Chapter 24:

Chapter 24: Breakdown


The Iron Streets were quiet that night as Rowan and Dyna waited for Nyk to return. No one dared set foot outside with the Bounty Sentinels approaching. While such peace was normally coveted, tonight the silence hung over mother and daughter like a storm cloud.

“I’ll go make some coffee,” Rowan mumbled, stumbling over to the kitchen to brew a pot of the black sludge that passed for “coffee” in the slums.

Dyna didn’t reply. They had a long night ahead of them. Hopefully it wouldn’t just be the first of many.

It was the break of dawn when Nyk finally made it back into town, warily entering the shop.

Rowan gasped with joy and Dyna began to tear up. Had she fallen asleep? Or could it really be…

She didn’t bother questioning it. She leapt from her chair and threw her arms around him, hugging him like she feared that he would float away if she let go.

“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry,” Nyk choked out, resisting the urge to start bawling. Rowan came and joined the hug, patting him gently on the head.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she whispered. “If you need to go, please, tell us. But don’t vanish into the night like that ever again.”

“I won’t,” he promised, even though he knew he’d broken his promise with Dyna already.

She didn’t care about that now, though, not while she was hugging him. He was here and he was safe, and right now, for Dyna, that was enough.

Exhausted from the battle Nyk slept for most of the day. When he finally awoke the sun was high in the sky and his head was clear, and he had a message on his telescreen.


Well, that was to be expected. She’d let him go before because of how worried he was about Rowan and Dyna. But now that he’d checked in, it was obvious she’d want to see him again.

The next part of the message was a little stranger.



Lulu glanced up from her machinery, surprised. Aud addressing her without being called upon was unusual enough, especially when she was in the middle of working.

“Yes, Aud? What is it?”

“…Nothing. I would not question your decision-making capabilities in this regard, please forget I said anything.” Her polite bow wasn’t fooling anyone. It was clear that something was bothering her about this most recent request. With a sigh, Lulu set down her terminal and turned to give Aud her full attention.

“You’re wondering if I might be pushing the Slum Boy too far, asking him to bring that child here.”

“Yes, milady. Among other faults, he lacks your ability for compartmentalization. I do not think he would react well. And seeing as how you still need him for the project…”

Lulu held her hand up to stop Aud right there. “Thank you for your concern, Aud, but it’s fine. That boy will do what I tell him. And as for the girl…”

She glanced back at her newest invention, a large metal bed with an archway over the headrest. Cybernetic lines pumped fulcrumite through its circuitry.

“I need to find out for sure. Whether or not she’s an Interfacer like me.”

About an hour later he arrived at her door with Sky in tow, and she greeted him with a smile like nothing was wrong. But she could feel wariness and suspicion coming off of him.

“Why did you want me to bring Sky here?”

Lulu turned to the blue-haired girl and met her vacant gaze. “Sky, is that her name?”

He blushed. “It’s… what we call her. She hasn’t actually… um… told us her name yet.”

“I see. And you said she didn’t even need to sleep?”

“Or eat, actually, or drink. It’s like she’s a doll. I-I thought, well, that you might know what was wrong? You know, since you’re from the city, you must have met all sorts of people before, so I thought that maybe…”

“Hmm… well, you’re not wrong, Slum Boy. I have met my fair share of odd folk. There are any number of augmentations a person could have done to minimize their need for rest and sustenance. She could even be a full android, perhaps, not human at all.”

Nyk turned even redder. “Uhum, um, she doesn’t have a-a terminal… connection port, or anything like that, so I don’t think…”

Lulu smirked. “My oh my, have you been studying her body closely then, Slum Boy? Has my little puppy been getting naughty when I wasn’t looking?”

“Wh-What?! NO! I-I didn’t… check, it’s just… Dyna said…!” He tried to fumble out an explanation but Lulu didn’t really care.

“It’s fine. I’ll take her to my lab, and check up on her. We’ll make sure that everything’s fine. Maybe even get her talking again!”

Nyk relaxed a little as relief washed over him. “O-Okay, good. I just, um… I was kinda worried, since… well, you didn’t seem all that interested before, so I thought…”

“Oh, just think of it as a reward for working so hard in that fight against the Bounty Sentinel yesterday!” The truth was, that had been exactly what she’d wanted him to think. She’d been eager to examine the girl from the moment she laid eyes on her, but had been lacking the means to do so until now. But if Nyk suspected her true motives, things would have gotten complicated.

But now she had her. “Come along, Sky.” She took the small girl by the hand and led her towards the exit. Nyk followed, but Aud stepped in front of him.

Lulu turned back with a smirk. “Oh, Slum Boy, I’ll be doing a full-body examination of your friend here, so maybe give her some privacy? And while we’re at it, Aud will be conducting your next assessment test.”

His jaw dropped. MORE tests?! “Already?!”

“Don’t worry, it won’t be anything too strenuous,” she assured him, shutting him out before he could object.

When Sky got to the laboratory she froze. That was interesting. Lulu tried to pull her to the table, but she resisted.

Hmm. I thought she was blind? But apparently not… is she picking up visual stimuli and just disregarding it, then? Or if she really is an Interfacer, perhaps she’s picking up a signal from the bio-bed…

Well, whatever it was, it was resistance, and she was having none of it. Sky may have been an Interfacer but she still had the body of a scrawny girl, and Lulu was surprisingly strong for how she looked. She dragged Sky over to the bed and strapped her down.

“Sorry I had to restrain you like this,” she murmured, noting how violently the girl thrashed against her bonds. “But I need to know, you see. The last time I saw you, the feed for my Synchro Suit got corrupted. I developed that code. Nobody could access it normally. Only someone like me could rewrite it like that. That’s why you’re worth 10,000,000 gols, isn’t it? The Central Government would just love a chance to get their grubby little fingers on an Interfacer like you. Well? It’s just the two of us now, you can tell me if I’m right.”

Sky didn’t respond. Could she even hear her? If she really was an Interfacer, she might not even process auditory stimuli as her primary method of communication.

Lulu sighed. She took out a scalpel and cut away the girl’s clothes.

“Oh, well. We’ll find out soon enough.”

While Lulu was busy with Sky, Nyk had gotten into his old Synchro Suit and prepared for his lesson with Aud.


Two swords collided against each other in the training field. One wielded by a master, the other by a clumsy oaf.

“Your stance is faulty. Readjust following the appropriate form.”

Nyk watched Aud through his visor, matching his stance to what he saw onscreen. The Synchro Suit was an excellent teaching device, helping guide his body through the proper forms. Whenever he moved incorrectly it would remind him with a light shock and stop moving, so with enough trial and error he was learning the proper techniques quite well.

He still was no match for Aud, though. Her sword rang against his helmet within a second of his first swing.


“Why are we even doing this, anyway?” He groaned. “Do I really need to fight with a sword in the wasteland?”

“You remember that Scavenger Dolly and how she fought with her swords?” Aud asked. Nyk recalled how she’d run around and cut the Bounty Sentinel’s gun turrets, blades moving so fast he could hardly see them.

“So you think I could really move like that?” He got his second wind back, especially when Aud tossed her sword to him and grabbed two more for herself.

“With proper training, yes. Your suit acts as an extension of your body, just like a prosthetic.”

To prove her point, Aud lashed out with a pair of slashes faster than any normal person would be able to perform. It was only due to her cybernetics that she was able to execute the maneuver, and it was only due to the enhanced reflexes of his suit that Nyk was able to block it.

“I guess enhanced legs like Dolly’s really are better than normal ones,” he mumbled.

“Many people would agree with that assessment,” Aud nodded. “But not those behind the wall.”

“…What about you?” Nyk asked. “Do your, um… augmentations… do you think they’re better than your old arms were?”

Aud froze, a look of surprise crossing her face for a moment. Nyk gasped.

“S-Sorry! That must have been rude, I don’t know what I was thinking!”

“No, it’s… alright,” Aud said, shaking her head. “You just caught me off guard. I don’t mind telling you if you like. But…”

The faintest of smiles crossed her lips. “Only as we fight!”

Aud dashed forward with her swords raised, cutting at Nyk. As she did, she recounted her story.

“Before I lost my arms, I was a worker in the city. I’m sure you must think that everyone past the wall lives in spiraling crystal towers, but no, there are rich and poor alike there, as well. And I was one of the poor. I worked in a manufacturing plant since I was six years old, building weapons. I worked there… for ten years, doing my job flawlessly.”

Her sword caught him on the leg, and he tripped. She planted her foot on his chest and stood over him, sword aimed at his throat.

“Then one day I slipped. I made a mistake operating some heavy machinery. The accident cost me everything. My hands, my job, in a matter of days I was out on the street.”

Nyk grabbed her leg and forced her off, standing up and retrieving her swords. “So you got prosthetics?”

She shook her head. “I couldn’t. You must be aware of the city’s laws, no? One augmentation, one enhancement of any kind, and you’re exiled to the slums. I was forced to choose- live as an armless wretch in the city’s gutters, or risk living beyond the wall, in a world I’d been raised to fear and despise.”

Nyk winced. He wasn’t sure if he could have made that choice either. But then, life in the slums had been hard enough with his hands, he couldn't begin to imagine how he'd survive without them. That hesitation caused him to slip, and she downed him again.

“That was where milady found me,” she declared with pride. “She saw something in that gutter, something worth investing in! She gave me new arms, shielded me from the laws by taking me on as her property! I was allowed a life I never could have imagined, all thanks to her!”

Her attacks increased in ferocity, and it was all Nyk could do to stave her off.

“If I could be of any use to milady, what need have I for my arms?! My legs?! For milady’s sake, I would convert my entire body to her cause!”

Nyk couldn’t block her next swing. She practically knocked him across the room with her shout. He stared up at her in shock.

Aud caught her breath, wiping the sweat from her forehead and brushing her hair back into place.

“…Forgive me, I lost myself in the moment there. Let’s start again.”

“Unbelievable…” Lulu couldn’t think of any other way to describe what she was seeing right now.

“Subcutaneous micro-terminal nodes… I’ve never seen hardware this complex, not even in the city! It’s like your entire body is a relic from the ancient world!”

The physical examination had revealed wonders to Lulu beyond her wildest imaginings. Sky was no ordinary girl. Certainly, she had a heart, lungs, a brain, on the surface the readouts identified her as completely human. But every last part of her was artificial. Synthetic organic material, impossible to detect without the most cutting-edge of technologies derived from ancient world relics. The wonders to be found inside her if she were dissected…

But the crowning jewel was her brain.

Lulu switched on the bio-bed’s scanner. The archway began to thrum over Sky’s head; if she had been an Interfacer like she expected, the machine would synchronize with her brainwave patterns. But now that Lulu knew she was something else entirely, she was curious what the readouts would indicate.

“Synchronization rate rising… brainwave activities are…”

She gasped again. A shaky smile crossed her lips as she read the computer’s analysis of her synchronization.

“Binary code…”

A million thoughts leapt into Lulu’s mind at once. This girl wasn’t an Interfacer. She was compatible with synchronization technology, but she wasn’t an Interfacer. She wasn’t even human.

“A fully synthetic, artificially organic being, with a computer brain. That’s how you were able to interface with my suit! That’s why you don’t need to sustain yourself like a normal human! You’re…”

Lulu’s voice trailed off as she realized her machinery was starting to go haywire. “Oh, no… no, no, no you don’t! You get out of there! You stupid, artificial piece of-!”

An explosion shook the building, nearly throwing Nyk and Aud off their feet. Aud’s face turned ghastly and she flung her swords away.

“MILADY!” She cried, pushing past Nyk and running out the door. Startled, Nyk chased after her. Seconds later they reached the smoldering remains of Lulu’s lab.

Lulu herself was fine, not even her dress was smudged. But she was seething. “She got away…”

“Milady, are you alright?!” Aud cried. “What happened here?!”

Nyk looked around, stunned. What was this place? He saw bits and pieces of machinery and computer hardware more advanced than anything else Lulu had shown him. He couldn’t understand the words on the screens, but he saw an extensive analysis of what looked like Sky’s body. His eyes fell to the bio-bed, and its unlatched shackles. Then to the tattered remains of Sky’s clothing.

He put the pieces together all too quickly.

“What did you do!?” He roared, lunging at her. For a moment he forgot he was in the Synchro Suit, stopping just shy of smashing Lulu’s face in. She stared up at him with an unapologetic smirk.

“What? It’s not like I dissected her or anything.” She coughed, the smoke was starting to fill the lab, and fire suppression wasn’t working at the moment.

“It was just a few minor tests…”


“Enough from you.” Her glare was stunning enough that even Nyk lost his voice for a second. She turned to a stunned Aud, who had her fists raised in preparation to strike him.

“Aud. A little mouse is loose. Please retrieve her immediately.” She pointed down the hall, towards the exit.

“M-Milady…” Aud cast a way gaze towards Nyk.


“Yuh… yes!” Aud turned and ran in pursuit.

“Wait!” Before he could think, Nyk was after her. He was still seeing red, unable to believe what Lulu had done. She’d been… he didn’t even want to know what Lulu had been doing. But it cemented once and for all in his mind that behind the jokes and smiles and fancy clothes, behind the “random” acts of generosity, the woman he was in league with was an absolute monster, and he cursed the fact that he’d been such a fool as to go back.

Aud came upon Sky just as she made it to the outer door, and freedom in the wastelands. But Aud was too quick for her.

“You’re coming back with me.” Sky struggled with all her might, screaming wordlessly as Aud dragged her away from the door. That was what Nyk came across when he caught up to them.

“Aud!” He shouted. “Let her go! I don’t know what’s going on here, but this isn’t right!”

“…Really.” Aud turned to him and raised her eyebrow. “This is milady’s command.”

She didn’t need to say anything else. Nyk knew that the only way he was getting Sky away from Lulu was by going through Aud, a woman who had spent the better part of an hour just now wiping the floor with him.

He was still figuring out his plan of attack when his body flung itself forward.

“What?!” Neither Aud nor Nyk knew whose lips the gasp of disbelief came from in that moment. Nyk was moving faster than Aud had ever seen, and he didn’t know how. It was like someone else was moving his body. He felt his hand seize Aud by the throat and hoist her up into the air, and he felt his fingers curling around her neck.

“Let… ghack! –GO!” Aud swatted at him with everything she had, but her efforts amounted to sand pelting his suit. What was going on? Under normal circumstances her punches should have felt like getting hit by tank rounds. His fingers just tightened in response.

Then from the corner of his eye, he saw it. Sky, with her hand raised up and her fist clenched. Slowly she raised her other arm, and he felt his hand move as well, joining its partner around the choking woman in front of him.

“Stop! Stop!” Who was shouting right now? Was it Aud? Or was that his voice, yelling frantically at his body to stop strangling her? In the haze he had no idea, he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He was used to feeling powerless, but now even the Synchro Suit couldn’t help him.

Aud’s face was turning blue and her eyes began to roll up into her head.

“EMERGENCY EJECT!” He heard his lips shouting. The back of the suit opened up and he was flung out into the hallway, gasping for breath. His brain burned from the backlash of forcing the connection to shut.

The suit remained standing for a second longer before collapsing into a heap and bringing Aud down with it. She gasped for air as the color returned to her cheeks, before slipping unconscious.

Nyk turned towards Sky. But all he saw was the open door, and the wasteland beyond.

“What’s going on here?” Lulu stepped out into the hallway and looked out over the wreckage. There was a cruelty in her eyes that had gone unseen before today. But now he realized it must have been there all along, hidden behind her charming smile.

She wasn’t smiling now. She wasn’t lying to him or trying to get on his good side. In that moment with her lab in flames and her prey having escaped, Nyk saw her for who she really was, and he knew in that moment that he hated her. He hated her more than he had hated Axel for being a jerk, and even more than he hated that slime Brocas. He hated her more than he’d ever hated anyone before because she’d actually fooled him, just for an instant, into thinking she wasn’t a monster.

He forced himself to his feet and turned away, unable to stand looking at her for another second. “I’m done,” he spat.

“What?! Where are you going, Slum Boy?! Get back here!”

He ignored her fury. He pushed her voice out of his ears and walked out into the wasteland.