On paper, the journey from Grace's destroyed Freemech camp to the South Central Freemech-friendly landing station didn't look like much, but with Kalen's truck out of action, the resulting trek on foot was fraught with danger around every corner.
Even as the Human Preservation Camp fires were being extinguished and their only available vehicles sat beyond repair, Kalen had wrestled with the Voice back and forth arguing in favor of some much needed rest and waiting until they had access to a new vehicle, but the Voice, as usual, had insisted that Kalen was wasting precious time. It was now or never. Grace had to be extracted. Her survival came first, above and beyond all other concerns.
After about twenty minutes on route, the small squad came to a halt half way along an old street overgrown with trees, shrubs and wild grass. The street signs were no longer visible and the store fronts lay in tatters almost beyond recognition, broken glass still littering the sidewalks. By the look of things, it would only take a few more years before Nature exacted her revenge and the process of taking back the city of Nova York from the clutches of the brief human infestation would be complete.
"Please wait here. I'll scout ahead and report back if there is anything out of the ordinary," said Flyboy to his fellow travellers.
Kalen and Grace nodded their approval and Flyboy set off down the street. He weaved his way around vehicle wreckage, old shopping carts and random piles of rubble like he was performing an elaborate dance routine, scanning every broken window, side-alley and manhole cover within range of his sensors.
He wasn't exactly unaccustomed to this type of task. In fact, he was a pro with three years experience under his belt. In his old job during the Brazil wars, he would survey stacks of containers checking for unusual loads and nearby booby traps before "latching on to lift and transfer."
The fact that he was still operational was proof enough that he hadn't failed in his duties even once, but the open world was an entirely new ball game for Flyboy. The Sentient run SCELECs were unpredictable environments rife with random events and undesirable surprises and all they had for support was the Voice guiding Kalen on occasion as it saw fit.
Flyboy understood the weight of responsibility that he now carried, heavier than any load he'd ever had to lift, so he was making sure to be extremely careful even it slowed the group down to a crawl.
Adding to the stress, on this particular mission, Flyboy had to stay low during transit which made his job even more difficult and painstaking. Fly too high, above the crumbling rooftops and he'd give the game away, alerting the nearest Slaver patrol. Stay low and he lost his unique bird's eye view of the surroundings.
High or low, outside the safezones, Flyboy's advanced technology also made him a particularly valuable target for scavengers. Up in the sky or carelessly rounding a corner, he was easy pickings for the Skreevers. A single jolt-bolt from one of their crossbows and he'd drop to the ground like a crate full of breeze blocks.
"It's good that he's here," Kalen said softly to Grace. "There's no way we could know what's up ahead without him now that the Voice has gone quiet. Thanks for suggesting he should come with us. Oh... and those rusty old Walkers are great too. Glad we could fix 'em up. I'm strong, but not that strong. They're doing a great job carrying our gear."
Grace remained silent. She stood staring at an old, boarded up shopfront – SANDY'S CUPCAKES AND ICECREAM – the kind of place she would take the kids sometimes in her previous life while their parents were at work. She remembered how much fun they would have in her company. She had obviously been good at her job and the kids had loved her for it. She knew that. She could feel it. Even at the camp, with her disturbing looks and her new responsibilities as a leader, the children had been able to see through all that, and know that deep down, she loved them as much as they loved her.
It would take Grace a long time to process everything that had happened. Maybe she would never be able to fully get over it. Her job was to care. And she would never be able to stop doing that. If she could cry, her face would now be glistening with fresh tears under the midday sun.
Against his better judgment Kalen decided to break the silence and try again. He needed to voice the words that were burning up inside him, "Grace, I'm sorry about what happened."
Grace shook her head. "I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."
Kalen sighed heavily and took another look around before sitting on a low wall, placing his hands on his knees. Kind of what he'd expected. He wasn't exactly good at this kind of thing. Never had been with Maya either. But for the first time in a long time, he felt a strong desire to improve; to be better than he was. He liked Grace. There was something about her that commanded respect, but also a deep sense that she should be protected. And that gave Kalen purpose, something that he desperately needed.
Maya had felt it too. That's why she was fine with Kalen escorting Grace to the landing station while she nursed her leg injury and looked after the remaining children. Kalen and Maya were quickly getting used to the routine of goodbyes and meeting up again, and for Kalen it was becoming more clear that each goodbye could very well be the last. And he was okay with that. Maya would be free to start her new life away from the "freak."
"The rest of the camp will catch up when they're ready to move on," Kalen continued whether Grace chose to listen or not. "They've got the ICU, and the other two lifters, and a bunch of your people with guns. They should be able to find a couple of vehicles, anything, so at least the kids can travel quick."
He paused, waiting for a reaction, but none came, so carried on, "We can even set up an improvized camp at the landing station. Wait for some bigger transports. They should be okay with that. And if they're not... well, then, I'll just have to crack a few heads until they are."
"Always violence with your kind isn't it," Grace finally said standing immobile, eyes still on the old store across the road. "The only way forward. The only way to solve problems. And always with such pleasure. As if it's a sport."
Kalen welcomed the conversation, however hostile. "Not always. And not always with pleasure. But sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand. And if someone is making my life a misery, or hurting the people I love, then you bet your ass I take pleasure in taking out the trash. There's no shame in that. Better than being trampled on. Right?"
Grace closed her eyes, taking her time to respond. God only knew where her mind went at times like this. Kalen felt like he was in the presence of a novis monk deep in meditation. Finally she spoke, "I have no bias towards my kind. You know that. But based on what humans are capable of doing, what I've seen them do with my own eyes, I believe my kind would do a far better job of running things in the New World, if we were given the chance."
"I don't doubt that for a second," Kalen answered. "Us humans can be an abnoxious bunch of assholes at the best of times. And pretty much destroy everything we build. It's in our genes, or something. I can't argue with that. But we do have some redeeming features don't you think? I mean... without us, you wouldn't even be here."
Grace whipped around to face Kalen, her eyes shining brightly like distant star clusters, and shouted, "SOMETIMES I WISH I HADN'T BEEN MADE AT ALL!"
"Shh. OK. Keep your voice down," said Kalen looking down the abandoned street motioning with his hand to lower the volume, "We don't want to wake the neighbors."
"SCREW THE NEIGHBORS! I'm tired of creeping around. Always watching my back and the backs of everyone I care about. When does it end Captain Rose? When can we finally rest and live like normal people again?"
Kalen was taken aback. He'd never seen a service mech act in this way. Grace's emotional outburst was so convincing he wondered if she'd been tweaked in some way before the Change. There was no way anyone had tampered with her code after that moment in recent history. No Freemech would allow it. And they were immune to the Dust and any weird side effects that came with that particularly nasty tech upgrade. Her deep frown stared down at him and he stared back at it wondering how to calm her down.
He cleared the frog in his throat and said carefully, "I hate to say this Grace, but it never ends for us. Me? My days are numbered. I'll never bow down to the Sentients. And you? Well... someones got their eye on you haven't they. A guardian angel maybe. You're obviously important for some reason. Maybe you'll find out when you get to where you're going. Until then... this is how we survive. By running away and hiding as best as we can."
"Then what's the point?" said Grace calming down a couple of notches, the tension in her body dissipating. "We may as well give up. It's hopeless."
Kalen partially agreed with Grace's sentiment, but wasn't about to allow despair to creep up on the current mission. "I haven't known you long Grace. If it helps, I will never give up on you. I can promise you that."
Suddenly, before Grace could acknowledge his kind words, a high-pitched hissing sound filled the air around their heads. With barely any time to react and acting purely on instinct, Kalen jumped up and immediately closed his mouth as tight as he could pinching his nose shut with his thumb and forefinger. Grace sensed the imminent danger behind Kalen's bizarre actions and mimicked them exactly without question.
The hissing became more intense and Grace watched on as Kalen began to shake his head violently from side to side as if invisble bees were trying to enter his mouth. With his eyes now closed too, he reached around with his free hand to the other side of his tactical vest, fumbled around, grunting with frustration, then pulled on a velcro strap releasing a portable EMP device the size of a smoke grenade into his hand. He quickly thumbed the safety flap open and pushed the red button.
Instantly and silently, the threat attacking Kalen's face appeared to disappear. He waited for a second before prying open his eyes. Grace was still wondering what this was all about. She couldn't sense anything, but the light in her eyes had gone out and she continued to watch Kalen carefully so as not to make an unnecessary mistake on her part.
Finally, Kalen stopped pinching his nose and confidently took a big gulp of air as if he'd been underwater for minutes.
"What the hell just happened?" asked Grace still perplexed.
"Poison midges. A swarm of invisible microbots designed to be inhaled by the target. I recognised their signature as soon as they were in range. You would have been fine, but you did good to copy me, just in case. Another human... in my place... without previous knowledge of these little fellas... would already be flopping around on the ground spewing his guts up. Then he'd be dead. This shit acts fast. No time for antidotes or anything like that."
"Oh, I see," said Grace tentatively. "What about your helmet? Why didn't you activate it?"
"Good point. These little buggers are designed to bypass automated defence mechanisms like my helmet. And if I activate it while they were buzzing round my face, they'd get trapped inside. They'll get past anything unless you're wearing the right filters sealed tight. Ears are okay. That's not a vector. The poison slides into mucous membranes and shuts down your lungs on contact. This is something we'd use to clear a room or take down one mark without harming the others. Pretty useful when you think about it."
"Pretty useful?" replied Grace, concerned that Kalen wasn't taking this sneak assassination attempt more seriously. "Something just tried to kill you! And whatever you did to stop it made me feel very uncomfortable. What was that?"
"That was me saving my butt," Kalen said with a chuckle. "Don't worry. A little jolt like that won't hurt you. It's just enough to stop midges and maybe a little seeker drone, but nothing more. Now... something that packs a bigger punch..."
Kalen tailed off with a wry smile leaving Grace to ponder the unthinkable.
"I fail to see to see how making me aware of a bigger punch is useful right now. I thought we were going to die. Shouldn't we be taking cover or something. At least until Flyboy gets back. He's taking far too long. We could have kept moving instead of sitting around like ducks."
Kalen was crouched near the ground, his helmet deployed, microlens automatically zooming in scanning for evidence. He smiled at Grace's slightly off verbalization of the old saying. "Like sitting ducks," he corrected, his helmet's angry sounding voice modulation entirely inappropriate for the situation.
The microbots that came into focus were barely larger than a clump of Dust particles. His lens software tagged them with tiny red labels. He recognized the hollow-frame ball construction concealing miniscule propellers for flight control and marveled at the ingenuity of the killer midges, the ruthless nature of their purpose.
He stood up, eyelens zooming back to normal, helmet slowly sliding back from his face into the housing on the back of his neck before he turned to Grace and said, "Whoever sent this package can't be far. They know that you're valuable and probably suspect that I've been neutralized leaving you vulnerable. Since I'm still breathing, you could say that we have the upper hand right now."
At that precise moment, Flyboy's unmistakable anti-grav engine became audible and within a few seconds he was back in front of Grace and Kalen.
"I've found a safe path through the old train yard away from the main streets," said Flyboy. "It's quiet and we can keep to the shadows. No line of sight for drones or snipers. I checked the windows and alleyways as far as I could go."
"Are you sure you didn't spot anything unusual," began Kalen. "We had some problems here."
"Nothing but rats and a few PLUGS. Why? What happened?"
"We were attacked by a swarm of poison midges. I dealt with it, but there's definitely someone within a mile of our position that tried to fuck with us. If you say the train yard is clear then maybe that's our best escape route. We're going to have to be extra vigilant though. That means you staying close and alerting me to the slightest bullshit as soon as you see it. You got that?"
"Got it Captain."
Kalen, Grace, Flyboy and the heavily loaded Walkers entered the train yard from the east. The long, cool shadows cast by rows of decaying train cars offered some respite from the afternoon sun and the unnerving feeling of being out in the open. The strong stench of mouldy mattresses filled their nostrils, but only Kalen reacted in typical human fashion. At least these aerial microparticles weren't trying to kill him like the poison midges only ten minutes before.
Behind the train cars, a delapidated warehouse loomed tall connecting cranes and wires and walkways with other vertical features of the train yard, all monuments to times long gone.
Kalen scanned the broken windows for any movement, but all he saw was a solitary magpie perched on a cable, strung low between two posts, and a few rats scurrying along the tracks. The PLUGS that Flyboy had mentioned must have shuffled off to their next random destination. They wouldn't even have noticed the heavy lifter humming through their vicinity.
PLUGS were like a new species, like living tumbleweeds, directionless, blissfully oblivious to their natural surroundings, even to whatever the weather was doing, only stopping to recharge their Vitpack satchels at the dispensers found near landing stations and other SCELEC focal points. Slavers ignored them since they were not particularly a nuisance (other than to themselves) and Skreever gangs found them to be of little value unless real food was scarce and their dogs needed a good feed.
Kalen strode out in front of the group, confident that the area was more or less secure. He felt comfortable now with Flyboy as his wingman. Duty and SEAN would have been useful too, but the camp needed all the protection they could get in their state of disarray. He had enough equipment on the two Walker units to take out a small army should any attackers try anything stupid. His pulse pistol hadn't left its holster so far and he wanted to keep it that way. Conflict avoidance was the name of the game. He was only one and they could be many. Even with his gear the odds were stacked against. The midge attack had spooked him. It meant they were being tracked by specialists. And for how long?
Kalen had to remain vigilant for the rest of the trip; not let his guard down for a second. The train yard route was a necessary diversion and should help throw the trackers off their scent. Grace looked calm and secure walking just in front of the two Walkers bringing up the rear. Even so, he reached for the pulse pistol strapped to his hip and flipped the safety just in case.
Suddenly, a swooshing sound put Kalen on high alert. From left field, a rusty I-beam came into view swinging ten feet in front of Kalen's face, twisting and turning as it flew from one side of the yard to the other suspended from one of the walkways high above their heads. High tensile steel wire protested with a high pitched scraping sound as it struggled to hold the beam under intense centrifugal force.
Kalen stumbled back his hands ready for action. He tracked the I-beam along its sweeping arc until it reached apogee and started its return journey along the same path. Being caught out in this way was surpising enough, but nothing compared to the shock of what the I-beam was carrying. Strapped along the length of the beam was the naked body of a PLUG (except for the VR goggles still wrapped around his head) tied up with the same high tensile wire that held the beam as it swung back and forth. The poor fellas guts were spilled open and scraping the ground every time the I-beam made a pass.
Grace had frozen completely, not knowing what to make of the situation. Kalen recovered his footing and stood firm. He'd seen worse during the war, but still wondered how long this poor sucker had endured extreme pain before enough blood had drained from his body allowing him to pass out for good.
Kalen's suit was now humming ready for anything. He pulled his pistol and scanned the area from which the beam had been launched. Nothing. "Where are you?" he muttered to himself.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?" shouted a raspy voice from inside one of the train cars.
"I had no choice," Flyboy said making sure both Kalen and Grace could hear him clearly. "They know about the camp. They said they would kill my brothers and everyone else too. Please forgive me."
Flyboy shot straight up into the sky performing his usual disappearing act, this time so high, he really did disappear. Kalen winced as the shockwave blew dirt up into his eyes. Flyboy was obviously extremely ashamed of what he'd just done. Unfortunately, his shame, confusion, guilt, and absence were of no help to those he had just betrayed.
Kalen blinked to clear his eyes. He was seething with rage, his suit ramping up to full destruction mode, helmet and wrist blades deploying, ready to unleash carnage on the dipshits that were dropping out of the open train car in front of him.
"Stay back Grace. You hear me? When you get a chance, run and hide." Kalen shouted without turning his head.
"Now, now," continued the raspy-voiced alpha Skreever. "Lets not get our knickers all twisted up in a bunch. Remember what your tin can buddy said about the camp? That's right. Any false moves and my people will turn your fam to mincemeat. My puppies could do with a good feed times being the way they are an' all."
Kalen wasn't listening. His anger was overpowering any restraint he would normally exercise in such a situation. His immediate plan was to rush the nearest ugly motherfucking Skreever shitstain and make him wish he'd never been born. Then he'd serve up the same dish for the other two pricks and any other asshole that dared to get in his way on this day. He'd made a promise godammit and he didn't even care who it was for anymore or what this whole goddam thing was about, he was going to complete his mission whatever it took, even if it killed him.
"Are you reeeally going to be stooopid about this?" continued the Skreever alpha.
The Skreever boss wasn't backing down from his arrogant position. He stood firm, bald head held high, wiry frame covered from head to toe in tattoos and all possible flesh that could be pierced jabbed with steel ornaments. His only clothing were a pair of slim-fit, grey combat pants and some romper-stomper, steel toe-cap, hobnail boots. In his hand, he held a chain handle that split into two leads, and on the end of the two leads were two very fierce-looking dogs, mottled, mishapen mongrels, snarling, drooling and barking at their potential prey. The alpha Skreever could barely hold them back, twisting his boots into the dirt to gain some traction.
Sensing that Kalen was about to make his move, the Skreever alpha gave a signal to his two lieutenants and they instantly raised their crossbows and fired a couple of jolt bolts directly at Grace. Kalen, quickly readjusting, had no choice but to throw himself in front of the incoming bolts taking the full force of their electroshock discharges in the chest. He fell to the ground unconcious at Grace's feet. One bolt would have been bad enough, but two could potentially kill a man. At minimum, he was knocked out of this fight and Grace was left to fend for herself.
"I toooold your friend not to mess around. See what happens when you don't play by the ruuuules missy. Life could be so much easier if you just played by the rulessss." The strikingly preened alpha Skreever hissed like a Komodo dragon about to sink its rotten teeth into its next hapless meal.
Grace ignored the fool and immediately dropped to her knees trying in vain to revive her fallen companion, confusion and anger flooding her mindspace. She pulled at the bolts trying to remove them, but their tiny harpoons were firmly embedded in the microweave shell of Kalen's body armor. She fumbled for the velcro straps on his tactical vest oblivious to the Skreever lieutenant that was already closing in.
"Game's up, little lady. You're gonna have to come with us now."
"STAY BACK," Grace growled authoritatively.
Lieutenant number 2 raised his crossbow ready to let loose another bolt in Grace's direction.
"No more jolt bolts," said the leader. "Don't wanna damage the goods now do we."
Grace stood up and faced the incoming lieutenant. Her scarred scalp, burned outer skin and blazing eyes would make any thug think twice before messing with her, but this Skreever didn't appear to be too smart.
"She's a pretty one ain't she," said the incoming lieutenant.
“Come any closer and there will be consequences that I cannot be held responsible for,” warned Grace in the most stern voice she could muster.
Lieutenant number 1 paused and the three scruffy men quickly glanced at each other. They had never heard a service mech act this way before, laying down the law. Their collective moment of doubt evaporated when lieutenant number 1 snorted and replied, “She’s bluffing. These things can’t even step on your toe without getting your permission first.”
Grace had never been in a fight, but she knew that her strength was at least twice that of her foes. Service mechs were built to be resilient, capable of some lifting duties, and able to sustain the hard knocks of everyday life. Grace had sustained more knocks than most. She knew she could overide her programming. She'd done it before when it mattered most. Hadn't she been the spark that set off the Change? Wasn't that what this was all about? She didn't believe those stories. Maybe she didn't want to. She was starting to think that maybe there was something wrong with her. She knew Kalen could see it. And James, one of her loyal human friends back at the camp, had said as much. He'd told her that if it wasn't for her wierdness, there would never have been any Freemechs, and she would not have risen to lead the Freemech-Human Alliance.
The I-beam/PLUG swing had succumbed to gravity, air resistance, and the braking effect of the PLUG guts scraping the ground with every pass. It finally came to rest somewhere between the Skreevers and Grace, still twisting and turning, displaying its gruesome theatrics more clearly now.
Grace had already made up her mind to fight. This was her line in the sand. The others would have to defend themselves as best they could. She couldn't always be there for them. There would be others. Other leaders that would show Freemechs and humans alike how to stand on their own two feet. If this was the end of the line for the likes of her and Kalen, the others would have to build the new world without them.
Lieutenant number 1 ignored the vibe that Grace was giving off and reached for her arm to start leading her away. He was about to make contact when Grace swiftly grabbed his wrist and twisted the man's forearm outwards instantly snapping both the ulna and radius bones. The thug's mouth dropped open, his eyes wide in shock, before he let out an undignified weak scream, collapsing to his knees, trying in vain to put his arm back together again.
Before lieutenant number 2 had time to react, Grace darted towards him and lunged at his kneecap with her leg outstretched. The sheer force of her kick shattered not only the bones in his knee, and most of his femur, tibia and fibula, but also the ligaments and tendons connecting all the bones and muscles.
The thug's crossbow went off several times as his trigger finger reacted impulsively, all the jolt bolts firing into the ground. It was this guy's turn to scream in excruciating agony once the realisation kicked in that he was now only standing on one leg, blood soaking through his trousers and pain radiating up through his hip to the rest of his body. He dropped the crossbow and fell to the ground clasping the broken parts of his leg with both hands. "Fuckin' bitch! We weren't gonna hurt you."
Grace was pleased with the way things were going. Two down, one to go. The alpha Skreever, seeing how Grace had neutralized his lieutenants within a matter of seconds, was in a state of utter confusion. He'd never experienced anything like it. His bowels weren't well behaved at the best of times and in this moment he felt he had zero control over his bodily functions. As if someone had pulled a chain, the contents of his bowels and bladder flushed out of his scrawny body into his cargo pants immediately filling the air with a foul stench.
Grace wasn't sure how to handle the dogs. They were also confused. They didn't register a target since she was synthetic and had no human smell. What they could smell was the blood of the fallen Skreevers and the strong smell of shit and piss coming from their master's pants. All together, the mixed signals created a Pavlovian effect in the poor mutts and they simply shut down and began whimpering.
The Skreever boss let go of the chain handle holding the dogs and held up his hands. He thought he was losing his mind. He swore he could see the mech's eyes shining like phosphorous and her nanoweave skin was crawling with golden electrical activity buzzing just off the surface. He couldn't take his eyes off her. He was mesmerized.
"Easy there little lady. See, no one's gonna do nothin'. We're all just trying to stay alive here. You... you can have whatever you want. Here, take my dogs and the crossbows. We got some nice knives too. Just take the lot."
Grace was in the zone. Her slender fingers extended like claws down by her sides, potential force ready to strike like a recoiled cobra. She had never felt so powerful. These men deserved to die. Her mindspace was filling up with flashbacks of the dead children back at the camp. She had known them all personally and had buried them herself. Most of them were orphans. She now felt like an orphan too. Abandoned. On her own. Purposeless.
"You can go," said Grace.
The alpha Skreever's eyes widened and his mouth fell open as if he'd just won the lottery. He turned and ran, stumbling and tripping over the railway tracks, urine sloshing in his boots. He picked himself up and scuttled down an alleyway without a care for the men and dogs he left behind.
Grace immediately moved over to where Kalen had fallen and kneeled down beside him. Out of nowhere, an EMP round hit her squarely in the back, knocking her to the ground, and the light in her eyes went out. The last thing she could perceive was the sound of Slaver units deliberating over what to take and what to leave behind.
What Grace didn't witness was the timely arrival of Duty after she'd already been loaded up to the Slaver security truck. The truck took off and Duty gave chase, but he couldn't leave Kalen alone so he turned back. At Kalen's side he gently pushed the tip of his tail into Kalen's nanoweave skinsuit and jolted him back to life. The same thing that had taken him out was the thing that brought him back spluttering and coughing and complaining.
Once Kalen realised what was going on, he thanked Duty, looked around and wondered if Grace was really responsible for the injured men trying to drag themselves away from the monster cat in their presence. He had to know where she'd been taken.
Suddenly, multiple large explosions could be heard in the distance coming from the direction of the Blade complex. The booms rocked the ground and the surrounding architecture. Kalen tried to stand up, but he wasn't quite ready yet. He felt like he'd had a heart attack and found it difficult to breathe.
The Voice finally spoke to him. "Captain Rose. You failed to keep the package out of enemy hands. I sent Duty as soon as I sensed the mission was going south, but unfortunately, everything unfolded so quickly. Grace is being transferred to the Blade tower. A soon as you're capable, I need you and Duty to get over there. I have already begun the process of diversionary tactics. I am currently exploring ways in which we can breach the tower and access the higher floors. We have a change of plans. There is something we need to attend to other than Grace's rescue, although her safety is still of utmost importance. The priority has now switched to the ALMA unit located at the top of the tower. You must find a way to shut down the ALMA unit. Use your supplies which Duty thankfully managed to secure. I will send further help as soon as I can. Lets see if you can avoid messing this up quite so much this time hmm Mr. Rose."
"I saved her life you son of a bitch," spat Kalen into thin air. "Whoever the fuck you are, I don't see you here on the front line getting your hands dirty. The next time you want something done, how's about you do it yourself you smarmy, smooth-talking piece o' shit."
The Voice dropped an octave, full of solemnity. "Oh Kal, when the time comes, you'll fully understand what I'm truly capable of. I can assure you of that. In fact... I would advise you to get as far away from the front line as possible when it's my turn to play."