2. Playing Catch in the Dark
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His eyes felt heavy, but he knew it was time to get up. The ringing in his seemed to strike the sides of his, rebounding from side to side, refusing to open his eyes, Numa shakes his head to get the ringing out of his head. With the violent shaking of his head mixed with the vicious ringing in his ears, Numa regained enough of his senses to realize that the ringing wasn’t coming from inside his head, but rather from the alarm clock situated intentionally out of reach. The reward for finally managing to open his eyes was a wave of nausea so strong that it forced his eyes closed and his hand over his stomach. Rolling over into his stomach, rocking back and forth to try and ease the nausea. To him, it felt like his very thinking was being forcibly rewritten for him.

On a physical level it felt like he was wearing someone else’s skin. It was an uncomfortable feeling, but it was something he was used to. Why was he used to it? Asking himself that question got him nothing. His mind flashed with a hot white searing pain that seemed to further dissociate himself with his body, until it got to the point it felt like his mind was trapped in that of another, controlling it from the inside like some sort of sick meat puppet. This feeling didn’t get better, but only seemed to intensify with time. In an almost stark contrast, as his dissociation got worse, and the feeling intensified it started to bother him less and less. He was feeling more and more like he wasn’t himself, but along with all other emotion it seemed to drain from him, like he had overspent his emotions in his past life and this life’s emotions were already forfeited to the debt collectors.

Rolling over, a piece of bile stuck in his throat threatened to rise and forcibly exit his mouth. Fighting it back down his throat, Numa closed his eyes and attempted to stabilize his thinking. Almost meditating, caused him to fall back into a deep slumber all the while his alarm continued to ring off into the morning.

Several people were marching down the hall, the sharp click of their heels on the stone floor ringing out hollowly throughout the halls. The person in the center was walking at a steady pace, not fast but not too slow either. Still, due to their stature either person flanking them had to speed walk to keep up with them. On either side of this central figure flanked what appeared to be soldiers, complete with rifles strapped to their backs and helmets obscuring their facial features. Leading them down the hall was a person of great stature, easily standing over six feet tall. Unlike the soldiers, this figure wore a full body suite and no weapons visible except what appeared to be a dagger strapped to their waist.

The central figure appeared to be leisurely strolling down the hall, yet the two soldiers could barely keep pace with this massive figure. Reaching their destination, the central figure moved off to the side, letting the soldiers pass by them and pass through a metal sliding door into a darkened room. The reason for the central figure didn’t follow them in was obvious, as the door frame stood a good six inches too short to pass through the entrance.

All this time, there was no audible noise coming from either the soldier or central figure save the sound of their boots on the stone floor. Within the room there laid a desk, and a lone bed with a figure huddled on it, seemingly shaking. With their faces covered it was hard to tell how these soldiers were positioned to this mysterious figure, and while these accommodations weren’t glamorous, they were far from a military barrack or prison cell.

Both soldiers slung their rifles over their soldiers, and one reached a handout to pull the blanket back, while the other soldier quietly turned off the alarm clock with a simple tap on its metal frame, and just as constantly as it had been ringing previously it stopped, and with a quiet puff of air a hidden mechanism retracted the alarm clock back into the nightstand it was situated on.

Pealing back the blanket, the soldier went to shake the revealed man awake, but seemingly stopped for no apparent reason. Looking back at their partner, they instead reached up and tapped a console hidden on their wrist guard. A button lit up on it, before slowly fading out. With a crackle of static, a garbled noise was heard emanating from the helmet. Smacking the side of their helmet twice seemed to fix the issue, as a clear male voice was soon heard.

“It’s time to wake up mister, we are about to dock on the station, you are running late and if you don’t get up soon you will be late.” The soldier seemed to be respectful to this man, but not overly so, and seemed to being nice out of courtesy and not out of loyalty. The use of mister here was interesting, as it implied this man was a stranger to the soldier, yet he was being nice enough to gently wake him up or wake him up at all.

The situation of the man on the bed was an interesting one. His name was Numa Tullis, and he was the bastard son of Remus Tullis. This meant that while he wasn’t in line to replace his liege, he was still a blood relation of his liege, and as such indirect courtesy was applied here. He couldn’t refer to this man as sir, as he wasn’t in line for the title of count, nor was he his superior and as such the term “mister” was applied here.

Groggily opening his eyes, Numa seemed to be at a loss for what he was looking out. This didn’t show on his face though, as his face and eyes seemed to lack all light behind them. Replacing his face with a carving would have made this scene make more sense, as his actions seemed to imply curiosity, yet nothing seemed to reach his face. There was nothing inherently creepy about it, but the sight of Numa surveying the room all the while remaining expressionless seemed unsettling to say the least. It wasn’t a pristine gaze, or a regal gaze, instead it was a dead gaze, like nothing was registering behind those eyes. Almost like there nothing going up there, to put it simply, he looked like an idiot.

It was not an inspiring sight, and it wasn’t something to pity either. Things like pity had been ironed out of these soldiers, and they had to have been. These soldiers were born during the First Great Awakening and were active during the turn after the Second Great Awakening, marking this new age. This wasn’t an age of peace, the very act of living was a brutal affair, and everyone had to serve a purpose. Those who couldn’t give themselves one, were granted the honor of being gifted a purpose. Usually as cannon fodder. As such, this soldier didn’t pity the weak, the stupid, or anything in between, instead this soldier just saw someone who either knew his purpose already or this purpose would be enlightened to him later, therefore there was nothing to pity.

Shaking their head, the speaker was deactivated, and silence descended upon the room again. Motioning to their partner, both soldiers walked out of the room, their mission having been finally completed, and it was now time for them to head back to their normal detail.

Quickly exiting the room, they saluted the large person who stayed just outside the door before proceeding to head back through the long hallway. The large person, after having made their way to the side of the door earlier hadn’t moved an inch since reaching that point. They had tilted their head slightly when saluted by the soldiers, but even after the soldiers left, they didn’t follow, instead just standing as still as a soldier. To be fair, their suit seemed bulky enough to prevent any motions of swaying. In other words, two words came to mind when observing the suit, the first was intimidating, and the second was sturdy. To many people, looking at the suit brought a sense of comfort, it felt like the wearer could even bear the brunt of the universe if the situation called for it.

The first couple of seconds after fully waking up was a confusing couple of seconds for Numa. The previous instance of him waking up with the alarm seemed like a fever dream, yet his queasy stomach seemed to reinforce that the previous instance was real and not part of the dream. Trying to collect himself Numa found that where his dream ended and where his life began was a line that seemed to become more and more blurred the further into his memories he got. He was Numa, but his dream was so vivid it almost felt like he was also… well, him.

It hurt his brain, and there were memories so many memories. A lot of them were foreign, in that they were different from his other memories, he couldn’t remember when those memories were made or how they got into his head in the first place. What was even more alarming was the fact that these memories were devoid of any emotion attached to them, he remembered things about his life that he was pretty sure hadn’t happened yet, but they were all just dates and a list of what went on. It was like remembering a password, you remembered the password, but it wasn’t like you remembered how you felt when you made the password or even how you felt about the password. Instead, it was, well just a password.

He seemed to know that in ten years he would be emancipated from his birth family, how he knew this he didn’t know. There was no basis for this knowledge, it wasn’t like it was a guess or an intuition, it wasn’t a feeling, it was knowledge plain and simple. It was the same feeling he got when he remembered a fact from his history textbooks, but he didn’t remember reading this fact in anything. It was a weird feeling, and there were many other “big” facts like this rattling around in his brain. It seemed like these memories were attached to him of his dream, yet there should be no connection between the two, as the world in the dream was radically different than the one found.

It was a surreal experience, and while his initial instincts were to not trust this information, but when prompted, his cybernetics confirmed that nothing had been done without his permission, but it also alerted him to significant damage done to his Limbic System. When prompted to expand, the only response was “error”, and it just gave him the generic error that occurred when a part of the body was so damaged the cybernetic sensors couldn’t quantify how damaged it was. This either meant the sensor in charge of checking was broken, or in extreme cases that body part was just… gone.

The extreme damage to a part of the brain was a worrying prospect, but this worry didn’t register with Numa. Instead, it functioned just like a data point within his mind, something to take note of, something to circle back to, something that needed to be addressed, but it didn’t register on an emotional level for him. If he knew what the limbic system did for the brain this would make sense to him, but he didn’t know, and so this passed by him like dust in the wind.

What he knew was that he was still confident in his (somewhat) soundness of mind, that he couldn’t inherently trust this newfound information, but by that same metric he couldn’t distrust it either. It was something that could easily be checked, and even if he could trust this information, he understood his knowledge wasn’t the end all or be all the universes. In other words, if he knew when someone was supposed to die, and then he saved them, this could invalidate the other dates held within his hands.

Lastly, there was a frequent mention of Quin held within the dates. Many of the dates held a title (aka in 14 A2A Numa Tullis becomes simply Tullis) and some of description of the event. It was different from when he accessed information stored in the cybernetic, as all that did was allow him to read the data, and there was a ban on AI in cybernetics ever since the ending of the first era.

This Quin didn’t have a family name, so there was no proof of this, but Quin was a rather unique name, and it would be hard sell to convince Numa that he would finally be emancipated from his family, when a new member of the main family was just born named Quintus Tullis, and ten years of age was the age when a family member was officially added to the family tree.

Checking the time, his heads-up display showed that it was 13:00 Tellus time, a little past lunch. Silently, without much thought put into it, he grabbed an armor unit off his nightstand and placed it on his chest, and with a hiss of air being forced out, the armor deployed, fully covering him in a protective suit. While it was a full body suit, it was closer to the armor worn by the soldiers then the towering suit worn by the hulking mass of person outside. In fact, even compared to the armor worn by the soldiers it was a little dinky.

Numa knew where he was headed, but he didn’t know for what purpose. He was headed to the Universal Command Military Academy located on Martius, where he would be trained to be “the finest marine”. Basically, he was going to be a special kind of cannon fodder. Conscripted grunts were tasked with either drowning an enemy position in corpses, making the enemy run out of bullets, or something to that effect. Marines were found in most combat zones, but there was task was a little more specific. Enemy champions, those things that were strong enough to destroy thousands of grunts and hundreds of soldiers with their singular might, were handled by the marines. Their goal wasn’t to kill, instead their goal was to delay the champion enough so that their own champions could intervene. They were harder to kill then soldiers and grunts and were “built to last” but at the end of the day billions of marines were trained and deployed every cycle, yet if you looked around there were very few non rookie marines.

The death rate was about one in five marines would make it past their first year after graduation and only one in a thousand would make it out of the marine program alive. Unlike grunts, who usually served in that role for life, if you made it two years as a marine you would be shuffled over into leadership role in the normal military (usually serving as a squad captain).

The armor pack he had placed on was the cadet uniform of the marines, and it would later be decorated with whatever cohort he was placed into upon official enrollment into the academy. Numa had just turned twenty, at the age of nineteen they applied for a purpose, either seeking higher education or the like, and by twenty they would continue the path they had chosen at nineteen. If one didn’t receive the purpose they applied for, the luckiest ones could choose a different purpose, the rest were the unlucky ones, forced to fill out the ranks of either the grunts or the marine corps.

Numa had willingly chosen to join the marines, as at the time glory and death on the battlefield seemed a better alternative than a knife in the dark. But now, glory meant nothing to him. Death was death, and however it happened to him. Weirdly, the thought of dying didn’t bother him, but a part of him still didn’t want to live. It was a weird feeling, since it wasn’t a feeling at all. Numa just didn’t see dying as an option, just seemingly another data point, something he had apparently started gathering.

Silently, Numa moved about in his armored suit, trying to get a feel for how it would hinder his process. His father had supported his decision to join the marines, apparently even his dad wanted him dead. This wasn’t surprising, and his father was probably happy since it meant there was no need to setup an “accident”.

This meant that for the most part, his father had probably sent someone to protect him during his training in the academy (which wasn’t prohibited) as his death in the academy would probably be used by his families’ enemies to cast shade on his family.

Knowing what he might now know, Numa felt odd calling them “his family”, but death was something he wanted to avoid, meaning if he was given a protector knowingly, he would abuse the ever-living hell out of them until his time to be protected was over.

Finally getting a feel for the suit, Numa walked over to the console next to the door and placed his hand on the scanner, unlocking it for what was probably the last time as a cadet. While this wasn’t his ship, it was his fathers, but it wasn’t even a private one. All he had gotten was a private room on a ship transporting half of the marine cadets from his father’s territory (they were travelling in a convey of two motherships). So, while there was almost no nostalgia attached to this ship, it still felt somewhat final leaving his room for some reason.

Pausing for only a quarter of a second, Numa’s hand landed firmly on the scanner, and with a blast of air, the door was opened yet this didn’t feel like a good thing. In fact, it felt like nothing much at all…

For those who don't know, the Limbic System is in charge of long term memory, behavior and emotions. Learn more on the wiki page: Limbic System Wiki Page