Outcast, Heathen

The year is 2413, and humanity is no longer free. After encountering an alien race called the Heathen, hope was lost. They let us live to serve, and some are more than happy to live in peace this way. Others can't resist an opportunity to fight back. **NOTE** Due to dire disagreements with my chosen operating system, Outcast will sadly be going some time without an update, either until the data is recovered or I have managed to recreate the scenes. Thank you, sorry, and I hope you enjoy what's there while I work like mad to update!

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6. Chapter Five

 

My classes let out late again, and I was surprised to find Azrael still waiting for me in our usual meeting place. He smiled when he saw me, but it did very little to hide the obvious exhaustion in his eyes. His wounds still appeared fresh, looking like they had been able to do very little healing last night.

“Pick any fights today?” I teased him, and he laughed.

“Of course. I forgot to mention, one of my favorite hobbies is getting picked on by political runts,” he replied, sarcasm containing a particularly bitter edge today. I saw him rubbing his arms tenderly.

“What's wrong?” I asked concernedly, pointing to where he was rubbing.

“Nothing,” he said a little too quickly, trying to brush it off. “I'm fine.”

I crossed my arms, unconvinced. “You know, random pains are symptoms of some very serious genetic conditions and illnesses.”

“Nerd, you've been to College twice,” he tried to tease me, sighing when my manner didn't change. His smile fell, face serious. “My father started electrical growth treatments last night.”

“But...Aren't those still experimental?” I gasped in shock. “Why would he—?”

“It's to prepare for Academy,” he interjected somberly, silencing us both. We stared at each other for a long moment, taking it in. The future we knew would come had already passed us by, and now we just watched and waited while the final remnants of our live were swept away.

Time to grow up, and move on.

Without needing to speak, we both turned our directions to my home, to say goodbye, I imagined. What else was there? It would be useless to pretend that nothing had changed, that everything was still happy and ignorant as it used to be. No, that would be useless, but I supposed enjoying what few scraps we had left served a purpose. If nothing else, they could be the last happy memories we could look back on in the years to come.

I tried to smile at that, but the grim look on Dad's face when we walked in told me that my expression hadn't changed too much. Mom was warming up some watered-down birthday stew, stopping her stirring when we walked in. They both had the same look on their face.

“Did someone find out?” asked Dad firmly, though he wasn't angry. We were all prepared for the consequences should that happen, we had to be when we became friends years ago. Az and I glanced at each other and shook our heads mutely, both of my parents' sighing in relief in the same instant. “Well. What's with the long faces, then?”

“College,” I sighed, dropping of my bag in my room before taking a seat by Az at the table.

Azrael nodded, rubbing his arms still. “Academy.”

While I knew he was sympathetic, Dad just nodded. “Well, we all knew this would happen. No use in wasting the next few weeks moping, is there?”

“No,” agreed Az quietly, eyes downcast.

Mom wandered over, setting a gentle hand on his shoulder with a motherly concern. “If there's anything you need, Azrael, just ask.”

He smiled somewhat ironically. “Thank you, Mrs. Brown. I'm just tired from all that training.”

She nodded, returning to the stew silently but unconvinced. We were all silent until Mom began serving us our stew, placing the small bowls of the watered-down meal in front of us. Still, it was far better than nothing, and we were having a good month so far. Plenty to eat, unlike some of the simulated winters the terraformers put us through. That made me smile, knowing my dad was right. All we could do was enjoy the time we had left, no matter how little.

“The College is huge!” I blurted out over dinner, excited over the experience. After all, I hadn't gotten the chance to tell them about it yesterday; by the time I got home from the rain, they were all asleep. I was ignoring that I was going to escort eventually, focused on the academic thrill of the day. “There was no end to the library, I swear! Oh, and they put me straight into Biology and Anatomy! My brain is sore, I learned so much!”

Az leaned back in his reinforced chair. “Biology and Anatomy?”

I nodded enthusiastically. “Yep. There was so much I didn't know.”

“Heathen Biology and Anatomy,” he said again, pointedly.

Mom ignored his dark cloud, piping in cheerily, “Have they sorted you into which class you'll be escorting?”

“Not yet, but everyone today said I showed potential for a Secondary,” I boasted proudly, but for some reason this only seemed to piss off Azrael even more.

Mom gasped in shock. “A Secondary?”

Dad was both proud and sad, but he smiled for me. “Congratulations, Mint. I hope you get a Secondary, too.”

Finally, Az snapped. “You realize this is escorting we're talking about?! Have you even asked yourself what kind of a psychopath you might run into on a Secondary Planet?”

We all fell silent, staring at him both in shock and grim defeat. I was the first to speak up, voice barely above a whisper.

“I don't have much choice in the matter, Az. A Secondary is already a lucky thing,” I told him, cutting down his frustration in an instant.

He shook his head slowly. “I'm sorry.”

Mom cleared her throat. “So. Maybe if we work hard, we can make sure you get attention from some of the Secondary Masters.”

I tried to perk up at that, but Azrael's outburst was making me feel terrible about this lucky shot. “Like Master Horus? I heard that his family has a good record with their slaves.”

Azrael crossed his arms over his chest, falling to the background of the conversation. Dad let him be, laughing. “That sounds like my girls, only settling for the best.”

 

 

 

 

Only the best? I thrust my sword into the practice target, twisting and pulling it out violently. My instructor stared at me in shock.

“Well, Azrael, you currently hold the record for this entry level test at over 200 pounds per square inch. Congratulations,” she applauded, making a note on her digital board. “Please see Instructor Titan for your physical exam to properly place you in your classes.”

I nodded and left for the medical ward. Those words tormented me, echoing in my ears. “Only the best.” What was I? The bottom of the barrel, scum of the Heathen race. Even if I could advance, could be the best that everyone so desired, it would be too late. By that time, Mint would already be sold to some Secondary stranger instead of me.

That thought stopped me short, stunning me. Since when did I think like that? Of owning my best and only friend? Like a Heathen, considering Mint without the respect she deserved. What was wrong with me that I could forget that? She was a sentient creature, the same as me.

Slowly, I came back to where I was, surrounded by Heathens easily more massive than me, in spite of the four inches of growth I had managed in the last two weeks. I did my best to hide any weaknesses I knew I had, shoving those thoughts of Mint aside and continuing on my way to meet Instructor Titan. If this Heathen lived up to their name, I would need to be careful with myself, being as small as I was.

The tent was obviously marked and easily identified, and when I entered I halted, staring half in shock and half in fear at who awaited me. They did indeed stay true to their title, easily thrice my size, and ten times more intimidating as they turned to face me from their table of supplies.

“Azrael, son of Atlas?” asked the huge Heathen before me, glancing first from his holo-board to me, blue eyes penetrating from the black of his face, the same color webbing out across his skin. He stood three heads taller than me easily, looking aged enough to be my father's elder. Even sheathed, his vivid blue display feathers were visible, they had developed so far.

I nodded, finding my shyness renewed. “Y-yes, sir.”

He smiled in greeting. “Good, well, welcome to your medical exam, although I see you are doing very well. Three new records on our entry tests, placing second or third at worst. It makes my exams look somewhat redundant.”

His attempt at humor did nothing to break my awkward silence, just staring at him. He cleared his throat and sighed, “Don't worry, I usually avoid comedic attempts. Now, for today's exams I will be checking for any injuries, illnesses, or potential health concerns the Academy may have. Of course, arriving on the Homeworld means you must be in peak condition, no exceptions, according to Code. If you could remove your clothing for a preliminary examination, I assure you that the premises are completely secured.”

As he spoke, the doors and windows sealed shut, the only evidence of an outside world coming from the muted conversations barely audible through the protective tent. Only lamps lit the room now, pushing me closer to the edge of my nerves. But I had little choice, and it was too late to come this far and quit. Ashamed to be showing my weak body to this powerful superior, I did as he asked and stripped to the skin, trembling as I struggled to hold my chin high.

“Hm.” His instant sound of disapproval made me flinch, but he took no mind, circling me slowly. As soon as he made it to my front again, he met my eye evenly, no change in his manner or stature. “Now, I understand training can leave damage, however from this point forward I must require any combat training to be ceased until arrival on the Homeworld, or consideration for your application will be rejected until next year. I have more detailed information for you to take home to your father, Azrael, so that he can prepare for some of the other requirements recently implemented.

“Also, I will need to know what form of growth stimulation you have been using; growth hormones are strictly prohibited and illegal on the Homeworld,” he added, making notes on his board again. I watched him silently for a long while before he looked up expectantly, and I realized that he needed me to speak.

“Oh, yes, electrical growth stimulation, sir,” I answered hurriedly, voice shaking pitifully. All I could do was pray to the Gods that I had more composure when I reached Academy. If I reached Academy.

Titan hissed a sigh with obvious anger. “I see. I should have assumed such by your uneven growth patterns. However, it is a permitted form of growth, even if it is still experimental. From here on, your current administrator will cease his practice and I will take over, here and once you are transported to the Homeworld. I must warn you that the coming weeks will be painful, correcting your growth stimulation and increasing your individual training to make up for removal of peer-on-peer. Knowing this, are you prepared to proceed?”

This was it, the final moment to back down.

“Yes, sir,” I replied, startled by the confidence I heard in my voice.

Titan smiled, and for a moment I thought he may have been proud. “Good.”

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