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The Insurgency 22: Uncertain Paths (Season Finale) (Christmas Challenge)
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My entry for the Seasonal Challenge, showing what happened to my characters over Christmas. However, if it doesn't apply, please treat it as a Free Build. Also, please excuse the typos throughout. It's rather late when I'm posting this.
About this creation

10 September, 2096
Ruins of Knightborn

Knightborn...was dead. Next to nothing remained of the roaring metropolis that had once been, spare a few bits and pieces and a single, solitary tower amongst the graveyard of others. Risa Donovan racked her brains trying to remember the building, but she came up blank. It was simply...forgettable. Just another boring skyscraper amongst so many others. And yet, it was all that remained of the city that was.

A lonely tear dripped down her cheek. Why? Why did this have to happen to her home? The only real home she could remember? The only place that had given her meaning. Why, why, why?

She sighed, glancing at the rescue crews here and there, mostly made up of military units. It was days after the crash, yet many still remained trapped underneath the rubble, concerned only about living for another minute, or hour or day, completely oblivious to what events had transpired below ground.

That thought sent her mind spinning. Corvin. The Aurelians. One. That ancient droid with not even a shred of humanity inside of its cold metal heart. Even now, she still thought it was a miracle that she'd survived the carnage, a miracle that they'd all made it out alive, somehow. And now, seeing the destruction she'd witnessed below first hand, the work of countless mad men and ancient robots and...and her own was almost too much to handle.

Trying to ignore the pain, she sent her imagination spinning. In her mind, she placed the skyscrapers upright, restoring them to their rightful place. Then she ran the roads where they had always gone, the ship lanes, the restaurants, the parks and signs and benches she'd walked past every day for over a decade. Bizarrely, she could remember every single little detail about the broken street she was currently sat in.

It was Buster Avenue, a small, yet usually busy, main road. There was a bench that was slightly askew on her left where she'd sat and ate lunch once, a restaurant further down that sold coffee far too cold and an old lady that lived in the apartment opposite that had thrown abuse at Risa twice for having her hair "too darn short!"

She could remember it all, despite only visiting the street a few times, and mostly by way of shuttle or fighter. Every single little detail. All of them except...except for the people.

The passers-by, the yelling lady, the screaming toddlers, the noisy salesman, the bored teens on their datapads, the of-duty soldiers...she couldn't remember any of their faces, how they looked, what they were wearing. She just...couldn't remember... how they'd lived.

And now she never would.

And with that, the vision dropped and the harsh reality of twisted metal and crumbling stone rushed back in. She held back the tears as best she could, concealing her emotions and her thoughts. Doubt still haunted her, whether her decision to pull the trigger had doomed all of the people that had once walked these streets. If she hadn't shot Corvin, hadn't...hadn't killed him, what would have happened? If she only shot his hand, or his leg, or his gut, maybe he would've fallen differently. Maybe...maybe Knightborn would still be a place she could call home, despite having to flee it due to the man in charge.

Breathing deeply, she glanced at Dustin, allowing her ears to pick up his words that were aimed at a com-link. He looked tired. Not disheveled, just tired. He was wearing his old clothes again, after the pair had grabbed their possessions from the Regentis apartment, discarding the ones he'd worn underground. "Too many memories, and too dirty to keep" was his explanation. She tuned into his conversation, hoping to distract her mind from the scene around her.

Dustin "-just finished talking with Sal, the guy I told you about. As I thought, he didn't know about Zeth. However, you won't believe this, but Adam Ferris met up with him in Regentis the other day, when...when the bombs went off."

Risa listened for the answer, hearing a sharp intake of breath, followed by a familiar voice. It was Tank, Chain Rockwell, Frank Foster. One of the other survivors that had fought with them, on his own personal quest against an evil ex-Core member, something she could relate to. Small world she thought to herself, before tuning back in for his reply.

Tank: "The old leader of the Core? That's great! Did he say anything else?"
Dustin: "Unfortunately not. He passed on some, uh, information that probably shouldn't be discussed over a com, and than went on his way. Still, at least he's alive, and he's on Qoter...somewhere."
Tank: "Oh...well, can't say I'm too surprised. A guy like him would have to keep on the move, I guess."
Dustin: "Yeah, I'm...sorry about that. He was already gone by the time I called Sal to ask him about you and Zeth. Don't worry, I'll get back to you if I find out anything else."
Tank: "Yeah, sounds good. Thanks Dus...uh...Ted. Every little bit helps."
Dustin: "All good. Talk later mate."

Dustin ended the call and sighed. Risa could understand. Tank had been nothing but kind to the pair, letting them stay with him for a few nights after the underground events, even giving them some credits to keep them on the move. Passing on information that the man that could hold some clue about his parents killer had slipped through their fingers was no easy task and...simply unfair on the guy. He'd been through a lot himself.

The com-link pocketed, Dustin turned his eyes back to Risa and smiled that simple smile of his, the one that always seemed partially switched on. She smiled a low one back, and stood, trying to wipe away the few tears that had crept through her defence.

As she straightened, she watched Dustin glance around the wreckage. It had been a risk coming here, amongst the rescue teams and reporters, but...Risa had to come back. Had to know what her actions had caused to her home. Underground, she thought she'd forgiven herself for shooting Corvin, hardening her resolve to go up against the terror known as One.

But...up here? Above the dim-lighting of the underground? Seeing the destruction firsthand? Witnessing the countless weeping families wandering the wasteland? Those doubts had crept back in, her mind conflicted, her thoughts plagued.

Still though, Dustin had said she was tougher than him, if that were even possible, and he'd been through just as many hardships, if not more. If he could muster up he strength to stand upright, so could she.

He walked up to meet her, his neutral smile set low. The destruction obviously shocked him, but it didn't weigh so on much on his soul. His focus was on Risa and Risa alone. She felt...glad about that, the fact that she had someone that had experienced the whole underground ordeal, and had survived, with her.

Dustin: "You doing ok?"
Risa: "Yeah, yeah. It's was my home you know. For a long time."
Dustin: "I know. It's going to be a right pain changing your address on all the invoices isn't it?"
Risa: "Ha ha, yeah. Had to change them earlier though, didn't I? Uek saw to that."
Dustin: "That he did."
Risa: "You reckon he made it out?"
Dustin: "I'm certain, unfortunately. He was with the soldiers that were protected by Eris' shield. Besides, he's not one to let a disaster ruin his plan."
Risa: "Thought so. One can always hope I guess."

Dustin grinned again and Risa turned back to the street, glimpsing a ruined toy underneath the rubble and holding back more tears. It was an...incredible sight, the sheer power that had been unleashed by the bombs below. Unleashed by Corvin's face smacking the detonator, her bullet in his head...

No, no. That was the past. She'd done what she thought she'd had to do. She couldn't hold onto the blame, on what could have been. But still, the doubts grew again, unquenchable and thirsty. Guilt flowed in and settled, the same guilt that hadn't left her since Corvin's head had hit the button.

Risa: "So what now?"
Dustin: "...I don't know."
Risa: "We can't stay here, obviously. Back to Regentis perhaps, maybe get a trip somewhere quiet on Qoter. Go deep into hiding again."
Dustin: "Maybe."
Risa: "It'll have to be something like that. Uek'll have some kind of back up plan. We're still not out of danger yet. The government's still hunting for us. At least a disaster like this provides a good distraction for the military. We could even get off world. Go to Earth or Etrion. Not as much police heat there."
Dustin: "Perhaps."
Risa: "Yeah, that would work. We'll need supplies, and soon. I need some more ammo, and a new jacket, this one still stinks of the underground, and food and, and toothpaste and soap and..."

A movement faster than the fury of nature. Faster than any explosion in existence. Faster than she would have thought possible. Dustin Vorn raised his arm, moving left around Risa. She didn't register the movement at all, only recognising it as she felt the impact of the blow.

Dustin Vorn. Pulling her into a hug.

She stood awkwardly, stunned, a shocked expression on her face, unsure of what to do or say, until Dustin spoke quietly in her ear, his voice barely above a whisper.

Dustin: "Risa, listen to're not a droid, alright? It''s okay to cry."

And...and then she was gripping him, holding onto him as tightly as her arms would allow. All at once, the onslaught of emotion hit her, all her doubts, and fears, and sadness, and loss. All the repressed memories she'd kept locked away from the past week, everything slammed into her head.

And she poured them all out. Tears streamed down her cheeks, more tears than she'd ever cried in her life. She whimpered briefly, before breaking down into sobbing, never letting up.

She tightened her arms, locked her fingers and cried for every life on Knightborn. Every single life that had been whisked away in this flurry of death and destruction. She cried for the babies, the toddlers starting to walk, the children starting to learn, the teens about to enter adulthood, the people who had worked and toiled to accomplish their dreams, the parents that had built families here and the elders who had passed on their wisdom to the younger generations. The sick and injured, the soldiers, the business workers, the mechanics, the chefs, the cleaners, the musicians, the builders and the teachers.

All of them, who had fallen because of the single press of a button.

Her knees gave out and she fell into an awkward crouch, writhing in mental agony, her tears a constant stream as her body emptied of moisture. She was long passed caring about drawing attention and her sobs became bawls, deep cries that begun in her belly and escaped with her cries.

She loosened and tightened her grip, tensed and untensed, rushing through her breathing until her nose was clogged with snot and she started to cough, expelling every bit of water and emotion she possibly could, her sobs racking her entire body.

And through it all, he held her.

He was constant, unmoving as she bawled put her pain. Tears were running down his own face, his own breathing becoming faster and deeper, his own whimpers escaping his lips.

But he held her.

And he didn't let her go.

6 October, 2096
Somewhere North of Tarhaven

Uek Ferris wore the first genuine smile he'd had in quite some time as he handed over the paperwork he'd written. The building he was in wasn't the cleanest, but it was always polite to meet suppliers at their own hideouts. People like them tended to stay in the shadows. No sense in forcing them to meet in the light. Uek was quite adept at mixing with shadows himself.

The alien before him was tall, wearing patchy clothing, stitched together with twine and string. She smelt like someone with no care for hygiene, and wore her hair in a ponytail. Her face was lean, almost masculine and partially hidden by cloth. Yet, there was a softness in the cheeks, offset by the hardness of the eyes. Her name was Ygrid Vohila, and she had a partial fear of sharp objects, judging by her preference of a firearm and the lack of daggers on her person or her guards.

Uek signed as she finished reading the paperwork he'd given her. He'd come alone, as per her request. Perhaps she thought he'd whittle under the pressure of the guards, with no troops of his own to protect him. Most politicians would.

She was wrong, of course. Uek wasn't most politicians.

Ygrid looked up from the contract, nodding to herself as if considering the proposal. Her guards saw the hidden command and switched their safeties off. They were well trained, Uek had to give them that. Ygrid may have been lazy, but she wasn't stupid. She knew better than to converse without a back-up plan.

She spoke, her voice grainy and slurred, like a drunk who was trying to impress the governor. Uek straightened and prepared his practiced voice for the occasion. More terse than normal, with just a hint of common speak. Perfect for the mood.

Ygrid: "So Mr Ferris-"
Uek: "Uek, please. It's an odd name, but it's got a bit more flare, I feel."
Ygrid: "Yeah, whatever. So then Uek, this is the job you want me to do?"
Uek: "Yes. That list is all I need from you. It shouldn't be too hard, I would think."
Ygrid: "Your thinking's off. Ossillium isn't always easy to find."
Uek: "Perhaps. But with the cure for the illness on the horizon, I'm sure the hatred of the rocks will die down soon."
Ygrid: "Hm, maybe. I'll see what I can do about it. But I gotta ask, why do you want the stuff? Surely a big shot like you can just order someone to get it. Why not do that instead?"

Uek nodded in acceptance of the comment. That was exactly what he was doing, though Ygrid already considered herself a partner, not an employee. A minor miscalculation on her part.

Uek: "Yeah, you're not wrong. Unfortunately, I've been pretty busy as of late. I'm not sure if you heard about the state of Knightborn..."
Ygrid: "Heard about it. Damn shame. Still, ain't got nothing to do with me, so why would I care."
Uek: "Fair enough. Still, I'm now the official leader of Knightborn, or what's left of it, and it my responsibility to orchestrate the clean-up process. And it's a right pain at times. So I can't gather the Ossillium myself. That is why I'm asking you for your help."

Ygrid: "Right. But again, why the Ossillium? What do you need it for?"
Uek: "Oh, a little side project of mine. I won't bore you with the details. Basically, my current supply is running low, so it needs...restocking, to put it simply. So...can you help me?"

Ygrid looked back at the contract, rereading the exact requirements, but Uek already knew her answer. From the information he'd gathered, she was in a bit of a financial problem due to a few failed operations. She needed the job, and Uek was paying her well. It was actually a stoke of luck that she hadn't packed up shop already. Dealers willing to handle Ossilium were rare to come by, due to the disease surrounding the element. And after the attack on ROBKAT, that number had decreased even further as more and more crews ran scared due to the Aurelian fleet. Uek smiled again, genuinely. With her help, he'd be able to continue the project, without so much as a pause in the planning.

It was always nice when things went according to plan.

Ygrid raised her eyes again and chuckled briefly. Uek smiled back as she began speaking again, her voice raised slightly.

Ygrid: "Yeah, I reckon I can help you out Uek. I can have the Ossillium to you within a week."
Uek: "Excellent."
Ygrid: "However, there is one problem concerning the price..."
Uek: "A problem you say? I believe it was quite clea-"
Ygrid: "Boys!"

With a yell, Ygrid's men gripped Uek from behind, pinning his arms in their own. Their grips were like iron, probably due to the heavy lifting they did each day. The other two raised their own rifles, aiming them dead at Uek. Ygrid's, pulled out her own pistol, aiming it in the centre of Uek's head, a smile on her face.

Uek raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, but kept his features relaxed. How unfortunate. He hadn't thought she'd be stupid enough to try and capture him. Foolish.

She strode over, carving an admittedly impressive, yet stinking, figure, jamming his contract into her pocket. She spoke again, her voice high on excitement.

Ygrid: "Oh, you moron. You guys at the top just think you can come down here, with your contracts and your whims and projects, and you think you can step all over us. You don't even consider us, we're nothing to you! Well guess what, Mr big shot. How bout we step on you? I'm sure you're worth a lot to the government to get back alive, more than what you'd have given us! After all, you ARE the leader of Knightborn!"

Uek closed and then rolled his eyes. Damn, he'd forgotten how petty these people could be. It had been too long since his last encounter with the underground. Oh well, her loss.

Ygrid continued babbling on and on and on, but Uek tuned it out, his mind clicking over all the possible scenarios until he found the most efficient one. That done, he opened his eyes again, staring directly down the barrel of a Skelton Arms machine pistol, an older model but still in reasonable condition. That meant a high-quality weapon and that meant a decent shot. But judging by her stance, she was out of practice. Besides, guns weren't meant for threats, they were for actions. She clearly didn't understand that.

Ygrid: "Hey, moron. I'm talking to you. You here that? I said I'll pull out your toenails and send them to the governor until I get my money! Aren't you wetting yourself in fear, little politician? Aren't you scared?"

Uek shrugged and took a deep breath before speaking, addressing the guards around him, his voice calm and natural and its usual self.

Uek: "Alright fellas, I'll ask this once. Do any of you want to die tonight?"

His question stunned a few, but only for a moment before they all chuckled at the response. After all, he was pinned, unable to move, with multiple rifles trained on him. Nothing could escape that.

Uek: "Alright. Glad we had this talk then."

With that, Uek moved. He leapt into the air, keeping his arms in the guards hands, allowing his body to rotate around naturally. Looks of shock crept onto their faces and they went for their guns, loosening their grips as their attention shifted. Uek grinned. Too easy.

With a simple motion, he flicked his wrists, freeing himself from the guard's sorry grip, rotating in the air as he did so, formulating his plan, watching the reactions.

He went for the one on the left first, completing the rotation and aiming his feet directly at the man's head. Surprise flourished briefly before Uek's kick went home, with just the right amount of force to break the spine. The man's neck snapped on impact. He was dead before hitting the ground.

Landing, Uek spun, grabbing the other one who had been his captor. In a flash, he ducked behind the man, lifting him off his feet and spinning the the man in a circle, just as three bullets were sent flying his way. The guard caught all of them, grunting in surprise before relaxing and shutting down. Uek followed the motion through, letting go at the apex of the spin and letting the guard fall to the ground, almost on top of his comrade.

Surprised, the other two guards and Ygrid herself opened fire, their aim wild, letting the hungry guns deal the damage. Uek dodged right behind a crate he'd picked out earlier, leaving only dust in his wake. Grinning, Uek, pulled out one of his twin knives. He'd only need one.

Ygrid had time for a shout before Uek leapt over the crate, his jacket flapping with the momentum. The guard in front of him turned too late and received the full force of Uek's blade piercing his side. He cried out, but Uek had already withdrawn the dagger and sliced again, across his throat. He went down in a gurgle of his own blood.

Four bullets from the other two, but Uek had already moved out of their way. The remaining guard pulled the trigger again but found his cartridge empty. Uek chuckled at that, a low chuckle devoid of humour, and spun again, missing another shot from Ygrid. Completing the spin, he released the dagger, his aim already locked.

The knife spun through the air, catching the light breifly before impacting itself in the final guards brain. He winced, coughed twice, and fell, his rifle hitting the ground a moment before he did.

Uek straightened from his lowered throwing stance and turned his attention back to Ygrid. She was stunned, a tear in her eye, hopelessly pulling the trigger of an empty gun. Uek grinned. He'd stolen a shipment that had included those exact machine pistols. He knew their specs.

Fifteen rounds. He'd been counting.

Walking casually, he pulled Ygrid to her feet, his grip strong and sturdy. His eyes locked with hers, deep pools that drew her in like a vortex. She whimpered like a defenceless animal locked in a cars headlights, gripping his arm in an attempt at escape. But there was no escape, not now.

Uek spoke again, his voice quieter, more unnerving then before. The room got darker, as if the man simply drank the light. He sneered, and Ygrid quivered with terror.

Uek: "You said there was a problem with the price?"
Ygrid: "N-n-no problems. None at all! Uh, in fact, uh, I'll do it for free! I'll g-get you that Ossillium...just...please don't kill me! Please!"
Uek: "For free? That's very nice of you, but I must insist that I pay you."
Ygrid: "NOOO! There's no need for that, please sir, PLEASE!"
Uek: "No no, you deserve something for your trouble Miss Vohila. I can't let you walk out of here empty handed."
Ygrid: "Don't kill me, don't kill me, please don't kill me, pleasedontkillme, pleasedontkillme, pleasedontkillme-"

Uek dropped the babbling women, and reached into his jacket pocket. Her mouth shot open in terror, tears welling, hand shaking. She was absolutely terrified, a fear she'd never encountered before.


Uek retrieved the package he'd stored there, pulling it out an dropping it on the floor. Ygrid's eyes dropped to it and she collapsed, terror taking over.

Uek: "Open it."
Ygrid: "Please no, please spare me, please please please please please..."

With trembling hands, she reached for the package, grabbing it like a starving beggar grabbing food. Carefully, she opened it, slowly but surely, revealing the contents within.

It was her payment. A large blue sapphire, worth exactly the amount promised, to the dollar.

Uek grinned and turned, strolling out of the warehouse, being careful not to step in the puddles of blood from the bodyguards. He raised his voice, leaving her with one final message.

Uek: "I expect the Ossillium within seven days. Tell no one what you saw tonight. And do not fail me, Miss Vohila. Otherwise...I'll be back. And next time I won't be as lenient as I was tonight."

With that, Uek strolled over to one of the corpses, retrieved his knife, and out of the warehouse, leaving Ygrid alone to sob with her money. He'd get the Ossillium now, he was sure of it.

And at the end of the day, that was all that mattered.

17th October, 2096
Ruins of Knightborn

The stench of smoke and blood clouded the air. Despite over a month since the collapse of the great metropolis, the ruins of Knightborn still smelt of death and destruction. The mercenary's enhanced senses picked up each individual smell of the area he was in, a street once known as Buster Avenue. The smell of unfound bodies was particularly pungent, as was the stench of sweat and burning fuel. The clean-up crews hadn't come this far inward yet, meaning the rubble still had dominion over the living.

The mercenary shrugged. It wasn't his call to make. The associate he was meeting has chosen the meeting place. Apparently, he had had family in Knightborn, before the city fell.

The mercenary rolled his eyes skyward as one of the countless rescue drones shot overhead, spotlight illuminating the night. The swarm had been unleashed from the old Commerce Building, where Uek had agreed to set up the military. Though short, it was Knightborn's only other standing skyscraper, the other being the Conduit building itself. It had been a lucky find, apparently, discovered after the rubble of a larger skyscraper had been removed, revealing the tower within.

Sturdy. A good quality to have.

The mercenary heard his meeting partner long before he saw him. Jaspar Ove had always struggled with a light asthma, meaning his breathing was never too hard to hear, especially in a place like this. The mercenary raised his head as the man climbed over a pile of rubble, his head covered by an old hood, sprinkled with dust. Jaspar coughed once as he straightened, his hands going to his pockets. His face was young, though he looked older than he actually was, with strong cheekbones and dull grey eyes.

Jaspar snorted once and spoke, his voice somewhat regal, mixed with a good helping of years on the street and the slight twang of deep breathing.

Jaspar: "Alright, glad to see you're here then."
Man: "I organised the meeting, Jaz. Why would I not be here?"
Jaspar: "Sorry, it's been a while since I've seen some punctuality. That Core place trained you well didn't it?"
Man: "One would hope. They're only assassins, after all."

Jaspar: "Anyways, how ya been? I'll admit, I was surprised when you called me. After that mess on Etrion, I'd have thought you'd forgotten me."
Man: "I do not forget Jaz, you know that. But to answer your question, I have been...adequate, I suppose."
Jaspar: "Damn, why can't you just say 'fine' or 'good, and you?' like normal people?"
Man: "I never implied that I was normal. What on earth gave you that impression?"
Jasper: "You got two legs, two arms and a brain in your head. That's where the impression kind-a grew."
Man: "I guess so."

Jasper turned away in a slight huff and stared at the landscape, taking in the smells. It certainly wasn't pretty, especially if it had once been his home. Still, the mercenary hadn't asked him here to reminisce of old times. He needed answers to his query.

Jaspar: "It's a damn shame really. I grew up on this street you know? Till I was a teen and I skipped town. It was a nice place to live, truth be told. Sorry about agreeing to meet you here, I thought I might as well see what's become of the poor place. But anyways, I'm here for a reason, so what is it?"

Man: "I have a query that I thought you may be able to help with."
Jasper: "Yeah? Spit it out then. No time like the present."
Man: "Very well. I want to know if there's been anything...strange happening in the underground as of late."
Jasper: "Define 'of late'?"
Man: "Anything recent. Has there been any strange requests or transfers? Have people gone missing? Is there an increase in people with...odd backgrounds?"

Jasper turned, his finger tapping his chin. The mercenary knew that he had a lot of information to sort through. Jasper was one of a few individuals the man knew with seemingly perfect memory recall, which made him a very skilled informant and spy for hire within the underground. If anything had been going on, Jasper would know about it.

Jasper: "Well, the Brain and the Boss have been at it again. A string of assassinations have occurred recently, with one of those two behind it."
Man: "Interesting, but not relevant. Continue, please."
Jasper: "Hmm, Darkblade's been seen again, as have Beta Squad, the later launching an attack on a Chain Rockwell. There's also been some advancement in controlling the rapid Collective drones, something called Nexus. Besides that, there's been reports of a large mech-droid thing on Deltar Five, and Falcon's warehouse suffered an infiltration, though those reports are sketchy."

Man: "Darkblade does not interest me, nor does Beta Squad. The rest is a bit... trivial to be honest. Hmm...has Ossillium been involved in anything recently? Perhaps that could narrow it down."

Jaspar: "Actually, that does help. A smuggler, Ygrid Vohilla, nasty piece of work, recently shipped in a decent amount of the stuff. Don't know who for though."
Man: "Helpful. And to answer earlier, has anyone gone missing recently?"
Jaspar: "Well, it wasn't too recent, but there was quite a lot of disappearances earlier in the year, ranging from struggles to kidnappings to just walking away. I know they were all shipped to Knightborn though. You think they might be connected? The Ossillium, I mean?"

Man: "Better than that. Now, I know that they're connected."

Jaspar grinned at the response, before relaxing again and continuing.

Jaspar: "Right. I'm guessing it's not something I want to get involved with."
Man: "Probably not."
Jaspar: "Fair enough. Now, do you have any information for the old mind-bank? I know you tend to find your own way as well. Anything?"
Man: "Perhaps, though you must not share it with anyone."
Jaspar: "Lips are sealed."
Man: "Very well. You're aware of the criminals Risa Donovan and Ted Michaels?"
Jaspar: "Of course."
Man: "Well, Ted Michaels is a false name. That man, in actuality..." Dustin Vorn."

Jaspar's eyes widened slightly at the mention of the name, a moment before his mouth opened in reply to the statement, suspense building on his lips.

Jaspar: "...who?"

Now it was time for the mercenaries eyes to shoot open in surprise. His arm raised slightly, followed by his lips, his voice sprinkled with minor shock.

Man: "Are you saying you've never heard of Dustin Vorn?"
Jaspar: "No. Is that a crime?"
Man: "Well, no. It's just surprising. Most underground dwellers have heard his name before. He was one of the most promising assassins in the Core. He trained with Sal Barber himself."
Jaspar: "Ah, well that explains it then. I generally stay away from you Core types, though you're obviously an exception. Too much danger when dealing with you. Still, if you say it's an important name of a criminal, I'll keep in mind and not tell a soul."
Man: "Thank you. Speaking of which, any news of the pair in the underground?"

Jasper shrugged before coughing, a load of dust clogged in his lungs. Gathering himself, he responded. The mercenary could tell he was putting some thought into it.

Jaspar: "Let's see now. Last I heard, they jumped ship and left the planet, stowing away on some cruiser to Earth. No idea how long they'll stay. No where's safe for them anymore."
Man: "Very true."
Jaspar: "Her father was furious when he found out, by the way. Smashed every bottle he could find the night she was labelled a criminal."
Man: "Labelled?"
Jaspar: "Yeah, she's innocent. I met her old Lieutenant in passing once, Lachlan Brock. He spoke pretty highly of her. If even half of what he said was true, she wouldn't have hurt him in the slightest. I've got my money on that Havok guy, leading on the Council and the new Commander. Oh, speaking of which, the old Commander was murdered a few months ago."

Man: "Tane? Murdered?"
Jaspar: "Yep, that what these ears heard. Apparently, his house had been burned down, some kind of wiring problem. But the body was actually too burnt for a fire that size. Odd, though not really important."

Man: "Perhaps not. We'll have to see, won't we?"

With those words, the mercenary slowly turned and walked away, muttering a few words under his breath. Imminently, he felt his legs fill with energy, ready for running. However, his ears picked up a few words, thrown into the wind, as Jasper began walking away himself. And they brought a low smile to the mercenary's lips.

Jasper: "Whatever you're up to, be careful and good luck. See ya around..."


Smote nodded once to the words, before finishing his own whispers, filling his legs and body will all the strength they needed. So, Uek Ferris had taken care of loose ends, and had refuelled his arsenal. What a damn shame it was.

Perhaps the time for being merely an observer...was over.

24 December
Somewhere in America

Dustin Vorn gripped his knees as the icy winds picked at his clothes. All around him, snow was piled high, in little clumps and in batches. The streets were eerily quiet despite the hour, though the sounds of Christmas carols danced through the air. Dustin sighed, his memories roaming, remembering his last Christmas. A slap in the face from Brom, with half a slice of cheesecake each and a few verses of "Merry Christmas." There was no Christmas in the Skarr, no gifts or family. No one cared enough for that.

Thoughts of that made him think of Brom again, which still hurt. So much had happened since that fateful day, when a mysterious woman descended from the sky and rescued him while Brom bought them time...with his life. Even now, Dustin could hear the knifes piercing flesh as they'd huddled around the big man, taking turns to mutilate his ruined body.

He gulped and smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. Yes, a lot had changed. Without that sacrifice, he'd have never met Risa, never met the countless friends he'd made, never had the chance to see Sal again. Even seeing Uek in that pit of a warehouse had been good, almost a defiance to what Uek had done to him, all those years ago.

Footsteps beside him. A brisk pace, yet light and well balanced footfalls. He smiled and raised his eyes to see Risa. She had been wearing her standard frown, but a grin a fixed itself when she arrived. She was wearing her new jacket, a thicker version for the cold of the small town they were staying in. Dustin himself had brought a pair of gloves. His old clothes provided enough warmth. Besides, he'd always kind of liked the cold.

Risa: "Alright, I'm back."
Dustin: "Really? I didn't even notice!"
Risa: "Very funny. Anything happen while I was gone?"
Dustin: "Actually yeah. Twenty men came and tried to nick our stuff, but I took care of them. They won't be trying that again, that's for certain."
Risa:"...I...honestly can't tell if you're joking right now."
Dustin: "Of course I'm joking! It was closer to thirty."

Risa smiled again and sat down, removing her satchel as she did so and placing it with their stuff, which consisted mainly of bags filled with food, water and toiletries, as well as other stuff they'd grabbed. Dustin's own satchel was packed in tightly with the mess, his precious possessions safe and sound in their leather prison.

Dustin: "But in all seriousness, how did the shopping go?"
Risa: "Fine. Got some more ammo, as well a new cleaning rod. More toothpaste as well, and some turkey for the morning. It's turkey that eaten on Christmas right?"
Dustin: "That's the one. Quick question, this your first Christmas?"
Risa: "I know about it. Pretty much everyone learnt after the Shift. Never did get round to celebrating it though..."
Dustin: "Yeah, well, sorry to disappoint. Christmas is supposed to be a bit more family-filled. Can't deliver on that front, I'm afraid.
Risa: "That's fine. Probably wouldn't want my family here anyway. What about you then? Did Sal throw you any parties?"
Dustin: "Hardly. Him and I used to exchange a few gifts after hours. There were simply too many ethnicities in the Core, so they never really bothers with holidays. No, I'm talking about earlier, back with Mama. We always went to her sisters place, with her parents and such. It was simple, but...nice."

Risa: "Sounds like it."

With another grin, Dustin straightened and strolled over to the bags, continuing the conversation as he searched through the luggage, his prize in sight.

Dustin: "Still, Christmas is pretty heavy on the gifts."
Risa: "Yeah, I've, um, heard about that."
Dustin: "Now, traditionally we're supposed to wait for Santa to come down the chimney and deliver these. But due to our lack of said chimney, or house for that matter, let's hope he makes an exception."
Risa: "Alright."

His hand enclosed around the object, feeling its texture, and immediately seized up. Dustin bit his lip, calming his breathing and relaxing before pulling the object out and showing Risa, gleaming in the early evening light.

It was a gun. Brand new and top of the line, as Dustin had been told. Risa's face lit up wide as he presented it to her, a large smile positively beaming. It was a good look on her, Dustin thought to himself. It seemed more than frowning.

Dustin: "Merry Christmas to you Miss Donovan."
Risa: "Is that a Skelton?!"
Dustin: "I think so. I fired up some old connections and asked for the best pistol for the best shot that I know. Now, it's not meant to replace your old gun, but I thought it might give you some more options in a fight."
Risa: "Wow...thank you Dustin. Thank you."

Dustin returned her smile and handed over the gun, the slight stillness of his hand vanishing the moment it left his palm. He could handle guns, move guns, give guns, even polish guns. But he would never use one. His body and mind agreed on that one.

Risa accepted the gun and immediately checked it over, giddy as a child on, well, Christmas. She fiddled with the scope for a moment, checked the cartridge slide and the grip, before turning back to Dustin, her smile still lingering.

Dustin: "You deserve it Risa. I'm glad you like it."
Risa: "Bit of an older model. Couldn't have gone newer?"
Dustin: "Probably not successfully. I'd have no idea where to start looking!"
Risa: "Ha ha, yeah. But thank you Dustin. I'll cherish it, and train myself to use it."

Dustin nodded happily as Risa rose and placed the gun in her own satchel, before reaching down and pulling something out herself, concealing it. She steeled herself and Dustin felt the mood shift slightly. Risa was still happy, but...she needed to talk about something serious. Dustin knew the feeling, of having something good happen right before something hard, and feeling your emotions fluctuate between the two. Always a bit tricky, but he knew Risa well enough to hear her out.

Risa: "Sorry, Dustin. The presents lovely, it really is,"
Dustin: "You've got something important to say."
Risa: "Yes. But actually, I've got something important to give. Here, take it. Please."

Risa lowered herself back to the ground and outstretched her hand, revealing the contents tucked behind her fingers. Her face was set and the mood was deep. Dustin raised his own hand as he registered what it was she was holding.

It was a bullet casing.

It had been set inside a glass mold, but it was still very clearly a shell. One that Dustin knew was from Risa's gun. Immediately, his mind clicked over, but Risa spoke first, her voice slower than normal.

Risa: "This...this is the one Dustin. The bullet in that she'll was the one that I sent into Corvin's head, the same one that was still in his head when it hit that button. That casing carried that bullet for who knows how long, until its contents changed the world."

Slowly, she placed it in his hand, curling his fingers around it, before receding and continuing.

Risa: "I..I want you to have it."
Dustin: "Risa...Are you sure?"
Risa: "Yes. Yes, I'm sure. That bullet has made me a killer Dustin, I'm no longer the person I was before. I never will be. But that casing...well, it unites us."
Dustin: "Unites us?"
Risa: "Don't you see Dustin? You are not alone in this anymore. You aren't the only assassin anymore. I'm...I'm one now as well. I don't want you to feel like you have to carry that sin all by yourself, not anymore. I'll help you now, I'll help you. That casing will serve as a reminder, that I am not just a soldier anymore. I'm an assassin, Dustin. And I can't change that. And I don't ever want to forget it..."

Dustin sighed and smiled that low smile. Risa Donovan, one of the fiercest women he'd ever met, was bringing herself down to his level. He sighed. If only she knew the full extent of his sin.

But, even so, Dustin felt a surprising warmth inside him, as if someone else dialysis understood what it meant to be an assassin. To take someone's life for an outcome that would benefit all but themselves. It was harsh, it was brutal to the soul...but that casing. She had felt the pain too. She knew now what it was like to go through and to push through. And just her admitting that was enough to make Dustin's insides fill with a warmth he'd never known was there.

Dustin: "Risa...thank you."
Risa: "It's alright. I know, it does sound a bit stupid when it's said aloud but-"
Dustin: "No, I get it. Trust me, I do. I'll keep this casing then, as a reminder. We're together on this then."
Risa: "Yeah...I guess we are."

Risa smiled again, low, but striking and packed with meaning. Dustin responded with his own before letting Risa unzip and then pull over her jacket's hood, nestling into the fur lining as a kind of cushion. They'd been warm enough the last few nights, with the winds not being strong enough to cause a commotion. No need to go hunting for additional blankets just yet.

Dustin turned back to the casing, sitting solely in its little disk of glass. They both knew now went it meant to take a life, despite what Dustin himself had done. But they both knew the pain that came afterward. The doubt, the fear, the guilt, the self-blame. Everything. They both knew now. And they were united in that.

Risa: "Oh, and Dustin?"
Dustin: "Yeah?"
Risa: "...Merry Christmas."

With that, Risa huddled over and went to sleep, tired as she was. Her breathing evened and her eyes fluttered closed. Before long, she was fast asleep on the sidewalk of some little American town in the middle of winter. Dustin had to grin. What a bizarre turn of events the year had turned out to be. From Skarr to Skyscraper to Sidewalk. His life really had come full circle.

But, for all the hardships, for all the pain, for all the trials...he'd had Risa. He'd had someone by his side, watching his back, keeping him sane at times, and forcing him to teach her how to fight, to protect herself. She truly was an amazing woman.

Dustin felt himself slipping away as well, exhaustion taking over. His thoughts turned to the year ahead. Who knew what horrors would face them, who knew what would happen to the system, to Earth? All Dustin could be sure of was that he and Risa would face it together. And, at the end of the day, that was a good enough reason to push onward, regardless of what the future held.


 I like it 
  November 24, 2018
Awesome season finale! Maybe not as grandiose as one might expect but a good way to wrap things up. I'm really enjoying these
 I like it 
  February 5, 2017
Awesome season finale! Merry belated Christmas!
 I like it 
  January 8, 2017
Even the most awesome people in the galaxy get a little break at Christmas. It's only fair... great episode, Happy New Year to you!
 I like it 
  January 5, 2017
Great stuff! I loved all the references and you certainly know how to get us hooked on a character's feelings! This is fine for the Christomas GC as well. Good luck! --Blast--
 I like it 
  January 2, 2017
Wow! Amazing episode, epic writing, awesome plot, great character development, everything is great! Looking forward to reading more! :D
 I made it 
  January 2, 2017
Quoting Stuart Lucas Great episode, brilliant writing all round and we're also fascinated to see what happens to Dustin, Risa & co in the year ahead!
Cheers Stuart! And you have a great year ahead yourself!
 I made it 
  January 2, 2017
Quoting Garrett W. Great work, and lots of references! I hope it wasn't too much trouble to work the commerce building into the storyline...
Thanks mate, and no, it was no trouble at all. It actually slots in perfectly, so no worries!
 I made it 
  January 2, 2017
Quoting Traykar the swift Excellent work! It was certainly interesting to see what everyone was doing at the time, and thanks for the reference.
Thank you! And you're very welcome :)
 I like it 
  January 1, 2017
Great episode, brilliant writing all round and we're also fascinated to see what happens to Dustin, Risa & co in the year ahead!
 I like it 
  December 31, 2016
Great work, and lots of references! I hope it wasn't too much trouble to work the commerce building into the storyline...
  December 31, 2016
Excellent work! It was certainly interesting to see what everyone was doing at the time, and thanks for the reference.
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