10. Lonely Smiles
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Having made his way back to his living quarters, a bloodied and battered Numa pushed open the doors to his building slowly making his way past the many different people going through their daily routine. Strangely, Numa hadn’t felt the urge to get to know his classmates at all, having no will nor reason to speak to them. Yet, in this moment Numa felt this powerful, almost aggressive itch to reach out to one of them and to strike a conversation with them. It was an odd feeling, and Numa attempted to ignore it, but he couldn’t completely suppress it, nodding at a couple of his classmates as he passed through the common area.

Making his way to his living quarters, Numa forgot about his new roommates as he entered a room that was many times more rambunctious than the common area. The guards had gathered a couple tables into the room and were using them for different purposes. A couple of the tables were used by the soldiers to play a game of cards. A couple of the tables were being used by vindicator operators, as an area to tinker with different parts. Navigating his way through the crowd, Numa made his way to his sleeping unit, which had been pushed to the corner of the room.

Sliding out of his armor pack, Numa put it in his pod to be cleaned and upgraded. Finally, being free of his armor pack for what felt like forever, Numa released Safeguard and Chromedome to comingle among the guards. Closing his eyes, Numa checked in with Convobat, who was sitting outside an office, apparently having followed the Commadore there.

Recognizing the base of the building from the stolen memories, Numa recalled Convobat back to him, deciding to check out the building with more detail later. Opening his eyes, Numa looked around and saw that Chromedome had caught the eye of a mechanic, who was showing him the different components he was working on. Chromedome was watching him carefully, nodding along and occasionally pointing at something different, at which point the mechanic would pick that piece up and begin to explain its function.

Safeguard on the other hand, seemed to have found his place by the poker table, where the soldiers were amused by tossing food towards Safeguard who would pluck the food out of the air and gobble it down. Numa simply smiled and watched the scene, it was very enduring. The difference between a new high-end golem, a brain-dead drone and a small child was very minimal, so the guards seemed not to mind the intrusion nor were alarmed by the metallic nature of their new friends.

Taking a seat on the floor nearest his pod, Numa took out a data pad and began reading the last reports he had been able to download before losing his noble status. There wasn’t anything too interesting, as most of the stuff could have been found out with a little bit of money and access to a news portal. That isn’t to say Numa didn’t find anything interesting, apparently there had been multiple incursions into the sol system, but the report didn’t mention if it was xenos in nature or if one of the traitor factions had broken into the sol system again.

After the first month of classes the marine cadets would see their first deployment as support shock troops, with the CO class leading for the first time from the rear. Numa wondered if they were going to be sent to clean up these elements. Numa had never seen a xenos before, but apparently there were hundreds of thousands of species of them outside of the Milky Way galaxy.

Numa was in the middle of speculating about these things when a large burly woman walked over. She was clad in imperial purple with silver highlights. Seeing as she wore imperial colors but was too large to be the princess, this meant she was probably one of the princess’s private guards, close enough to wear more than a patch of imperial purple.

“The princess would like to see you, oh and a package came in for you”

Neither overly friendly nor cold, the imperial guard said her piece before waiting to escort Numa to the princess. Receiving the package Numa could see it was his upgraded armor pack that he had ordered. Question marks abounded Numa’s face before Numa was able to piece a couple of things together. The reason why he was able to arm himself so heavily was also the same reason why his armor was pushed to the front of the queue, the princess had intervened on his behalf.

Whether this was because of his status as a former Tullis or something else Numa couldn’t be sure, but truth be told Numa didn’t appreciate this much political intervention. He felt like he was a pawn, a catalyst, and everyone appreciates a martyr except for the martyr themselves. Numa didn’t want to die for some else’s ideals, but it wasn’t like he could just up and leave. He still partially considered himself human, even if those around him didn’t.

Putting on the amor, Numa didn’t bother calling over his drones. There was no need, Numa figured he was safe, no one invested so much only to kill them. Standing up, Numa checked out the new features installed into his armor. It was a little heavier, with a large communications pack on his back, an antenna attached and a large sensor covering one of his eyes. Reaching up to touch it, Numa could feel that it was a long and thing oval that reached from his eye line down to his mouth.

Turning to the guard, Numa gestured for them to lead the way. Walking briskly out of the room, Numa had to hustle to keep pace with them, but Numa really wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he was fiddling with the overhauled communications system. He found that he could receive most communications from the entirety of the system, but as he lacked both frequencies and codes, there wasn’t anything to listen into just quite yet.

Quickly catching up to the guard, Numa quickly found himself standing in front of the doors to the princess’s private office. The guard soon took her place to the right of the door, taking up guard with an electro-pike standing at attention. Numa stood there, not sure if he should knock or wait or do something. Instead, he opted for simply waiting by the door to be called on.

Numa didn’t wait long before the guard who had guided him there opened the door for him and gestured for him to enter. Numa calmy walked into the room, it wasn’t as big as Numa had expected, but it was also true that there were more people in the room than Numa had expected. There were a couple of guards present, but most people seemed to be technicians and staff, moving about to different monitors all displaying different things.

The princess was stationed in the center of the room, typing away on a data pad. She was surrounded in equal parts by both staff and monitors, she was managing a surprising amount of both data and people, and Numa was almost swept up in the commotion of it all.

Standing at attention just in front of the princess’s workstation Numa took the chance to do some exploring with his nanobots. Peeking over a technician’s soldier with his nanobots Numa was able to get his hands on even more proprietary data, something that he desperately needed. Numa was so preoccupied with reviewing the data that when the princess mentioned being thirsty, Numa on autopilot went over and grabbed a waiting kettle of tea and poured a steaming cup of tea. Numa couldn’t smell it through his mask, but just this simple action seemed extremely gratifying and cathartic to him. Handing the steaming mug of tea to the princess, Numa resumed his position, waiting to be called on. It was only after a couple seconds had passed by that Numa recognized what he did. A single twitch was the only visible confirmation that Numa recognized what exactly just happened.

Internally, Numa was very, confused and a little bit apprehensive. Numa remembered what happened the last time he had met with the princess, but Numa just considered it a one-off hallucination born from the damage to his limbic system, but just then was very different but sort of held the same meaning.

What just happened wasn’t a hallucination nor was it an over-emotional response, instead it was frankly, just muscle memory. Almost like he had done something similar hundreds if not thousands of times. This was strange, considering Numa had only been in direct contact with the princess once, and that was earlier with the hallucinations.

The princess didn’t seem to notice what exactly just transpired, but two of her aides exchanged looks. Numa recognized this but paid no attention to this because his mind was a million light years away from him. Almost as if to demonstrate just how little the nanobots and him were connected, they stayed on their original course of snooping around the headquarters, seeing if they could find any information that would be useful to Numa.

Taking a couple of careful breathes, Numa cleared his mind of everything, for the first time since his affliction, Numa actively controlled and suppressed his rising emotions. Numa stood there, calming himself down, grounding himself in who he was, clearly defining who he was and the information that belonged in his head.

Soon, the princess seemed to react to what exactly happened, raising her head to thank Numa before returning to her work. Numa paid this no mind and was partially frustrated by the seeming wasting of his time, as he had been in some form or fashion waiting for the princess to speak with him. Numa waited, and waited, before making his way to the door. This action caught the attention of the princess, who watched him until she realized he was opening the door to let one of his drones in, a large bat that perched on his shoulder.

Once Numa moved back into the room the princess returned towards her work. Numa noticed this, but decided not to mention on it, instead opting to playing with Convobat. No one paid much attention to this, instead just understanding it to be the many quirks of the augmented, seeing him just as another mentally ill subhuman.

After another hour passed by just like this, but eventually a soft voice called out to Numa, “I’m sorry for the delay something came out that was quite urgent…” Numa simply stopped playing with Convobat, who flew off into a corner of the room, nodding his head towards the princess he bid her to continue. Pausing for a second, Princess Lily seemed to consider her options before asking a seemingly benign question, “Have you ever met a xenos? I have seen a couple, apparently, they split themselves into inner and outer. Did you know they don’t differentiate between their different species? It really is a strange thing, instead they compose themselves based on their home planets position towards the core of their galaxy. The closer your planet is towards the center of the galaxy the higher you stand within the collective. Crazy huh?”

Numa wasn’t sure if how to respond, as this felt like a rhetorical question—yet the princess still paused like she wanted a response.

An awkward pause resumed, before the princess seemed to shift gears, “So how was your meeting with our wonderful teacher, the Commadore?”

Not sure which meeting she was referring to, Numa decided to play stupid about the violent meeting, deciding she probably meant the first meeting before his operation. “It was fine, she warned me about the dangers of augmentation and that was that”

Nodding to herself, the princess seemed to accept that answer, mulling it over in her head before she decided to switch gears once again, “Did you appreciate my gifts to you? You really know how to ask for a lot of things, but I guess you do have a small squad to outfit don’t you?”

“Yes, thank you.” Numa’s response was short and sweet, both because he didn’t want to talk too much and reveal how badly he was shaking, and because frankly, he didn’t know what else to say. He was nervous, maybe, but the reaction was only physical. On an emotional level Numa was as cool as the polar ice caps, there wasn’t a single emotional thought that passed through his head. It was this dichotomy which only seemed to add to Numa’s discomfort.

Clearly upset by his seemingly cold response, the princess seemed to want to get a rise out of him, “So how was your operation? Is it as disorienting as they say it is? Did you even get the surgery, I can’t seem to find any mentions of a certain Numa getting the surgery? Maybe you didn’t get the surgery, and are only playing along with the Guiding Hand hmmm? You don’t seem to care too much about me, your true rightful ruler?”

By the end the princess was clearly extremely agitated, attempting to get a rise out of Numa anyway possible. Sensing that their charge was losing her cool, one of the princess’s aides placed a hand on her shoulder, signaling her to calm herself. Calming down, the princess’s demeanor visibly cooled all the way down to a chilling hostile attitude.

Numa wasn’t sure why she seemed so invested in his responses, but he had his ideas, all of which were just as unpleasant as the last. Choosing not to comment, Numa just stood there without moving a muscle. Doing this only seemed to make the shaking feeling worse, it was almost like Numa was fighting the urge to reach out and comfort the princess. It was an odd feeling, as this urge wasn’t one motivated by a certain stimulus or emotion, in the same way someone might automatically reach for the soap when they shower, Numa seemed to almost automatically reach out to the princess to comfort her.

Staying as still as a statue, Numa simply waited for the next commands.

Now clearly upset, almost irrevocably so, the princess said in a voice so cold it seemed to freeze the very air being breathed, “You are dismissed soldier.” This cold and distant remark seemed to leave multiple lashes out on Numa, but Numa simply turned and moved towards the exit. Halfway to the door, Numa was stopped by the princess who simply stated, “Its good to know that you haven’t changed at all, over all these years, over this immeasurable distance I’ve found you again and you’re just as broken as ever. You have disappointed me for the last time.”

These words seemed to careen into Numa like a freighter, crushing his very soul. The overwhelming urge to vomit raised in Numa’s mouth, and he barely made it out the door and into an empty hallway before collapsing to his knees and dry heaving.

Convobat soon landed on Numa’s back, apparently trying to find a way to comfort him to no avail. Instead, Convobat opted to flittering about Numa worriedly, in a way that seemed enduring to Numa. Waving his hand to signal to Convobat that he was alright, Numa calmed down and seemed to sink further into his emotionless state.

Before, it was as if he simply didn’t feel anything, but now his emotions seemed to collapse into themselves consuming the emotions of even those around him. Numa was a walking emotional singularity, one that trapped emotions and extinguished them from even those around him.

Numa wasn’t sure how long he stayed on his knees there, simply staring at the floor. He wasn’t thinking about anything, instead his mind was completely empty, as empty as a desert, as baren as an asteroid. There was nothing there, no thoughts, no wants, no needs, nothing. At some point, Numa got up from his stupor, making his way back to his living quarters.

By this point, a smile seemed to have formed on Numa’s face. It was an empty smile, a lonely smile, one that never made its way to Numa’s face. This wasn’t someone who was healing, this wasn’t someone who had overcome something, it wasn’t a smile of triumph or a smile for good things to come. Instead, it was a lonely smile, one of acceptance of a situation, a smile of accepting the things to come.

It was a smile of someone who was defeated, a smile of someone who had lost his voice. Some might have worn it with shame, some might have worn it to hide the bitter pain they felt inside. Numa wore it like a badge, Numa wore it as if to say that if this is who he needed to be, it would be who he would be. There was nothing other than survival now, no bottom line, no nothing. It was as if the final string had been cut from Numa’s back. He was no longer Numa Tullis, he was no longer Numa the human. There was no need for such bothersome labels that seemed to tie one down as much as they lifted them up.

He was now Numa the anchorless, Numa the freed. Numa was finally whole, finally united his pieces finally intertwined and connected. Breathing in the filtered air, Numa felt weightless, and he felt powerful.

End: Gestalt United Arc

Next: Traitor’s Respite

As it is Thanksgiving for us U.S. peeps, I thought it would be important to mention how thankful I am for you guys! Expect a bunch more chapters between this week and the next >> Thanks for all the support and stay cool!