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From Strings Liberated

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Date: NOV 9TH, 2028
Time: AM 06:02:16

Connor is not in a particularly good mood this morning. He has forgotten to charge his iPod last night. Again. Which means, he’s currently left with randomly swirling thoughts in his head while going through his morning jog. And he doesn’t like being left with his thoughts. He prefers to have music to listen to when doing a regular routine such as this.

It’s a different matter altogether during training. He has something to focus on so his thoughts don’t end up distracting him left, right and center.

But right now, he needs to get his thoughts in order. First, he wonders if he’s pushing himself too hard lately. There’s always a constant soreness to his muscles in recent weeks and he gets himself injured more often than he’d like.

No. He shouldn’t ease off. That’s not how he is. He always strives to be the best he can be. A few sore muscles and small, insignificant wounds won’t deter him.

Besides, there’s an actual reason why he’s doubling his training efforts. A few months back, Amanda had called him aside for a short discussion about his performance—she’s certainly impressed with his constantly-improving skills and how much focus and determination he pours out on being always on top of his game. He feels quite accomplished with her praise.

But. There’s always a but.

She lets him know that she’s a bit disappointed that he was defeated by Markus during the sparring match she had arranged. And subtly tells him to do better.

Right. That sparring match. Well, what Amanda doesn’t know was that he intentionally lost to Markus.

Which now leads to the majority of what’s occupying his thoughts in the recent weeks—his friendship with Markus. It certainly has become quite strained after that incident. And what’s frustrating him is that he has no idea why that is the case. They had talked and cleared things up. But it never went back to how they were before. And what baffles him is the fact that it’s Markus who’s causing this gap between them.

So when Markus visits his room earlier just as he woke up and takes it upon himself to invite him to meet up at the usual—meaning the rundown buildings near the recently abandoned freighter, Connor doesn’t hesitate to agree.

After a quick shower, he grabs his jacket—it’s getting chillier as the days pass by, and a lone game token he remembers randomly picking up during one of their treks in one of the abandoned buildings from the bedside table, and proceeds to quietly sneak out of the main facility.

Connor eventually finishes his morning run just as he reaches the abandoned parking lot. He glances up and sees Markus standing by the edge of a lower roof, staring at the intricate graffiti that looks to be three overlaying faces – a woman, a robot’s exterior, and what he guesses symbolizes the robot’s interior based on the network of gears, cables and… were those computer chips? He wasn’t sure. He’s never particularly good at deciphering or understanding artworks. That’s Markus’ expertise.

The graffiti wasn’t there the last time they met up here—which technically was around a week after they had that sparring match.

He opts to go for a light-hearted teasing—It’s what Markus usually does when he was trying to get Connor out of his more serious moods.

“Are you just going to stare at it the whole morning?”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as Markus was still staring at the graffiti with a blank expression on his face. Connor was starting to get… worried.

“Markus—”

“They gave me my first mission.”

What? Out of everything he was predicting Markus would be telling him, this was not one of them. And in hindsight, it does make a sense. Most trainees get their first mission once they finish their training by the age of seventeen. Connor seemed to have forgotten about that fact.

Markus was looking at him now—face not betraying any sort of emotion other than curiosity to how Connor would respond.

He’s still trying to process what he’s been told when he sees the minute shift in Markus’ expression—a familiar glint he gets in his eyes when he’s planning something up to no good.

“Race you to the captain’s cabin!”

And there he goes. Well. At least he seems to be in a much cheerful mood now. But it doesn’t help to loosen the knot in Connor’s chest as it sinks in that Markus getting his first mission means that—

He swallows a lump that has formed in his throat. No. He’ll think about that later. He has a race to win first. He jumps onto the empty dumpster conveniently placed near him and vaults himself up to the roof as he starts his pursuit.

After a few minutes of jumping, dashing and parkouring around the different deteriorated structures in the area, he reaches one of the rundown buildings that still has its several pillars intact. He looks around and tries to recall the correct direction. He sees the huge hole on the far left and finally remembers that it’s the nearest route to the abandoned freighter. He swiftly makes his way out and up the short set of stairs.

He's visibly surprised when he sees Markus standing outside. But it was the rising sun that caught most of his attention. He realizes it’s actually the first time he’s seen how the sky fills up with various shades of orange and pink at daybreak. It’s quite…

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Markus was now looking at him with a smile and an emotion in his eyes that Connor can’t seem to decipher.

Wait. Weren’t they supposed to be racing? They’re barely halfway to the finish line.

“Actually, I wanted to tell you something.”

Puzzled, Connor ends up telling his friend that they could have just done away with the pretense of racing each other and talk as they normally do.

“And miss this view?” Markus laughs.

Well. Connor lets him get away with that. He’s does have a point. It’s certainly… a mesmerizing view.

Markus starts to slowly walk backwards and leans his weight against the wall once he reaches it.

“Look…” He starts, “I’m sorry if it seems as if I’m avoiding you recently. That… wasn’t my intention. I just have a lot of things on my mind and I didn’t want to end up bothering you with them.”

Though confused as to why Markus would think it would be an inconvenience for him to listen to whatever was plaguing his mind, he does accept the apology.

They stay in companionable silence for a while, watching the sun still rising up in the sky. That is until Markus ruins the moment altogether.

“You know, you gotta stop getting injured as often as you get since I won’t be here to patch you up anymore.”

So he noticed. Connor had hoped he wouldn’t.

“Or… were you intentionally getting yourself scraped up so that we could spend more time together?”

Connor snaps his neck to his left and sees Markus with a teasing smile. The nerve!

“Says the one who pretends that he cannot get the grasp of doing little coin tricks and intentionally sucks at it even though he can perfectly nail them during the second try.”

Connor sasses back just as he swiftly pulls the lone game token he brought out of his pocket and tosses it in Markus’ direction. He catches it effortlessly and smoothly turns the tide again.

“If you knew, then why didn’t you call me out on it?”

Markus then starts rolling the token over his knuckles in a way that looks like he could have done it in his sleep, with a cheeky grin to match.

Fine. Markus wins this round. Besides, he’ll take this banter over getting avoided by his friend anytime.

But then he suddenly remembers what Markus had first said earlier—his first mission. There might have been a noticeable change in his own expression when he sees Markus looking at him inquisitively, as if encouraging him to speak out what’s on his mind.

“When do you leave?”

Markus seems to deflate at that.

“At midnight.”

What?

“And you didn’t think to tell me earlier?”

Connor totally ignores how his voice had managed to gone a little higher.

“They told me just yesterday, okay? That’s also another reason why I wanted to talk to you.”

Logically, Connor should have seen this coming from miles away. But he’s inadvertently gotten used to Markus’ familiar presence over the past few years that the thought of them eventually getting separated once Markus finishes his training totally slipped from his mind.

The fault is entirely his own. He’s become too attached—something they were warned against doing and was drilled into their skulls over the years. He never understood the severity of it, until now that is—when the first person who ever showed him genuine concern and offered him his friendship years ago is finally leaving.

He gets startled out of his thoughts when he feels a hand on his shoulder, grip firm and warm.

“Hey, you’ll be fine.”

No, he won’t. Not when he’s going to be alone once more. Not when he’ll be losing one of his motivations in aiming to do his best. Not when he’s going to need to patch himself up from this point onwards.

But there’s no point in saying things such as these out loud. It won’t change anything. There’s nothing they can do about it. That’s how it always goes. So he remains silent and takes it in stride.

He suddenly feels a strong gust of wind despite the sun shining brightly across the sky and thinks that he won’t be looking forwards wintertime this year. No, scratch that. He’ll probably hate it twice as much.

So much for hoping that his mood might improve over the day. Now all he wants to do is stay in his room and drown himself in his favorite haunting melodies.


And here now comes the sweet corrupting reality
And I come to, it’s resin all over me
Will I awake, will I get ride with you
In this race of two