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In the light of the last star

Chapter Text

Whiskey and Deande were just coming back from sparring when they heard them.

The noises - voices - were coming from the simulation chamber. The first voice they recognized as the unmistakable digitized chipperness that was Isic. The other, with real cheerfulness this time, was Oscar Mike.

“Awe, come on bro - it's not about winning. It's about having fun!” They heard Oscar Mike exclaim. Whiskey motioned to Deande to move forward, putting a finger to his lips. She was much more stealthy than him, but they both managed to get to the edge of the open door without being detected.

There they saw the two participants. It looked like they had just gotten out of a sim, the walls blank and white giving the room a sterile, claustrophobic feel.

“You do realize these simulation are here to test and improve your combat skills, right? So that we can actually win fights with the cosmic abominations that want to tear apart the universe.” Isic countered.

“Yeah, but for now, it's just a simulation.” Oscar shot back. “It's fun.”

It was hard to read Isic’s expression, since he didn’t have one, but the way he shifted his posture said that, if he could emote, he would look confused.

“I don’t think you know the definition of that word.”

“What word?”

“Fun.”

“Of course I do! Do you?”

“Fun; noun-”

“No bro! That's not it at all!”

“Listen you spawned meatbag of short life span, I haven't even finished -”

But Oscar Mike just barreled on over him. “Fun is like...well, it's...what is fun?? Hm...”

The Magnus leaned his hand on a hip as he watched the Mike Clone struggle for his words.

“Go on, “ he prompted. “I’m pretty certain I’m not going to get a word in edgewise until you finish whatever sentiment your pickled brain had come up with.”

“It's sorta...kinda...well, I guess l can just spell it out for you.”

“Aw shit.” Whiskey Foxtrot muttered, slapping his hand to his face. Deande quirked an eyebrow at him, to which he responded by gesturing back to the situation at hand.

Isic chuckled. “But fella, I already know how to -”

And that was when Oscar Mike produced the ukulele. He strummed it experimentally once, nodded in approval, and then cleared his throat.

“F is for friends that do stuff together,” He sang, “U is for you and me, N is for anytime and anywhere at all when we’re fighting the Varelsi!!”

Isic, apparently, just stood there in shock.

“Get it now?” Asked the Mike Clone. “You wanna try?”

There was a long pause from Isic, where Whiskey was sure he was weighing the pros and cons of killing the clone. Eventually he answered with a too happy “Sure fella!” and Oscar started playing again.

Isic didn’t sing, so much as he spoke the words as close to the rhythm of the song as he could. “F is for fire that burns down the whole ship! U is for uranium - bombs! N is for no survivors -”

Oscar stopped playing the instrument and gesticulated wildly in front of Isic. “Whoa, whoa! That's not how is goes at all! Those things aren’t what fun is about!”

“They are to me!” Responded the bot.

“Okay bro, just repeat after me; F is for Friends - “

“Over my cold, dead, never alive, metal body!”

“Come on man! Do it for me?”

And to Whiskey and Deande’s surprise Isic thought about it. He tapped his hands on his metal chassis, the clanking noise echoing in the barren room like an alarm.

“Will it get you stop if I do?”

“Yup!”

“IE, fella, never doing this again?”

They could hear Oscar smile. “Yup!”

“And you never tell anyone about this or your entrails are forfeit?”

“I don’t even know what those are, but sure!”

Isic let out something akin to a crackle of static, which could only be his form of a sigh.

“Fine.” He finally acquiesced.

“Badass! Okay you can either sing with me or we can do a call and repeat - “

“I’ve already saved the words to my databanks. I will be deleting them after this.”

“Awesome, lets get into it then.”

Oscar Mike strummed the ukulele once more.

They tried to sing in unison; Oscar Mike wasn’t a bad singer, and what he lacked in talent he made up for with heart. Isic couldn’t sing, but tried his best to go along with the song. The outcome was a strange amalgamation of noises that loosely followed a melody.

“F is for friends who do stuff together!” Oscar sidled right up to Isic’s side, so their shoulders were touching (or as close as the clone could get.) “U is for you and me! N is for anytime and anywhere at all when we’re fighting the Varelsi!”

The clone did a uke solo before ending the song.

“Badass! Thanks Isic! So you know more about fun now right?”

Isic looked like he was about to say something, finger up and digitized jaw open, then stopped.

“You know what? Sure buddy! If that’ll make you happy and stop me from wanting to be sucked out into the endless nothingness of space!”

“Uh, cool? Yeah cool!” Oscar Mike pulled something from his hip pocket - a watch of sometype. “Well I should probably get going. I’ve gotta go crash Montana and Thorn’s book club. I’ll catch up with you again soon okay?”

“If the universe doesn’t end first!”

“Ha, you kidder you! Anyways, see ya!”

Oscar Mike dashed from the room, leaving Isic alone.

Strangely the AI just stood there for a moment. He held out a hand - his only hand that wasn’t a gun - and flexed it. Isic looked to be thinking.

“Nah,” he mumbled finally after a few seconds. “Probably just a glitch.”

Then he too wandered off, and if one listened closely, which Whiskey and Deande were, you could almost hear the bot humming a tune.

Chapter Text

Pendles had many contracts sent to him. EE was a booming business, after all, and people had rapidly declining moral obligations in a universe that was dying. Somebody always needed to be killed, whether it was for a justifiable reason or just for kicks. And Pendles was the man for the job.

Except, maybe, this one.

It came in a letter. Digital ways of communication can be tracked - and while that's the medium that Pendles usually works off of, despite it being more work for him to clean up when all is said and done - he appreciates the thought and effort that someone took to actually obtain paper and ink to write him in a more discrete form. The envelope was sealed, but it was short work to rip it open and get to the request inside.

Pendles sat down on his bed in his quarters and read the letter. As his one good eye tracked the words on the page, his expression changed from one of almost excitement to one of confusion. When he got to the end, he started reading it a second time. Mid-page he stopped and rested the paper on his bedside table.

“Well piss.” He cursed. The money was good - better than good, actually. Almost too good to be true. Pendles had learned to be suspicious of that in and of itself, but the content...

Well, now he really had to assess where his loyalties lay didn’t he?

Pendles idly picked up his kamas from next to his bed and looked them over. They were hardly what the you would think of when someone said the word ‘kama’ or even what you would imagine when you were thinking of killing tools. One was the beak of a long dead Aviant and the other was an ice climbing axe. Yet in his hands their purposes were something much different - much like Pendles himself, he guess. A Roa assassin. In another time, another place, the two wouldn't be so closely related, but with him it just...clicked. And nobody questioned it.

Okay, somebody did. Not because they didn’t think he could, or because it was wrong or anything, but because they had been concerned that he had been forced into the business or wasn’t happy with it. He was, and he told them so. And they understood.

And now, with this request, he really had to think on if he was as happy with it as he had been.

In the end, he picked on his kamas and hooked them on his belt.

He had a job to do.

------------------------------------------------------- B R E A K ----------------------------------------------------------

Alani was fastidiously cleaning the outside of her tank when there was a knock on her door. She almost didn’t hear it, she was so focused on what she was doing. At the second knock, the monk tossed her cleaning rag off to the side, calling out “Just a sec!”

She quickly stowed away the cleaning supplies in a place less obvious and in the way, brushed herself off and made sure her braid was still decent, then opened the door.

Alain really hadn’t known who to expect on the other side. She had hoped it might have been Galilea, so they could rekindle their friendship, but by now she knew better. Pendles had actually been pretty high on the list. They needed to do another one of his sessions - he just usually scheduled it out with her, unless something was really wrong.

Which is what she immediately supposed the reasoning for him stopping by was for.

“Hello luv,” The Roa greeted, but got no farther, before Alain invaded his personal space armed with a bombardment of questions.

“Are you okay? You usually schedule if you want more treatment. Is it getting worse? How's your other arm feel?” She poked at his good arm and Pendles shied away from the touch.

“What? Nah, nah. There's nothing wrong. With me, at least. Other than you usual, I mean - which, hasn’t been bothering me, by the way.” Pendles felt himself rambling, and took a deep breath. “Listen I just - can I come in? I think we need to have a chat. In private.”

This wasn’t usually like Pendles. He was more - well, he liked to joke and kid and make thinly veiled threats that Alani knew (hoped) he would never actually execute. He was being kind of...well he almost seemed nervous. Nervous and serious. He kept looking around the hallway and shifting in place. Something was not right.

“Yeah, come on in.” Alani moved to the side to let the snake in. “Are you hungry? I have some snacks.”

“Sure, thats sounds, uh, lovely.”

The door swooshed closed behind Pendles and Alani moved over to the small cupboard area of her room. Reaching up she grabbed a bowl, but saw in her peripheral that Pendles was just standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.

“Uh,” She eloquently started. “You can, um, sit down if you like. There's a couch there.”

Pendles shook his head. “Nah, I think I’ll stand for this, if it's all the same to you.”

Well okay then. That wasn’t ominus at all. Alani snatched a bag of chips from a stash and started to pour them into the bowl.

“Pendles, you're acting really weird. Are you sure you're okay?”

The assassin took a deep breath. “I don’t usually do this type of thing...but I suppose you deserve to know; I’ve been hired to kill you.”

Alani, who had just put the bowl of chips down on the table and was going back to grab Pendles a bottle of water, whipped around to face him.

Her expression was something that Pendles would never forget. It started out as something that he recognized; he’d seen in the eyes of his victims. It was the realization; the surprise and fear, that came with knowing that they were staring into the eye of their soon to be killer. That passed quickly, however, probably due to how much Alani faced imminent death on a semi-daily basis, and morphed into a pained betrayal.

And it was that tail end, that last hurt expression she wore before her expression went suspiciously blank, was enough to twist something in his gut painfully. He didn’t know whether it was guilt or shame, or what, but he knew it was there and he knew why.

Because they both knew that he could do it.

“I -” Alani’s voice came out shaky and thick, so she stopped herself and closed her eyes. Steeling herself, she pressed on. “You know I won’t go down without a fight.”

“Never doubted it.” Pendles responded.

Alani made a choked sound. She put her hand over her mouth. It was shaking.

“You were worth around ninety million credits.” Pendles continued. “A lucrative deal for an assassination. One of the most expensive I’ve ever gotten.”

“Oh?” Alani managed.

“Yeah.” He took a step toward her. They were an arms length away. She flinched back, the water around her flickering to life. Pendle’s demeanor was much different from earlier. He was standing straighter, moving with more confidence and swagger. He was still serious, though, something that Alani guessed he owed to her.

No need to be too jovial about killing your friend for the money.

Pendles unhooked something from his belt. It looked very much like a sack with something heavy weighing it down. He dropped in in front of her unceremoniously. It made a sick, hollow thump as it landed.

“What's that?” Alani asked.

Pendles looked down at the sack, then up at Alani. He lifted the brow over his good eye and gave her a toothy grin. “That? Well, that would be the head of the person who contracted me to kill you. Some Jennerit bloke who had probably lived too long anyways. Got a counter contract for it - wasn’t hard. Plenty of people were willing to shell out when I asked around.”

Alani just looked confused. “I - you - I thought -”

“You thought I was going to kill you?” Pendles finished.

“Yes!”

“Yeah, I don’t doubt you there, luv. If I were you, and I knew a bloke like me...yeah. I wouldn’t put it past him.” Pendles, paused, smile disappearing. “But you’re...you’re not just anyone, you know?”

Alani shook her head. “No. But it's because I’m keeping you from losing your limbs right?”

Pendles looked a little stricken. “Nah, nah, it's not just that, it's...it’s...” He huffed, struggling for the words he needed and flicking his tongue out in frustration. “I’m not...good with making friends. Usually we just end up trying to kill each other in the end - which, you know, in my line of work is expected. Just figured I would be so busy that I didn’t really need them. And then I joined the Rogues and the Battleborn and things just...well they changed. I got more friends that were actively helping to keep me alive than were trying to kill me. You, for example.”

Alani just looked him up and down. Pendles shifted under her gaze and decided to continue.

“Alright, look. I consider you...a friend. A good one. A trusted one - which is something I’d never thought I’d say. As much as a cold blooded assassin I am, and as much as I love my job, I do have loyalties. Some of them as little less professional than I’d like them to be, but hey! That's just the way the universe works sometimes.”

The Roa shrugged. Alani looked like she had softened up at least a little. Her water had retreated and she looked more relieved than anything else.

It was really all the reassurance Pendles needed to step in closer, reaching out tentatively for her hand with his tentacle. She took it without hesitation.

“What I’m trying to say is you don’t have to worry about me trying to kill you Alani. And with me around - and I will be, I assure you - you won't have to about anyone else trying to kill you either.”

He wanted to say more. He wanted to say that, even though he had long since forsaken the narrow minded generalities of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, she made him believe there was good somewhere again. That she was kind, almost to a fault. That whenever he looked into her eyes, whether they be clear like now, or glowing with her Syl on the battlefield, he was reminded of a home long gone.

Instead, he remained silent. He had already said too much - much more than he had intended. The rest could remain in his head.

Alani surged forward like a wave and wrapped him up in a bone-crushing hug. She was shaking and crying and Pendles found that he didn’t mind the contact as much as he should.

“Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” Alani shouted into his shoulder. “I thought - I thought-”

Pendles returned the embrace tentatively, tentacle arm wrapping around her waist and prosthetic hand patting her back. He assumed this was what he was supposed to do. Comforting crying people was never something he’d had experience in. He was always the one making people cry. In a way, he supposed that was true in this situation too.

And what could he say? He was sorry? He was sorry that he was a murderer for hire and that he enjoyed it? That, if he looked anyone in the eyes, they looked away because they thought that, for the right price, it would be their heads on his chopping block? What could he do about that? His reputation was ruthless and cold and he embraced it, reveled in it, even.

It was a new and surprising discovery that he found that some people just were worth more than money. That they weren’t just people or associates, but freinds.

“I promise it won’t happen again.” He said in lieu of an empty apology. “Please don’t give me the waterworks, luv. Last time I saw that happen, eight people drown in one of your riptides.”

She gave a bark of laughter, which Pendles felt accomplished for. It was better than her being sad. Pendles didn’t like it when she was sad, and he especially didn’t like when he was the cause of it.

“Pendles?”

“Yeah?”

“Your severed head is starting to leak on the floor.” The Roa glanced down. Well, at least Alani didn’t have carpeting.

“That's your severed head now. Your trophy.”

“Pendles I don’t even know the guy!”

“Well that makes two of us then, doesn’t it.”

Alani backed out of the embrace. Pendles thought that maybe he had said something wrong, but then she smiled. She also hit him, but there wasn’t any pressure behind it - almost playful.

“Thanks for that, by the way. Killing him, I mean. I don’t really like the idea of someone hiring people to kill me.”

The Roa waved her off. “Me neither. Just another part of the job, I guess. I gotta rep to keep up.” He laughed at the end, but it was a bit forced; a bit awkward. It bled into an uncomfortable pause in conversation where Pendles had the vague idea that he should do something, but didn’t exactly know what it was he should do.”

“Hey,” Alani piped up, voice a little higher pitched. She coughed to correct this. “Uh, how about I make you something to eat. Like, real food and not just snacks. As thanks.”

“Ah, you don’t have to - “

“But I want to. I’ve been gathering some ingredient for an old Akaposian recipe. Maybe we could eat it together?” She sounded unsure at the end, like if he refused she would fake not being disappointed and just agree to whatever reason he had as to not make it awkward.

He hesitated. He shouldn’t. He really, really, shouldn’t.

But then again, when had Pendles ever done what he should have?

Besides, it had been...a very, very long time since he had a taste of home.

“You know what? If you insist, that sounds pretty good.”

Alani smiled, showing off her pointed teeth and flashing Syl, and Pendles corrected his earlier thought.

Maybe home was closer than he thought.