Chapter 2:

Orders are Orders

Tetraprisma: Backtrack

My consciousness emerges, surfacing from a sea of emptiness. My vision is a blur—I see a bright glare above me, so blindingly white it makes me wince.

“Aah! It’s blinking!” I hear a panicked cry and a loud clatter. With my limited sight, I catch movement in my peripherals.

Gravity presses me against a mattress, hard like a tomb of stone. As my vision clears, I notice the padded white walls and steel overhangs around the room. There’s a humming fluorescent glow highlighting my alien body.

To my left is a girl in her late teens, staring at me like she’s awakened some ancient beast. She has her red-brown hair tied into a long intricate braid, her bangs held up by a small hairband over her forehead. Her eyes are a deep cyan, but they’re closed now—she’s cowering in fear.

“Waagh! Don’t eat me!” she wails.

I was hoping I’d be back to normal, but I still can’t remember anything. With the whole fangs-and-claws deal, it’s no wonder she’s scared. I was, too. I hold my hands up gently to ease her worries. As I sit up, I notice I’m wearing new clothing: a paper medical gown, crinkly and loose over my figure.

She notices my gesture of peace and clamors to pick up a clipboard from the floor. She’s sweating. “A-ah, hello! Welcome to Atlas!”

I recognize her voice—she was the operator over the radio. “…You…rescued us?”

She blinks and stares at me again, like a lightbulb’s gone off in her head. “You’re the one who issued the emergency code!”

“I… yeah.”

“That makes sense! Because I was wondering how Kori could’ve done it, because he was bleeding and unconscious, and it didn’t sound like Aubrey, and…” She regains her composure. “Sorry. I need a full name and a birthday, plus how old you are.”

“Sorry for the trouble, but I… don’t really know my name. Or any of that.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” she asks with a frown.

“I was an experiment in the lab. I don’t have any memories. Do you just want me to guess?”

I watch her carefully—she scratches the back of her head, stumped. “I don’t know. There’s not really a procedure for this kind of thing. I guess you could just give me a name and go with it?”

“What about my birthday?”

“Forget that. There’s usually a questionnaire I’m supposed to give, but this is serious.”

There’s a moment of silence as she waits for me to give her a name. I try one last time to remember anything, to no avail.

“Seth Sevens. That’s what I’m going with.”

“Got it,” she says, her pencil moving frantically. She hastily sets down the clipboard on a tiled counter and gives me a quick friendly smile. “I’m Marissa, by the way. Marissa Kyona.”

She starts filing through a drawer underneath the counter—I hear lots of clattering. Her eyebrows scrunch as she sticks her hands in further. “What’s in there?” I ask.

“Needles. I have to stitch up Kori’s chest, fast.” She finally brings out a small thread and needle, both shimmering a light magenta. Her hands are trembling, but her face remains calm.

Further to my left is another medical bed, cradling a patient I can only assume is Kori. He’s still unconscious, his silver-brown hair splayed on the headrest. From the angle I’m at, I can’t get a good look at him, but I can see the threads on his vest are frayed. That’s where the monster got him.

I slowly sit upright and watch as Marissa scurries over to help him. I can only see the wound for a moment before she blocks my view—the lacerations were partially closed back in the lab, but he’s still leaking blood. I check my own body and scan myself for injuries, just in case.

My arms are covered in hair…? I’d noticed my pale complexion before, but not this. Feeling it, it seems thicker than hair—fur. It’s short but tightly packed, creating the illusion of white skin. I don’t have any reason to be freaked out about this. I don’t know anything about what I was before. But…

“Seth, do you know what happened to him?” Marissa calls, still operating. “Kori, I mean. We lost contact with him—bam, just like that—and now he looks like a werewolf got to him.”

I snap back to reality and let out a sigh, which ends up more like a snarl. “There was another experiment that broke out or something. It was in the vents, so it probably got to him there…?”

“Wait, was that the monster you brought with you?” I turn around and see something new upon the last bed. Its black fur instantly puts me on edge. The beast lies unconscious, an occasional shuddered breath escaping its maw.

“Khhaa! It’s knocked out, right?!” I hiss.

“Only for a little bit,” Marissa mumbles, her back still hunched over Kori’s chest. Her hands move with grace to seal the wounds. “I’m not a great magenta caster. I’m waiting for Aubrey to get word from the headmaster.”


She finishes up and gives me an awkward smile. “Oh, sorry! No memories, I forgot. It’s just a type of magic—you’ll catch on.”

I hesitantly push up my sheets and scoot off the side of the mattress closer to Kori. His torso’s stitched back together now, but there’s still blood left around the wound. It looks drier than it should. I turn my sights on the slumbering monster and take a moment to think.

Is that monster the same kind of experiment I am? It definitely looks like it. I see the same reptilian snout and floppy ears as I saw in my own reflection. Why did it go on a rampage? Or, if that’s what it was supposed to do, why didn’t I?

“Hey, hey, you probably shouldn’t get up…” Marissa warns. She motions her hands forward, as if she’s trying to hold me back from afar.

I stand still. “…do I… get back in bed, then?”

“No, I… sorry, I just got a little worried. You know, since you’re… like that, and everything.”

“Am I that scary-looking?”

“Pff, no, of course you’re…” she trails off, averting her eyes and looking to the floor. She’s picking at her fingernails. “Sorry, I should be honest. You’re… uh, intimidating. I got scared you were going to hurt me.”

Silence, for just a moment. Something about it hurts me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

“No, no! I– you’re fine! This is just a learning experience for me, I guess. And, you know, hopefully we’ll be able to turn you back, so you won’t freak anyone else out.”

As if on cue, the padded door clicks open. In comes Thumis, wearing her uniform as before—though I don’t see her axe anywhere on her. A sneer forms on her face when she spots the sleeping beast.

“Marissa, I just talked ta Milliheim. He says he wants ‘em dead.” What?!

“W-wha…? Like, just the sleeping one, or…”

“Both. They’re Spectra experiments. They could turn on us any second.” My heart rate spikes. If it’s beating as loud as it sounds, I could wake the monster up just by standing here.

Marissa glances back at me. I can’t imagine she doesn’t notice my heavy breathing. “I-I know that’s what he said, but shouldn’t we try a genetic reversal first?”

“What happened last time I went against orders?” Thumis snaps.

“Christ, Aubrey, it’s been a year! Would you stop sucking up to Milliheim? He’s been losing it since the Strike, and you know it!”

“Yeah, ‘cause Shiera an’ I pulled that key magic bullshit! He’ll cut me from the roster if I–”

“If you what? Kill a couple monsters on a whim? Seth hasn’t done anything wrong!”

“Oh, what, yer giving ‘em names now?” Thumis slams the door behind her. “Let’s say ya find a werewolf out fer blood! Do ya shoot ‘im and run, or do ya invite ‘im into yer house for a nice meal?”

Marissa balls up her fists. “…”

“It ain’t worth the risk. Unless you wanna be that nice meal,” she says. Her cat-ears are twitching. “Same principle applies here, hun. Ain’t nothin’ personal.”

A slight movement catches my eye behind Thumis’s figure. It’s awake! Like a shadow, the beast slips below its covers and drops to the floor behind the hospital bed. Some part of me wants to say nothing and let it take Thumis out—but my conscience speaks up.

“Behind you!” I snarl. Marissa jumps at the sound of my voice, but Thumis keeps her eyes fixed on me.

“It’s tryna find an opportunity to get out. Don’t look away,” Thumis replies, her rigidity almost disturbing. The creature makes its way around the corner, closer and closer to ripping her guts out.

I clench my teeth, interlocking like a shark’s. “Thumis, it’s right behind you! Get over here!”

“You ain’t foolin’ anyone, 07–”

“For fuck’s sake!” I leap over the mattress in one go and dash at the grounded monster. Sparks fly as I tear the metal from an IV stand and slash forward past Thumis, who’s drawing her knife on me.

Too slow. The monster doesn’t see me coming, sliding between the foot of the bed and Thumis’s leg. With innate precision, I jam the makeshift spear through its forearm—between its radius and ulna, out the other side—and pin it to the frame of the bed. Blood runs down the stake and stains my white fur crimson.

“SHAAAAH!” it hisses in agony, writhing to no avail. I back off, panting, and check whether Thumis is alright. She’s staring at me in bewilderment. That’s better than wanting me dead.

“It’s not gonna stay trapped forever. Knock it out,” I growl. Marissa, panicked, rushes up from behind and puts her hands to its head. Magenta energy radiates through her hands for a few seconds until the monster’s out cold.

She looks up at me. “Are we safe?”

You’re safe. I might not be, if Thumis still wants to kill me off.” I shoot daggers at Thumis, who ironically is holding one of her own. “Is that the plan?”

“I don’t wanna, I really don’t. But orders are–”

“Orders are orders, yeah. What’s the worst this Milliheim guy could do to you? Take your rank? Throw you out?”


“Is my life less than your rank, General Thumis?”

The look in her eyes is indescribable. Contempt, remorse, relief, confusion—it’s impossible to tell. She opens her mouth to speak.

“…Not when ya say it like that,” Thumis sighs. “I’m sorry. I’ll try ta get Milliheim to change his mind. If it don’t work, though, I’m still gonna hafta go through with the kill.”

“I’ve saved your life twice now! You really–”

“I don’t got a choice, okay?! I’m tryna help ya here!”

“Doesn’t seem like it!”

“Oh, fer cryin’ out loud! Yer makin’ me out ta be the bad guy here!”

“Both of you, quit it!” Marissa shouts. “You’re gonna make my eardrums burst! Aubrey, get out of here and talk to Milliheim. Seth, go with her.”

“Why?” Thumis snarls. “Then he’ll know I didn’t go through with it!”

Marissa scowls. “Isn’t that the point?!”

“Well, I… fine. 07, yer comin’ with me. Keep yer maw shut until I tell ya to talk. Those teeth ain’t convincing anyone yer safe.”

“My name’s Seth.”

“Okay, whatever. We’re leavin’.”


Exiting the room, we enter a long, dark hallway, half-built out of steel plates. It looks like it was all wooden at some point. There are scorch marks on the walls, and the ceiling’s open. Constellations peek through the wide cracks—it’s the dead of night.

“I got a question fer ya, Seth,” Thumis grumbles. She doesn’t look at all in my direction; instead, she continues marching forward, step by step through the empty halls.

“What is it?”

“How’d ya know I was a general?”


“You called me General Thumis back there. That’s my rank. Doesn’t say that anywhere on me.”

Moonlight from the fissured ceiling illuminates the path forward, even in the dead of night. We walk past a blocked-off area, which appears to be in ruin. Yellow caution tape is strewn about the entrance haphazardly. Wonder how that happened.

“You introduced yourself as General Aubrey Thumis when we were back in the lab, didn’t you?” I reply.

“Maybe I did,” she tentatively agrees. “Gosh, that place was weird. The Spectra sure know how to set an atmosphere.”

I take my chance to ask. “Who are the Spectra?”

“I explained it to ya, right? Broke off from the spirits after the Strike. They didn’t like negotiations, so they kept the original Sakirite doctrine goin’. Somethin’ somethin’, kill all humans.”

“Well, yeah, but… why would they create me? And what’s the Strike?”

“Milliheim thinks we should put you down because they made you. Whatever they do, it’s always fer that same doctrine. Lab didn’t have anyone inside, so they mighta been monitoring it from afar—which means yer probably real dangerous.”

“You still think I’m a threat?”

“Okay, not you especially. Just, like, generally the lot of ya.”

A gale of warm, humid air passes through the chinks in the walls. My medical gown flutters a little as we walk. “What about the second question?”

“What second question?”

“The Strike. You guys keep saying that word.”

Thumis scowls. “It was a terrorist attack. That’s all I can tell ya without makin’ it stupid complicated.”

“Complicated how?”

“Don’t press down that avenue, bud. All I’m tellin’ ya.”

We round a bend, take a broken-in flight of stairs, and arrive at what Thumis says is an office. Double-doors of steel tower over us, at least double my height. I don’t think office is the right word.

When Thumis knocks, a mighty tremble resounds and echoes inside. It all feels a little dystopian, like we’re approaching an evil lair at the eleventh hour of an adventure.

“Come in,” someone says from within the room. His voice is scratchy and tired, like Thumis’s knocking just woke him up. All things considered, it might have.

Thumis cracks open one door and steps inside. I stay back behind the other one. “Milliheim, sir. It’s about the Spectra experiments.”

“Did you put them down?”

“…I didn’t, sir.”

He grunts with frustration. “Do I need to explain to you why this is unacceptable?”

“No, sir. I know. There’s… a problem.”


Thumis swings open the other door, exposing me in Milliheim’s line of sight. His appearance is as gruff as his voice—he’s sitting taller than I can stand, looking down at me despite his physical position. His steely eyes widen like a camera’s aperture.

“What is the meaning of this?!” he roars, slamming his fists into the fine wooden desk. Chess pieces topple over on the counter. “Do you plan to kill me, Thumis?”

“No, sir. I’ll let him explain.”


I was a genetic experiment made by a group of spirits, whatever those are. They planned to destroy humanity—I can only guess I was part of that. But I’m different somehow.

Who am I? A question I keep asking with no answer. For now, I’m Seth.

What am I? I’m not sure. Some kind of monster, clearly, but I don’t act on instinct like the other one. That’s what’s different about me, or at least it’s part of it.

And then there’s the question of the experiment itself. I wasn’t the only subject—I’m Twilight-07. That means there were six others, minimum. Were they successful? Are they still in testing? Are any of them like me?

Every question branches into an infinite series. I’ll stop myself here until I get answers. And that starts with Milliheim.

Steward McOy