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Episode 10 Part 19

By:  Wynn

“So, everyone is a hero to themselves, hmm?” Bullet Ruissir stared up at the ceiling of his bunk, Vonter's earlier words still ringing in his ears despite the hours that had passed. “What a weird way of looking at the world.”

     Once more, the Nathian sighed, rolling onto his side in the bed only to stare blankly in a new direction, still unable to free himself from the gravity of his thoughts. Some part of that conversation still haunted him, his mind gnawing at the gristle of it while he ground his teeth in unconscious frustration. He had tried to distract himself, but Nathia.Net had been a hollow diversion and he had certainly grown tired of the company of pirates. The notion of an uncharacteristic nap had initially appealed to him as a way of clearing his head, but he had only tossed and turned and thought without any hint of sleep beginning to tug at his eyelids. So, instead, he lay uselessly in bed, still hounded by shadowy mental pursuers despite his efforts to flee to peace and quiet.

     'I should be practicing,' he scolded himself, glancing over to his sheathed sword. The blade had rested there since earlier that morning, but he hadn't managed the heart to take it back up and resume his familiar routines. Still it waited, just out of reach, silently promising a way to work out his tensions and find his usual clarity. He eyed it enviously, passively hoping he could find the motivation to stand and take it up.

     Instead, he rolled over once more, finding himself face-to-face with the flier that the orange-skinned pirate had passed him earlier, after his 'conversation' with the other pirate captains. Dorvus, the pirate had called himself before he had reverently handed over the paper. Bullet had cautiously accepted the flier without comment, scanning over the heading 'Friends of Earth' before getting distracted by Vonter's smirking presence. Now, for the fifth time or so since returning to his room, Bullet allowed himself to read over the words it contained in the hopes of finding some mental succor, fully aware of the fact that he had practically memorized it by now just through his absent-minded perusals.

     'Come join us as we turn our eyes toward Earth! Explore the mysteries of this undiscovered county alongside those who seek to know more!' Bullet had heard of organizations like this, groups devoted to appreciating the cultures and products of certain worlds, but this was the first time he had encountered one focused on a world that was still protected from outside contact. Still, perhaps that was part of the game for them: watching a world that had no idea they existed, playing with something that had to stay at arm's reach. An odd sort of voyeurism, perhaps.

     Despite himself, Bullet chuckled slightly, finally finding a bit of succor in this idea. He had been to Earth; while he had enjoyed his time there, he hadn't found it too different from many other places he had traveled to. Certainly no place worthy of a fangroup. On the other hand, he admitted, their literature had been pretty good, at least the sampling he had found during his brief visit. He wouldn't mind going back- but that would be impossible, wouldn't it? A wry smile twisted his lips as he considered that. He had only gone to ground there in pursuit of a wanted criminal, and even that broke so many laws that he would face serious punishment if anyone ever found out.

    'Couldn't you say that every hero is a villain to someone?' For some reason, the memory of Vonter's words forced itself to the front of his thoughts once more, and Bullet winced and lowered the flier. This was getting him nowhere. Maybe it was time for some training after all.

     Gaining strength from that resolution, Bullet rolled over in bed, reaching under the bunk to pull open the compartment that held his duffel. It was odd that this one bag held most of his personal belongings, but he had long ago acclimated himself to living sparsely. Plus, he was forced to admit, there was also his home back on Nathia. He hesitated for a moment at that idea, a faint recollection of running across his family's estate drifting up from the haze of his childhood memories, but he quickly shoved it back down. He hadn't gone back there since the death of his mother, and considering his 'unofficial resignation' would not be returning to it any time soon. He briefly wondered if he would ever see it again, but, shaking his head, tore his mind away from such melancholy musings.

     Finding the duffel's zipper, he opened the bag and carefully shifted his belongings aside, trying to reach the bound folder that held his personal documents. Without knowing why, he had decided to save the flier for later study, perhaps more amused by the notion of the 'Friends of Earth' than he had admitted to himself. Carefully, he slipped the folder's bindings free and pulled it open, slipping the flier into one of the pockets inside as he balanced precariously on the edge of his bed. His brow furrowed in exaggerated concentration, he managed to close the folder and seal it once more before beginning to withdraw his hand from the duffel.

     Losing his balance as he shifted, his hand plunged once more into the bag, resting uncomfortably upon a hard object at the top of the duffel's contents. Shifting, Bullet balanced himself without withdrawing his hand, curious about the unfamiliar presence amidst items that had called the bag their home for years. Next, he pulled the item free, instant recognition tainting his expression as he lifted it closer to his face.

     The object was a knife, wrapped in a leather sheath marked by the blue bars of the Guardsmen. It was certainly not a weapon that appealed to Bullet, but as a memento it was without price. It had belonged to his partner, Dirk, before it had passed into Bullet's hands. Trading the vague disquiet of his previous thoughts for the inevitable distress this dagger would bring, Bullet allowed himself to think about the previous times he had seen this blade, the bittersweet memories emerging with painful clarity.

     He could remember the day that he had first seen this dagger: it had been the day that the class before his had graduated from the Academy. The dagger had been a gift to Dirk from their mutual instructor; a token of respect, perhaps, that Dirk had survived the harsh training. While Bullet had flourished at the Academy, Dirk had never been quite as fond of the school's restrictions and constant surveillance, despite the fact that it had practically become a home to both of them. The gift had surprised even Bullet, since, in the last months of Dirk's stay at the Academy, he and Instructor Lance had barely managed to speak to each other. The details of their falling out had never reached Bullet's ears, but he had always presumed it had something to do with Dirk accepting placement among the Bloodstripes after graduation.

     That hadn't lasted long. Bullet chuckled darkly at that, feeling a faint surge of guilt for being so critical of his friend. Dirk, it seemed, hadn't been cut out for duty among the Nathian Black Guard, and so he had been forced to accept an assignment on a backwater colony as a means of quiet punishment for his failings. Fortunately for both of them, Bullet had graduated by that time, and so they had been reunited at their new posting: Colony 96.

     It had been a quiet time, those two years at the colony. It must have been like suffocation to Dirk, who had frequently slipped out of the Academy's confines for a night at the clubs and bars in the nearby Capital City. That alone had nearly earned Dirk expulsion a handful of times, but somehow he had managed to evade serious punishment each time, treading that line with deft skill. The quiet of Colony 96 had been far more accommodating to Bullet, who had fit right in with the determined merchants and colorful freight transporters that frequented the spaceport. Still, despite being taken out of his element, Dirk hadn't complained, or at least not as much as Bullet would have expected, and he had begun to wonder if his carefree friend had finally learned his lesson and was beginning to settle down. Perhaps, if given time, Dirk would eventually turn into a productive member of society and a halfway decent member of the Guardsmen, Bullet had teased him.

     But they wouldn't ever find out now.

     Bullet's smile faltered as he drew the blade from its sheath, staring blankly at his own reflection. He tightly held the bulky grip, feeling the concentric rings dig into his palm. Regardless of his efforts, he remembered how the dagger had passed into his possession, the last time he had seen Dirk.

     He had been lucky, some would say. If it hadn't been for a hunch that had drawn him away from Colony 96, he would have been there when the Red Death had visited. He would have ended up just like the merchants, killed instantly when the market level had been exposed to the vacuum of space after a barrage from her ship, or like Dirk. Even after Bullet had returned to witness the devastation, he hadn't given up hope, but a quick scan of the colony had revealed that there would be no survivors. Even then, as he had spotted Dirk's damaged Guardsman Cruiser, he had hoped, docking his ship without bothering to search for signs of life aboard. He had had to know, to see for himself.

     And so he had gone aboard Dirk's cruiser, hurriedly slipping into a sealed suit before sailing across the gulf between their ships. His search hadn't taken long; Dirk still sat at the darkened controls, poised as if yet commanding the ship to carry on its battle against the pirates despite the shrapnel buried in his sides. Even then, Bullet had hoped, but the spray of crimson across the visor Dirk wore had torn that hope from him. He hadn't even gotten to see his friend's face one final time. It wasn't the formal military funeral he had taken for granted for the both of them, burial on their home soil; Bullet had left him on that ship, a silent watchman over the dead colony, letting him stay with those he had died protecting. He had only taken the dagger with him, an unnecessary reminder of the sanctity of his mission, as he had raced away from the dying flames of Colony 96, already in pursuit of the one who had destroyed his newest home.

     “Everyone's a hero, eh Vonter?” Bullet whispered bitterly. He slammed the dagger back into the sheath, rolling over once more to replace it belong his possessions. Pulling the zipper across to seal the bag, Bullet closed the compartment once more and stood up from the bed. Rekindled resolve burned at his chest as he took up his sword once more, drawing it free and taking up his familiar stance. He had fought her back on Earth, and he swore that he would be ready for the next time he encountered the Red Death.

     Maybe Vonter was right about perspective, but he could keep such thoughts to himself. Bullet felt his muscles tense as he moved through the motions of his sword practice, determined to keep himself as sharp as the edge of his weapon. He knew who the heroes were; they were already dead. He knew who the villains were. That was all he needed.

     Bullet glared into the distance as he let his sword pull him along the familiar motions, wishing away the distance between him and the person he had to kill.

 

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