Season 6 – Stories

Read the latest tales from the city of Atlas! Find out what happens in the daily lives of all your favorite Freelancers, and get an inside look at the powerful Trusts that control the Reactor.

Chapter 1

Fire exploded out of Lex’s hands as she melted apart the metal door of an old sky gondola. Molten gold dripped down into the solid ice below, sending geysers of steam into the air.

She leapt inside the gondola, bracing herself for the swing. The activation lever was coated in rust and squealed painfully when Lex yanked it into the ‘on’ position. The gondola lurched back to life, rocking in fits and starts, as the metal gears rolled for the first time in decades.

Slow as it was, Lex was impressed that the gondola worked at all after all this time.

Though, she could have said the same thing about herself.

She peered out the windows, watching as each district of Hyperion slid in and out of view. The Agora, where shops and markets lined the streets. The Foundry, where forges burned day and night, and smiths of every kind practiced their trade. The Mines, where radamantium and other precious metals were dug out from the earth.

Lex had spent the last few weeks exploring each and every district, tearing through them like an inferno. She still couldn’t believe that before this, she’d lived in Hyperion her whole life and never set foot in any of them.

Everything she knew of Hyperion proper had come from holoscreens, or archival records that Vonn always liked to read out loud. (Even then, she’d only listened to bits and pieces. Her brother just loved to drone on and on and on.) They only got to see Meridian-approved content, anyway, which meant all the best parts were redacted. What good was that?

The memory made her blood boil.

Every day of her life, she’d begged Meridian to let her see the world. She’d longed to fly with valkyries and ride the backs of mechs. That’s what she’d been promised, in fact. And only now, when everything was dead already, did he let her go explore.

Were adults always so disappointing?

Chapter 2

Lex sat cross-legged on the ledge of one of the old Valkyrie Watchtowers around the perimeter of the Hyperion Stronghold, scowling at the landscape of frozen fortresses before her.

The skyline was dark, save for a few lights that limped to life with the energy of the relit Hyperion Reactor. Aside from the occasional roar of engines as red Helio Corps and blue Hyperbotics ships flew in and out of the Stronghold, silence reigned over all.

This world that used to burst at the seams with ships and drones and people, was hollow. What remained were the bones of some once-great beast, picked apart by vultures. It was as if Lex had stood at the gates of some epic brawl her whole life, only to find nothing but chipped teeth and overturned chairs by the time she entered.

It’d been weeks since she woke up from cryosleep, and she still couldn’t believe it. How could this be? She really slept through the fall of an entire empire?

That lab nerd who tried to stop her from leaving the Stronghold – Henry-whats-his-face – was right. Hadn’t he told her?

“Where are you going?” he’d shouted. “There’s nothing out there!”

Lex almost felt bad now for melting the goggles off his head on her way out the door. But he hadn’t given her much of a choice.

She had to leave. She had to see as much as she could of the world she missed out on. And she had to do it alone, since Vonn was... unavailable.

Because of her cybernetics, Lex had woken up from cryosleep months earlier than Meridian expected. And because of Vonn’s, the lab nerds ran into “complications” unfreezing him.

“Complications.” That was the word they used.

Meridian never had a straight answer when she asked him how long it’d take for her brother to wake up. It was always, “As soon as possible!” or “We have high hopes!” Each day that passed, there were more “complications.”

His cybernetics weren’t responding to their machines. He wasn’t waking up from his sleep. His mind was somewhere else entirely.

The last time Lex saw her brother, his was pale blue and bruised around the eyes. His skin looked like wax, wound too tight around his bones. Her dear brother, the vainest person she ever knew, would have buried himself underground for all eternity before allowing another living soul to see him looking like a – Lex grimaced to herself – a corpse.

She’d only ever seen one other person look like that before.

The thought infuriated her so much, she’d melted the handle clean off the door to Vonn’s chamber before Meridian pulled her away from it. That other lab dork jabbed something sharp into her neck to keep her from mauling them while they moved Vonn to a new room.

Meridian kept insisting that she needed to give it more time, but she’d heard all that noise before. People in charge were always telling you to wait. To be patient. That things would work out. Meridian said all the same things to her, before she was frozen too. “Everything will be fine. Trust me.”

Lex slammed her fist through the base of a radamantium statue along the side of the watchtower she was sitting on, and watched with some satisfaction as it tumbled down and broke through the roofs of buildings below.

This world was all fine to him?

She wasn’t about to sit around waiting to find out she’d been lied to again.

Vonn probably would have hated to see this mess, anyway.

She shook her head at her own statement. That was a lie, for sure.

Vonn would have loved this place, obviously. It had all of his dumb interests. History – check. Old shit – check. Frozen shit – she leered resentfully at the glacial towers around her – double check. She would have made fun of him the entire time he was nerding out about these ruins.

He’d probably get mad at her for breaking that statue earlier, too. She could practically hear his voice in her head. “It’s an artifact of history! Have some respect.”

Maybe she’d bring him back something from the outside world, if he – when he woke up. There must have been something good still left in this world. She just had to dig down deep enough to find it.

Chapter 3

Ice spikes obstructed the path of Lex’s sky gondola down to the Agora, Hyperion’s old market district. The gondola’s sheer mass crushed most of it, sending spears of ice down into the landing platform below. Lex grabbed onto the gold gondola bars, bracing herself as the gondola careened down into a huge ice formation and slammed to a stop.

Lex glanced out the side window and groaned. Ice, ice, everywhere. She didn’t know how Vonn could stand the stuff.

After kicking the window out and hopping outside, Lex was happy to see that the ice formation went all the way down to the platform. She ripped one of the gold panels off the side of the gondola, plunked it down on the ice, and rode it down through the snow, spinning to a stop halfway across the Agora landing platform.

Two massive mechs, coated in frost, flanked the sides of the Agora gates. Through the gates, Lex could already see that the area had been picked apart, either by scavengers or those who’d escaped.

She sighed as she walked beneath the once-watchful eyes of the mechs. She used to beg Meridian to let her visit the Agora, just once, but he always said no. Because of her genetic background and the experimental state of her cybernetics, she was strictly forbidden from ever leaving the stabilized conditions of her training facility.

Looking around now, Lex could see echoes of what this place used to be. Hectic. Hot. Dusty. Cluttered. She and Vonn used to take sim-tours of the city after cybernetics training. She remembered stalking through the city like a ghost, watching traders carry their goods across the Agora in their walkies, camel-like mini-mechs that opened into booths, and shuffle back home once they were out of wares.

Lex always wanted to see the Agora in particular. Her mom used to tell stories about selling plant cuttings at grandpa’s walkie. And her dad would show off his collection of ‘relics’ he’d picked up there from ‘ancient times’.

Since Lex had grown up in Ash, the lowest district of Hyperion (better known as ‘Ass’ colloquially), the Agora had always sounded like a whole new world. Late at night, when the Forge district shut down for the day, her family would go outside and listen to the music that floated down from the Agora.

Memory was an odd thing.

Lex was only three, maybe three-and-a-half, at the time. She couldn’t even remember her parents’ faces anymore, but the Rad Refineries jingle that played every night in the Agora was burned into her brain. Vonn told her that she loved those dumb jingles so much, everyone would sing them to calm her down when she was upset. And Lex was always upset.

She knew every word to the ads for Wonder Soap, Mech Magic, Rad Refineries, and the unbelievably stupid Pi-Tech Pizzazzery she’d never even eaten at, but she couldn’t tell you what her mom’s last words to her were.

Something about being free? “You’re free now”? Or was it, “I’m free, now”?

She did know that her mom had wanted to bring Lex here her whole life. She had hundreds of old holos of “the REAL Hyperion” – the one they’d visit as soon as the Reactor made her better.

Just be patient. Everything would work out.

Lex glared up at a giant ad for Wonder Soap plastered across an alley-way in the Agora. The tinny jingle danced through her head. It’s a beautiful sight when your whites are TRUE white! You’ll be waltzing in a winter wonderland.

Her lips curled into a snarl.

The droids used Wonder Soap all the time to wash the ash and soot out of her training uniform. Much like everything else in her life – Meridian’s promise that she would be like the Valkyries one day or the Reactor’s promise to keep everyone alive and healthy – it was a case of false advertising. The Wonder Soap nanites chewed her clothes to the point it was more hole than cloth.

And to top it all off, after weeks of being wet and trudging through sludge every day, Lex could confirm that “winter wonderlands” sucked too.

Chapter 4

“One day, you’re gonna set the world on fire...”

Lex’s mom hadn’t meant it literally, of course. She probably hadn’t meant it at all, considering she was already dying from a sickness that was bound to kill Lex and Vonn one day too. How could she have fathomed what would come for her children in the years after she’d chosen to exit the Reactor cycle?

Due to a rare genetic mutation, her immortality had been more a curse than a gift. She was uniquely sensitive to the Reactor’s energies, and her fragile body was unable to deal with the rapid changes the Reactor evoked within her. Doctors and researchers said that they’d only seen those effects when people came into direct contact with the Reactor’s core.

Lex’s mom was an anomaly. Right around the time she reached adolescence, she started getting sick all the time. The Reactor even set her on fire once. According to her, that death was the worst. She couldn’t remember how many times she’d been resurrected overall, but it was enough that the folks in charge had her favorite cookies and donuts waiting for her outside the respawn pod every time.

That was the future that would have awaited Lex and Vonn. Or it would have been, if Meridian hadn’t found them. The automaton had found a way to turn their weakness into strength.

Lex supposed she ought to be grateful.

But she wasn’t.

Her family had to live in the Ash District for her mom’s sake, as it was furthest they could get from the Reactor’s influence. Her mom’s deepest wish for herself and her kids was escape. Freedom. A better life.

Instead, her kids let themselves get trapped in a room and be poked and prodded and borderline tortured, just to end up asleep for fifty years.

Lex unleashed her flamethrowers on a wall of ice blocking her path into an old mining facility in the Foundry. Before the ice could properly liquify, it crackled off into thick puffs of steam and disappeared into the sky. Once the door was exposed, she ripped it off its hinges and tossed it aside into the snow.

Old memories washed over her as she wandered through the building: the once-famous Rad Refinery. She came down here hoping she might find some old souvenir to show Vonn if – no – when Meridian managed to wake him up.

The Rad Refinery used to be the foremost producer of Radamantium in the Forge district. Even though its forges had long cooled, she swore she could still feel the heat of the flames on her cheeks. Millions of automatons once lined these halls, churning out Radamantium for the Hyperion upper-worlds: the Agora, the Sky, and the Stronghold.

Lex’s first job after becoming Hyperion property was as a ‘greaser.’ At the age of four, she tore through this facility every day with cans of oil and old rags, making sure the automatons were squeak-free and polished to a sheen. She and Vonn turned it into a mini-competition between them to become the undisputed champions of the grease game.

Their excessive performance here was what prompted Meridian to ask for them to come to the Hyperion Stronghold in the first place. (Evidently he and his guards were squeaking up and down the halls to the annoyance of the house Lords).

She vividly recalled the day she went up to the Stronghold for the first time. She and Vonn just about exploded seeing the massive Sky Gondola in real life. There were no gondola stops in Ash, of course, so they’d never seen one outside of her busted old holoscreen.

Riding on it that day, and seeing glimpses of the Agora, the Sky, and the Stronghold was like flying across space. They may as well have been riding an elevator to the moon. Lex was so happy, she hadn’t even noticed that the people around her were hugging the walls to get away from her.

The gondola admin barely looked at them when they arrived at the Stronghold station. Instead, she spoke the woman beside her, as if they were invisible.

“Another surrender from Ash?” she whispered to her co-worker.

“Surprise, surprise,” they replied.

The gondola admin had a face that looked permanently in search of some rotten smell. Her hair was pulled back into a bun so tight, the veins in her temple looked like two fat slugs squiggling beneath the skin. Her suit looked scratchy and itchy, even from a distance. Everything about her was punchable.

As far as Lex could tell, the woman didn’t even have a name; ‘Gondola Admin #512’ was etched onto a plastic tag on her shirt.

Surprise, surprise.

Lex would’ve shown Gondola Admin #512 a real surprise, if it wasn’t for Vonn.

Her fist was balled up and already swinging, when Vonn’s hand caught it. She wanted to give Gondola Admin #512 a good pop in the face, but Vonn was stronger than she was back then. He just smiled and swung her hand back and forth, as if they were holding hands. Big brother was always stopping her from doing stuff.

“Excuse me, miss,” Vonn had said, sweetly.

Lex glared at him. “Miss?” she mouthed, incredulously. The admin had skin like an old shoe. There was no way that bat was a ‘miss.’

Vonn ignored her.

“Miss, would you please show me and my sister the way to the Hyperion Stronghold?” he said.

The admin’s mouth popped open. “You can talk?!”

Vonn’s hand twitched. Lex took some satisfaction in knowing that her brother was upset. He hated being treated like an idiot. Still, he kept smiling. That was his special power.

“I’ve never heard one of them talk!” the admin whispered to her friend.

“Like you’re so great to talk to,” Lex muttered.

“Huh?”

“You’re so great to talk to!” Vonn said, quickly.

“How sweet!”

By the time Vonn had answered all the dumb admin’s questions, the woman was fawning over how “polite” and “charming” he was, offering him treats out of her bag like he was a zoo animal. She even gave Vonn a fancy holotech for free and programmed its map to point them to the Stronghold.

Gondola Admin #512 pointedly did not give Lex a holotech, which Vonn teased her about. Though, as the case usually was with them, the device ended up on Lex’s wrist before the two even reached the Stronghold gates.

From the moment the two of them met Meridian, First Primus of the Stronghold, the automaton made sure they were taken care of.

He had his entire suite of offices warmed to human preference. Observing their ragged state, he made sure they were examined in the infirmary and had an entire feast sent up just for them – including a supreme Pi-Tech Pizza that Lex asked for, even though their walkie in the Agora had shuttered for the day.

And all that kindness was even before their medical tests revealed the special genetic condition they’d inherited from their mom. Special accomodations were made, just for them, soon afterward.

Vonn bonded with Meridian more every day, much moreso than Lex.

What finally sold her on Meridian’s offer of “a new life” was when he showed them a live feed of Valkyries taking off from the Stronghold watchtowers. She remembered grabbing Vonn’s hand and squealing as they watched the warriors point their spears skyward and fly out on the backs of mechs.

Lex had never seen anyone look so free in her entire life.

“You’re going to be the next heroes of Hyperion. Greater than any the world has ever seen,” Meridian promised.

Tears dissolved into steam with a small hiss as they rolled down the metal of her armor.

Nothing turned out the way it was supposed to.

Lex walked around the forge, stepping over the bodies of abandoned droids and oil rags strewn across the floor. A thick layer of grease, dust, and ash was caked on every surface in sight. Vonn would never even want to touch one of the items here, much less have it for a keepsake.

Yet, this was the place that opened up new doors for them all those years ago. This place had once given her more hope than she’d ever dreamed of having.

If only reality hadn’t taken all those dreams away.

Everything she ever hoped for was gone.

Everyone she knew was a liar.

Even her mom. Even her mom had filled Lex’s head with lies about what the world could be. That everything would work out alright in the end. “One day, you’re gonna set the world on fire.”

Fire coursed through Lex’s veins. Debris turned to kindling around her. She aimed flames at the rafters and watched as smoke rose up from the ruins.

Supposedly, this place had been built to withstand the heat of a million forges. One way or another, she was gonna prove that was a lie too.

Chapter 5

Rust hadn’t yet obscured the words “Welcome to Ash” from the district entry gate. For anyone who had ever lived there, it always read as sarcasm.

The Ash District was Hyperion’s dirty little secret, filled with “soot-suckers” and other scum. When people talked about the glory of the Hyperion legacy, they were never talking about Ash, sequestered miles deep into the ass of the earth.

Somewhere in this barren hole was where Lex was born.

Lex couldn’t even remember exactly where her old home was. She only knew it had been located directly beneath an enormous crack in the city plate of the district above it – a fact she only remembered because she used to stand on the lawn and shout, “THAT CRACK’S ALMOST AS BIG AS YOURS!” at all the neighbors, much to her parents’ embarrassment.

Lex wasn’t sure what compelled her to come down here. The whole area looked as downtrodden as ever. There were homes stacked on top of homes, all on the brink of collapse beneath the weight of snow and ash.

That it survived at all was impressive. It wasn’t supposed to last, this place. Unlike the rest of the reactorized world, no one here intended to stay forever. It was funny that this place looked more like itself than all those so-called immortal glories of Hyperion.

Not that Lex had the energy to laugh. She didn’t even have the energy to warm up the chill spreading through her cheeks.

Lex broke a weary path through the snow, winding down paths she didn’t remember in the hopes that something might make her feel… anything at all.

It was all pointless, wasn’t it?

Her whole life had been pointless.

Why would they bother waking her up when everything she had wanted was gone?

A layer of frost made her armor sparkle in the low light. Her breath fogged in the air, like puffs of smoke. The cold was endless.

Lex didn’t care to fight it anymore.

Before she left, Meridian had tried to sell her on a whole new line of garbage about a new era of immortality. “Now that we’ve reignited the Reactor, we have the power to restore Hyperion to greatness! The Reactor will give everyone a good life. A better life than they had before.”

Just remembering it made her scowl. She’d heard that one a thousand times before.

Right before she was put into cryosleep – and after she and Vonn got into a fight because she hadn’t polished her armor or combed her hair before going in (“You look like a mess! And you’ll be FROZEN that way! Have you no shame?”) – Meridian had told her something similar.

“Go to sleep for now, little flame, and when you’re ready to rise, the Reactor will be fixed, and the world will rise with you.”

She should have known it was a lie. All that Reactor rhetoric was. “The Reactor can restore anyone! No one has to suffer! No one has to die!”

Tell that to the corpses. For mom, the Reactor made her sick. And dad… Dad was so afraid that Lex and Vonn would be the same way that he sold them off to Hyperion before mom’s body had fully dissipated.

Life hadn’t given Lex much but pain.

That fact used to piss her off. It used to fuel her training sessions. But now? She felt every second of her fifty or sixty (or whatever, metric crap-ton) of years on this planet.

A glimmer of light from the surface caught her attention.

Not too far north of where she was, she could see a giant crack in the foundation plate to the Foundry. And beneath it, framed perfectly in an arc of light from the upper-worlds, was a familiar house, set apart from the rest

She cut a path direct path toward it, kicking debris out of her way as she went.

The light blue aluminum siding of the house was rusted, and the fence around it was reduced to a series of disconnected, rotted wooden stubs, but still, it was unmistakably hers.

The crack in the front window (that she’d caused while beating the steam out of Vonn) was still tethered together with a tacky old Warbotics sticker. Two lawn chairs and a busted holotech screen were still plunked on the top of a massive bolt that had fallen off a mech into their yard – a makeshift playhouse.

She rounded the corner to the back of the house, and stopped dead at an unexpected sight.

In the remains of her mom’s old compost bin, a small, red-leafed tree had grown up almost taller than the house. Its branches grew at an odd angle, twisting outward to catch as many stray beams of light as possible. Lex brushed a hand up against one of its leaves, melting the fine layer of frost across its surface with her fingertip.

As she examined the tree more closely, she realized it had once been two trees. Their branches were wound around one another in such tight tangles, they’d fused into one. That was probably the only reason it’d managed to survive all this time.

Lex plucked one of the leaves and was almost surprised to see it fall into her palm. She wasn’t fully expecting it to be real.

It was small. Delicate. Beautiful, even.

With a quick puff of flame, she burned it up into a trail of smoke in the air.

Fleeting.

She turned back to her childhood home and the long shadow it cast over the garden.

A sudden inferno raged through her body.

This house had to go, she decided. Every single inch of it.

Flames of every color erupted from the house as she torched it. Blue sparks shot out from the siding. Green flames flared inside the walls. White hot heat ate its way through old furniture, burning some bits and melting others back into oblivion.

The whole world was a storm of fire and ash. Red embers sparked through the air and drifted off into the sky. Once everything was ablaze, Lex knelt into the smouldering core of the house and let the storm of ashes rain down on herself like snow.

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

Chapter 6

Lex woke up to a void. Ash covered everything. Her lungs felt scorched. Her throat was dry. She hadn’t realized she fell asleep.

She must have still been asleep, because she could swear she heard music somewhere far off, like in the old days when ads the Agora used to rattle off non-stop, but she didn’t recognize the song.

Something about… lancers?

She opened her eyes to lights glimmering above her through the cracks in the Foundry plate. Faint colors flashed across the sky every few seconds. Red. Green. Blue. Voices she wasn’t familiar with floated down in rapid succession.

Have I got a surprise for you?

Chaos comes for you!

And now, for my next trick!

For Hyperion!

The valkyries used to say “For Hyperion!” all the time, before beating their chests with a fist and pounding their giant lances against the floor. Lex used to say it every time she beat Vonn a fight, even though, as he was always quick to point out, they were on the same team.

A little puff of ash drifted off into the air as she sighed.

She was almost as far away from Vonn as she could get within city limits. For all she knew, Meridian had failed to wake him up and he was still frozen. Or worse.

Vonn had always supported her. Been patient with her.

When she was still struggling with her cybernetics and her body felt like it was burning up from the inside, he’d sit nearby with a cool hand on her forehead and read to her until she fell asleep. Even after training sessions, when she nearly popped a gasket trying to light him on fire, he would tell her that he was proud of her.

And she abandoned him like trash.

It was probably for the best that she left.

Didn’t he deserve better than that?

Than her?

It was a cruel trick of the brain that she could almost hear his voice in her head, singing to her like he used to when they were little. As if, wherever he was, he still knew that she was upset. It’s a beautiful sight... blah blah, blah blah. Lex shivered in the cold, her brain too tired to even finish the lyrics.

Withering in a winter wonderland.

“That’s not it, Vonn. That’s not even the right number of syllables,” she mumbled into the dirt.

Lex shot up in surprise when Meridian’s deep, rumbling baritone suddenly echoed out into the night, loud and clear.

“Helio! You can play ads from Atlas all the way out here?”

“Yep! Looks like the feed works just fine,” Helio responded. “Now we’re testing the announcement system. The button seems to work, but I’m not sure the connec–”

The sound warbled in and out. Static played and Lex only heard scattered words sputter on. “Light on?” “Jiggle the switch?” “Turn it,” “Button” and what sounded like a dog howling.

Suddenly, Helio’s voice snapped back on. “Hey you. Get over here and say something.”

A muffled voice echoed from the background. Lex dug her fingers into the dirt at the sound. Could it be?

“I hate my voice.”

Vonn was always saying that. The cybernetics had altered their vocal chords. It took a while to get used to them.

Helio laughed. “Your voice is perfect. Come on.”

Heavy footsteps padded against the ground as Vonn approached the recorder. “Testing, testing, testing,” Vonn said.

“Let’s blast some tunes!” A girl’s voice erupted from the speakers. A dog barked in response.

“Maybe later, Zook. I’ve got a few other things to finish.”

The sound vanished again, just as suddenly as it arrived.

Lex couldn’t breathe. Vonn! That was unquestionably Vonn. He sounded… alive. Was this some kind of trick? Lex wasn’t sure. The image of him, frozen in that chamber, was still locked in her memory. It followed her around like a ghost for weeks. Or months? How long had it even been?

A high-pitched buzz rang out through the air, and the voices returned.

“So… how far out do these messages travel?” she heard Vonn inquiring.

“We’re taking readings,” Helio responded. “But if my calculations are correct – and it’s me, so, of course they are – it should hit pretty much all of Hyperion.”

“Not Atlas too? You’re losing your touch, Helio,” the girl said.

Helio chuckled. “I did what I could with the resources I had. Now, I – MERIDIAN!” he shouted, suddenly. “Don’t sit on that! That – well, that used to be the broadcast button.”

“Oh dear. I beg your pardon.”

Helio sighed. “Well. Testing note. Next time, make the buttons capable of withstanding the weight of a 400-ton automaton.”

“Ooooh, PuP can help with that next time. Won’t ya, PuP?”

“BARK BARK!”

“My apologies, young Helio.”

“Oh, and Meridian, while you’re washing up. I believe someone may have put a bit of glue on your, ahem, posterior armor.” Vonn said, quietly. “What even is that stuck there? It’s large!”

Lex could almost feel Meridian trembling with anger as the word “Rampart” rumbled out of him.

“Don’t even sweat, Merry. I’ve got some stuff in the ship that’ll blast that right off your butt,” the girl said.

“Thank you Lady – erm – Miss Zuki.”

“If you’re headed to the ship, I’ll come with,” Helio said. “I need to go grab some tools while I figure out how to fix this thing, and I’ll need you to help me find them since since I can never tell how your stuff is organized.”

“Um. Spoiler. It’s not.”

“And Vonn, are you alright waiting here? You got pretty banged up in that last lancing mission,” Helio said.

Lex raised an eyebrow at the sound of that. Her brother got beaten up? By who?

Vonn scoffed. “It was hardly that bad. My armor was only partially dented, and the little scrapes fixed themselves in a moment.”

“Oh yeah! Your arm shot back to your body like it had rockets boots on. So awesome,” Zuki said, enthusiastically.

“IN ANY CASE, I haven’t finished the full diagnostics on your suit and I don’t want you over-exerting yourself. So just wait, okay?” Helio continued.

“Waiting! What an arduous request. But for you, anything,” Vonn replied.

Lex rolled her eyes. She remembered the Gondola Admin gushing about Vonn being so “polite” and “charming.” His special ability.

Helio chuckled. “Hey not everyone can do it. Remember Lex?”

Lex scowled at the sky as Vonn laughed harder than he needed to, by a long way. Rude.

“Yes, yes, I’ll be fine doctor. Just go already.”

She listened for a while longer as the others left and Vonn gingerly shuffled around the room. She could still make out the faint sound of his breathing, and it gave her some sense of comfort to be connected like this, even if he didn’t know she was listening.

But then, she heard him speak again and her heart stopped altogether.

“Lex?” Her brother sounded quiet and hopeful. “If you’re out there... Hi. I hope you’re good. I had a strange feeling the other day, as if maybe you weren’t. And I, well...”

Now, he was angry. Standoffish, even. “You know, you’re a pain in the neck. You couldn’t wait for Meridian to get me out of cryosleep? I shouldn’t be so surprised, but this was something else, even for you!”

He huffed into the microphone, irritably. Vonn could get very irritable at times, especially where Lex was concerned. “And your leaving was ridiculous, since I think you’d love it here. You’d get to fight every day. And there are tons of people you need to meet. Helio, though I hear you kind of met him already. And Zuki. And Celeste. And–”

Vonn’s voice dropped down to a whisper. “And you’ll never believe it, Lex, but I met a real life valkyrie. Her name’s Brynn and she’s twenty feet tall and statuesque and spectacular. Truly. I can’t count how many times she’s nearly sliced me in half with that lance of hers. Terrifying woman. You would adore her.”

“So come home already.” Vonn finished, the anger resurfacing in his voice.

The door opened in the room, and Meridian’s voice boomed out from the speakers. “MY BOY!” he bawled. “YOU HAVE A HEART OF PURE RADAMANTIUM.”

Vonn’s words were muffled, but Lex could just make out “tight!” and “my face isn’t metal!” as Meridian squeezed him.

She listened to Meridian and Vonn scuffling up above. Eventually, Helio returned and cut off the sound for the final time. Yet, even after their voices were long gone, she still felt their presence somewhere out there.

After a long time, Lex stood up, and started walking. As she walked, she whispered a response into the sky and hoped that Vonn might somehow feel it too.

“I’m sorry, big bro. I got scared and... I shouldn’t have left.” She smiled to herself. “We both know the only person allowed to kick your ass is me.”

Nothing worked out the way she had planned.

Everything she used to dream of was gone.

That was still all true, and Lex was still sad and frustrated and pissed off at the entire world. She wasn’t even sure her feelings would ever change.

But at least Vonn was alive. And she was alive. And there was a world up there she didn’t know yet where people were still capable of laughing. And maybe, if she let it happen, she could be part of it too.