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To Become a Defender

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          A fragment of NXT wished he were still deaf; at least then he would not be able to listen to the screams of the two Texeli whose names he could not recall but whom he could visualize in his head as they rushed toward the horde of blood-thirsty Hemi in Traverse. Their screams reverberated throughout the entirety of the void, mocking him, torturing him, laughing at him. Those two were the only ones who could have helped him gain his memories, but now their last moments were bouncing around his head for all eternity getting louder and louder and louder, loud enough for the void to feel as though it could explode at any second. The sheer anguish those two must have been feeling was powerful enough to shatter the abyss into fragments –- to destroy the nothingness. Of course, the void remained intact, but so did the screams. NXT could only imagine what the Exo must have been doing to them. He imagined a cloaked man with long, bony fingers grabbing them and puncturing their bodies with all five of his needle-like digits. Why such an image managed to infiltrate his thoughts eluded him, but the screams finally stopped.

          There was silence. He felt himself stop breathing. He was holding his breath. Perhaps Exos were similar to dinosaurs in the sense that they could only see those that moved… or perhaps they saw only infrared and would not be able to detect his corpse… The cognitive dissonance boiling inside of him coupled with the anticipation of his death brought him mere seconds from a mental breakdown but nothing seemed to have happened after the screams stopped, as if the Exo, Texeli, and the world all vanished instantaneously. His hearing must have stopped. It had not left him for a long time, so he had assumed his hearing would never falter again, but the high levels of stress must have made it malfunction. Now to wait, to wait for whether or not the Exo would kill him, to wait for whether or not his two friends were still alive… although unlikely, to wait until either his hearing returned heroically to reveal good news or returned as the devil’s messenger to condemn him to Hell.

          He floated in the familiar, zero-dimensional realm for an unknown amount of time. He relished those moments of silence for as long as he could knowing that at any second the Exo could murder him. What would happen then? Would he be stuck in the abyss for all eternity? For all he knew, the loss of hearing was an effect of his death. Oblivion. NXT found himself cursing humanity’s tendency for Catastrophic Thinking. He wanted to dream of prairies, of butterflies, of rainbows, but instead all he could think of was the abyss, Hell, dismemberment, mutilation, torture…

          His hearing came back. “… and he exploded into dots! Can you believe that?”  a strange voice told him. A new voice. “Why do I even bother telling you. We are all done with this war, and clearly you are too. We have lost our defender, all our most powerful comrades, and now we are lost. We are leaving you behind, but not like you care. You aren’t even listening.”

          “Let us go, Scorylo; you are sounding more pathetic by the second,” another strange voice urged.

          “Heartwood is correct. This is a fresh start for us. We do not need a defender! Did you not witness the great power we have within us? We destroyed that Exo without breaking a sweat!” a third strange voice encouraged, panting.

          “Fine, we shall start our new lives. Us three sole survivors of this massacre must not waste our lives taking care of this Human. We are free to do our bidding, and we shall destroy everything in our path without the aid of those pesky, useless, authoritative aliens.” All three voices boomed a most fearsome battle cry before leaving NXT discarded, as was apparent from the receding footsteps. Although NXT could no longer hear any other sentient being, he could hear the whistling of the wind and the rustling of leaves. Had the three of them, before abandoning him, carried him to the middle of a forest somewhere? He heard someone shouting off into the distance. It was very faint but extremely packed with emotion -– he could almost feel the flaming inferno that was the screamer’s wrath. Then back to the peaceful whistling of the wind. NXT attempted a final time to move any part of his body, but just as before, he could not feel anything. His nerves were complete mush. A term began to rise from the sea of words floating around in his mind: Locked-In Syndrome.

          There he lay, at the mercy of the world. He was grateful for what the three had done for him despite their abandoning him. He cared not if he had been abandoned. By hiding him in the forest, they had given him hope that no Exo would stumble upon him and kill him off. He still had hope, hope that another Mike would someday arrive and save him.  Or perhaps not a Mike but Texeli of his past. Sure, those two from Traverse were the only ones he remembered, but there ought to be many more out there… right? The case could not possibly be that he had made no more than two friends… right? Even though his only memories were of the library and seeing his two friends rush a horde of Hemi did not mean that he had done nothing else, right? Eventually, in due time, someone will come and bring him to safety. All he had to do was wait, and wait he did. Lying there, motionless, his eyelids too heavy to open, his body too numb to feel, and his brain too damaged to sense time. All he could do was listen. Listen and wait.

          A low rumbling broke the constant whistling of the wind. The rumbling at first seemed to be approaching, but it began to recede before stopping. It stopped not because it had left his hearing range, but because whatever had been causing the noise had stopped moving. It was to his left, or so he assumed from what he had heard. Did it stop because it saw him? The rumbling began once more, this time approaching him. It stopped for a split second, and in that split second, NXT could hear another noise. A sizzling noise. The noise of violent sparks. The image of a hooded figure glitching and sending sparks flying every which way popped in his mind, but it only remained for a split second before it dissipated with the continuation of the rumbling. The rumbling was no longer receding nor approaching. It had a constant frequency. That could mean two things: either the source was not moving, or both the source and himself were moving at the same velocity -– he was being carried away.

          He felt himself panic and wanted to scream, but he had no mouth to do so. He could only let himself be carried away by whatever was causing the rumbling. He focused on the sound. It was not the sound of footsteps; it sounded like… like a rover, like multiple tiny wheels rolling on the ground, whirring incessantly and menacingly. He did not recall ever reading of Texeli with wheels as a mode of transportation, so he could only deduce, from the very limited memory he had at his disposal, that he was being escorted from his hiding place by an Exo. He would rather not admit to such a horrendous fate, so he began to reason another possibility: a defender. He had heard the term defender before from the three that had abandoned him. He had also heard the term when Mike abandoned him to fight an Exo. She had been called a defender, and she had also been called a Human. If he remembered correctly, she had also called him a Human. Were defenders and Humans interchangeable? Or perhaps defenders were a subset of Humans. Whatever the case, the whirring of the wheels could have something to do with a defender, with a Human. He only remembered Texeli not having any wheels, but that did not rule out the possibility of Humans having wheels. He would rather be abducted by something he had been associated with than by something that had decapitated a Human any day.

          The whirring stopped making the same sound. NXT had also stopped hearing the wind. The sounds now had more echo to them. They must have entered a building of some sort. A very vast and abandoned building devoid of any sound except the whirring noises. The acoustics of the building were very unsettling. NXT heard more and more whirring until finally, it stopped. Then the most unsettling sounds he had ever heard began to penetrate his sanity. It sounded like a voice, but a very… he could not describe it. The pitch and frequency kept fluctuating erratically. One second the voice would sound like a small girl’s, the next it would sound like a grown man’s, the next it would sound like a young boy’s speaking hundreds of words per minute, and the next a woman’s speaking a mere three words a minute. It kept glitching and saying incomprehensible poppycock, flapdoodle, codswallop, and yackety-yak! His own thoughts were beginning to sound incomprehensible even to himself! Was he so frightened?

          His final moments before entering a deep slumber were spent listening to the steady stream of liquid being poured around him and crawling up his legs after the voice had finally stopped pestering him. I will drown.