Chapter 16

Terna NoMort hugged her armored knees to her armored chest. The adrenaline of combat and vengeance fell out of her, making her feel shaky, and a little queasy in the stomach. Crawley sat across from her, regarding her in a way that was certainly fatherly.

She imagined that Zell would react in the same way if not for her total focus within the interactive helmet of the Aeramo Tank that protected them. She heard and felt blasts hit the sides, so she knew that they were in danger. But she didn’t at all feel threatened. 

Not really. 

She was protected by her new tribe. And they were mighty.

The thought gave her pause. They were mighty by the hand of BuyMort, the evil being that had ultimately destroyed her tribe and all that she had known since her birth. But maybe it really was as Crawley said. 

BuyMort didn’t kill people, people killed people.

Perhaps, when everything was done and they understood the reason for the killing of the NoMorts, she would also use the BuyMort.

After all, it seemed like those who didn’t ended up dead.

“You doing alright?” Crawley asked. He’d just been sitting across from her, watching her, while Zell sat in the command chair mentally guiding their battle tank across the broken terrain of the city.

Terna unclasped her legs, placing them back down to the floor plates below.

“Yeah. It wasn’t bad. Not then. The fighting and the combat — it . . . it felt good.”

Crawley nodded. “Yeah. When you’ve got a good reason for it, it can feel great. But after, well, we start to doubt ourselves sometimes. You have any regrets?”

She thought back to the soldiers from Storage, and their commander. Then to the wooly black aliens she’d torched after.

“I let some of them go,” she said. “Some of them didn’t belong here. They were not of this fight.”

Crawley hunched forward, seeking her eyes. She raised them and they stared into each other for a moment.

“You feel guilty about that?” he asked.

“No,” she answered. “I think they were forced here somehow. The BuyMort made them come.”

Crawley frowned. “Yeah, kinda. They don’t have morties and they live in Storage. Horrid place, no one wants to be there if they can have a job and live instead. I have yet to find a job that is worse than living in Storage. But it isn’t BuyMort. BuyMort is simply what we make of it.”

She frowned back. So much good was stuck in this demon. Mixed with so much bad. But maybe Crawley was right?

“The bad comes from us?” she asked.

He looked very uncomfortable. “I guess? I don’t know. I think those who are good at BuyMort tend to be monsters.” He nodded, agreeing with himself. “BuyMort isn’t bad. They are.”

Terna wasn’t so sure, but she didn’t feel like arguing with him. Especially not in the middle of a battle. 

“Is there any way that we can see what is happening outside?” she asked. Crawley nodded and twiddled his fingers at the tank interior. A screen appeared, a seeming replica of what Zell was doing as she rolled through the ruins of the pre-BuyMort city.

The first thing that she noticed was that there didn’t seem to be nearly as much fighting as there had been before, when she was out on the hill and really in the thick of things.

The second thing she noticed was that there were a lot of broken tanks out there. She turned to Crawley, surprise etched over her face.

“How powerful is this tank? How are the other tanks all so kaput?”

Crawley chuckled, his face wrinkling into kind awe as Terna used the word that was quickly becoming one of her namesakes.

“One of the ways that BuyMort works is that those who are good at making or taking stuff, and then selling it, well, they get access to better things than those who don’t.”

She nodded. “Wizneber is the best?” she asked.

He shook his head. 

“Honestly, given the numbers deployed out there, I’m assuming this other affiliate is doing pretty well themselves. They just don’t give a damn about the people they field. Not as much as we do, at least.”

He put his hand up to his chin. 

“I’m guessing a fly-by-night scavenging fleet rather than a planet-based affiliate. The planetary ones, well, they tend to operate more like nations used to.”

He saw something in her face, rolled his eyes back in thought, and explained. 

“Tribes. Nations were like tribes. Tribes that extended over huge swathes of surface land on most of the BuyMort nations. Some of them actually survive, become affiliates. But most of them are so damn rotten inside already that when BuyMort gets to them they fall to pieces the first day.”

Terna tried to imagine it. A tribe of thousands of people, each with a huge plot of land over which to roam and scavenge supplies, build, and hunt food. It seemed excessive.

“And the fleets? What are those?”

On the projected screen a series of rapid fire blasts arced in over a line of half-wrecked buildings and slapped into the side of the Aeramo. They both paused, watching the blasts crackle against the vehicles energy shielding, and dissipate. On the side of the video feed a number showed that the tank shielding was still at a comfortable 65%.

“Fleets. Well, they are like tribes of ships. Actually, most of them are more like one small tribe per ship, and then all of those tribes work together in a sort of confederation . . .” He saw Terna’s eyes flutter, confused, and he stopped. “Confederation is like a nation and, you know what, it doesn’t matter. You get the idea.”

“They are like pirates,” she responded confidently. 

He nodded, impressed. “Yeah, exactly. How did you know about pirates?” he asked.

“The BuyMort told me,” she said.

“An ad,” he said. 

She nodded, her eyes wide. “I watched them attack a ship and could feel their evil. Those ships, they are like tribes, and the pirates, they are like the people who took me.”

“Don’t interact with them. Make sure you never interact with them. You’ve got something special, Terna. I’m sure of it.”

She thought back to the battle, and back to the comms.

“I think I might know what it is that I have.” She paused, not quite sure of her words. “But, I don’t know why they wanted to study and experiment.”

He regarded her, and waited.

“They said I have no signal. And, when the battle was happening, no one could receive comms. But the enemy, they could. And I could too.”

He rubbed at his chin. “You think BuyMort doesn’t see you?” he asked.

She nodded.

His visage was scrunched and confused. “So how does it send you ads and images?”

Terna shrugged. “I don’t know.”

He looked back up to the screen, watching Zell lay waste to a pair of bulky, slow-moving tanks, then looked back at her. 

“They jammed us. But you weren’t affected because you aren’t in the system.”

His eyes were wide and his face was pinched, confusion reigning over him. “That can’t be right? Can it?”

“The BuyMort is in me. It can send me things and tempt me. But all of my life I have ignored it and said no. I think, if I do not answer, the BuyMort doesn’t know me.”

They felt the track shudder and stop beneath them, and Zell took that moment to pop off the helmet.

“Full retreat, baby. We got the bastards. And hey there Terna. Hope you had a good first blood,” she said, shaking her sweaty matted hair out and using her fingers to tear through tangles. 

“So what are we all talking about?”

Published by Damien Lee Hanson

I am the founder of Damien Hanson Books. Come check out awesome authors right here at my website!

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