An Uncanny Reunion

Fourteen years prior

The more one fights in war, the more one begins to question their purpose on the battlefield. Such sentiments are often true, but only if the soldier is guided by a moral compass, tempered and forged by experiences and beliefs which change and awake the soul within them.

A fifteen-year old female Vekaiyun soldier crumpled the piece of paper in front of her, all too familiar with the trappings of the old way of thought as she stood atop a heap of rubble and sand. While she was indeed young, and she was indeed fighting for the Vekaiyun Armed Forces, little else could be distinguished from her. A composite facade constructed of red plastic reinforced with steel backing housed her face, which included receptors in the eyepieces to spot movement and microphones to keep communication with her forces integrated and live. Included in the setup was an environmental filter used to remove any nuclear, biological, or chemical substances suspended in the air, allowing a constant flow of clean air to afford maximum health. The plate included housings for her ears, which were used to immediately receive reports from subordinates to superiors. Her body was encased in a special combat suit used to take full advantage of the dexterity of her vulpine body, fully trained and absolutely ready to engage in any task the battlefield presented. No tail was present - it was removed when she was young in order to prevent it from being a nuisance on the battlefield. Synthetic hair on the crown of her head proffered some kind of identity, but apart from the insignia, she was just as much the same as her fourteen other contemporaries. All young. All bred by the state for the purposes of loyalty to the nation of Vekaiyu, annihilation of the enemy, and leadership qualities over her uniformed men and women.

“Hejul General Ikrisia Levinile of the 79th Vekaiyun Infantry Division reporting to high command,” she began as she gazed out at the barren wastelands in front of her, the air thick with projectiles in the form of bullets, shells, and bombs. Buildings sighed and bowed to the harrowing shrieks from the sky , crumbling and sagging in the sandy environment. Tracks from tanks still fresh in the arid dirt littered the ground. Dead bodies in various states of decay and two sets of cloth uniforms dotted the terrain. “Anticipate Sector Thirteen to be secure within the next three-point-five hours. En route to Sector Fourteen where we will rejoin the front lines.”

“Hejul General Levinile!” a vulpine soldier greeted. He wore the typical Vekaiyun infantry uniform for a desert setting - a melange of brown on his stiff shirt and pants, brown boots, and a helmet with extended points to house the triangular ears. It was the choice uniform when chemical attacks were not imminent. “Emerald group is advancing past-” His body exploded when a land mine was tripped, spattering her uniform in a different shade of red.

“Mind the landmines!” she commanded, advancing on her position as groups of men and women shuffled their positions in strategic locations scattered about the battlefield. “Ruby group! Engage with the contingency set up in locale 4b!”

“Affirmative, general!” a voice called back over the radio.

Fighting in the region had ground to a standstill, but the inclusion of Levinile’s division coupled with her atypical yet risky tactics allowed for some breakthroughs, and the battle lines between Vekaiyu and Hethrostria shifted in favor of the vulpine nation. It was difficult, however, as she was not the only supersoldier in command of a division.

“Negative, negative!” Ehjy Nimuos, another supersoldier roughly the same age as Ikrisia, volleyed back. “I have operatives in that locale! This move will decrease the efficiency of my flank by at least fifty percent!”

“It would be prudent to follow the prescribed battle plans, or make note of any alterations as the attack progresses!” Satisfied with scoping the battlefield, she removed her rifle toted on her back and advanced from the large pile of rubble, entering deeper into what remained of the shell of a city in front of her. She was perhaps moving a bit too fast for everyone’s liking, but to her, the ultimate objective was to secure the area quickly, at all costs.

Her next objective was to meet up with Ehjy and another supersoldier, Todd Leyuski, who despite his age was being groomed for a higher position. While they all held the same rankings, it was clear the military favored him over all others. Ikrisia didn’t mind this. After all, if he was better suited for the role, then for the greater good of the nation, it should be awarded to him over her or all others.

Movement spotted across an alleyway resulted in several accurate shots emanating from her rifle, which quickly neutralized a small group of enemy soldiers identified by their uniforms alone. She was careful not to waste ammunition on civilians, as it was inefficient to waste effort on non-threats. She stuck close to the wall of the building, careful to keep watch of the falling shells as they pounded the landscape into submission. Her own troops moved passed her, their objectives clearly defined as they continued to sweep through the town in an attempt to seize an important choke point.

A nearby shell tore through a brittle building, exploding on impact as stonework rained down below. Luckily her suit prevented the high-pitched squeal and the resulting ear-splitting explosion from ringing in her head. “Onyx and Malachite groups, begin saturation bombing when in range! Ruby group, continue with securing Rublakrost Street! If this street is not secure by 0900 hours our chance of success reduces by roughly twelve percent!”

“General Levinile!”

She looked over at another soldier and acknowledged him with a nod.

“Several other Hejul Generals approach from the east!”

A quick turn of her head revealed Ehjy, Todd, and another general, Ivalsa McNusehy. The three of them were positioned very close together. Horribly inefficient. They would be wise to spread their forces out evenly to better sweep the perimeter.

“Ikrisia!” Todd Leyuski called out over the radio. “We are beginning our advance toward the enemy spearhead! By including you into our task force, we increase our chance of success by twenty-one percent!”

“I concur!” Of course, there were multiple ways to solve the problem at hand, she mused. After enduring enemy gunfire all the while picking off confirmed targets, Ikrisia joined the group, which had taken up a ‘wagon wheel’ formation, a tactic whereby each soldier put their backs to one another in a circle, their arms acting as spokes in a large wagon wheel from a bird’s eye perspective.

“Advance to locale 7d!” Leyuski demanded.

“How is your division doing, Ikrisia?” Ivalsa asked. She was the shortest of the bunch, but was surprisingly strong despite her size.

“Her unorthodox tactics have resulting in the eradication of at least one of her groups,” Ehjy barked. “I heard it over the radio waves. I take a more conservative, more responsible approach. It is more Vekaiyun to play under such pretenses. Max Venavle would be proud of my movements today! The Kral Commodore duty is mine!”

“The Vekaiyun dictator only cares about completing the objective!” Todd reminded as they continued moving northward, nonchalantly removing any opposition as they fired their weapons, creating a path of death in their wake. “Ikrisia realizes her duties. It is important that all our tactics are varied! Otherwise we’re clones and nothing more!”

“I’m more than a clone!” Ehjy growled.

“Aww, does someone miss the friendly confines of their test-tube?” Ivalsa giggled.

“I do not! We all came from test-tubes!”

“So? Yours was probably big and inefficient! Invalid! Invalid!”

“I am not invalid!”

“Leyuski!” Ikrisia interrupted. “When shall we break formation?”

“There goes Ikrisia again, kivia beep-boop robot with no personality,” Ehjy snickered.

Another shell exploded several bodies away, rocking the confines of the skeletal city as bloated torsos bequeathed bits of matter and a smattering of blood against the drab facades of buildings lining the important street. “New objective!” Todd commanded. “Secure the the choke point until infantry catches up!”

Ikrisia looked around the premises with eye windows partially obstructed by dried blood as she made her way to an outcropping, taking the most perilous position as it exposed her to potential enemy gunfire. But, that was the point as far as she was concerned, as this allowed for maximum coverage. She glanced back and observed where each of her own kin took their position. Ehjy was closest to her, while Ivalsa seemed to be in the center of the street, using a mode on her mask to determine sniper positions. Todd, on the other hand, moved forward to advance and meet the enemy head-on.

Her communication suddenly crackled. “Onyx and Malachite groups in position, General Levinile! Awaiting orders!”

Her aggressive tactics were beginning to pay off. “Commence saturation bombing on sectors 9c, 9d, and 9e to neutralize advancing forces beyond the choke point!” Once the order was placed, shells moving on their territory were soon outnumbered by white lines streaking across the sky as heavy artillery from Ikrisia’s division finally made it to position. The maddening missiles pelted positions northward, bombarding stationed opposition directly to the north. Large clouds of black and gray followed fireball explosions peering just beyond the no-man’s land choke point.

“Good thinking, Ikrisia,” Todd exclaimed. “Your aggressive tactics have increased our chances of success by thirty-five percent, at least by my estimation.”

Ikrisia turned to Leyuski to respond with a simple nod, but her attention was swayed by Ehjy, who had succombed to boredom and began shooting civilians. How inefficient that he would waste his ammunition on unarmed men, women, and children. But this was a bit different than simply removing lives on the battlefield. She shrugged it off once, but had to take a second look to see what was going on behind her. There was something… different. It was more than inefficient. It was… wrong. But how could it be wrong? It was meaningless to simply remove unarmed individuals - a waste of time. But there was something about the act that was off-putting. Something about the faces. The screams. The pleas. The older humans displaying unrestrained emotion toward the deaths of the youth before they too met their end. She put a hand to her head. While she was immersed in combat, her mind was completely off the battlefield. What was happening? Why was she so shaken by something so meaningless? It was inefficient to think like this when she was more than capable of increasing the chances of success by subduing more enemy threats.

She put an arm out, but didn’t know what to say.

“Ikrisia! You are acting most inefficient!” Todd exclaimed, paying little heed to what Ehjy just did. Did he notice? Did he feel it too? No, he only glanced back at him and did not offer any sort of reprimand. “Ikrisia! Do you have an equipment malfunction?”

“No… no I don’t.”

“Resume your objective!”

She nodded slowly, shaking her head and looking back at Ehjy as he also seemed to switch positions, the collection of dead citizens still strewn across the perilous street.


“Yes, sir!” she responded after readying her weapon. She quickly tried to analyze the situation and take out two soldiers approaching from above. There was a high-pitched noise emanating from her auditory receptors, however. It was growing louder and more uncomfortable. It even seemed to drown out the words of her equals. Maybe her equipment was malfuctioning after all. A quick glance above revealed the source: an errant shell dropping almost directly where she stood. Her equals had already run for cover, but she could only manage to run backwards quickly, covering her face with her arms when the shell exploded, sending her flying across the landscape and into a hollowed-out alcove.

Her eye windows were damaged. Her suit was damaged. When she tried to stand back up, she realized she couldn’t use her hands for leverage. Looking to her left and right revealed her arms had been vaporized up to the elbows. Gone. Completely gone.

She screamed in terror as the other supersoldiers came to her aid. Her head turned frantically as they entered her vision. Now there was trouble. She was without hands. She was invalid, and even she knew the fate of a useless supersoldier awaited her.

Ehjy squatted next to her and deactivated her voice communicator. “Better,” he said as she continued to writhe on the ground.

“Oh gosh, Ikrisia’s invalid.” Ivalsa shook her head. “Should we leave her here or shut her filter off to give her a quick death?”

“We need to dispose of her now!” Ehjy argued. “If they find her, they might use her technology against us.” He sighed. “I will place a grenade under her muzzle. I did this to Lis. You remember Lis Vivestra? He fought it, but in the end put the nation ahead of his own selfishness.”


They turned to Todd as Ikrisia continued to emit tortured but muffled screams from within her suit. He held up a bloodied arm, barely recognizable as it hung by a plate in his plastic armor. “She ordered the bombardment. Her fate shall be the same as mine.”


“She’s invalid! She must be disposed!”

“No!” He looked at the group of three before him as Ikrisia’s screams lessened. Finally, she was utilizing her past experiences on how to deal with pain, it seemed. A quick move switched off his communicator. “This is what they want us to do. Don’t you see? We cannot afford to lose another one of our numbers! The more we lose, the more we become controlled by our superiors. Should we leave her here, one day, it will be you. Or you. Or myself. We will order her return to base camp. I… will continue to fight upon my return.”

He gripped the broken body of Ikrisia and began pulling her from the battlefield. A small pause allowed him to pull her over his shoulder - no easy feat for a vulpine to carry one of their own. The soldier raced down the street to safer ground, minding the cargo he was toting.

“Invalid! I am invalid!” The explosion had luckily cauterized her arms, but as far as she was concerned, she was already dead.

“Do not feel invalid,” he reassured. “You will be mended. Have faith. I will see to it that you are upgraded.”

Blurred vision sharpened to crystal clarity as Ikrisia woke in the medical facility for supersoldiers of her ilk, located in the bowels of a covert facility, hidden underground, lost in the veritable forest that was The Levenasi. Various equipment was hooked to her, monitoring equipment mainly. Lacking was any sort of pain reliever. True supersoldiers were expected to embrace peacetime pain, as that would of course harden them in battle, removing any sort of distraction from annoying aches to stabbing, searing pseudo-hell-like agony.

She was of course used to such treatment. It was all she and her contemporaries ever knew. Grown from test-tubes, extracted and incubated for the sole purpose of serving the state. Veterans on the battlefield well into their teenage years, trained to ascend to positions of leadership that would later direct swathes of men and women to victory for the Vekaiyun nation. Their program was secret to all except for a select few in the upper echelons of the Vekaiyun government under Max Venavle. Care was given to ensure their loyalties would always rest with those who commanded them, utilizing fear, pain, whatever seemed most feasible for the given situation. No method was off-limits to these walking, fighting embodiment of nationalistic fortitude.

“You have been forced to consciousness, Number Eight,” the head scientist, known only as ‘Tomasu’ to the children. All scientists they had come to know called them by numbers and not by names. “You have disappointed, Number 8. We do not view your invalid state after the war with Hethrostria with warm sentiments. You should be destroyed for your lack of battle acumen. However, your damaged state presented us with an opportunity for further experimentation… and Venavle agreed to the procedure. We have constructed new arms for you, arms that must serve you well for the sake of your livelihood.”

Ikrisia’s gaze moved from the red hair and gray fur of Tomasu to that of herself. She was dressed in a gown, strapped to a bed and covered with a sheet. Her arms burned, but she curiously moved them in front of her view. Once she moved them from the blanket, she beheld a hideous set of skeletal digits, emanating from unfinished palms and framwork in her forearms designed to emulate bone structure. Sinewy muscles growing in various directions filled the cavities, with skin grafted to the structures at the elbows.

The sterile air burned against exposed tissue, but she dared not complain. Reaction to pain was inadequate and inefficient.

“You will undergo a series of procedures to ensure your new limbs are fully functional. Expected recovery time is three weeks. We might be able to hasten that provided you prove your worth.” He pressed on one of her exposed muscles, and her new digits reeled from the pain as blood mixed with lactic acid stained his gloved hand. “We expect no further setbacks, Number Eight. You must make a full recovery within two months’ time. If you have learned to use your new arms adequately, you will be cleared for combat. Should you fail…” He dug a fingernail into the muscles as the tissue began to tear and separate as Ikrisia did her best to maintain a stoic expression despite everything in her being telling her to move her new appendage back away from the torment before her. “We will devise a new set of experiments, ones that have a much less chance of survival.”

Tomasu let go of her arm. “Skin grafts will be administered in a matter of hours. Once the skin sets and fur begins to grow, you will recover. You will spend hours training. Swimming was determined to be the optimal exercise, and you will be relegated to the water as you recover. It is all very well - we could use a Number with acumen in swimming.”

The head scientist smiled through the green cloth mask as he stood from the metal chair equipped with wheels. He slowly slipped from the room and out the door as Ikrisia caught the gaze of Todd Leyuski, his orange fur, black hair, and relaxed smile a welcomed sight. How she missed that smile. It was comforting if not unusual for their program. Perhaps it was the uniqueness by which Ikrisia drew comfort, but she wasn’t sure.

“You were spared for your tactics,” he began. “You remember?”

Ikrisia nodded. “Affirmative.”

“Do heal. If not, they will find a way to make you invalid.” He watched as she nodded once more. “By the end of your recovery you will become an excellent swimmer. This is intentional. Should you fail, they will do what they can to ensure you can breathe underwater. And I do not believe they have a particular method at current.”

“I will heal. I will recover.”

“I know you will, Ikrisia.” Todd walked toward her, then sat down in the chair once occupied with Tomasu. “Listen. We must stick together in this. The other children, they don’t understand. But you do. Trust me, you do. I saw what you did on the battlefield out there. I saw what happened. I refused to fight until they fixed you, Ikrisia.”

She looked down at the strap confining her to the bed, afraid to look up. What Todd spoke of was entirely taboo. It was taboo to refer to themselves as children. It was taboo to discuss the oddities of the battlefield without referencing tactics or success rates. And it was entirely taboo to bring emotions into any conversation except in the heat of combat. Did he really see her? Did he really know what she was feeling after Ehjy killed unarmed civilians? Did he really understand that it seemed to mean more than inefficiency?

“I appreciate it,” she replied. “Thank you.”

"Your tactics were indeed risky, but effective. Your atypical methods should not go unnoticed.

Ikrisia paused, her eyes still focused on her bed as she moved her new fingers. “I concur,” she added. While she was never one to display inflection in her voice, her tone was decidedly dampened.

Months had passed since Ikrisia was given her new arms. She had grown an affinity for swimming, and was absolutely enthralled by it. Swimming, as far as she was concerned, was a time in which she could be fully independent. When she pulled her goggles down and dove into the controlled waters of the pool presented to her, she was in her own element, free and detached from the commands and orders from those who demanded her attention and her submission. It was slightly scary, but she liked the feeling. The breaststroke was learned first, and for good measure, as that strengthened her unusual muscles and forced her to familiarize herself with foreign appendages. In time she learned other strokes, and became a strong, dedicated athlete who yearned for the opportunity to learn more about the more peaceful aspects of life. Suppose those outside of the confines of her sterile laboratory environment swam… just because they felt like it. Maybe they didn’t have a goal in mind. Maybe they just wanted to relax now and then. Was that possible, or was she simply doing it wrong, simply reading too much into something that should be used to increase her endurance, increase her strength, and increase her purpose in life?

But this allowed time to think, which was a dangerous prospect. Suppose… if only for a moment… of course, but suppose those whom she was fighting over the years went about their lives without the boundless purpose of bringing harm to the Vekaiyun state? What if they had hopes, dreams, and desires like she had heard of in passing with respect to Vekaiyun citizens? Could their handlers be wrong? What if they didn’t quite grasp what Max Venavle had envisioned for their project?

Max Venavle. The name of the Vekaiyun Dictator was something to be revered. He wrestled control of the Vekaiyun nation from that of the inept and corrupt monarchy, utilizing his cunning and superior powers of persuasion and purpose to oust their lethargic regime and install real leadership in its place. Max, for all intents and purposes, was the embodiment of the new Vekaiyun ideal, an ideal which included preservation of the Vekaiyun state and its culture as well as expanding these principles and influencing other nations to adopt said policies. It wasn’t enough to shore up the protection of the state, that was just the beginning. What really mattered was full compliance from every individual across the entire planet. And Max, with his knowledge in the Vekaiyun way of thought, was more than capable to deliver the message. He just needed more subjects to spread this message.

And that’s where the members of Project Uveshk came into play. They were, after all, spoken to life by the demands of Venavle. Everything for Venavle. Everything for the Vekaiyun nation.

But for now, between the studies, the fighting, the experimentation, and the training, there were times for breaks. Ikrisia turned to swim another lap down the lengthy pool doused with fluorescent lighting which bounced from the glistening waters and the white-painted steel girders lining the ceiling. The project tried to cut through the water effortlessly, attempting to disturb the surface as little as possible while making the least amount of noise she could. She was so quiet in this endeavor that the sound of an open door at the other end of the room nearly startled her. When she looked up, she spotted several other project members filing into the large room. All wore their rudimentary black tunics and black, featureless shoes.

“Hey down there,” Ehjy called out. He waved a hand to get her attention.

“Quiet!” Ivalsa commanded. “They might hear us.”

Another project member, Visela Elestri, dipped a hand in the water as she watched Ikrisia swim toward them. “At least it’s still warm. I hate when the water’s too cold.” She backed away slightly when Ikrisia made it to the edge, careful not to let the sloshing water drench her.

Ikrisia pulled her goggles up. “Are there new orders?” she asked.

Ivalsa laughed. “Orders? No. Didn’t you hear? Selection day is approaching!”

“Selection day?”

“Who would’ve guessed that robot girl didn’t bank that bit of information.”

Ivalsa glared at Ehjy. “She wasn’t always a robot girl, you know? I remember. I remember a lot of the early days. We took medication to control our emotions. It didn’t work on Ikrisia. We were placed in solitary chambers to calm us down. It didn’t work on Ikrisia. She was still talkative, still annoying and emotive. It was only after that stuff with the red syringe that it finally beat the inefficiency out of her.”

“She’s so weak she needs that to survive,” reminded Ehjy. “Kind of like Todd and that port he has on his arm for fluids.”

“I don’t remember any of that,” Visela admitted, speaking to Ivalsa.

Ehjy scoffed. “Probably because it’s made up. Everyone here knows were were grown in test-tubes, incubated, then introduced to one another through a series of conditioned tests. Remember?”

Ivalsa shook her head as her pony tail swayed. “No, that’s not right. I would know. I just pretended to go along with it cause I was afraid of all the testing and drugs. I didn’t even take them at first.”

“We need those supplements to survive,” Ikrisia noted.

Visela frowned as Ikrisia pulled herself up out of the water, grabbing a nearby towel to dry off herself and her white swimsuit. “Do you… ever wonder about that, though?”

“Our survival?”

“No, Ikrisia. We all take medication and we have for as long as I can remember. If we take them, does that mean we’re lacking something, or does that mean we’re removing something?” She watched as Ikrisia pulled her swim cap and goggles off her head, then pulled her tunic over to cover her body. “Like, we know so much. We’ve learned so much. But the more I fight alongside real Vekaiyun soldiers and hear about them, the more I think that we’re so far advanced that maybe the purpose of these supplements is to keep us in check.”

She slipped her shoes on. “Our medication is essential to our purpose,” Ikrisia affirmed.

“But how do you know?”

“Our caretakers have provided it. Therefore, it is essential. Any sort of inconsistency must be corrected to ensure optimum performance.”

Ehjy produced a wry grin as he walked to the door. “Like what happened in Hethrostria?”

“I do not follow.”

“Oh come on. You practically stood there like you were under some kind of spell. Was your helmet on too tight or something? We relied on you to secure that choke point, and then all of a sudden you just stopped working. Like you were a malfunctioned android or something. Todd risked his life for you out there, even though you should have been declared invalid.”

Ikrisia tried to remember the campaign in Hethrostria, but to this point she could only remember the actual battle procedures, issuing orders, even troop movements. All of her actions were laid out for her to review, refine, and learn in order to better serve her state on the next mission. But if she tried to think beyond the corrective actions, she remembered instances here and there. The sound a building made as it fell when they advanced down an avenue. A nameless soldier exploding in front of her view. One of her contemporaries gunning down civilians. She blinked. Now she remembered. Something about the faces. They were… brighter, more colorful than what was around them. Was that right? Could she remember sounds? It was tough, as their sounds seemed less than that of the droning of engines or the whistling of bombs. Another blink nearly took her back to the setting. She stifled a gasp, then closed her eyes.

She envisioned herself in a desolate city, surrounded by unmoving corpses sprawled out in positions of agony, dried yet howling winds winding their way down the avenues and buildings without windows. No blood, but death was certainly all around. And her, helmet in hand, stood there with her rifle tucked away. She walked across the soundless landscape as her boots moved the errant dirt around her, growing ever more fearful with each step.

“You!” Ikrisia exclaimed as she moved her arms toward Ehjy, but stopped when she realized she was back in her own element and the other children were staring at her.

“What about me?” he asked. "I just was saying we need to report back for rations and daily instructions is all.

“Oh… Oh I’m sorry.”

Ivalsa rolled her eyes. “Probably delusional for some food is all.” She held the door open for the rest to exit the pool room.

Once the door closed, they moved through a well-lit metallic hallway and were in time joined with other members of Project Uveshk in a larger gathering room with two rows of featureless tables and uninspiring benches. They lined up according to number as several men and women filed into the room from another entryway, just as they did any other day. Scientists, educators, and some military personnel glowered at their ranks.

“To the Vekaiyun State we pledge our efforts and our lives,” the children began, speaking in unison with appropriate enthusiasm. “Our purpose is the preservation and improvement of the Vekaiyun nation and its citizenry. We are charged with ascending to the highest echelons of noble Vekaiyun judgment and knowledge. We shall uphold our loyalty until we are no longer able to reach the tangible world of this realm as determined by the Almighty.”

Tomasu nodded as he paced up and down the ranks of children. “Very good. Very good indeed. Numbers, soon you will begin a transitory period from childhood to adulthood. We shall determine placement for each individual based on their merits and perceived traits. You will comply, and you will realize your destinies.”

An educator, known as Riyna, continued the diatribe. “We will transport you to the capital, Eldura, and there you will meet the Vekaiyun dictator, Max Venavle. As you may have heard, he will select several of you for roles most important to the Vekaiyun nation. The rest, the unselected, will be relegated to other duties of lesser importance. We will not seek placement for all, meaning that if all roles are fulfilled, we will simply relegate the least of you to a final experiment-”

“A final, tremendous experiment.”

“To ensure your invalidity. So prepare yourselves, and we of course hope the best of you succeed.”

“Dismissed.” Tomasu grinned, then nonchalantly beckoned toward Ikrisia. “Number eight, your arms have healed?”

Ikrisia nodded. She presented her arms to the scientist, who began analyzing and prodding her flesh. “Affirmative.”

“Excellent. Do you notice any… side-effects?”

“Negative.” She watched as he dug a fingernail into her arm, scraping it slowly.

“The grafts have held on well. You are an interesting case, Number Eight. Let’s hope Venvavle is turned away by your defective form and unsuccessful endeavors, for your body has displayed a resiliency that may provide a wealth of further experimentation.”

Ikrisia looked to Leyuski - Number Six - in a futile effort to gain some kind of defense, but her action was not understood. “I concur.”

Eldura. The ancient capital of the Vekaiyun homeworld awaited the project members as they reached the city outskirts. While the members couldn’t totally see the splendor in front of them due to the small windows of the vans with which they were transported, those who could were amazed at what they saw. Large buildings that seemed to stretch to the heavens in a vain attempt to shake the hand of God. Beautiful, angular architecture of the modern flair blended with historic yet appropriate structures constructed of jaku wood and stucco, which dotted the terrain and hugged the streets in a warm embrace. It was the afternoon, and the sun was high in the sky, proffering light to all those below and extinguishing any hope of darkness from taking hold in the open air.

Each project member wore the common Vekaiyun military dress uniform for infantry officers - black with red trim and red straps to hold the garmets close to the body in a presentable yet almost uncomfortable fashion. Polished boots hid their feet. Long overcoats were perfectly hung on their thin frames. And their insignias establishing their current rank of hejul general were proudly displayed on their Yskavirges, which was a stiff cloth that extended from the shoulder to the breast in an asymmetrical fashion. Regardless of their attire, anything was better than their tunics, and anything was less claustrophobic than their combat uniforms.

When the vans pulled up to the front of the Governmental Residency of Max Venavle, the children simply couldn’t hold their excitement any further.

“Look! The marbled statue of St. Aiya has to be twice our height!”

“St. Kabuu’s right next to her, as he should be!”

“And there’s Kivio Venavle behind them both! Oh, do you suppose he will select me?”

“I’m more efficient! I should be selected first!”

“Do you suppose we need to inform him of our efficiency rating? I calculated it last night for us all!”

The children continued to make their way up the stairs to meet their eventual destiny, and the chance to prove their usefulness to the state they adored.


“Of-of course, sir. I think I would like that a lot.”

The Vekaiyun Dictator, Max Venavle, grinned warmly behind a face only partly damaged from an eye that refused to open. A farming accident inflicted during his childhood years earned him the characteristic deformity, an abnormality he proudly displayed. His suit was impeccable and fitted smartly to his frame. Hair the color of ebony was a haphazard experiment, turning and moving about a poorly-maintained part. His gray ears disturbed the conquest of hair atop his head.

In front of the dictator stood the perfect picture of dilapidation. A rootless, gray-furred vulpine wearing a suit that was just a bit too big for his frame and a bit too frayed for a formal meeting with the Vekaiyun dictator. It wasn’t that he took the meeting casually - it was probably the best he could afford. He was shorter, uglier, and his accent suggested a lack of education. But he couldn’t be happier after his meeting with the dictator.

He left his office as the door closed behind him.

“Stupid fucking rootless peasant,” Max Venavle muttered, his expression darkening almost immediately to a professional scowl. “What a silly little clown.” He sighed as he returned to fiddling with his gold-plated letter opener, twirling it on his right index finger.

The office of the Vekaiyun Dictator was just as splendid as the outside of the spacious confines of his residency. Marbled walls ascended upward, meeting at the top to form a vaulted ceiling. The walls were dressed with remarkable banners of red and goldenrod interspersed between windows displaying serene landscaping. A white marbled desk with jaku wood trim served as his desk. It too was spotless and serene, save for a phone built into the desk. A phone with a blinking button.

He pressed the button with a wiry digit. “Yes?”

“Project Uveshk is here, sir.”

Thin eyebrows raised high as a moment of elation crept back onto his face, but this time it was certainly a genuine emotion. “Oh. Excellent! Show them in immediately.” He moved forward in his seat as he anxiously awaited the fruits of his labor, a project he had taken an interest in the moment he found out about it. While he had never met a single member, he heard stories. And the stories he heard, he liked. A group of young supersoldiers, supersoldiers who were completely and unequivocally loyal to the Vekaiyun nation and, by nature, himself. For he made certain their programs did little to separate Vekaiyu from the Vekaiyun dictator. And the more they grew, the more stories he heard of them on the battlefield, the more he became convinced this was how Vekaiyun children should be raised. But it wasn’t over. Not yet. They needed to be tested further. Sure, they were able to operate well under the watchful eyes of the scientists, their caretakers. But just how would they do once inserted into society?

The test subjects entered one-by-one, guided in part by Tomasu, Riyna, and the other adults. They lined them up by number. Once their positioning was complete, they recited their pledge to the dictator once more.

“To the Vekaiyun State we pledge our efforts and our lives. Our purpose is the preservation and improvement of the Vekaiyun nation and its citizenry. We are charged with ascending to the highest echelons of noble Vekaiyun judgment and knowledge. We shall uphold our loyalty until we are no longer able to reach the tangible world of this realm as determined by the Almighty.”

The room fell silent, save from Venavle moving out of his chair and toward the test subjects. A smile peeked from behind his hand and he analyzed the group, looking them over, checking them out. He walked over to Ehjy and stood face-to-face with the child. His hands slowly moved toward his face, and he felt over his features, looking at his teeth, gazing into his eyes, flicking his ears.

“Real. They’re real.”

Tomasu slid next to him. “Indeed, sir. They are all very real. And all undoubtedly loyal to the Vekaiyun state.”

“And me, right?”

“As you wish, sir.”

Venavle continued to study the child in front of him. “You know, Tomasu, I’d never be able to have a kid of my own. Not that I am unable to, but because I am certain they would disappoint me, and I just couldn’t have that. A leader must never suffer, after all. But, what does it mean to have a child? Isn’t it better to just grow one yourself? Then you can make it into everything you want it to be. Mold it. Change it. Carefully weed out the imperfect ones.” He grinned. “This is my child. These are my children. Do you follow?”

“They await your selection, sir.” The white fur of Tomasu bristled slightly. He couldn’t relax just now. This was his moment to shine as well. A dissertation for the ages. A new vulpine to present to one of the most powerful individuals living.

“Mmn… So what can they do? I’ve read the stories. I’ve heard the reports. But there’s so many of them… I want to explore their capabilities.” He walked up to Ika Selenosi, a fairly quiet project member, but by all accounts fairly average as far as Ikrisia could tell. “Break every bone in this one’s body from the neck down, one by one, limbs first, then work toward the torso. Allow for one hour in between in order to inflict maximum psychological damage. You follow?”

Tomasu arched an eyebrow. “Is such an experiment truly necessary, Kivio Venavle? Surely there’s another capacity this one can serve.”

Ika, visibly shaken, opted to calm herself through the only directive that gave her comfort. “I will serve my state to the fullest of my ability. It is my duty to serve the Vekaiyun state.”

Max shook his head. “No. I need to see this. I need to find their breaking point. Like, what happens if they were to mutiny? I want to find how best to remove these test subjects. If she survives, well, start removing organs.”

“I will… serve my state to the-”

Tomasu sighed as Ika continued her diatribe. “Enough. The Vekaiyun dictator has spoken. Your contributions to the Vekaiyun state will be noted.” He watched as Ika maintained her wide-eyed yet stoic demeanor. “The Vekaiyun state will benefit from your test results.”

“I will-”

“Now then,” Venavle continued, “Is this Number Six?” he asked, walking up to Leyuski.

“Indeed it is, sir.” Tomasu and Venavle turned their attention to the opening doors as Kral Commodore Selvala McEva arrived on the scene. Her red uniform immediately identified her as one of the highest-ranking officers in Vekaiyu, and the children saluted her in turn, forming a fist with the left hand, then grasping said fist in the right.

“Selvala, my love!” Venavle elated. “You’ve arrived at a most opportune time! Look - my children!” He extended his arm as if he was presenting the spread to her.

Selvala McEva was a light-gray furred vulpine with long hair tied up in hairpins. She rolled her eyes and clearly was focused on other directives. “Sir, did you just promise that rootless back there that we would aid his group in liberating Ye’leli? If so, then we must discuss this immediately.”

Max scoffed. “Oh, oh yeah. Sure. Line up divisions along the border. We’ll cross that bridge when we arrive. That can wait. Don’t you see these children?” He grabbed Leyuski abruptly. “Don’t forget this one, woman! This one seems to outperform the whole lot! The dominant one of the litter, if I do say so myself.”

“Yeah… right.”

“Seriously, my dear, pay close attention.” He turned to Tomasu after shoving Leyuski back into line. “I like this one. And he’s the best of the bunch, is he?”

“Based on our qualitative analysis, sir.”

“He’s tall, too. I like height.” Max had a particular spring in his step. He passed over Leyuski, then Ehjy, then Ikrisia. “What about this one? Kind of thinner than the bunch, don’t you think? And a short, too.” He lifted the muzzle of Number 9, better known as Ivalsa McNusehy to the group. “You know, I’ve always wanted to see if a vulpine could survive in other environments. Everyone these days seems to be preoccupied with space, like it’s something to be conquered or something. I suggest we think more practical. What are the odds that we could, I don’t know, get one of these to survive underwater? You know, like give it gills, the likes. We could conquer the sea, and if we own the sea, the land would only be secondary.”

“I don’t…” Tomasu paused as Selvala’s face twisted into a look of satiated fear. “Well, I suppose we could come up with something, sir, but the one next to her is a better swimmer than the bunch. She also has synthetic arms.”

Max Venavle moved to his left in order to face Ikrisia. He looked her up and down as his deep thoughts forced a frown. “Synthetic arms, you say? And a good swimmer to boot? Well… I’d hate to waste this experiment on someone like that. Can she crush things with those arms? Here.” He placed her hands on Ivalsa’s arm. “Try to snap her forearm.”

“Wait,” Selvala interrupted. “Let’s… stay on task, because this will get silly very soon. Pick one. Either that one or the one next to her.”

“Oh very well, my love. The one with the fake arms then. She’d be easier to morph. Although…” he turned to Ivalsa. “She’s just a hair shorter. Yeah, use her instead. Find a way to put slits in her neck, give her gills, and see if that’ll do the trick.”

“It will not work,” Tomasu warned. “That’s not how that works.”

Max shined a twinkle in his one good eye. “Ah, but if they’re as hearty as you say they are, they’ll fight for the chance to live. If she doesn’t, I don’t know, take the fake arm girl and put her in some long-term hydrostasis. See how long she can live just as a vulpine underwater.”

“She will drown.”

“Well then give her equipment to survive! Do I need to spell this out to you?” Max twirled around in frustration. “Seriously, doctor, this has put me off now. Here I thought you and I were on the same page, but it seems we’re far apart!” He sighed. “I’ve lost my resolve, and my bed is very inviting. So scratch that. Just… try to do something special with that Number 9. Give her some ability to make up for shortness, like, I don’t know, mutate her or something.” He gripped the arm of a visibly uncomfortable Selvala McEva. “Figure out the rest, doctor. And put the last three in some kind of experiment testing their limits. Numbers 12 through 14, right?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“Great. Do something special with them. I don’t know, like high-pressure testing, skin the middle one, and for the last one… er… cut out their brain and stick it in some robot, I don’t know. Maybe we can get them to work in some kind of metal robot. But give it a kill switch in case there’s a problem.”

“Sir, these tests are rather meaningless…”

Venavle flashed a look of anger toward the scientist. “My children, my rules!”

“I… I don’t-” Number 14 sputtered. His name was Yiisu.

“Insubordination,” Max muttered. “Keep him alive, because I don’t want to have to go through this ordeal again. You bore me, Tomasu, with these petulant little children who refuse to show me the proper amount of respect! These are my orders! Carry every one out to the letter, and I will provide to you my final list in due time. My goal is to narrow this list to three, but any more outbursts like this and the list will be reduced to zero… and I will include several scientists in my decision. Do you understand? Do you all understand yet? I decide the fate, and no one else! For I am the leader of Vekaiyu, and Vekaiyu is what you all serve.” He looked into Yiisu’s eyes. “For if you refuse to serve me, I will ensure death.” His scowl followed him until he met eyes with Selvala. “Come, my love. It is time for us to depart. Dismissed!”