Chapter 8:

Chapter 8: Return


After all Nyk had gone through it felt strange to walk through the slums again. Everything looked the same as it always did, the same shops, the same starving people in gutters, and the same slightly less starving people walking past them pretending not to notice.

Nothing had changed.

Except for him.

You couldn’t tell just by looking, of course, not when he was out of the Synchro Suit. But after putting up with Lulu’s “training” and emerging from the Towers unscathed, he felt something he’d never felt before.


When he left the slums, he was a foolish Shiny who didn’t know a damn thing, just Sentinel food who thought too highly of himself.

But now he’d returned triumphant. He’d killed so many Sentinels today he couldn’t even begin to count them!

Once he’d made it back to Lulu and restocked his equipment, she sent him back in to retrieve the remains. That had taken up the better part of the day. He and Aud stripped down the organic components and divided what was left into two piles, one for remnants and one for scrap.

Remnants were parts of a Sentinel that could be repurposed by corporations in the city, things like intact weaponry and electronics. They usually fetched quite a decent profit at the Collection Office.

Scraps were just useless hunks of metal to be melted down, and usually were more trouble than they were worth to collect.

So it was no big surprise which pile Lulu claimed for herself.

“Excellent work, Slum Boy! These will be quite useful for my inventing. As for that rubbish… do with it as you like.”

“Wait, really?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing Scraps were nearly worthless, but still only “nearly”. And with a pile that large, it could actually fetch a decent price. Maybe his ears hadn’t adjusted to being out of the suit yet.

“Yep! You performed today at and above expectations, I have nothing to complain about! In fact, I’m in such a good mood, I’ll even give you a reward!” She said, flashing a generous smile. “Anything you like, what will it be?”

“I-“ Nyk’s voice caught in his throat. What did he want? His freedom? No way she’d give him that. Money? What would he even do with it? The only other things he could think of were food and shelter, and he already got that from her anyway.

Then Mysha’s smile flashed through his mind. Mysha. How long had it been since he’d seen her? Weeks? Months, at this point?

He swallowed.

“My… My friend, Mysha…” He said slowly, testing his boundaries. But she didn’t reject him outright. She smiled serenely at him instead, her face unreadable.

“Yes? What about her?”

“She… She still thinks I’m dead. Would it be possible… could I go see her, please? To let her know I’m okay?”

It was crazy. Absolutely crazy. He couldn’t think of a single reason she would agree, it didn’t benefit her at all. Fuck it, for all she knew he would run away and she’d never see him again! He felt like a fool for just asking, with how tight of a leash she kept on him she’d-

“Okay, sure.”


She shrugged. “It’s fine with me. Just make it back to the base by sunset tomorrow.”

And with that, they loaded up the truck and set out back to the city, dropping off a very confused Nyk, finally free at last.

That was how he found himself pushing a hand cart down the Iron Streets towards the Collection Office. Lulu had been extraordinarily generous to leave it with him, even letting him take his M16 back with him. She’d even brought his old gear to wear, as if she’d anticipated what he’d ask for his “reward”.

…It was filled with teeth marks and covered in blood, but it was better than shorts.

People glanced his way as he walked by, and he couldn’t blame them. He was far from the first weary Scavenger that day who’d hauled a pile of scraps towards the Collection Office, but his pile was likely the largest the city had ever seen. The whispers were uncomfortable, but they were better than what people used to say when he walked by them.

He shivered. After all the time he'd spent living in Lulu’s heated bunker he'd forgotten how cold the slums got at night.

It was a long walk to the Collection Office, and the closer he got, the more he was reminded of his past life. It had been a long time since he’d had to carry something this heavy without the use of his suit, and his arms were getting sore. And the ache in his stomach was another familiar sensation, reminding him he hadn’t had anything to eat today, either.

But the worst part was the rain. It had been beating down upon him without mercy for the last hour, soaking him through his already-ruined clothes. The road was more mud than street at this point, and each step he took was a struggle. But he was almost there. The Collection Office was right before his eyes. Yet it felt like an eternity away. His heart pounded and his muscles ached, he felt like he was right back in that room, tearing into the Sentinel with his bare hands.

A clank of metal made him freeze. All of a sudden he was back in the Tower again, with one of those beasts lunging after him.

…No, no, he was going crazy. It had just been the sound of his scrap pile shifting as he went over a rock. A piece had fallen off, and he reached down to pick it up. But as his finger touched the cold metal, a shiver went down his spine.

He’d almost died today. There were so many times in the struggle against that swarm that he’d thought he was about to die. He’d felt the exhilarating rush of triumph when he’d emerged from the Tower alive, but now that he’d had time to really think about what he’d gone through…

He was terrified to the bone.

Would he really have to endure that for the rest of his life? More of that nightmare? Trapped in that suit, fighting wave after wave of monsters coming to tear him apart? Their inhuman roars rang in his ears along with gunfire, and he realized that his hands were shaking.

They had been for a while now. He’d made it out alive, but what about tomorrow? What about the day after that? He could see his future stretching out before his eyes, an endless wave of Sentinel after Sentinel until one of them got lucky.

For the first time, Nyk seriously considered running away. It couldn’t be that hard, right? Lulu didn’t know the first thing about him. She’d never be able to find him if he just never returned.

He could do it. Turn in these scraps for whatever silvs he could get, and run. If he explained things to Mysha, then maybe she’d-

Movement in the corner of his eye had him reach for his gun. Something was coming his way, and fast! He may not have had his suit, but the training he’d done with Aud wasn’t just for show. He turned to intercept the attack, only to see that it wasn’t an attack at all. It was hard to tell in the dark, but it looked like… a girl?

A girl who crashed right into him, sending them both to the ground.

Nyk stood up, his head spinning. He had to take another look, just to make sure. But his first instinct was correct, it was in fact a girl. She looked as short as he was, but considerably younger. Her short hair was the most unnatural shade of blue, like the sky, and her eyes were the same color. They were milky and blurred, and the way she looked at him made him wonder if she could even see him at all.

The poor thing must have been freezing. She was absolutely drenched and wore nothing but a thin white dress, which clung uselessly to her trembling white skin. She didn’t even have shoes, her feet red and blistered. She must have been running for quite some time.

“H-Hey, sorry…” He didn’t know why he was apologizing when she was the one who crashed into him. Maybe because of how miserable and helpless she looked, a feeling he knew all too well. “Are you okay?”

She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She rose to her feet without taking his hand, and bounded off into the night.

Nyk didn’t even have time to call after the odd girl, because right then someone came out of the Collection Office, his presence compelling the crowd to part around him.

He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was Brocas, one of the highest-ranked Scavengers in the slum. His body was almost completely replaced with cybernetics, his arms and legs shining brilliantly in the pouring rain. The only sign that the man in front of him had once been human was the muscled chest the machinery was bolted to, and the head that sprouted from it, bald and proud and wearing a cocky smirk. A slick metal sword dangled from his waist.

“Well, hello there little girl, what are you doing out here in the rain?” He towered over Nyk, running his cold green eyes across his body.

Nyk shook with rage, but for once, his fear overpowered his anger. Brocas was an even more successful Scavenger than Mysha! He took on jobs directly from the corporations! He wasn’t someone you wanted to upset. All he could do was mutter back pitifully, “I’m a boy, not a…“

“Oh, well that’s quite alright,” Brocas smirked, reaching out and running his fingers through the fringes of his hair. The metal was freezing against his cheek. “I don’t mind at all. Are you a Scavenger, little boy?”

“…Yeah, I am,” he spat out. If any of the confidence he’d built up this morning had remained, it was gone now. He was just some worthless kid from the slums, not the same person who’d fought through a horde of Sentinels.

Brocas jammed his hand into the pile of scrap, letting the shards of metal tumble through his fingers. “And what, you’re proud of bringing back something like this now? That the most those little arms of yours can carry, is that it? …No, no, scraps like this, just a hassle to deal with. Not something a cute little boy like yourself should waste his time worrying over.”

He smirked, slapping the side of the cart. “Tell you what. I’ll take this off your hands for you, and take care of all that pesky paperwork myself. No, no, no need to thank me. All I’d ask in return is we go back inside and share a drink together, sound good? I’ve got all sorts of useful tips for a cute little Shiny like yourself, as long as you ask me reaaal nice…”

His breath burned Nyk’s face, and he couldn’t take it anymore. “No! Get off me!” He shouted, trying to push him away. He could barely move the man’s arm.

“I don’t think you heard me properly!” Brocas hissed, snapping up and grabbing Nyk by the ear, pulling his face in close. “I wasn’t asking-“

“Hey!” A loud voice boomed through the street. “Get your fucking hands off him!”

Stunned, Brocas’ grip loosened and Nyk slipped away, turning to look at his savior.

He couldn’t believe who it was.