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The stairs circled up a glass cylinder on the outside of the structure, and once again I got to look outside at Voren’s blank-canvas landscape. It was difficult to imagine why the loro civilization would have chosen such a desolate place to build their structures. It’s true that finding life on any planet is incredibly unlikely, which made Voren’s natural ecosystems (although barren by comparison to my home planet Astraloth, or Earth) stand out like a bright star amidst the blackness of space. Nevertheless, the joint efforts of humans and skythers in the last twenty cycles alone had discovered many planets more fertile and lively than Voren. Why would a species so advanced like the loro choose this planet?

Perhaps any sign of life was reason enough for them to explore, study, and settle. What I knew of their culture was that they strongly valued the seeking of knowledge; loro scholars sought to uncover the truths of the universe, and why shouldn’t a planet such as Voren play a role in the tapestry of our galaxy? The loro were all gone now, either dead, or according to a favourite theory in the loro research community they had ascended to some extra-dimensional form. And if so they had far surpassed us, skythers, humans, and valicorr alike, in technological terms at any rate.

No, I thought. It wasn’t the presence of the loro ruins which was unsettling me. I could understand their motives from a cultural, and even spiritual standpoint, assuming I hadn’t been basing all my research on something horribly misinterpreted in early loro studies. And even if I didn’t understand their motives, I could only assume that was because the loro possessed a greater wisdom than I currently grasped. What I couldn’t justify was the presence of the very structure I stood within.

I reached the top of the stairs, and stood there for a moment in a hallway, vaguely aware of people walking past me, giving me strange looks. The TAU hadn’t picked this planet because of its wildlife. That seemed unlikely, given that there were much more biodiverse ecosystems on planets which were more accessible from Earth. But they had picked a livable planet for a reason, or they would have chosen somewhere else. It was clear that the purpose of this outpost was at least partially scientific… it was biologists who had uncovered the loro ruins I was to investigate in the first place, or so I had been told...

I shook my head. I was always eager to uncover mysteries, and simply being at a station with classified functions made me feel overly suspicious. I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down, get some food, and take a moment to clean up as I had told the Director I would. I straightened my back and walked down the hall, looking for a sign to point me to the showers, deliberately avoiding eye contact with an engineer who was staring up at me, wide eyed. Yet, all the way to the showers I kept catching myself visually scanning the hallways, peering into rooms as doors opened, looking for something, anything that I might not be meant to see.

When I finally found the showers, I was thankful to be allowed to use them. I found that the running water helped my mind focus, even if I had to crouch uncomfortably to wash my ears. It was relieving to feel the steaming hot water on the skin of my face, arms, legs, and back. And I was glad to get a chance to try out some new shampoo on my fur; ever since spending those years on Earth, I had been looking for the perfect shampoo. This shampoo had a fragrant but tasteful scent of lavender...

While I was appreciating this brief moment I had to myself, my mind wandered back to the upcoming task, and I began speculating about the mercenary, Kay.

So, Kay was some kind of mutated human with incredible strength. I would have to assume that this included super-resilience to physical trauma. If she was designed to be some kind of bio-weapon, as the Director had implied, then it would only be natural that she could withstand blasts from an E-gun. Otherwise, why not simply build a robot? A well designed combat drone could easily be stronger than any human in terms of weight-lifting capacity and resilience to weaponry.

I paused, inhaling the steamy air, savouring the warmth of the room.

So it would be more logical to build a robot… unless Kay’s strength could outmatch anything a robot of the same size could achieve.

I started subconsciously miming punches, my eyes narrowed deep in focus.

I began to recall my studies of the planet MM094, more commonly known as Malum. It got the name from an ancient human language, known as Latin. The word translates to “evil,” which was fitting considering the hostile environments and wildlife of the planet’s surface. The humans who discovered it, and the skythers who followed in their place, generally agreed that they were not yet prepared to sacrifice lives in the name of exploration on that planet, though it did have a breathable atmosphere.

My mind was wandering. Why had I remembered Malum? There was a species I had studied briefly in school known as myroks. Myroks were incredibly dangerous creatures native to Malum; the apex predator across all regions they appeared, or so we believed from the little data we had on the planet. Myroks had beaks which could drill through bone, and tails which could discharge electric energy into a scorching long-distance projectile like an energy-gun. But in addition, myroks, in all stages we’d witnessed of their complicated metamorphoses, possessed not only some of the toughest hide skythers had ever encountered on a creature, but muscle mass to strength ratios which could not be quantified when compared to any other creatures we had studied.

I began stroking my mandibles as a human might stroke their chin. If Kay’s biology shared similarities with that of a myrok, then perhaps it was possible that creating a bio-weapon would prove stronger than a robot of current human technology. This was all assuming Kay’s creators were human; I hadn’t considered that they might have been skythers.

I turned off the water. Perhaps Kay was in fact a mutated skyther? But the Director had described her abilities as “super-human”, though it was possible that he was simply using a familiar phrase.

I stepped out of the shower. No, I was ignoring another detail. The Director stated I was the only skyther on the station. So either Kay was a mutated human, or the Director didn’t consider her human or skyther. But I was beginning to decide she was likely some form of human.

I stepped into the body dryer, and waited as the air blades slowly moved up and down, my eyes closed. I had to crouch a little to fit inside the cylindrical chamber. I always found it took a while to dry my chest fur, so I ruffled it with my hands to encourage faster drying.

The more I thought about Kay, the more questions I began to have. What did she look like? I started imagining all kinds of humanoid creatures, mostly hulking, menacing beings.

Her name, however, seemed odd to me. It didn’t sound like a name she would have been given by her creators. I couldn’t come up with a reason to name a bio-weapon so personally. But it also seemed too obscure of a name for the TAU to have given her when they found her. They would have most likely chosen a common name, to make her feel welcome. Something like Ashley, or Sarah. Or something based on one of their ancient myths; the TAU loved to name things after myths. Of course I was just speculating, and for all I knew, Kay was a common name among the TAU, or perhaps it was a name of one of their mythical figures after all.

But she was apparently a mercenary, meaning she was not officially part of the TAU. If so, that reduced the chances that she was named by those who discovered her, which would be more likely if the TAU felt like they had ownership over her. There was a chance that she had chosen her own name. No, I thought, it’s more likely that the name Kay was indeed given to her by her creators.

Finally dry, I stepped out of the body dryer and began putting on my gear, starting with my legs. Aside from the shower itself, the room was small, with a full body mirror covering the wall opposite the shower. A comb was waiting for me in a small metallic drawer to the side of the mirror, and I began combing my white fur as the mirror quickly began to defog itself automatically.

I took in a deep breath through my cat-like nose, and gazed into my own amber eyes, noticing how focused my expression was. I had always found it odd that human eyes had white sclera, instead of black, like skyther eyes. I wondered if Kay’s eyes would be different.

Kay… her name was given to her by her creators. There must have been a reason this name was chosen.

I would have smiled with my lips when I thought of it, if I were human. Her name was not an English name, or a mythological name, or even a human name. It was an English letter: K. Which, I concluded, meant she must have been the eleventh experiment to be named, being named after the eleventh letter of the alphabet. Of course I was making an assumption, but I had already convinced myself it was the truth.

I was pleased with myself. I doubted I would be able to determine much more about her without talking to her. It was clear though, if she was a mercenary by choice and was rescued by the TAU as was implied, that despite being bred for war, she had a personality and mind of her own. What that personality was remained to be seen.

It had been an interesting day so far, my first time on Voren, and if I was hesitant about traveling to the loro ruins with another person before, now I could only say I was looking forward to it. I had a feeling things were going to get a lot more interesting as the day passed.

“K,” I said quietly to myself. “I look forward to meeting you.”

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