I looked down through the translucent case, with my brother inside. Surgical instruments were silently whirring away, taking away bits of him and adding new ones. His face was relaxed, as if he were asleep.
I knew the entire process was painless. Personally, I also thought it was pointless. If I were so inclined, would I prefer carbon tipped nails and steel implants in my chest? It would certainly make life easier for me.
My throat involuntarily scoffed as I turned, meeting my reflection in the glass walls surrounding the circular room. A human face, original skin--unmarred by surgeons, and only slightly scarred by a Whithe Master and a Gorunk clan-member in my younger days. As I stared, my brain unconsciously typed and labeled the face, preparing for battle.
But unlike my brother, I still held true to some of the teachings we were exposed to as children. In a world surrounded by the foreign, it meant something to remain Human.
Henri thought he was perfecting himself. In truth, he was marring something that Humanity had kept precious for thousands of years.
The whirring ended, as a gas cloud swirled out of the glass box, and my brother opened his eyes.
From what I’d heard, exosurgery was a fairly easy process, but still left its victim disoriented.
Henri blinked and raised his right arm, then his left. He closed his eyes as he learned his new muscles. A twitch started in his back as slowly, another set of arms raised themselves.
“Ha!” A prize winning grin showed teeth encrusted with flecks of diamonds. “Will you look at that, Hatt? I can finally play Zetson’s 1000 Heartbeats.”
It was dizzying as Henri twisted all four of his arms, trying them out. He leapt out of the box, grabbing a white robe hanging nearby—already outfitted for his new extremities.
“What do you think brother?” Henri said. He twirled, hands on his hips and waist. “The ladies are going to love it. So will the boys.” He winked.
I rolled my eyes and walked out of the room with Henri close on my heels. “I don’t see why you called me here.”
He wrapped an arm around me, using the others to illustrate his words. “I know you’re very busy, on your quest for self-enlightenment and all. Which, don’t get me wrong—it’s a fabulous goal to have, you know, finding purpose—or whatever. But!” He grabbed my shoulders and chin in the same motion, as neon indigo eyes stared into mine. “As much as I’d love to leave you be, to waste away your life, Mother will not stand so idly by.”
My eyes twitched in anger and frustration. I wrenched myself from his grasp and headed toward the hanger.
“Brother!” he said. Henri caught up to me easily, with his mammal-based modifications to his tendons. “You can’t hide from her forever. You’ve been given a gift, we all have.”
I’d heard this speech a thousand times before. The only times it ever sounded different was when Henri installed a new tenor into his vocal cords.
I reached the hanger, and my ship began to hum to life, detecting my presence. My brother jumped in front of me, hands gripping my shoulders fiercely.
“Don’t do this Hattison. Don’t turn back on your family again, your home. What are you so afraid of? I would do anything—“
I snapped. “You have done everything! Henri, you have done everything inhumanly possible to discredit any chance you ever had to take over the Crown line. Look at you!” I waved my hand at him as his luminescent cells began to glow a pale blue since we had entered the darkness of the hanger.
Indigo eyes stared at me in indignation, a response that always caught me off guard. Henri always acted confused because his hope had never died. Time after time I had been forced to bear the pain of my brother, because reality was a monster. And every time I promised myself it would be the last.
“Hatt, I’ve tried to explain. The best way I can represent and lead the Humans, is to instill myself in the cultures and people around us—literally. It’s the only way we’ll have peace in the galaxy. And if you spent more time interacting with them, instead of just saying hello before you kill them—“
I shoved him away from me and headed to the nearest terminal to enter my flight codes. Rage deafened my instincts as Henri wrapped an arm around my throat from behind and slammed me against the terminal. Two other hands cemented my wrists to the wall.
“Look at me Hatt. You cannot run from who you are forever. Blame me all you like, ignore your past, but you’re not angry that I’ve forced you to take over for Mother. You’re furious because I’m a walking reminder of defiance, I chose my path because of what I believed. And you? You became the exact monster Mother and the rest could have ever wished for.”
I felt vibrations on my skin as Henri’s emotionators sensed his pity for me. The effect was created to be comforting, but it only furthered my racing pulse. Henri let me go as I averted my eyes and headed into my ship. The Fugitive sensed my mood and began to play a pounding beat throughout the halls. I walked straight to the bridge and took over manual control. My lightspeed meter raced forward as I flew past all resemblances of civilization.
My heart still beat, music roared, and stars flew passed. But my brother’s words outraced them all.
I was ten years old when the most important time of my life occurred. I was to be tested for my aptitude to lead my people. Laws, moral impossibilities, and scenarios were placed before me. To add a sense of urgency, every choice I made was rewarded with real and immediate repercussions.
I made a choice whether a woman was innocent or guilty. Her child had been locked inside the facility where she worked. A malfunction occurred which caused the fuel chambers to explode. Coroners estimated that his main bodily systems shut down as the acid reached his skin. To this day I could still hear her screams as she was sentenced. The penalty for murder was death by the same methods.
War had broken out in another sector. Resources could either be sent to support the prison roster that had been created since the beginning of the conflict, or to end the war immediately. Naturally, politics demanded I show force and create peace. We learned later from a scouting ship that the inmates had begun to cannibalize each other until there was no life left on the planet.
Test after test greeted me for weeks on end. Finally I was brought to a training room. The original goal was to see if I could defend myself, given the chance for an assassination. Instead, I remember a Beast charging me. He was part oxen. All the stress of the past weeks presented themselves in one physical challenge. It was almost too easy to ignore the idea of simply disarming him. Blood and anger were the only things racing through my veins as I killed him.
It took hours for my mind to register the shock reverberating from my masters. They had seen a child for weeks take every challenge presented him in a calm and morose manner. Put a weapon in his hands and he turned feral. All became quiet after that battle, dark rooms met me as the council decided my unexpected fate.
Had I been smarter, I would have seen what their reaction would be. For a few days, I felt bliss knowing I had finally failed one of their tests. The burden would now fall off my shoulders. However—
“Hattison, my love.” My mother came into my room, my first guest in days. She was always the picture of elegance, wearing an ivory, off-the-shoulder gown. Her scent of wisteria flooded the room, choking me. I turned my bloodshot eyes to her, fear of her disapproval evident on my face. She reached down to cup my chin, and kissed my forehead.
“You’ve done an excellent job preparing for your future, my son. You’ve impressed the council, beyond their expectations.” An empty whining rang through my head at these words. All my hope for escaping my fate had vanished with her words of praise. “Until you are of age, you will be trained and used for the military. Your education will continue, and it is now obvious to all of us that you will be a ruler feared by all. Your love of death will be your strength. Do not fail your family, Hattison.”
After a couple hours I reached the edge of the Mercury solar system, where a small refugee planet resided. Most people desperate enough could find sanctuary there, given they survived the trip. A large asteroid belt surrounded the planet, allowing only the best pilots past its deadly gates.
Parking The Fugitive, I walked into my favorite cesspool of exiles. The Fate’s End held criminals, mercenaries and traders alike. There was the usual talk of the latest planet’s explosion, deals in new technologies and alterations to different races. Leaning against the bar, a conversation reached my ears.
“…the People’s council is fighting bloody over the new succession. If one of the Crowns doesn’t step up, another family will fight them for it. Don’t you love the smell of war?”
I winced, and ordered an Electric Monster. Mercenaries weren’t the only ones attracted to bloodshed. My kingly ideals pulled against the thought of it, while the darker instincts screamed for some purpose. Blast it. If they want a war, I’ll gladly shoot first. It’s what I’m best at. Better that then a life of torture.
“I can always spot you in a crowd.” A giant bondsman sat next to Hatt, dwarfing the Prince.