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Episode 17

Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article, or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).

Terran Prime station, 2398 TST


She brought up her hand. It trembled. She lowered it and made a fist. Closing her eyes tightly, Casey exhaled through her nose.


After a brief mental reassurance, she tried again. Her lips curled into a smile as her knuckles pounded on the door.

“Casey?” Mason, wearing a puzzled expression, greeted after the door opened. “What are you doing here?”

Casey chuckled and lifted the Sim-rifle. “Came to kidnap you.”

“What are you wearing?” Mason asked, eyebrows furrowed as he took in her costume.

“Never played Lurker Creed before?” She quite enjoyed the Sim-game, which explored an alternate history for mankind. Probably because it resonated with her so greatly, herself being part of an alternate history. “Here.” She handed him the second Sim-rifle she was carrying. “I’ve got Room 2 reserved for us. If you don’t have a costume, we have time to pass by the Sim booth, gear you up.”

Mason grabbed the toy gun, his movements unsure. “But I’m working.” He blinked down at her.

Casey rolled her eyes. “You’ve been working for the past two days. You need a break.”

“I suppose…” Mason scratched his head with the hand that wasn’t holding the Sim-rifle. “Just give me one second to pause the algorithms.”

He stepped back and gestured her inside his office. Casey’s eyes roved over the multitude of holoscreens Mason had spread throughout the space. She approached the nearest floating rectangular, frowning at the displayed data.

“You’re running a search?”

“Yeah, in a way,” Mason replied, absentmindedly. His fingers were flying over the keyboard.

“This is a sniffer tool!” Her eyes rounded, and she turned her head to gape at Mason. “Was there a breach? Why are you analyzing the network traffic?”

Mason grimaced, then gave her an apologetic look. “Can’t tell you, sorry. It’s classified.”

How much did they know? Her heart started pounding in her chest. However, she was careful to keep her expression blank. “I understand, Mason. Don’t worry about it.” She adopted a cheerful air. “I can’t wait to beat you at Creed.”

“Oh? Who says I won’t win?” Mason straightened and snapped his fingers, stepping away from his desk. All the monitors shut down. “Fair warning: I’m quite proficient at video games.”

Casey thrust her index finger in his direction. “You’re not allowed to use your cybernetic augmentations in the Sim-game.”

The smile slipped off Mason’s face. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Shit. Mason… I didn’t mean it like that.” Way to ruin the mood, Casey. So stupid.

He turned her back on her, grabbing items off his desk and pocketing them. “It’s alright, Casey. Really.”

She approached until she stood right behind him and cupped his shoulders. “No, Mason. It’s not. It’s not alright how the others are treating you. But I just meant you can’t use your advantage against me in the game.”

“Advantage?” He scoffed and shook his head. “These things are a curse.”

Casey sighed. “Mason…”

He shook his head again, then turned to her. “Doesn’t matter. Let’s go.”

She followed him out of the office, bracing her shoulder against the opposite wall while he locked up. “You’re right, it doesn’t matter. Even if you use your cyber powers, I’ll still win.” She gave him a broad grin.

“Will you, now? Should we make a wager?”

“Sure.” She snickered. “What will I get after I’ll hand your ass over to you?”

He spread his arms and shrugged. “Whatever you want.”

“Hmm.” She turned on her heels and started marching in the elevator’s direction. “I’ll hold you up to that.” The doors opened automatically as they approached. She stepped inside and waited until Mason joined her before leaning in his direction and whispering, “You know, when I’ll win.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”


“Really? Two barrels of Vertigo?” Mason’s eyebrow arched. “That’s what you want?”

Casey smacked her lips. “You said whatever I want. I won. And that’s what I want.”

Mason’s baritone laughter filled the darkened Sim-room. “Yeah. I said that, didn’t I?”

Casey shrugged and disengaged her helmet, shaking her head as her long hair cascaded down her back. “Are you a man of your word, Mason Miura?”

Mason gulped, his eyes fixed on her colorful hair. His nostrils flared.

“Mason?” Casey prodded. “Are you?”

“Yeah…” His voice was raspy, sending shivers down her spine. “I am. Very well. Two barrels of Vertigo.”

Casey laughed and skipped out of the room. After they stopped by the Sim-booth to return Mason’s borrowed costume, they made a beeline to the nearest Entertainment Center and bought the strong Mesretian liquor.

“Right.” Mason cleared his throat, turning to her. “Your boon, my lady.” He handed her the two small barrels.

They were stopped in the middle of the corridor, both fidgeting awkwardly.

“Right,” Casey replied. “Thanks.”


“Um… I’d share the spoils, but my roommate’s home tonight, sleeping most likely. She returned from a double shift as I was leaving.” She tried for an apologetic yet disappointed smile.

“I live alone,” Mason blurted.

Casey’s smile widened.

“I-I mean… not that I’d… but if you’re willing to share… um… Gods, I’m such a dork.”

“Yeah, you are,” she replied, snorting. “But I like it.”

The big bad cyborg blushed and lowered his eyes to the floor. This time, Casey smiled for real.

She linked her arm through his own and pulled him away. “I think it’s a wonderful idea, Mason. Location problem solved.”

“You don’t have to come by if you don’t want to.” He peered down at her.

Casey shook her head. “It’s not as if I’d be drinking this alone.”

His shoulders lifted in a shrug. “You can drink it with friends.”

“You’re my friend,” Casey replied. “Ergo…”

They fell silent as they walked. Even if they garnered more than a few stares along the way, Casey never unlinked her arm from his own. Mission or no mission, she’d never be ashamed of a man like Mason.

He was great. A great guy (so undeserving of her trickery). Why did his cybernetic augmentations have to matter?

At last, they stopped in front of his sleeping cabin. Mason hesitated for a moment before putting in his Bio-Sig to open the door. Casey smiled as she passed by him, surreptitiously patting her pocket to reassure herself the vial of whatever Harper’s given to her was in there.

“So…” Mason cleared his throat. “Welcome. It might not look like much, but this is home.”

Casey glanced around the sleeping quarters and shrugged. “It’s still bigger than my own cabin, which I have to share. I never understood why, since The Prime’s so empty nowadays…”

Mason hurriedly removed some spare parts off one chair and invited her to sit down. “I guess because it’s tradition. Engineers stay in Engineering, medics in Medical, and so on.”

“But the rest of the departments barely have people in them, while we have to cram inside this wing. It’s a little unfair. There’s a lot more of us than medics.”

“True. I never considered it before. I guess I never minded sharing a cabin before.” He moved to the opposing chair and sat down. It creaked under his weight.

“And now you do?”

Mason shrugged, letting his cheek fall to one palm as he braced his elbow on his knee. “I learned to appreciate my personal space.”

Casey’s brows furrowed. “You never had your own space before Terran Prime?”

He straightened in his chair and regarded her seriously. “I was a gladiator,” he said, like that would settle all matters.

Casey picked up the barrels of drinks and stood. “Have any glasses around here?”

“Sure, sorry. Let me—”

“No, no. I’ll pour us drinks while you tell me about your time as a gladiator.” She pushed him back down in the chair on her way to the kitchen. “Glasses?”

“Above the sink.” She heard him mumbling to himself before he asked, “Are you sure? It’s not a pretty story.”

Back turned to him, she took down the glasses and opened one barrel. After she filled them to the brim with Vertigo, she pulled out the vial and uncapped it. With a trembling hand, she poured half into his drink. After a brief second of hesitation, she poured the rest of it, figuring Mason was a big guy.

“Not all stories are pretty. I still want to know.” She returned to the living room and handed him his glass.

Mason swallowed a hearty gulp and grimaced. The grimace was a normal part of drinking Vertigo, since the liquid was bitter as hell. His expression changed, becoming distant. “I was born down by the Last Frontier, on Septimus Station.” He paused, turning his head to glance at her.

Since he seemed to wait for a reaction, Casey offered a sympathetic smile. “Wow.”

Mason nodded. “I never knew my mother, she died at birth. My father was a miner. I… didn’t have a happy childhood. I was alone most of the time. I learned how to care for myself from a young age, at least.”

He swallowed another big gulp.

“When I was six years old, he sold me to one of the pits, to pay off his gambling debt. That’s when I got this,” he gestured to the DreamSkin collar circling his neck.

“Oh, Mason…”

“I told you my story’s not pretty.”

Casey shook her head and leaned forward to grasp one of his hands. By chance, it was his bionic one. Mason sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“I entered gladiatorial training at thirteen, having grown taller than most. Master was one of the richest pit owners on the station, and quite pleased with me, since I proved adept at fighting and kept making him richer. The more grievous my injury, the more metal he put in me.”

Casey noticed his speech sounded slurred. She cleared her throat and leaned closer to him. “How did you end up here, on the Prime?”

He gave a jerky shrug. “When the opportunity presented itself, I sided with the right person. Which, in retrospect, wasn’t my best move, since now I’m on Havoc Syndicate’s most wanted list.”

Casey sipped from her drink. “So, what do you plan once the Prime closes down? Where will you go?”

“Down. I plan on being among the first group who’ll repopulate Earth.” He rubbed his forehead and shook his head. “I apologize, Casey. I-I don’t feel so good…”

She forced a laugh out of her. “Maybe Vertigo’s too strong for you.” She hiccupped, then giggled. “Know what I always wondered about? How come VALID’s unique? I mean, does the fact that he’s essentially a Rendition progeny the only thing making him a wonder, or is it something else?” She held her breath, waiting to see if he’ll pick up the bait.

 Mason groaned. “I don’t want to talk shop with you.”

She giggled again. “Come on, Mason. I’m curious. How do you deal with his maintenance?”

He snorted. “I don’t.”

Casey’s eyes rounded. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I don’t have access to his core code. For the most part, he maintains himself.”

Uh-oh. No access meant no password. And she couldn’t show up at the meeting with Harper empty-handed.

“But someone must have. Commander Corvald, perhaps? But he’s not an engineer… Or, CSO Connaway, since he’s trained to deal with VALID?”

“VALID has his own Maintenance Engineers on the station. The four Renditions that are left.”

Casey frowned. “But they’re ancient. How come they didn’t break down by now?”

When only silence met her question, Casey spun in Mason’s direction.

“Mason?” she prodded, shaking his shoulder.

Nothing. He was out cold.

Right. Time to get the other thing she came here for. She inhaled a deep breath, then pushed it out slowly. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered to him, before abandoning her chair.

She pulled out a thin plastic card out of her pocket and unfolded it, holding it up in the air and slowly moving it around the room. When the scan came back empty, she went into his bedroom and repeated the process.

She found the safety box under the floor of his bed. She had no trouble getting inside, then switching his token with a fake one after she copied the contents.

With a shaky inhale, she pocketed Mason’s token, then straightened. She had the access codes Harper requested, but not the password. And if Mason told her the truth, then Harper would not be happy once he learned he’d have to go through four Renditions to get it.

She paused on her way out of his sleeping quarters and retraced her steps until she stood before his prone body. Bending at the waist, she gave him a quick peck on the forehead. “I’m sorry,” she repeated.

After, she hurried outside, her pace sure and brisk, even if her lips trembled and a tear slid down her cheek.

Next episode (Luna’s POV)…

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