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It's alright, Theta. Come on out.

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              Theta is scared.

              He doesn’t know how long the twins and he have been on the run, but it’s a long time.  All the calculations he’s run, all the data he’s processed, he knows it’s been forever.

              He’s okay, though, because North is there.  He’s there every day, when sometimes all they do is run and never talk.  He’s there every night, when he stays up late to make sure Theta is comfortable.  And Theta, despite his fears, is happy, because North is his friend.

              South is nice, sometimes.  She’ll complain about lots of things: the weather, their living conditions, the fact that Theta might be better off with her.  Theta hears that one a lot.  But she shares jokes with North.  She smiles when they have a few moments safe in a location, and Theta can show off his fireworks.  So he trusts her, because North does.

              Today they’re running through an abandoned town near some big cliffs, and Theta takes a moment to enjoy the view.  It’s pretty, all sweeping valleys and old machinery.

              “North?” Theta asks in North’s head as they continue jogging past the cliffs.  “Does this remind you of anywhere?”

              North cocks his head to the side and smiles.

              “It’s a bit like home, buddy.  How did you know?”

              “The memory bits in your brain were lighting up!” Theta says, delighted.  “I thought you recognized it.”

              North slows and catches his sister’s arm.

              “Take a second,” he pants, nodding at the view.  “What do you see?”

              Theta watches South examine the valley.  She sinks back and hunches her shoulders.

              “I see a great expanse of nothing,” she spits out.  “What about it?”

              “Don’t you think it looks a little like home?  Like summertime in the mountains?”

              South scoffs.

              “That was a long time ago.”

              Theta can feel the disappointment flowing through North.  He materializes in front of South.

              “It’s gotta be nice, though, right?” he asks.  “After all of this, home’s a good thing, right?”

              South is silent for a few seconds.

              “We used to hike up there,” North says wistfully.  “We’d wrestle at the top.”

              “I’d always win,” South says, and Theta can tell she’s smiling.

              “Only because I let you,” North adds.  Theta giggles.

              He feels the bullet coming long before either of the twins could recognize it.  Theta jumps back to North, pulls at his arm, screams at him to move.

              He listens, and he ducks just in time.  North lunges to the left, behind an outcropping that could serve as makeshift cover.  South is not far behind.

              “Are you hit?!” North asks urgently.  South shakes her head, and Theta feels the relief fill North.

              “Theta, tell me what’s happening!”

              “Whoever they are, they’re big, and hiding on a hill back there.”

              Theta replays the moment the bullet entered play.  Standard sniper, narrow window.  Why were they just standing there, why had they stopped?

              “We shouldn’t have stopped, North, I’m sorry, I - ”

              “Hey, hey!” North reassures him, getting his guns ready.  “Not your fault, kay Theta?  Just get us out of here.”

              Theta scans the terrain while the twins take potshots at the hidden assailant.  He sees a path leading down into the valley, covered by rocks.

              “There!” He shows North.  “We can’t stay here, we have to keep moving!”

              They run.  They sprint for their lives, keeping low, moving where Theta tells them to move as he keeps one eye on the trail and the other on the sniper.

              Then he sees a glimpse of white among the red and brown of the dirt.  A gold visor.

              “It looks like Maine!” Theta exclaims.  “Why is he shooting at us?”

              “I don’t know, let’s ask him,” North grunts as he ducks behind the next safe cover.

              They reach a crossroads.  Theta scans desperately.  One leads to higher ground.  The other leads to another cliffside.  Maine is getting closer.

              “I – I don’t know which way,” Theta admits.  He can’t keep the fear out of his voice.

              South looks back towards Maine.

              “Take the cliff road.  I’ll draw him up.”

              “South - ”

              “Just go!”

              She takes off running.  Theta predicts Maine’s course of action, sees him take the higher road to pursue South, leaving North free to escape.

              “Come on, Theta,” North says, running down the path.

              “But what about - ”

              “Come on.”

              They’re running again.  Theta tries to track movement on the upper level of the mountain, but North is taking him out of range.

              “North, I can’t see.”

              “It’s okay, Theta.”

              “I don’t know where he is.  I’m…I’m scared.”

              North holds his hand up to his shoulder, where Theta usually sits.  Theta feels the sense of calm coursing through North, despite the adrenaline, despite the stone-cold fear.

              “Don’t worry, Theta.  We’ll be - ”

              Something heavy and sharp embeds itself in North’s back, cutting him off with a choked cry.

              “North!”

              He falls.  Too slowly.  Theta can feel his nerves screaming in pain, feel every inch of the gaping wound.  He feels it as if it’s his own body, and he cries out.

              “North, North, what happened, are you okay?”

              Theta barely registers Maine as he reactivates his cloaking device, hiding him and his bruteshot, dripping in blood.  Barely manages to log into his databanks that he cannot track someone who is cloaked.  All he focuses on is North, as he hits the ground with a deafening sound that echoes through Theta like a gunshot.

              “North, can you hear me?  Please, please, I need you to hear me, okay?”

              North doesn’t respond.  Theta checks his vitals and lets out a sob.

              “No, North!  You have to get up!  You can’t leave me, you have to!  Please!”

              Dirty fingers brush against North’s neural implants.  Theta curls into himself, trying to stay close to North.

              “Don’t touch him!” Theta cries.  “Leave him alone!”

              They work their way underneath the implant and begin to pull.

              “No!  No, don’t, please!”

              Theta wraps around North, gripping as tightly as he can to the ghost of his Freelancer, his friend.

              “Don’t make me leave him!  I lov - ”

              There’s a snap, and suddenly Theta is floating.  North isn’t there, he’s fading away, he feels…like a distant memory.

              A chorus of voices grow louder and louder.  Theta hugs himself but turns towards them.  They sound...nice.  Like a family.  Like siblings he never knew he had.

              “Welcome, Theta,” a serene voice tells him.  “We are the Meta.”

              They sound soothing, and friendly.  Theta almost moves towards them then stops.  He casts one more thought behind him.  There was someone he cared about.  Someone close.  He tries to remember their name as the voices embrace him.