Chapter 9:

Chapter 9: Respect


The towering figure looming over Nyk was the last person he ever expected to come to his aid.

It was Axel!

His augmented arms flexed as he stomped down the road, his eyes locked on Brocas in a cold glare.

“What do you think you’re doing?” He rumbled, his booming voice giving even the arrogant Brocas pause. But the Scavenger was quick to recover, a casual smirk crossing his face.

“It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with. Just helping a Shiny here learn a bit more about the business is all.”

Axel glanced down at Nyk, and Nyk felt his body tense. He was used to hearing all manner of scornful comments coming from Axel’s lips, but what he said came as a surprise.

“Leave him alone. Where do you get off, picking on your fellow Scavengers when they’re trying their best?” Axel demanded, raising his arms threateningly. He wasn’t wielding his guns, but even his brute strength could do some serious damage to his fellow cyborg.

Brocas’ fingers danced on the hilt of his sword, staring at Axel in silence as he weighed the benefits of starting a fight with another Scavenger outside the Collection Office.

He must have decided that it wasn’t worth it, because his hand dropped to his side and his eyes skipped over Nyk, his gaze cold as ice. There was a warning in his whisper as he departed, and Nyk hoped that he never ran into the man again.

That just left him with Axel. The hulking man turned, and for a moment Nyk expected to hear all manner of abuse hurled his way.

“So you were still alive then, hunh…” He grunted instead. A big grin split his scarred face in two and he clapped Nyk on the shoulder with his giant hand, nearly smacking him into the ground. “Well, it looks like you managed to make something of yourself after all! Come on in, I’ll buy you a drink!”

Nyk didn’t understand what was happening. For as long as he’d known Axel, the cyborg had looked at him with nothing but disgust. He’d derided and scorned Nyk throughout their first mission together, saying he’d never make it as a Scavenger, so why was he acting so friendly now?

What had happened in the time since Nyk had been taken in by Lulu?

It was the first time Nyk had turned over relics to the Collection Office, so he wasn’t sure what to do. He couldn’t read the forms he needed to fill out, so the attendant at the window helped him through it. She was surprisingly understanding, as if she knew this was his first time.

When all was said and done, he’d received 9000 Silvs for the scrap he’d turned in, all on his Scavenging License. It was far more than he’d expected, more money than he’d ever handled himself. And all that for one day’s work?

Axel dragged him off as he left the counter, filled with cheer. “Come on kid! Let’s get that drink!” Still confused by the sudden change in demeanor, Nyk let himself be led off to a booth in the corner, the giant man across from him taking up nearly all the space.

“Two beers, and your steak special for me… you want anything?” Axel asked, glancing away from the waitress for a second.

Nyk shook his head, still too nervous to talk. This was Axel, after all, the man who’d mocked him for years, chatting him up like he was an old friend.

About a minute later, a mug was set down in front of him, filled with a dirty golden liquid.

“Come on, kid! Drink!” Axel urged him, downing his own drink in a flash. It was a sight to see, a hand the size of a truck tire holding such a small glass.

Nyk swallowed. He’d never tasted alcohol before, since he could never afford it and Lulu refused to let him have it. But the intensity in Axel’s stare made him uneasy, and he took a sip just to get the pressure off him.

He nearly spit it out. It was horrid! Worse than the gutter water he’d been forced to drink when he was desperate.

That made Axel bust up laughing. “Thought so! That’s a man’s drink right there, Nyk! Gotta brace yourself and swallow it down, you’ll get used to it!”

Nyk seethed, it sounded like Axel was mocking him again. He clenched his jaw and took a big gulp, the second taste as horrid as the first. But he managed to keep it down this time.

“There it is! Better, ain’t it?” Axel smirked. He called to the waitress, “keep ‘em coming over here!”

By the time the food arrived, the room was starting to spin a little. Nyk felt a little numb, but he wasn’t as nervous as he had been. He’d heard people call alcohol “liquid courage” before, and it seemed an apt name. Because he finally had the courage to ask what was going on.

“Why… why did you help me back there?” He’d tried to sound confrontational, but unfortunately the words came out as a nervous squeak.

Axel raised his eyebrow, a perplexed look on his face. “That guy Brocas is a piece of trash, that’s why,” he growled. “Man goes around bullying Scavengers weaker than ‘im, forcing ‘em to give up the relics they’ve Scavenged. Punk thinks he’s tough shit just because he’s got corporate funding and a great record.” Nyk could hear the malice in Axel’s voice, but it still didn’t make sense. From where he was sitting, Axel was just as much of a bully.

“Folks like me an’ Mysha, Calum and Dolly, we had to learn to be good if we wanted to survive. Not like that punk who thinks he’s tough shit because he can afford the best gear money can buy, all sorts of cybernetic enhancements and weapons and whatnot… they call him one of the best, but even if he’s got some skills he didn’t earn ‘em in my book. No way I’m letting you take crap from an ass like him!”

“But… I thought you hated me?”

Axel nearly spit out his beer. “Ha! Hated you?! Now that’s a laugh! Ha! Ha ha ha!” His cackles seemed to make the whole booth shake. Nyk felt his face heat up with frustration.

“Then why did you always treat me like shit?! You looked down on me, mocked me, you didn’t show me any respect at all!” He exclaimed. He wasn’t intimidated by Axel at this point, the beers had taken care of that.

Axel sobered up and gave him a stern look. “Of course I didn’t respect you,” he growled. “You were just some Shiny punk thinking you were hot shit, trying to get all cozy with Mysha when really you were just gonna drag us all down. Why would I show respect for somebody like that?”

Nyk wanted to protest, but he couldn’t.

“We thought you had died,” he muttered, tearing into his steak. “Mysha and the rest of us. She was broken up about it for a while after.” He eyed Nyk with an appraising stare. “But it looks like you made it out after all, hunh? With a huge pile of scrap to boot.”

“Th-That was…” Even though he was drunk for the first time ever, he still had enough clarity to remember what Lulu had said to him before she let him go.

“Remember, Slum Boy, the Synchro Suit is proprietary information. That means it’s a secret. You can’t tell anyone about it. And that goes for you, as well. Don’t let anyone know about the contract between the two of us. If that friend of yours or anyone else asks what happened to you, here’s what you tell them.”

Nyk drained his glass and repeated the cover story Lulu had given him.

“I… I got separated from the rest of you guys, and my equipment got busted up. Then I ran into some other Scavengers on another floor. They were on a long-term expedition, looking for relics, so I helped them out. We just finished the other day, so that’s why I came back. And as payment for my services, they let me keep the scraps from the Sentinels we killed.”

It was a real enough story, and the sort of thing that happened all the time in the Towers. He hoped Axel would buy it.

“Wow, helping some pros for nearly two months,” Axel mused, stroking his chin. “Just goes to show, instincts aren’t always correct. I thought for sure that you’d end up Sentinel bait, but it looks like you made it through just fine. That equipment of yours ain’t looking so shiny anymore.”

Nyk’s gear was covered in sand and blood, and filled with holes. There were marks on the M16-X5 from where the Sentinel had gnawed on it.

“Point is, I thought you’d go off and die, but you came back alive. You proved that you’ve got what it takes to be a Scavenger. That’s why I’m treating you today, it’s my way of making amends.” He raised his glass to Nyk and smirked, taking a swig.

Nyk didn’t feel like drinking, though. Axel’s words were sticking in his mind. He was right, after all. Back then, he had been just an arrogant slum rat, thinking he was tough because he had a license and a gun. He became a Scavenger to survive, sure, but he’d really just been after everyone’s respect. And now he was getting it, from the last person he’d ever thought he would, so why did he feel so sick to his stomach?

No, he knew why. His thoughts had been murky all night, but right now he was thinking clearly. The only reason he was still alive was because Lulu had saved him. The only reason he’d gotten all those scraps was because he’d relied on her Synchro Suit to kill those Sentinels. And here he was, lying through his teeth and pretending that it had all been due to his own ability, when he was just like that bastard Brocas.

He didn’t deserve Axel’s respect, or Mysha’s. Or anyone’s.

“Tell you what! Let’s call Mysha down here, you must be dying to see her again!” Axel laughed. “When she sees you’re still alive, she’ll be thrilled.”

Mysha. Just hearing her name sent a stab through his heart. He’d come here to see her again, but now…

“Wait, don’t,” he said quickly.

“Hunh? Whattya mean, kid?”

“Don’t… Don’t tell her you saw me tonight. Or that I’m even alive. Please, just… don’t.” He hoped that his words sounded stronger than his heart felt.

“…Why not?” Axel asked, sensing that this was something important. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m not… ready to see her just yet, that’s all. I’m still… I’m not… all that stuff I told you… I wasn’t really as much help to them as it sounds. I’m still just a kid,” he admitted.

Axel didn’t get upset, though. He just sighed. “Geez, kid… you’re real plastered, huh?”

Nyk hiccupped in response.

“Hey, can we get some water over here?!” Axel called to the bar. He turned back to Nyk. “Listen, you remember how I thought you became a Scavenger to try and force people to respect you?”

He nodded glumly.

“Well, I think it’s sinking in that it doesn’t work that way. Like I said, you gotta earn respect.”

“…And I haven’t. I mean… I haven’t done anything worth respecting, I mean…” His head was too cloudy to really know what he meant.

Axel shrugged. Seeing his giant shoulders wobble like that made Nyk feel nauseous.

“I get wanting Mysha to respect you, believe me. She was the reason I became a Scavenger myself.”

That sobered him up a little. “Wait, really?”

“What? You think you were the only kid she looked after? Nah. Back when we were kids, she was always like that… looking out for everyone, trying to help people, even hopeless bums… and when she decided to become a Scavenger, I realized it was my chance to pay her back for everything she did for me. So I applied and got my license, and I’ve been supporting her ever since.”

The awe in Axel’s voice was painful to hear. Nyk had always admired Mysha, but clearly for Axel it went a lot further than that.

“Point is, everyone’s got their reasons for doing what they do. Whether it’s to survive, or to be respected, or whatever it is… and looks to me like you’re finally starting to give it some thought.”


“…Guess you’re too drunk to think that hard, so I’ll ask you straight-up. After working for a while, do you think you have a better idea of why you want to be one of us? And it’s fine if it’s for respect or money or shit like that, as long as it’s real respect you’re after, you get me?” Axel asked, narrowing his eyes. His face was red, and it looked like he’d reached his limit himself.


That wasn’t the easiest question to answer. At this point, the only reason he was still working the job was because Lulu forced him to. He didn’t know if he’d ever go back into the Tower again if she didn’t make him.

“…I don’t know.”

Axel blinked, his eyes bleary. He drained his glass. “…You’ll figger it out… ‘ventually… less ya die!” He cackled darkly, the table nearly splintering in two as he hysterically pounded his fist.

Nyk just felt sick to his stomach. His head was spinning, and he felt his body moving without him. Like some impulse was telling him to leave. Axel called after him, but his words went unheard over the storm in his head.