin while they were leaving Compound Goresan sprung to mind; in that moment, Austin had expressed a wariness of the groups’ supposed roles as ‘Keys’, and now, Sky seemed to be doing the same. I hadn’t thought too badly of it, myself, until just now… but for Sky and Austin to worry about the same thing? That doesn’t happen often. “…So, you’re saying that you don’t like being a ‘Key’?”

“…Oh, yeah, I remember Pallan using that word…” Sky nodded idly, and then frowned. “I don’t… I don’t know. I feel like we don’t even know what it means to be a Key yet. Like, do we get special abilities, or something? Is that the reason we can summon these weapons?”

“Special abilities…” Twy echoed quietly, momentarily thinking about her apparent ability to sense the locations of her friends, and Phoenix’s claimed danger sense. “…I suppose the only way to know for sure would be to talk to Pallan.”

“I guess…”

Twy passed her sister a doubtful glance. “…Is that what you were worried about, though? I don’t want to be, um, presumptuous… but usually this kind of unknown isn’t enough to get you down.”

Sky chuckled uneasily. “You’re right. …It’s what happened last weekend.”

“Ah… in Relédiaka?”


Twy briefly thought back to the events that had transpired within the giant trees, and the metallic infection that they both learned about and seen in action first-hand. Thanks to their protective energy shielding, no one had been in direct danger, but Twy couldn’t deny that the outbreak had been a harrowing experience anyways. In fact, until this moment, she had been trying to simply not think about it — her new painting represented her best attempt to do just that.

“It… got me thinking…” Sky eventually continued, her gaze directed downward as she fiddled with her fingers. “It didn’t really occur to me until yesterday or so, but… this metallic infection stuff, and the Nanocreatures… according to Pallan, we’re supposed to fight this stuff. But, like… how? It’s an infection, right? And, and, you’ve seen what it can do!”

“Yes, but according to Rebehka, energy shields can stop it. It’s only dangerous if it gets in your bloodstream directly. So, if we’re careful, we should be fine.”

“Maybe… but last night, I decided to look deeper into the Nanocreature War.”

Twy felt a reflex to cheekily point out how infrequently Sky took an interest in history, but quickly suppressed it before she even opened her mouth. Instead, she replied, “and what did you find?”

“That the war was really scary. During the war, the Nanocreatures didn’t need to get into your bloodstream to take you over. They could just eat and replace matter like it’s nothing, and use that to take over people, and animals, and spaceships! I mean, hell, they could just make ships out of their own fucking nanites! It’s literally one of those ‘gray goo’ sci-fi stories, but, like, actively malicious! That’s, like… what the hell can you even do against that?!”

“I mean, you’re not wrong… but Hero Machina managed to win, right?”

“Yeah, ‘cause they got lucky! What if we aren’t as lucky as them?”

Twy sighed warily. “I guess… we’ll just have to focus on not letting the infection get that far in the first place.”

“Yeah, like that’s easy,” Sky scoffed. “We don’t even know what ‘stage’ the infection is at, or if Morcii is still around! The Nimalians say that Hero Machina killed him, but the Nanocreatures are clearly still around, so, like, is he actually dead? Or do the Nanocreatures not need him? Or are we just repeating 20 years ago all over again? And if we don’t know the answers to any of those questions, then how can we possibly prepare against the infection, when it could just suddenly one day go from needing to get in our blood to just eating us straight-up?!”

“…You really have been thinking about this a lot, huh?”

“And why wouldn’t I?! This is super dangerous, sis! Super serious!”

“No, no, I agree, just…” Twy looked away uneasily, toward the eastern horizon, and the skies that were now nearly as dark as full night. “…I don’t know the answer to any of your questions. I don’t know the right way forward. I don’t think anyone does…”

“Yeah…” Sky muttered. “That’s the part that scares me. Especially since, you know, when no one knows what to do, things always get worse. And in this case, I feel like that probably means seeing Morcii again, and… I really don’t want to see that.”

“Hero Machina beat him, though. Surely they could do it again.”

“Maybe, but… I dunno, sis. It’s just… I don’t know…”

A moment of silence followed as Twy looked back to her sister. As dark as it now was, it was difficult for Twy to make out what kind of expression Sky was wearing — but judging by Sky’s slumped shoulders and diverted gaze, Twy could guess well enough. With a deep sigh, she stepped over to her sister, wrapping her arms around her in an embrace.

“Oh, wow, a hug?! Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?!” Sky remarked incredulously, though nonetheless quickly reciprocated Twy’s hug — pulling the two together even closer than before.

“Oh, shush,” Twy shot back, “responses like those are why I never hug anyone…”

“Ha! …Thanks, sis.”

“No problem. It’s not an answer, but…” Twy sighed and closed her eyes, her arms still around her sister. “…I hope it helps.”

“More than you know, ha ha.”

“Good. …Now…” Twy released Sky and attempted to pull away, only for Sky to cling tighter.

“No no, not yet,” Sky insisted, “just gimme a few more seconds…”

“…I really forgot how clingy you can be.”

“Oh, be quiet.”

Twy rolled her eyes in response, but nonetheless remained standing where she was, embracing Sky. Several more moments passed in silence, with Twy simply looking up at the sky above as she gently stroked her sister’s back. Darkening dusk had now made way for the stars of the nighttime sky, and the town of Compound Tresnon beyond was dimly lit by street and window lights. In the darkness, the vast wastelands to the north and the lake to the south couldn’t be seen; all that remained were the lights of the town, the only signs of civilization in an endless nighttime abyss.

“Okay…” Sky eventually spoke up, slowly releasing Twy and stepping away as she did. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before adopting a smile and looking back to her sister. “Thanks, sis. I really needed that.”

“It’s no problem, Sky,” Twy replied, returning the smile.

“I mean, you’re no Spike, but—“

“Oh please, don’t compare me to him. I’m not even close to six feet tall.”

“And you don’t have his brimming muscles, and those thick arms…”

“Ugh…” Twy looked down and held a hand to her head in frustration. “Leave it to you to ruin a perfectly nice moment.”

“Hee hee!” Sky grinned. “It’s what I do best!”

“Hmph. Well, if you’re back to your normal, cheeky self, then how about you help me carry my paints back to my room.”

“No problem!” Sky exclaimed, ducking down to grab some of the watercolors and then whirling around on her foot to race toward the roof entrance. “I’ll put everything up in no time flat! Consider it thanks for hearing me out!!”

“Hey, be careful with that—!” Twy began, only to stop herself as Sky disappeared through the door. She sighed in resignation and turned to pack up the rest of her paints and the easel, muttering to herself, “never change, Sky. Never change…”