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Deep Diving for Dirk

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The Rheaird floated lazily through the inky black void of space, swirling around Lloyd and Colette’s old space station home, Iselia.  Its shiny red paint shimmered under starlight, incredibly recognizable. Luckily, thanks to a little help from Lloyd’s dad, the ship was effectively completely off the radar.  They were space outlaws after all, constantly on the run from Cruxis Co. organization.

Colette, while the cutest girl you’ve probably ever seen, was anything but normal. She was a special model of cybernetic being, (codename CHOSEN) enhanced by Cruxis Co.’s CEO, Yggdrasil. What was a cybernetic being? Lloyd asked this constantly, never really understanding. Apparently, it was just a human with a bunch of robot parts in them or something. So kinda like a cyborg? Maybe. Who cares! Colette was Colette.

The whole cybernetic enhancements thing wasn’t so bad. Lloyd had a few robot parts on his armor! The problem was when they hurt Colette, when they controlled her, when they turned off her nerve endings, her vocal cords… It was wrong, plain and simple. Lloyd wouldn’t allow her to go through that again, wouldn’t allow anyone to go through that if he could help it!

And it wasn’t just these secret Chosen experiments. There were Exspheres as well. That was a whole other can of space worms. Exspheres were so important to everyday life, so ingrained into society, and it turned out that Exspheres were made from tortured human lives. Cruxis Co. wouldn’t let this information out to the public, but Lloyd did his best to scream and yell it out to everyone he saw when he was running for his life, sack of stolen Exspheres at his back.

It wasn’t easy. Cruxis Co. owned everything. Cruxis Co. was a part of everything. Seriously. Everything. Their ship was technically Cruxis, Lloyd’s swords were Ex-Sabers, even his dad worked under Cruxis. Well, technically, it was another corporation, but Cruxis owned them as well of course.

Lloyd’s dad, Dirk the space dwarf, might have worked under Cruxis, but that didn’t mean he liked them. It was no secret that he hated Cruxis’ guts, despised the things they did, despised how they treated his fellow dwarves. Maybe that was why what happened shouldn’t have been a surprise to Lloyd. He should have seen it coming. He should have been prepared.

“Dad!” Lloyd said happily, pushing his face close to the Holoscreen floating before him. “It’s been a while! I’m sorry I haven’t called; we’ve just been busy.” Colette smushed her smiling face against Lloyd’s cheek, giggling. She waved at the screen.

“My boy!” Dirk shouted, his rocky voice tumbling out of the Holoscreen. He wore some tough looking armor, thicker than any steel Lloyd had seen. Splotches of dirt, grime, and… green…? bled onto his armor. “Ah, and Colette! Good to see ya!”

“Hello Mr. Dirk!” Colette said cheerfully. It wasn’t often they got the chance to relax in their ship, and Colette’s smile was worth more than all the stars in the galaxy. “Are you out on a job?”

Dirk nodded. Red lights flashed at his back, breathing down his neck, not quite a warning, but not quite relaxing. “Aye, that I am. A simple mining job with some of the other lads.”

“Oy!” a deep grumbling voice bellowed behind Dirk. “You talkin’ with some pointy-eared elves you lazy good-fer-nothin’? You want I should clean yer armor, give ye a bath, and kiss yeh on the lips too?”

Dirk’s charming smile quickly turned into a toothy scowl. “Yeh slack-jawed imbecile, I’m talking to my family! Shut yer trap before I shut it for yeh!”

Lloyd and Colette blinked, frozen. It wasn’t often that Dirk’s dwarven accent came out so thick. Even when Lloyd was a kid and wouldn’t do his homework, he had never heard Dirk yell so loudly and so angrily.

Dirk poked at the screen with his massive gauntlet finger. “This thing still on? Did I lose connection?”

Lloyd shook his head, knocking the space debris out of his head. “No! We’re here, Dad! Look, I can even get Noishe on the screen now!” He clapped his hands together. “Noishe! Here, boy!”

Silence. Nothing happened. Dirk raised a bushy eyebrow.

Lloyd sighed. “Force run Noishe.exe please…”

“I thought I fixed that,” Colette mumbled. “Noishe’s AI really has a mind of its own.”

A robotic whine whirred into existence. A green and white hologram blipped next to Lloyd, enormous ears bouncing like hyperactive radio antennae. Lloyd and Colette wrapped their arms around the holographic dog-creature, hugging the air, as Noishe didn’t have a physical form.

“Oh-ho!” Dirk said with a beard-filled grin. A shot rang out behind him, followed by some rumbly yelling, but he ignored it. “Finally got that old hunk of junk to listen, did ya?!”

“Noishe isn’t junk, Dad!” Lloyd said as Noishe let out another static-filled whine.

“He’s a good AI doggy!” Colette added fiercely. She pushed her face into Noishe’s holo-fur, giving him kisses as best she could, but only managing to kiss Lloyd’s body in the process. He blushed. (Of course.)

Dirk let out a rumbling laughter, probably powerful enough to cause a cave-in where he was at. Even if it did, he’d probably hold up the whole place up with those beefy arms of his. “I’m sorry lads! I didn’t mean it that way. We dwarves love junk.”

“Yew can say that again, brother!” a voice boomed behind Dirk. “Molly! You old bucket of bolts! Hurry up!” It was followed by another louder, but higher pitched voice. “You’re a good mule, Molly!!”

Colette giggled while Lloyd just rolled his eyes. There was no denying their smiles, and it was impossible to frown while Dirk grinned so brightly, even in the darkness of the mine.

Noishe whined, his laser-form writhing with anxiety. Lloyd patted him gently (patting Colette more than anything) and reassured him, “It’s fine, boy, don’t worry.” He turned back to Dirk. “We’ve also snagged a good amount more Expsheres, Dad!”

Something rumbled behind Dirk. Dirt and stone crumbled, and something hissed in the darkness. He tried to ignore it, his eyes only darting away once. “Aye, that’s impressive, lad! Really sticking it to those Cruxis creeps!”

Noishe whined again. His holoform was blinking in and out of their arms. It was Lloyd’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Is everything okay, Dad? I’m sorry if we called at a bad time.”

There was some dwarven shouting. Shots were fired and this time constantly. Something screeched. A voice cried out, “You ugly son of a b-”

“IT’S nothing!” Dirk shouted, waving the noise away like a swarm of annoying gnats.

“Dirk?” Colette asked. Something lit up on her visor. She knew something was wrong.

“Damn it!” Dirk shouted, and then suddenly the screen was in motion, a static blur trying desperately to follow him. “What are they thinking!?”

“Would you guys PLEASE hurry up?! We’re LEAVING.”

Lloyd moved closer to the screen, trying to put his hands on it, trying to do anything. All he could do was watch.

Dirk scrambled through the darkness, something skittering behind. Even in his clunky armor, he moved like a landslide, blowing through rocks and vines and other strange fauna with ease. “Wait! Wait! What are you doing?!”

There were other voices. Distant, but not far.

“Oy! Why are we taking off already?!”

“Management says time is up!”

“But there’s still a dwarf out there! We have four minutes left!”

“The drop pod is closing now! If you want, you can go spend the rest of your short life out there, but I’m not!”

Something grabbed Dirk, something with too many legs. He turned around and smashed it to pieces in a rage, green blood splattering on the screen. “You traitors! You backstabbers! I know what this is!” Dirk screamed, his voice barely heard over the sound of a massive drill digging through miles and miles of rock and stone.

“Dad! Dad, what’s going on!?” Lloyd cried out, desperate to do anything. Through the darkness, the hissing, and the blaring lights, Lloyd just managed to make out what looked to be a rocket taking off without Dirk.

Dirk finally turned to face the screen, but this time there was barely any light left. Darkness chittered, oozed into every crevice around him. He fit a helmet over his head. “Lloyd! My boy! I don’t know if I’ll see ye again, but I want you to know, I have always loved you like my own son!”

“Dad!?” Lloyd could only gasp out, his throat choking him.

“Don’t come after me, lad! Don’t come near these damn dirty dwarves ever again if you can help it!” The screeching was getting louder, the stomp of hundreds of legs blocked out Lloyd’s thoughts. “Always fight, Lloyd! Keep fighting! Destroy Cruxis in whatever way you-”

Dirk’s voice was cutout by thousands of smaller ones, unintelligible. The holoscreen fell to the dirt, overrun by stomping appendages. Something roared in the dark, and the mine collapsed. Nothing was left on the screen but static.

Lloyd, shocked, turned to Colette. Noishe was gone, instead replaced by an error box.

Noishe.exe has stopped working.

Of course he ran away. No amount of programming would make him brave.


“What in the BLOODY ‘ell is a buncha dirty HUMANS doin’ on our space rig?!”

Lloyd clenched his fists, choosing that over the hilt of his Ex-Sabers. It wouldn’t do any good. These were Dirk’s people. Be calm. Colette gripped his hand gently, the constant electricity that ran through her, sparking through his gloves and shocking him back into the present.

Despite her free will and lack of employment, Colette was still technically a Cruxis Co. model. (Like a robot model! But Colette could be a pretty model, too. At least Lloyd thought so.) Colette was extremely advanced and high priority unit at that. When the Rheaird drew close to the dwarven space station and asked for permission to land, they got it quickly.

“Roger that. You’re cleared for landing,” a voice had said over the intercom. There wasn’t even a hint of pushback. It was almost too easy.

The first thing they did when they landed was find the bar. Dirk was never much for drinking, but he had stories to tell of the other dwarves. The Abyss Bar the sign read in blinking lights, clearly in need of some repair. At the wall, a large poster read ‘LEAVE NO DWARF BEHIND’ and Lloyd had to fight back his rage again. Four dwarves sat around the stools, generally hassling the poor robot drone that served them, always demanding for more.

“Another round for Karl!” a shorter one said. “Extra foam! The foam’s for Dirk!”

“Yew tree lovin’ mongrel, Dirk hated booze!” a hot, booming voice said, slow and deep like a cavern. His chin was strangely clean shaven, or… clean burned off. His chins jiggled as his loud voice tumbled out of his throat.

“And Karl died a drunk!” the shorter one said, his beard falling down past his knees, making up for other’s lack of beard by tenfold. “What’s yer point, ya oily lard?!”

“Would you two PLEASE shut up?!” the dwarf standing before Lloyd and Colette screamed. His sideburns bristled and his cigar burned bright. “I’m TRYIN’ to talk to the bloody HUMANS in our DWARVEN space rig!”

A goggled dwarf looked over the two humans, adjusting his eyewear and nodding solemnly. He seemed like the smart one of the group. At least until he said, “Oy! Yer right! These are humans!”

“That’s wot I just said,” the cigar dwarf groaned.

“Messed up we got ‘umans aboard!”

“Look at how tall they is! Right weird it is!”

“What’s with that blonde one?! Why it look so soft!?”

“I think that’s a ‘woman.’”

“A wot?!”

“A woman yew deaf bastard. Think of yer mum, but way squishier. And try not to think of me last night wit’ her, gahahaha!”

“You dirty rock eatin’ son of a-”

The cigar dwarf sighed and ignored the other group as they started throwing fisticuffs and mugs at each other. “I assume you ain’t here lookin’ for work. Buncha lazy humans never did nuffin’ for us. What do you want?”

Lloyd had never imagined just how different dwarves could look. Dirk never talked about them much, but Lloyd had always expected them to just … well… look like Dirk. There were taller ones, rounder ones, ones with huge beards, ones with no beards, and ones with massive sideburns. Still, they all had a sort of feel like his dad. It was hard to explain. They were loud, they were rude, but they didn’t seem all that bad. Somehow.

“I’m looking for my dad,” Lloyd said sternly. If they were anything like Dirk, they’d respond to rock hard stoicism. “Dirk.”

“Yew wot?!” the beardless dwarf said, slack-jawed and about to get socked right in the face.

The cigar nearly fell out of the sideburns dwarf’s mouth. “… He always talked about ‘avin’ younglings. Always pictured it’d be a buncha little bushy brats runnin’ around…”

“Makes sense!” a little dwarf piped in. “Knew the ugly bastard couldn’t find someone to ‘av kids wif!” A fist flew straight into his nose, knocking him off the stool.

“Ain’t you got a lick of respect for the fallen?!” the goggled dwarf yelled.

“’Course I do!!!” the little dwarf cried back. Actually cried. He was on the floor bawling his eyes out, half-drunk. “I loved Dirk!! Loved that ugly bastard like me own father! Losin’ him was worse than when Steve died! And worse than when the other Steve died, or when the other Steve exploded in that freak accident, or when-” He poured his mug out over his mouth, drenching him and his enormous beard more than anything. “For Dirk!!!”

Lloyd couldn’t keep his cool anymore. He always thought Dirk was loud, but then he never ran into more than one dwarf. “Then why did you leave him?!” His own voice matched theirs in strength. “What about dwarven vow # 2?! ‘Never abandon someone in need!’”

All four dwarves suddenly stopped in their tracks and went completely silent. Fists stood as still as boulders locked in a crevice, mugs were raised up to thirsty lips yet never made it to their destination.

“That old fool actually taught you those dusty vows?” the sideburns dwarf said. “Haven’t heard one of them in a looong time.”

“We only got one ‘vow’ nowadays,” the goggled dwarf said quietly. “’Leave No Dwarf Behind.’”

Lloyd grunted. Only dwarves mattered to dwarves now? “That doesn’t change anything! Why did you leave my dad then!? He’s a dwarf!”

Suddenly a huge hand grappled Lloyd’s shoulder. The sideburn’s dwarf flicked the cigar between his lips. There was a surprising amount of comfort in his grip. “Listen kid. We ain’t wanted to leave your dad. We woulda gone out there to save him ourselves. Hell, he saved us plenty of times…”

The grip was too familiar. Too wrong. Lloyd pushed the dwarf’s hand away. “Then why?!”

“Guy at mission control,” the beardless dwarf growled. “Said Dirk ain’t a dwarf no more suddenly.”

“So technically,” the little dwarf on the floor continued sadly, “We ain’t left any dwarf behind.”

“That’s!...” Lloyd started to say, unable to find the words. He was so angry, he was so confused, he was so terrified.

“We tried to yell at Mission Control, we did,” the sideburns dwarf went on, using his now free hand to swig some more booze. He kept the cigar at his lips still. “He just told us it was an order from management. Went high up. Way high up.”

“Always told Dirk to stop talkin’ bad about Cruxis…”

“We warned him wot happens to us dwarves what get vocal about our dislike with Cruxis,” another whispered. “Not… that we dislike Cruxis or management or anything!”

“Course not!” the cigar dwarf yelled, so loud the barrels in the station rumbled. “We LOVE Cruxis! Hear that?! LOVE CRUXIS. We dwarves LOVE being owned by a NON-DWARF company!”

“Elves!...” the large beardless one suppressed a gag. “They’re… good. We like… elves.”

The cigar dwarf pointed his scarred eye at Lloyd like a loaded gun. “In fact, we like Cruxis and management so much, we’re gonna tell you how to find ‘em! Yew can go and say hi. Have a little… chat… with them. Maybe convince them to go back after Dirk.”

“Management never listens to us lowly miner dwarves!”

Lloyd blinked. Colette squeezed his hand again, and he felt that surge of electricity run through his spine.

“Now you two little dwarves…” the sideburn dwarf started sternly, his teeth grinding his cigar down to shreds. “To get to mission control, all you have to do is take that elevator by the drop pod. Go down the hall. Take a left. Another left. One more left for good measure, and then finally a left. You’ll find mission control after you take one more left. You’ll tell ‘em you want to go back down on the same mission. Now, we normally ain’t do the same mission ever, but you’ll convince ‘em. Tell ‘em there’s still plenty of Morkite they missed. Understand?”

Lloyd nodded. Without another word, he and Colette sprinted toward the elevator.

“Rock and stone brothers,” the dwarf said behind. The rest followed suit, shouting, “ROCK AND STONE!”

“…Also, sister.”

“YEAH, SISTER!”


“You’re the one that left my dad behind!” Lloyd shouted, smashing through the door, his laser swords sparking with red plasma. Truthfully, he smashed through the door and ducked beneath the frame, but that didn’t sound as cool.

“You’re!! Not very nice!” Colette added, her chakrams glowing yellow like halos. “Sorry!”

The old dwarf turned around, his bushy eyebrows furrowed in anger and annoyance. The headset at his face was busy barking orders, constant noise, and yelling voices. He tuned it out extremely well. “You must be Dirk’s kids. Lloyd and…?”

“Who are you to ask her na-”

“Colette!” she said with a smile. Lloyd sighed. “Dirk’s not actually my father, but I do think of him like one!”

The old dwarf smiled. He tugged at his beard in thought.

“Why’d you do it?!” Lloyd demanded, enraged by the silence. Every dwarf he had ever met was so loud, never stopped talking, so why was this one so quiet?! It must have been the guilt!

“I didn’t,” the old bushy bearded dwarf said. Even for a dwarf, this guy looked old. He didn’t quite fit in with the younger dwarves on this space rig. Sort of like Dirk. “The one who gave the order and pulled the drop pod away without Dirk is on a break. I’m covering for him.”

“Then where is he?!” Lloyd demanded.

“Somewhere else,” the old dwarf said. “Don’t be angry at him. He gets enough hate for doing his job. Most people don’t know it, but he tries his best to keep the other dwarves safe. Management are the uncaring devils.” He hit a button at his desk. Lights blipped out, screens went dark, his headset and microphone went quiet. “Cruxis are the ones you should be mad at.”

Lloyd stomped his foot. “I am mad at them! Why are you working for them?! Who are you anyway?! You know our names, it’s only fair we know yours!”

“Slow down you loud-mouthed brat,” the old dwarf hissed. “You humans… always so quick to judge, so impatient! I’ll never understand what Dirk saw in them.”

“We don’t have time for this!”

“I’m Altessa,” he said finally, eyebrow twitching with annoyance. “I know your father. He’s an idiot. You either have time to listen to me ramble for a few minutes, or he’s dead anyway. It won’t matter.”

Lloyd raised his swords, the red glow reflecting off of Altessa’s gray beard and greyer face. Colette put a hand on his arm, lowering it.

“You ask why we work for Cruxis?” Altessa grumbled. “I could ask the same. Why do you use their disgusting Exsphere technology? Why do you use swords under their brand?”

Lloyd flinched. “I… I have to! And this Exsphere it’s…”

“Excuses, excuses.” Altessa waved him off. “Everyone has excuses. Everyone. Nobody does the right thing. Nobody can.”

“So that means its fine to kill my dad?!”

“Don’t you fill my mouth with your disgusting words, brat.” Altessa grumbled, “Dirk could have done a better job…” He looked back at them. “If nobody can do the right thing, then it seems I, too, am destined to make mistakes on the job.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

Altessa rolled his eyes. He hit a few switches at his control deck, lights blipping, cameras whirring, and voices yelling. “It means that, if say, that young lady over there…” he pointed at Colette. “… were to say… hack mission control and hack the drop pod to go back to where Dirk was left behind…” He shrugged. “Well, that would be an awful mistake to make. Something that’s mostly out of my control though.” He kept his hand held tight over the microphone.

Lloyd gulped. He kept his swords out, not quite understanding. Colette nodded and quickly ran up to the desk, ducking under the low ceiling. Her fingers ran over the holographic panels like it was second nature. It was Cruxis technically, and like it or not, Colette was still part Cruxis with all the cybernetic enhancement placed permanently into her spine.

“You should know something, whelp,” Altessa went on, ignoring Colette. “Hoxxes, that planet you’re about to dive headfirst into, isn’t some happy blue place filled with birds and clouds.”

“Not like I ever lived on a happy planet anyway. But I know a little bit about this one…” Lloyd admitted. “It’s where Dad works. He only had bad things to say about it. Said its an ugly rock with uglier inhabitants.”

“Feh!” Altessa groaned. “Putting it mildly as always that Dirk. It should be a lifeless planet home to nothing but scorched earth and rubble, but for whatever reason, the universe thought to play a cruel joke on us all. It’s filled to the brim with the most precious minerals in the galaxy, but also full of the most vile and disgusting creatures you’ve ever seen.”

“Can’t be worse than Cruxis…” Lloyd grumbled.

“Aye,” Altessa said. “But damn close. Those bugs down there, the Glpyhids, the Mactera, the Cave Leeches… They would probably form a company like Cruxis if they had a damn braincell between any of them.”

“Ugh, gross. Bugs?”

“Billions of them,” Altessa added. “It is impossible to kill them all, and believe you me, we have tried. Blind hungry beasts with too many legs, and a hatred for anything that moves in their caves that aren’t them. Dumber than dwarves, dumber than rocks, but they make up for it in sheer numbers.”

Colette gulped but kept up her pace as she broke through the firewalls at Altessa’s desk.

“Dirk’s been working here a long time. Longer than you’ve been alive. Longer than some of the dwarves here have been alive. They won’t kill him so easily.” He paused. “But they will. Eventually. If nothing is done, they will wear him down. They will never EVER stop.”

Lloyd’s mind raced. It was hard to keep all his fears pinned down, hard to keep all this information down. Still, the question drilled into his skull. “Why do you all work here then? Why do you work for them?”

Altessa turned away, angry. His eyes fell on Colette for a brief moment before falling away back to his screens, brows furrowed in fury, eyes and nose wrinkled with pain. “It is better to work here. Better than making those weapons you’re using, better than creating technology used to hurt. At least here, maybe we can make something without Exspheres, without causing too much suffering. At least here, I can protect my people. And when they die, I know it. I see it. I know it is my fault. And I can do better. I can try harder.”

Altessa looked out the window. Nothing but dark space. “Out there? I didn’t know who I was hurting.” His eyes fell onto Colette like a nervous twitch before quickly blinking away. “At least here, I know. I know, and that is enough. I do what I can. Do you understand?”

Colette closed the menus before her before running back to Lloyd, ducking under the doorframe. “Lloyd, the drop pod is ready to go. I’ve got it set to Dirk’s nearest location, but it says he hasn’t moved in some time. We need to go.”

Lloyd gave one last gaze to the cranky old dwarf before nodding. He didn’t understand, but maybe, deep down, he wanted to. Maybe. If by some chance Dirk was okay, maybe Lloyd would try to understand.

Maybe.


They ducked under a couple more doorframes and finally ducked under the drop pod’s entrance. The drop pod itself was a rusty old rocket and had obviously seen a ton of use. Dirt was caked onto the metal plating and the enormous drill at the bottom of the pod still oozed with green blood and rocks.

Lloyd and Colette didn’t know what they were doing but that never stopped them before. They strapped themselves into the tiny seats, their legs splayed out on the cold metal floor. Colette punched in a few inputs at the terminal between them, and the engine began to yawn with life. Lloyd looked through the terminal at the planet they’d soon be drilling into.

Hoxxes looked more like a crusty meteor than a planet. The hunk of rock was falling apart, huge continents barely sticking on to the surface of the place, held only by a sliver of whatever strange gravity was left over. Lava burbled out of its wound like a nasty gash, the fire formed beautiful deadly rings that stretched out into the darkness of space, hoping to spread its horror out farther still. There was nothing on the surface as far as Lloyd could tell. Nothing but death and dust. At least that was familiar. But his dad was in that corpse of a planet, infested with wriggling bugs, and Lloyd wasn’t about to let Dirk die along with it.

“Okay, hold on tight, Lloyd,” Colette said, a light shake in her voice.

The gates shuttered with a creaking clank, steam hissing out as it shook the rust from its metal muscles. Before the drop pod closed all the way, one final voice broke though, one final message from the dwarves at Deep Rock Galactic…

“Has anyone seen my PIG?”

The two blinked, realizing they didn’t look through the drop pod as much as they probably should have. Fuzzy dice, check, blinking radars, check, some old worn seatbelts, check. Pig?...

“…Huh?”

“Uh…”

“Oink!” Check. The pig snuffled happily as the drop pod’s thrusters exploded into life.

“Piggy no! Come here!” Colette cried, opening her arms. It squealed happily, hopping into her embrace with ease. Was it… was it used to this?! Colette held the warm piggy tight as the laws of nature broke to better fit a dwarf’s narrative.

The fuzzy dice floated up to the top of the ship, Colette’s hair floated like she had dived deep into the ocean, and the piggy nuzzled her cheek as Lloyd and Colette screamed (literally) through space at speeds they could never quite fathom. Before they knew it, a terrible crash exploded through the pod, knocking the two back down into some form of normal gravity. The dice fell on snake eyes, and Colette’s hair slapped her back in the face. Meanwhile the piggy licked the tears out of Lloyd and Colette’s eyes.

The drill burbled and screeched, digging down through this planet’s crust like a dwarven hammer on molten metal. It was a bumpy ride to say the least, knocking Lloyd and Colette’s heads into each other more than once, all while the pig oinked, pleased with the fun vibrations it clearly experienced way too often.

The drop pod’s hull opened as it dug through the planet’s rocky skin. Red lights blared. -6000 M depth, -6400 M, -6900, and finally with a loud thunk! they landed in a cave at -7200 meters deep.

Lloyd and Colette quickly stumbled out of the ship, heads banging, vision vibrating, and lunch desperately trying to escape.

“Oink!” the piggy snuffled joyfully.

“P-piggy, no!” Colette said through shaking stutters. “Y-you can’t come with us! You have-have to go back!” And against all the warnings at her visors, against the weakness clearly in her knees, Colette carried the precious piggy back into the drop pod and strapped it into the seat. There was a seat made just for it! It fit perfectly, keeping the pig nice and snug. It oinked a sweet goodbye at Colette who didn’t want to leave it.

“G-goodbye p-piggy!” Colette said, trying not to hurl. Lloyd wasn’t so lucky. The drop pod scooped up its ramps and closed itself back up lickity-split like. The drop pod, and the piggy, flew back up through the hole in the crust it had made and back up to the space rig, where it would hopefully be safe and sound with its owner.

And just like that, they were left alone and in the dark. Luckily, Colette was fitted with all kinds of holograms, lights, lasers, generally shiny things. She was the most recent model of Chosen after all. Purple lights reflected off claustrophobic stony walls, and pink glimmered through the blue-green vines that littered the cave system.

The air down here was thick enough to drink. Each breath was humid, chunky even. Disgusting. Sweat from previous dwarves mixed in with the dusty moldy air. They were lucky there even was air. It was surprising to see so much plant life, however simple it may be. Vines, moss, mushrooms, they spread like literal weeds across the tunnels and caves, more than they could have imagined. Lloyd slashed through the place with his sabers, neon red skittering across the darkness.

The stone walls rumbled, as if knowing. Hisses screeched down the tunnels, and the bugs were upon them. Gross creatures. Nothing but a body, scythe-like claws, and a mouth for biting. They were as big as Noishe, but unfortunately not as holographic as he was. It was as Altessa said, they were not smart beings. They ran themselves upon Lloyd’s sword, seemingly welcomed the release as Colette’s chakrams sliced them into pieces, but they just kept coming, just kept biting and slashing.

There were, of course, moments of respite, of silence. Where even the bugs must have forgotten about them, or at least assumed the last wave must have killed the intruders. It was during those short minutes that the two searched for any signs of Dirk.

The cave floors were littered with boot prints and stubby bug prints. Signs of minerals forcefully ripped out of the stone, specks of gold dust left over from their rush, and blood, so much blood and bug parts. Caverns suddenly became bigger, and rounder too, about the size of a small explosion, as one of the dwarves deemed it fit to blow it up. Time constraints with the Glyphids were more of a worry than cave-ins, clearly.

“He should be nearby,” Colette said, her visor showing a simple 3D map of the cave before her.

“I don’t see him!” Lloyd said, frustrated and tired. “Dad! Dad, can you hear me?!” His voice echoed off the walls, down into the dark depths. Only the hiss of Glyphids responded.

“Wait…” Colette knelt down, brushing some dirt and spores away. “Is that…?”

“Dad’s helmet!” Lloyd said, a nervous tinge in his throat. “He barely ever wore this, but he wore it when we last saw him!”

Colette ran her fingers over its smooth surface, felt that familiar craftsmanship. Like Lloyd’s. Stubborn metal forced into a simple, yet elegant design. Nothing quite so brilliant, yet eye catching in its perfection. As stubborn as the metal, Dirk and Lloyd’s handiwork was always tempered in its easy beauty.

“It’s okay,” she said finally. “His helmet had all his communication equipment, but it also holds the coordinates for the rest of his armor in case of an emergency. I’m downloading it now.”

Soon they’d either find Dirk or at the very least, the remains of his armor. Lloyd’s slashes through vines and bugs became faster, quicker, more desperate, angrier. Colette kept her cool the best she could. It was the least she could do for Lloyd. He had always tried to keep calm in her worst hours as well and she knew how important that was in those moments.

“It should be… um…” Colette gulped. “Right here?” She motioned to a stony wall. “A little past here?...” Her voice cracked.

“Uh… there’s no path here, Colette. The cave ends here.”

“Um…” She gulped, checked the coordinates on the map again, and sure enough, it led them straight to this wall. “Sorry… it says right here…”

Lloyd’s brow twitched and his eyelids clenched, but only for a moment. He pressed his hands against the wall. “This feels … maybe different? I don’t know. The stone feels… fresher? Does that make sense?”

It did not make sense, but Colette understood well enough. She pressed her hand against the stone as well. There was less dust here than anywhere else. She felt a tiny vibration against her fingertips, hoping to whatever AI inside her that it wasn’t more bugs. Perhaps a forced cave in? Or an accidental one…

“We should dig here,” Colette said with a nod.

“We don’t exactly have tools…” Lloyd said with a sigh.

Colette stuck her tongue out. “I’m the biggest tool you’ll ever meet!”

Lloyd burst into laughter, even in this suffocating darkness, even in the uncertainty of his father’s life. “I don’t think that’s… ah… oh Colette. You’re not just a tool!”

“I know!” Colette said cheerfully, happy she could lighten the mood. “But I am helpful!”

She threw her chakrams into the stone, the laser discs spinning and cutting at a rapid rate. It wasn’t the fastest way to dig, but it worked. She slowly drilled her way through the stone, golden light mixed with crimson. Lloyd shoved his Ex-Sabers in there for good measure, disintegrating bits of dirt and stone with each stab and slash. It was a slow process, but it was one, and that’s all that mattered. They could be drills if they wanted to. It was the future. It was space. They wanted to be drills. Let them be drills.

The stone soon became softer, more dirt than anything. They could hear someone’s voice on the other side, hear something rumbling, something hissing. A crack of weak light poured out into the darkness, filling their hearts with hope. That light was snuffed out however, when a giant blind bug sniffed out through the crack, screeching and biting, burrowing through the small tunnel they had made.

Lloyd growled and readied his swords, just about to make the stab when-

“WAIT! STOP!” His voice was as booming and as commanding as ever. Something deep inside Lloyd kept him from striking, froze him in his place. It was a strange power a father could have over their child, a strange power that Dirk would never abuse.

Dirk leaped forward between bug and Lloyd, arms outstretched.

“D-Dad?! What are you-”

“It’s Steve! He’s a good bug!” Dirk said, patting the blind creature’s armored head, calming it. “Steve, these are my kids. They won’t hurt me.” Colette scratched her nose at the mention of ‘kids’ clearly enjoying that she was part of the family.

Steve hissed and wiggled his carapace, apparently just fine with that explanation. He stomped past Lloyd and Colette into the darkness of the tunnel where he felt most content and guarded the entrance.

“Now that that’s sorted…” Dirk looked up with that big bushy grin of his and punched Lloyd in the shoulder. “What in the hell are ya doin’ here?!”

“Ow!” Lloyd whined, rubbing his shoulder. “Dad! What’s the matter with you! We’re here to save you!”

“Aye, I can see that, lad!” Dirk said, hands at his hips. “Puttin’ yourself and your lass in danger for an old dwarf like me… What were ye thinkin’ man!? I told you not to come here!”

“I was thinking you’d be a lot more appreciative of us for saving your life!” Lloyd said.

Dirk sniffed and brushed some dirt out of his eye. “Aye. I am.” And in the next second, he suddenly grabbed Lloyd into the tightest, spine-breakingist hug that Lloyd had ever experienced. Even though Lloyd doubled his height, Dirk dragged his son into the tiny dirt home he had been living in after he’d been left behind.

“Dad! Ow! You’re lucky my shield is up!” Lloyd whined as Dirk held him tight, but both their smiles could be seen even in the dark.

“Aye, I’m more lucky than I’ll ever know,” Dirk said again, squeezing his son tighter. He looked over to Colette who stood off to the side awkwardly. “What are ye waitin’ for lass? Come on in and give us a hug!”

Colette’s eyes lit up brighter than the yellow flare sitting in the damp dirt room. She jumped in quickly, wrapping her strength augmented arms around Dirk and Lloyd, squeezing them even tighter. Lloyd’s energy shield broke.

“Augh! Guys!” Lloyd whined, still laughing through it all.

“Oof, I see where yer complainin’ comes from, lad!” Dirk said, his rocky laugh tumbling out of his beard like a landslide. “Colette, lass, your arms are stronger than four drunken dwarves put together!”

Colette let out a cheerful giggle before dropping the two down. Both their shields blipped for a few seconds before coating them in a protective shimmering glow and disappearing into invisibility.

Lloyd needed a minute or so to get his breath back, but Dirk was having the time of his life, heeing-and-hawing. It had been a long time since they’d seen him so happy. In fact, it was probably the last time they visited him…

“Dad, what are you…” Lloyd huffed and motioned to the tiny dirt room he had built here. Nothing but rock and soot and barely enough to stretch your legs, even for a dwarf. “What are you doing here?”

Dirk smacked Lloyd’s back, his shield blinking in response to possible damage. “What’s it look like I’m doin’ lad? Havin’ a nice tea party with a bug! Enjoying my new home! What, do you not want to live here with your old man? I’ve already planned a nice room for you to sleep! Right by the leaky poisonous mushroom!”

Lloyd rolled his eyes but couldn’t hide his smile. “Very funny, Dad.”

“I’ve still got it,” he said jutting a big armored thumb towards himself. “Anyways, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be down here or if I’d be down here the rest of me short life.” He shrugged. “Dug myself a nice hole and caused a cave in. Only way those bastard bugs would leave me an’ Steve alone. If I was gonna die, I at least ain’t dyin’ as a lunch to those bugs!”

“I’m sure they eat enough gross rocks,” Lloyd commented with a sly grin.

“HA!” Dirk boomed, his laugh shaking the poisonous mushroom.

“Speaking of bugs… So uh… about…” Lloyd brought his voice down for some reason and pointed at the bug guarding the entrance. “Steve. What’s up with Steve. How. Why.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about Steve!” Dirk said, waving away Lloyd’s troubles. “He’s one of the good ones. Found him trying to bite my eyes out, but he likes me now.”

Lloyd waited, expecting for a more detailed explanation. His eyebrow twitched. “But… Dad, how did… Why does Steve listen to you?”

“Eh?” Dirk shrugged. “Told you, lad, he likes me! These Glyphids respect a dwarf who knows these caves!”

“But it’s… it’s a big bug and…”

“Lad, his name is Steve.”

“Okay, I know, it’s Steve, but it’s still a blind bug, and-”

“I never questioned you and your weird laser dog, did I?”

Lloyd sighed. “You know what? That’s fair.”

Dirk nodded. There was no more explanation needed. Steve was Steve. You respect Steve. “Now then, I never asked, how did you two even get here?!”

Lloyd looked over at the glowing poisonous mushroom, averting his father’s steely gaze. Colette knew it would be best if she spoke up. “We, um, sort of hacked mission control’s data base and, um, borrowed a drop pod to get down here…”

Dirk’s eyes burst out of his bushy eyebrows. “So then… you must have met my co-workers…”

“You’re not mad that we stole company property?” Lloyd asked suddenly. He was sure he was going to be grounded for this.

Dirk’s laugh bellowed through the cave. “Of course not, lad! You two are space pirates! Stealing is what you do!”

“For the last time!” Lloyd said, face flushed with embarrassment. “Dad, we’re not space pirates!”

Colette as per usual, even in all her angelic grace, had to play the devil’s advocate here. “We do steal a lot of Expsheres Lloyd…”

“Agh, Colette!”

“I don’t care what ya are, Lloyd,” Dirk said easily. “You’ll always be my son. No matter what they say you are. I know you’re doing the right thing.” He nodded. “Besides, why would I care if you stole company property, eh?! Those daft lard heads left me for dead down here! I’m more worried about you meetin’ with those idiots I work with.”

“Your friends seem nice!” Colette added cheerfully.

“Wha?” Dirk fiddled with his beard. “That sorry lot ain’t my friends...”

“Huh? They’re not?” Colette’s head tilted. “But they were so sad when they thought you died.”

“Those fools?” Dirk’s stare became harder than stone. “Were they… really?”

Lloyd nodded. “The fast one was crying his eyes out.”

“Ah. They were drunk,” Dirk said knowingly.

“Dad. They’re dwarves.”

I’m a dwarf! You don’t see me hobbling around like a bug that got it’s skull bashed in!”

“Yeah, that’s because you’re my dad,” Lloyd said easily, as if that explained anything.

Dirk nodded solemnly. “True. True.” Colette didn’t quite understand, but Dirk had been Lloyd’s dad longer, so they must have shared a deeper bond. “Those idiots might learn a thing or two if they survive long enough to get my age.”

Something hissed in the darkness of the cave. A light rumbling that couldn’t be attributed to Dirk’s booming laughter this time. Steve was clearly upset.

“Maybe we should cut this short, eh?” Dirk said with a frown. “Now, what’s the plan on getting out of here?”

Lloyd blinked. Colette blinked as well. Their blinks synched up into a mean blinking machine. They were a well-oiled confused mess. “Get out? Uhh…”

Dirk held his huge armored hands out desperately. “Ye have no clue how to leave do ye.”

“We let the drop pod go back…” Lloyd said slowly.

“There was a cute piggy, we wanted him to be safe…” Colette added, scratching her nose.

“The important thing was rescuing you!”

Dirk’s head fell to the floor. “Lloyd… Dwarven Vow #24.”

“Aw, no, come on, not now…”

Dirk looked his son in the eyes. “Dwarven Vow #24.”

Lloyd said it in one big sigh. “Never let your feet run faster than your shoes.” He paused. “I don’t even know what that means. Don’t get hover boots that are too fast than you’re used to? I’m always careful with my equipment, Dad.”

It was Dirk’s turn to sigh. “Think things through, Lloyd!”

“I’m trying!” Lloyd threw his hands into the air. “Don’t let ghosts steal your shoes because they’re too slow and … won’t run fast enough with your feet?”

Dirk’s jaw nearly hit the floor. “That’s not… I just said…” He shook his head. “Never mind. We don’t have time for this. Colette, you said you hacked mission control’s data base to have the drop pod send you back here, right?”

Colette was busy patting a confused Lloyd’s shoulders. “Yeah. I set it up like we were on a mining mission for minerals. Um… Morkite, I believe?”

“Aye, that was our mission.” Dirk nodded, ignoring his son who was still trying to figure out the meaning of the vow. Don’t leave your shoes at home when you go for a run? You’ll hurt your feet if you step on a pebble! “So that must mean you’re technically on the same mission again, right?”

Colette brought the visor before her face again. Her eyes lit up and she nodded happily.

“Great!” Dirk said. “Where’s Molly? Er… the M.U.L.E.!”

Colette blinked. “Um… the what?”

Sweat formed at Dirk’s brow. “Molly! A big robot with legs! She follows us around and we deposit the minerals we gathered into her! She’s like a minecart!”

Don’t run so fast that your shoes fall off? You’ll lose your shoes! They’re expensive!

Colette shook her head. “No, we didn’t get one of those. I’m certain I would have noticed.”

Dirk closed his eyes in thought for a second. He came back, his white teeth gleaming through his dark beard. “That’s it! It must think you’re Molly!”

“I’m not a minecart…” Colette said sadly, insulted.

“No, lass, you’re not!” Dirk said. “You’re much more than that! You’re like a daughter-in-law to me!” Colette smiled again. “But if it thinks your Molly, this might be a whole lot easier. What’s your visor say about the mission? Any numbers? Like say… zero slash two-hundred-and-fifty?”

Colette’s eyes ran over the holographic visor. She placed a hand at her mouth. “Oh! How did you know!? It says exactly that! 0/250 Morkite!”

“Aye, I been doin’ this much too long,” Dirk said with a sigh. “Probably a good time to retire. Now, seeing as you’re part super computer, do ya think you could change that 0 into a 250?”

Maybe its about arms… like… don’t punch someone in the foot if they’re wearing shoes? No, that can’t be right… unless?

Colette ignored Lloyd’s musings as well, but only because their situation was fairly dire. “Okay!” she nodded, flicked her finger across the screen, and bing! Some confetti popped up on her visor. She smiled. “I did it!”

“Great job, lass,” Dirk said, so proud of them. “Now a button should appear somewhere. We press that, and it calls the drop pod, and we’re home free!”

“A… button?” Colette repeated. “I don’t think-ah!” Suddenly, something whirred below Colette’s neck, just above her chest. A big red button flipped itself open for all the world to see. “W-what? Wait, I don’t remember ever having a button...?”

The cave shook harder and harder. Steve was hissing up a storm.

“Don’t worry about it, lass! The important thing is we press that button!” He coughed at Lloyd’s direction.

Don’t wear shoes? Shoes just slow you down! That’s gotta be it! Lloyd grinned. “Huh? What is it, Dad?”

Dirk sighed. The two were as confused as ever. “Would ye mind pressin’ Colette’s button, please? Don’t think it’d be right of me.”

“H-her button?” Lloyd said, face redder than his laser sabers. His eyes caught onto the big red button below her neck. “Oh. When did that get there?”

“I-I don’t know!” Colette cried.

“Just, PLEASE, press it!”

Lloyd nodded, pressing it with a stylish flourish. Colette giggled. “T-that tickles!” Something bright showed up on her visor. “Oh!! Drop pod is incoming!”

Dirk checked the map from his pocket. It was a dusty old thing, almost like a CRT TV, whatever that was. He held it up in the air, trying to get a better signal, adjusting the bent wires at the top. “All right, lads, looks like we’ve got our ticket out of here! Drop pod will be landin’ far, but that’s not but a hop-skip-and-a-jump for us! Let’s go!”

The three took off through the tunnels and back into the jungle caves with Steve skittering and hissing closely behind. All that noise from before, combined with the enormous drop pod drilling through the planet in the distance appeared to have angered the bugs yet again. They were swarmed before they left a few feet out of the tunnel.

“How do I know which one Steve is?!” Lloyd called out pathetically, slashing a bug in half with possible remorse? He wasn’t sure.

“He’s the one that ISN’T tryin’ to bite your face off!” Dirk shouted, smashing some angry Glyphids into the dirt with pickaxe/hammer. “Which means, don’t worry about it! Steve will be fine!”

“Oh! I found him!” Colette called out, watching as two of the bugs fought each other, legs scrambling, teeth biting. As the other rude bugs tried to swarm Steve, Colette was able to make quick work with her chakrams, sawing the non-Steve bugs into pieces all around him. She quickly petted his bruised armored head. Steve waggled his thorax. “Good bug!!!”

As they scrambled through the vine-filled jungle caves, fending off hundreds of bitey bugs, Lloyd began to tire, began to worry. He was sure he’d seen that mushroom before. “Are you sure you know where you’re going?!” he asked, slicing a non-Steve in two.

Dirk pressed on through the wave of disgusting bugs, the wave of them seemingly parting just at his presence. “Trust me, boy! I know these caves like the back of me own arse!” He sputtered and gasped.

“Dad!!!”

“I meant- I meant hand! Argh, these blasted caves change a dwarf for the worse…”

Colette frowned. “I don’t think most people know what their own butt looks like very well…”

Foul language and confusing metaphors were the least of their problems. The Glyphids were simply too much, too angry. Lloyd and Colette sliced through as many as they could, but like a space hydra, more space heads just kept coming back and space biting!

“Dad!” Lloyd cried out, Colette at his side, pinned to the wall. “We can’t! It’s-it’s too much!”

Dirk quickly swiveled around, his eyes burning hotter than any star in the universe. “So ye disgusting freaks want to pick on my kids, do ye?” He reached for the giant metal contraption at his back, his neck pulsing with veins, fueled with rage. “How would you like to see my ‘hammer’ then, eh?!” He ran back, the enormous weapon between his hands, mouth filled with only curses and spit for the beasts.

A shot rang out. And another. And another. And ANOTHER. They rang out like giant hammers against metal, bullets piercing the bugs right through their skull.

And yet, even with the gunshots, the skittering and hissing, Dirk’s voice was loud and clear. “BRING IT FECKERS!” He screamed, bullets ripping and tearing the creatures apart like the stupid bugs they were. Sensitive to sound, of course they poured over to Dirk, only to be shot apart in seconds.

When the bugs finally fell, when Dirk’s enormous canon shot out its last slug, he let out an exhausted sigh.

“Dad!” Lloyd said, running up to him in awe. “That was so cool!”

“Are we allowed to say that?!” Colette said, hopping up behind, her laser wings flapping with excitement.

Dirk’s eyes popped out of his bushy face once more. “Er! No! Don’t ever use that language!”

They continued their ascent through the caves, running with Dirk, but not without Lloyd’s constant praise. “And was that bullets?! Actual real bullets?! I thought they didn’t make those anymore!”

“Well, ye see, Lloyd, you lot are used to fightin’ people with those fancy pants shields!” Dirk said, patting the massive weapon at his back with pride. “Fightin’ stupid bugs well… a good ol’ fashioned bullet to the face will do just fine.”

Steve hissed forlornly behind them.

“Ah, Steve, you know you’re a good bug!”

It wasn’t long until they reached the familiar blinking glow of red lights from the drop pod yet again. Lloyd and Colette never knew just how wonderful glowing red lights could be till they had to spend much too long in this damp dark hell.

“Go, go, go!” Dirk said, pushing the kids up the ramp and into the seats first, lobbing an explosive grenade behind him. Boom! Steve was showered in bug legs and guts. He didn’t mind it.

Dirk climbed in after, tugging the seatbelt tight over Lloyd first before settling into his own seat.

“Dad, I got it!” Lloyd blushed.

“No, ye didn’t.”

“What about Steve?!” Colette cried, watching as the bug stood outside and the ramps returned, and the gates began to close.

“Steve can’t come with us back to the station. Last time we brought a Steve back it… it didn’t end well.” Colette looked over to Dirk with the biggest puppy dog eyes in the galaxy. “Aw, lass, don’t be sad! Steve lives on in all those disgusting bugs down there. He wasn’t the first Steve, and he won’t be the last.”

“So, Steve will be okay?” Colette asked genuinely.

Dirk’s eyes shot to the left. As the doors finally closed, he managed to get a final glimpse of Steve, completely surrounded by the swarm of his former bug friends. He looked back to Colette who was close to tears. “Er… Steve will be just fine.” Colette’s lips curled into a great big smile.

Dirk let out a sigh of relief as the drop pod shot up, finally and truly leaving this dead husk of a planet.


“I can’t bloody believe it! Dirk, yew old bastard, yer alive!”

Dirk brushed the blood and dirt off his armor and shook his head. The dwarves from before gathered around, shocked, drunk, and eyes wider than a supernova. “No. I’m not.”

“Wot!?” the smaller dwarf said, pointing with mug in hand. “Yes, ya are!”

Lloyd and Colette ducked under the drop pod’s exit, their legs trembling, their bodies sagging and exhausted. Luckily, Dirk seemed so incredibly used to it all. He shook his head once more. “No, I ain’t ya slack-jawed dimwit.”

The beardless dwarf lumbered forward. “What are yew tryin’ to do?”

“Management left me for dead,” Dirk said angrily. “Said I’m not a dwarf, isn’t that right?”

“That’s roite.” The sideburns dwarf shifted the cigar between his lips.

“They, and by they, I mean Cruxis, clearly want me dead, right?” Dirk said. The dwarves nodded, some drunkenly, but they nodded all the same. “Why go against what management wants, hm? Why not tell ‘em what they like to hear? Like we always do.”

“Loike we always do,” the goggled dwarf repeated, hand running through his dirty blonde beard.

“Shame yew didn’t make it back ya old moldy boulder,” the sideburns dwarf said, elbowing Dirk in the gut. “Woulda’ liked to finally have a drink with ye.”

“I don’t get it! He’s right here ain’t he?!” the smaller, drunker dwarf said.

“No, he ain’t!” the goggled dwarf yelled. “Yer just drunk outta yer mind!”

The cigar dwarf nodded. “We’ll always remember you, Dirk.”

“If I didn’t die down there,” Dirk said, “I’d always remember you lot as well.” With nothing more than a nod, he left for the docking bay with his kids.

“For Dirk!” the dwarves cried out triumphantly, bashing their mugs together and gulping down whatever booze was left.


When all was said and done, when they reached Dirk’s home in the stars and bathed once or twice, getting all the dirt and blood off their souls, they felt they could finally relax again.

Dirk’s little station floated all on its own, orbiting the larger Iselia space station not too far off. He had somehow built the whole thing with his own two hands. From outside, it must have looked like a cozy snow globe, the glass dome surrounding the home giving a great view of the dead planet, Sylvarant.

There was no life left on that planet, not even bugs, not even minerals, just dust and wastelands. That didn’t stop the people from living there, didn’t stop them from moving to the stars, to the orbital ring filled with dead satellites and other metal debris around it. It wasn’t the best life for the people, but it was their life.

Tethe’alla, Sylvarant’s sister planet, orbited around her with ease. They were a pair of sibling planets, orbiting around each other while also orbiting around their sun. They shared a moon to themselves, but that was about all they shared. Tethe’alla was a vibrant blue and green planet, bustling with life and wealth. But that wasn’t where Lloyd was born, wasn’t where Colette was born. It was a story for another day.

It felt like so long ago that Lloyd would visit space station Iselia, run around its corridors with Colette and Dirk watching close behind. Then Cruxis came by and they said she could save their planet. Just give her to the company, they said. Think of it as paying up-front, that sleaze-ball Remiel said. Let us upgrade Colette, let us make her life better, and then we’ll make all your lives better. Couldn’t be a better deal than that, could it?

Ugh. But the time for terrible memories would have to be later.

Dirk placed a tray full of piping hot tea on the table before Lloyd and Colette, shaking them out of their past.

“Are you gonna be okay, Dad?” Lloyd asked, sipping his apple gel tea. Crisp and refreshing! It healed 30% of the mental wounds he was currently dealing with.

“Aye, don’t you worry about your old dad, Lloyd,” Dirk said easily, already returning to his old-fashioned forge. Lloyd had never questioned it before, but what a strange choice to live in a house made out of ‘wood’… Where did Dirk get such a rare material? Maybe from those mining missions…

“I’ll be just fine,” Dirk continued. “They think I’m dead. They won’t find my tiny home in this mess of garbage and rusty old space stations.” From outside, Sylvarant probably looked like a ringed planet, what with all the trash and abandoned space stations strewn around it.

Colette looked down at her tea with guilt, holding it between her fingers tight. The heat nearly burned her, but she relished that feeling. “What about money? Will you be okay now that you’re out of a job?”

“I’ve got more precious minerals stashed away than I care to admit,” Dirk said with a sigh. “I should have quit that awful job ages ago. I’ll be just fine, lass, but thank ye for your concern.”

Lloyd clenched his fist. “We won’t let them keep getting away with this, Dad.”

Dirk grinned. “I know ye won’t. I raised you right, lad. You’ll stick it to those awful corporations won’t ye?”

Something beeped, and Noishe loaded in with a flare of lights. He howled and whined next to Dirk, laser tongue lolling and laser tail wagging. He padded over to Lloyd and Colette, happiest they’d seen him in a long time.

“Damn straight we will!” Lloyd said with a smile, tussling Noishe’s holographic fur with his free hand. Colette quickly scooted over, looping her arm around Lloyd’s torso and pressing her face into Noishe’s fuzzy laser fur.  

“Lloyd!” Dirk said in his best scolding tone.

“Aw, come on, you said way worse…”

Colette giggled and held Lloyd tight. He responded in kind with a hug of his own. Dirk let out a content sigh, shook his head, and went to work on his next project. Things were back to normal for the time being. Or as normal as they could be between a cybernetic angel, a laser dog, a boy, and a space dwarf.