Damaged: Enemy Me
In all his rage, Kendall never noticed a most peculiar scent. Popcorn. It wasn’t until he was on the floor that it hit him. Immediately after he noticed that a deep sense of calm seemed to wash over him. His vision, as blurry as it was, got color again.
“Kendall, the flaw.”
Shawn? Kendall blinked. An impossibly strong hand gripped his head and a warm liquid flushed his eyes. He blinked again, and suddenly, he saw his commander, standing before him. “Sir.”
Shawn looked different. He had no hair. His skin was not the olive tone he was accustomed to but was a bleached white. And his eye color seemed to be a little off. “What happened?”
His head was released, and Kendall looked around to see a stern-looking Lohet peering at something in the air. The Keratian waved his hand in the empty space he was looking at, then returned his attention to Kendall.
“Have you gone mad?” Kendall asked, squinting.
Lohet gave him a cool glare. “Our cerebral interface has not been tuned to your brain yet.”
Kendall looked at him for a moment, then took in the room. He was shocked to see wooden mannequins laying on the floor. They were all smashed badly. “This was a test. To trigger my madness.”
“We exploited an opportunity,” Lohet said. He stood up and pulled Kendall to his feet. A furry man approached, also waving at something in the air, then reached for Kendall. He hesitated when he met Kendall’s eyes. Kendall was already taking measure of the person before him. Clearly an Elf, like Steven. But different. He had already memorized the distinctive fur patterns, the color texture of the large irises, the light tips of the tufted ears. The Elf tentatively reached for Kendall’s chest.
Kendall looked down at where the Elf was reaching. His chest had what looked like a large, brass plate attached to it. The Elf touched it, and the plate immediately reduced in size and fell into his palm. Kendall poked at the bleached white skin underneath. His own skin had at one time been even darker than Shawn’s.
“The pigments will return as your new skin matures,” Lohet said, appraising his reaction. “I would have expected more shock.”
“Our children are trained for critical thinking from a very early age.” Shawn nodded. “He is already working out answers to questions he has not asked yet.”
“Intriguing.” Lohet pursed his lips. He looked at the Elf. “Have you matched his behavioral breakdown to the flawed genetics?”
“Part of it. The data is still rendering.” The Elf looked at Kendall. “I will need more… tests.”
“The base? That was a golem? He attacked us?” Kendall looked at Shawn.
“We are still examining security footage. It’s spotty at best, however. They seem to be in our systems.”
“We’ve not converted over to the Eyes Open tech yet?” Kendall watched as the Elf removed brass patches that covered his arms. “I thought we had worked out a deal with them.”
“It is a work in progress.” Shawn waved in the air and pointed. “Is that the police officer?”
Kendall looked at him blankly. “Is everyone going mad?”
Lohet placed a small, brass cylinder in his hand. It was about five inches long, an inch in diameter, and was ornately decorated. Kendall furrowed his brows as he examined it. “This… this is the computer you guys use?”
Kendall looked up and almost flinched. The air around him was filled with objects, some glowing, some not. Among them was a representation of video screens showing the police officer. He reached up and touched one then looked at his hand. “I felt that. As if it’s real.”
Shawn just grinned.
“Sir, that’s the police officer. I shot him. It was a definite kill. Entry wound over his right eye.”
“The golem is able to convincingly infiltrate Terran society and simulate nearly all facets of your existence,” Lohet said. “There is nothing in your arsenal that can destroy one.”
“The bullet went into his head. I saw blood splatter from behind him.”
“You were not trained to deal with golems?” Lohet looked at Shawn.
“We were given a summary of them. However, since they were your mission, we focused on the Venda.” Shawn said.
“We trained to fight you,” Kendall said, looking at Lohet. He glanced at the golem in the video. “So I did not hurt it?”
Another vision appeared in the air around them. The combat scene Kendall had most recently been involved in. First-person perspective. He watched as the police officer yelled at him, then watched the red spray emerge from the rear of his skull. He was almost breathless as he walked around the scene. “The quality is amazing. We need this back home.”
“That is where the officer stood back up.” Lohet pointed.
“Yes. Laurence had us retreat rapidly.” Kendall nodded.
“A wise decision.” Lohet glanced at him. “You do not approve?”
“I didn’t back then.” Kendall looked down. “But he knew we were not equipped to engage the golem in combat. It would have been futility.”
“No pride. Intriguing.”
“We’re not engineered to be prideful. Everything is about the mission.” Kendall said quietly. “We survived that day so that we could continue the mission.”
“Amazing for a Terran so young to express this sort of maturity.” Lohet stood up taller.
Kendall squinted at him. “Condescending, much? We train and develop ourselves from when we can start walking. Before that, even. It is our whole life. Why is this so surprising?”
“I spent several years on Terra…”
“We know. And in all that time, you never really knew us.” Kendall interrupted. “And now you are supposed to be my healer and my teacher?” He looked at Shawn. “That is the value of my life? Rather than an honorable culling, I am to be their lab rat?”
“As a lab rat, you are more valuable to us than a corpse,” Shawn said.
Kendall glared at his commander for a moment then looked at his arms. “Status of my physical capabilities?”
“We are fully functional.”
“How long was I out?” Kendall turned his hands over. He could tell where new skin had grown. There was very little of his old skin left.
“This afternoon,” Shawn said.
Kendall looked up, stunned. “What damage did I suffer?”
“Eyes, skin, hearing, concussive damage to organs, a few shattered bones, radiation exposure.” Shawn stopped, glancing at the Elf who had removed the brass plates. “Am I missing anything?”
“Hair will return soon. Skin color will take a little bit to return.” The Elf looked at the data that hung in the air around him, then waved it away. “Iris tint will also take a bit to normalize.”
Shawn looked at Kendall. “In a nutshell.”
Kendall found himself gaping and shut his mouth. “Have we assimilated any of their medical technology?”
“Some. Not nearly as much as I want.” Shawn smirked at the Elf.
“A day. That’s all we lost. What about that?” Kendall pointed at Lohet.
“He got a sunburn.” Shawn appraised Lohet critically. “Radiation does not bother you?”
“Our star is a red dwarf,” Lohet said simply.
“Naturally.” Shawn frowned.
“That means what?” Kendall looked at the two of them.
“They are unstable stars, so we have evolved to resist damage from radiation.” Lohet raised a brow. “I did endure minor damage but it is already healed.”
“We’re just primitive monkeys to you, aren’t we?” Kendall balled his fists, scowling.
Lohet gave him an almost imperceptible smile. Almost. “That would bring us back to the topic at hand. You will require a trainer, and a chaperone.”
“Trainer for what?”
“As a latent, there are certain things you must master before your Awakening.” Lohet pointed. “All Gatekeepers are required to undergo Chaser training. Roth’kel will serve as your teacher.”
Kendall turned and tried hard not to flinch, but ended up jerking into a defensive posture anyway. A massive creature loomed over him with a smile that revealed a mouth full of small, sharp teeth. Almost reptilian. His skin followed the reptilian motif, except for a back and arms covered in needle-sharp quills and intimidating claws. He was also the source of the scent Kendall had detected. “It smells like popcorn.”
“Pop’carin? The flower? He is the second Terran to compare me to a flower,” Roth’kel grumbled, glaring at Kendall.
“Perhaps the flower was not what he was referring to,” Lohet said, smirking.
“Just what is that going to teach me?”
“That,” Roth’kel scowled at Kendall, “is going to correct your flawed comprehension of combat and teach you the correct ways of subduing your foes.”
“My comprehension of combat centers around fighting you,” Kendall said. “Who else would I be expected to fight?”
“The Venda have infested your world.” Roth’kel circled him. “Your people will be instrumental in their elimination. If you are able to.”
Kendall looked at Shawn. “Our capabilities are always evolving to the need of the mission.”
Roth’kel stopped in front of him. “A diplomatic response. Where is your pride?”
“Our mission takes priority. If I am not up to defending Earth, then I must improve.”
Shawn held his hands out. “See? He’ll do great.”
Roth’kel snorted. “We shall see.”
“You went through this too?” Kendall looked at Shawn.
“We all did. Those of us who teleport.” Shawn nodded. “Our own training program has been modified to reflect what we have learned, but it has been too recent for you.”
“You will also require a chaperone.” Lohet looked over his shoulder and stepped to the side. An Elf crouched on the open window-sill, looking mischievous. “Her job will be to clear you of Venda contamination, among other things.”
“Venda contamination?” Kendall had noticed that the window-sill was part of a woven structure of branches. The room they were in had the same architecture. It took him a moment to shift his attention to what Lohet said.
“The Venda can take on the form of other species. They are extremely hard to detect. However, Elves are able to root out their memories.” Lohet said. “She will verify that you are indeed… you.”
“What if she is not… she?” Kendall mimicked Lohet, crossing his arms. He was not enthused by the idea of yet someone else dancing around in his head.
“Elves are not replicated because of their mental capabilities,” Lohet said simply.
“The Venda I fought, back on Earth. He could hide from you?”
“Their infiltration capabilities are without equal. However, even they are not without weaknesses.” Lohet said.
“What about the police officer?”
“Golems are on another level with regards to capability,” Shawn said sourly. “We were lucky Steven was paying attention.”
“He did prove significantly faster than you at extricating us from the explosion.” Lohet nodded.
“If they can just blow up nuclear…” Kendall stopped. “We’ll find a way, right? That’s what we do.”
“Detecting them is the first order of business.” Shawn looked at Lohet. “You can smell them. That’s something we’ll need training on.”
“He didn’t smell the police officer. What good is that?” Kendall held his arms out.
“We were inside a golem,” Lohet said. “The ambient scent masked the individual scent.”
Kendall fumed. “We lost another base then. How many died?”
“None. Steven was able to funnel the explosion away.”
“We are alive because of an alien.” Kendall looked at his arms. “Aliens.”
“They are people, Kendall. They just look different.” Shawn crossed his arms.
Kendall looked at Roth’kel and snorted. “They smell different too.” He looked at his chaperone. “What do I call you?”
“You may call me Darkhorse.” The Elf dropped off the window-sill and sauntered over to Kendall, circling him as she got close.
“Dark horse, huh? Does not sound Elvish. Nor do you.” Kendall stood his ground as she circled him.
“She is intimately familiar with Terrans.” Lohet said. “It was decided that she would be ideal to evaluate you, and… provide a clearer picture of your malfunction.”
“Do you feel anything, young one?” Darkhorse whispered in Kendall’s ear. “You nearly died. You had devastating injuries. You woke in an alien environment.” She gave Roth’kel a coy look. “You are surrounded by monsters. And yet, it is like you are dead inside.”
“I feel. How I express feelings depends on the mission.” Kendall squinted at her. “You’re not from here. You sound like you’re from the states. I would guess Washington.”
Shawn grinned when Darkhorse glanced at him.
“His people are walking lie detectors. They learn your secrets without asking questions.” Lohet explained.
Darkhorse cocked her head and returned her attention to Kendall. “But where is his humanity? How far has it been repressed?”
Kendall fidgeted under her close scrutiny. “You’ve been touching me, why don’t you tell me?”
“Mmm, you’re aware of our habits. We can learn your secrets without asking questions too.” Darkhorse traced a finger across Kendall’s chest. “Such a shame to lose your humanity for the sake of defending humanity. Perhaps I can find it again.”
“We are still human,” Kendall said defensively.
“Ah, a glimmer. I just need to dig deeper.” Darkhorse grinned sadistically.
“I came here to be fixed,” Kendall said, exasperated. He felt the window sill behind him as he bumped into it. Darkhorse remained close to him, peering into his eyes as if drilling into his soul. “Sir, is this necessary?” He looked around Darkhorse at Shawn. His commander just crossed his arms.
“We have already begun, my dear,” Darkhorse said. She gracefully held her arms out. Kendall looked at her questioningly. Suddenly branches wrapped around him and pulled him over the window-sill, dropping him as quickly as they grabbed him. He glanced down, but could not see the forest floor through the haze far below. Wind whipped at his face as he returned his attention back to the large treehouse out of which he had been ejected.
He saw Darkhorse looking coyly out the window, casually watching him fall to his death.