Chapter 7:

War's End

The Legacy of Xaero: Unit 561

Searing pain roused Hunter from sleep, and to his disgust, woke up to find he was no longer confined within the operating theatre. Or rather, he was no longer within the same operating theatre. Sloane and Mareel’s body were gone. The room was dim, with only a single light beam from above illuminating Hunter as he lay strapped to a table. This time, the source of pain was coming from his left arm. Glancing over, he saw Mareel’s scaled and blistered arm surgically attached at his shoulder, with numerous bags of multicolored solutions drip feeding into the limb.

The sight of the arm prompted a memory in Hunter. Just before he had lost consciousness, a woman had appeared in the room with them. An apparition? A hallucination? Hunter wasn’t sure he could accurately guess through his delirium. But if he had to, it might have been the Shepherd Queen. With a start, he remembered pleading for the figure to save them. And yet, she had refused, or more accurately, refused to save him. What did she mean by that?

“Hey, you’re finally awake,” A voice boomed out of the darkness.

“What happened?” Hunter rasped. It felt like he was trying to speak through sawdust. “Where did she go?”

Ascee stepped into view, his normally smug expression unusually grim. “She died,” He replied, indifferently. “You’re the last one left of your squad.”

“No, the woman I saw,” Hunter continued, not understanding. “Someone joined us in the quarantine.”

The overseer frowned. “No one joined you, maggot. Was just you, the human and the melting fish for the whole week.”

“A week?” He repeated. “That couldn’t have been just a week!”

“You’re right, we decided to do another experiment after you went under,” Ascee said casually. “That’s when the human kicked the bucket. Poor thing couldn’t take being all alone for the months we were playing with you.” He said it with such mundanity they could have been discussing the weather. “I was hoping we could do to her what we did with you, honestly.”

Then the weight of what he was saying struck Hunter. He reached over and flipped a switch, and the bed Hunter was strapped to began to tilt, raising him vertically to be at eye level with the Unimus. To his horror, Sloane’s leg was now grafted on his body. Yet there wasn’t any pain unlike Mareel’s limb.

“How long has it been?” Hunter asked, a tremble coming into his voice. “Since you quarantined us?”

Ascee adopted a pensive expression. A solemn contrast to his normally sadistic behavior. “I’d reckon about fifteen agro-cycles, bird boy.”

Fifteen months?!” Hunter exclaimed. His arm surged in pain at the outburst.

“Sounds about right,” Ascee said putting a hand to his chin. “We put the girl’s leg on you while the doc was… well, tinkering. The real issue was trying to keep the lieutenant's arm from melting after all this time. Didn’t really have anything better to do, I guess you could say.”

Hunter could barely hear him. He was still processing the amount of time that had passed. A year and a half had passed, and the war was still going? Were they destined to destroy each other? Just how many were left in Unit 561?

Then, to his surprise, the Overseer began working on loosening his restraints.

“Your jarheads should be showing up sometime today,” He explained sullenly. Game’s over, the Republic won.”

As the Overseer spoke, anger began to flash red hot across Hunter’s face. He had endured the Unimus’ torture and oppression for years, and expected clemency now, like they had just finished a game between friends? It took every fiber of Hunter’s self control to not try and flay him then and there.

“Ordinarily protocol is we gas whats left of you, burn the evidence” He continued, oblivious to the rage building within him. “But something tells me…” Ascee paused to finally look Hunter in the eye, a hopeful smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Sylvie tells me you’ll be very insistent that I was a model warden when the authorities take us all away.”

As the last strap on his wrist came loose, Hunter immediately slogged the Overseer across the face. The Unimus grunted in pain, not expecting it. Now numb to the pain his limb was causing him, Hunter ripped the IV’s digging into his left arm, and threw himself on Ascee.

“Wait, wait!” Ascee howled, struggling to hold Hunter back. “Stop! Synthesia! Synthesia!

But Hunter didn’t stop. He had him. His arms, Mareel’s and Henderson’s arms, were wrapped around Ascee’s throat, throttling him within an inch of his life. As good as it felt, he knew that wasn’t good enough to kill the Unimus. It would take more to kill the robotic bastard. And yet Ascee continued to shout out synthesia, convinced it would protect him. All he was doing was signing his own death warrant.

“How many did you kill?” Hunter seethed, his voice a deadly whisper. “How many!”

Overseer Ascee attempted to answer, to plead for mercy, but nothing resembling coherent speech escaped his mouth.

“There were three hundred of us, Ascee,” He answered as he began to force water down the Overseer’s throat. “Three hundred! How many did you kill!”

“I… I didn’t…” Ascee gurgled through the water.

“You weren’t following orders like the rest of us,” Hunter went on. “You took delight in everything you did! Picking us apart till we were nothing but crumbs! And you think anyone of us would vouch for you?”

Hunter had pumped so much water into the Overseer’s mouth that his body had started to expand. The Unimus continued to thrash, trying to throw Hunter off. Yet he kept him pinned, barely conscious, barely cognizant, aware that whatever passed for lungs within his biomechanical body was drowning itself entirely at Hunter’s desires. No one could stop him even if they tried now.

“What was it that you said when this all started?” He yelled. He could feel Ascee’s resistance fading. “That we hated you because you were Unimus? Well, I hate you because you’re a heartless bastard!”

A crack came from deep within Ascee, and water began to pour out of every orifice of the Overseer. His hands fell still, and the Unimus was no more.

Breathing heavily, Hunter’s hands slumped away from the body. His body felt like it was on fire, threatening to shut down after burning through every reserve inside him just to end that wretched machine. Throwing his head back, Hunter basked in the glow of the light above him, savoring the fact that he was finally free from the man who had tormented him and his friends throughout their time there.

“I did it,” he huffed, holding his arms aloft and gazing at the hands of his former team. A weak laugh escaped his lips, growing stronger as he fell backwards against the floor, disturbing the puddles around him. “I did it!”

So caught up in his own personal victory, Hunter failed to notice a familiar fake elf at the entrance to the theatre. Doctor Sylvie Rosette walked in, dressed in layers like she was about to leave on a trip. The pointy eared Unimus only glanced at the water logged corpse of the Overseer before smiling tenderly at Hunter.

“Very good,” She exclaimed. Her voice immediately sent him on edge, and his body was off the floor, curled into a ball, ready to attack. “Very good! Specialist Hunter, you have never ceased to amaze me.”

“Then how about you cease to be?” Hunter snarled, pouncing towards her.


Before Hunter realized it, he ended the pounce, standing stiffly at attention in front of the scientist.

“Leave it to that idiot to say the keyword wrong,” Sylvie mused. She kicked at the Overseer’s leg. “But that just means I won’t have to use you against Luther Ascee later.”

Doctor Sylvie Rosette pulled two chairs over. “Command, sit.” She said, and like an obedient pup, Hunter took a seat. “Speak freely.”

“What did you do to me?” He demanded as Sylvie made herself comfortable.

“I rendered you susceptible to hypnotic suggestion,” She replied, a guilty expression on her face like she had caught her daughter stealing from the cookie jar. “Trained you to respond to any commands once your trigger is spoken.”

“You said I was part of the control group,” Hunter said, resentment and realization intermixing. “It was literal?”

His question prompted Sylvie to laugh. “Oh not initially.” She admitted. “The idea came after you somehow engineered the Asura’s escape. We thought it would be the perfect countermeasure for any future escapes or even prison exchanges that might occur. The Republic’s own soldiers, turned against her.” Sylvie adopted a dreamy expression. “Tearing you down and making you pliable, now that was a challenge.”

When Hunter chose not to comment, she continued. “This may sound hard to believe, but one of my greatest priorities has always been advancing science for the sake of science. I know I come across as psychopathic,” Doctor Rosette said suddenly. “And you’re not wrong! I’ve always tried to channel it productively though. Ethically. Morally. But that doesn’t always happen when we’re at war, now does it?” She scooted her chair closer towards Hunter and her voice fell to a whisper. “I doubt this will make up for what I’ve put you through, but I don’t intend to share my research with the Republic, the Silvan Empire or whoever else comes asking.”

“You think that’ll protect you?” He grumbled. “You think that will protect your daughter?”

“My daughter is already safe,” Sylvie replied, tears now dotting the corners of her eyes. “Hidden her away, forged identification, everything. Maybe if I’m lucky after some time has passed, I’ll be able to collect her. I know our relationship hasn’t been the greatest, what with my experimenting on you, but unlike Luther, I mean it when I say you have been a joy to work with. I hope you can learn to grow beyond the ordeals I’ve put you through.”

“You really are a monster,” Hunter called out as Sylvie stood up. “They’ll dismantle you for what you did to us! They’ll find you and tear you apart. And I’ll be there waiting when they do!”

Wiping the tears from her face, Sylvie smirked. “No, they won’t,” She said confidently. “And neither will you. Command…”

“Soldier! Is everything okay!”

The voices jarred him from his stupor. Hunter realized a pair of soldiers were kneeling in front of him, examining him with sickened curiosity. Doctor Rosette was gone. He was confident she had just been there, but now… He shook his head, and clarity returned.

Out of the three hundred soldiers imprisoned at Unit 561, only twelve had survived. The captain assigned to bring them home swore as he realized that was all who were left. Outside the compound, lines of technosoldiers waited – deprived of weaponry and restrained by the same magic dampening headgear the prisoners had worn – to be assigned a transport for whatever future awaited them. Everything was a blur to Hunter. He remembered a soldier expressing their sympathies upon seeing the surgical grafts they had been forced to endure.

As the transport began to take flight, Hunter felt tears in his eyes as the wind brushed his face. He yearned to extend his wings and ride its currents once more, only to be grimly reminded of that impossibility as he beheld his own arms. His wings had been clipped, grafted onto others when he had received Henderson and Mareel’s.

The sky offered Hunter no solace, and the clouds he grew up loving gave no comfort as the transport began to fly in the direction of the Republic. Around them, the clouds began to take the shape of those whom he had lost, yet now will forever be part of him.





Nearby, a soldier took notice, and put a hand on Hunter’s shoulder. “It’ll be alright.” He said encouragingly. “It’s all over now.”

“No.” Hunter murmured, too softly to be heard. As the ghosts of those he lost huddled closer around him, the specialist added, “It’s not.”