Chapter 57 – Guardian of the Future

Firdia, Skydiath 8, 8034 –

A cool breeze swept across the warm bricks, slowly wearing away at the heat absorbed from the now-setting sun. The day had been long, but not long enough to heat the numerous ruined structures to uncomfortable temperatures, allowing Davídrius to perch on top of a scarred building while he watched the sunset.

His gaze eventually moved away from the sun and down to the ruins surrounding him — the collapsed walls, the blasted guard towers, the pillaged homes. Bloodstains covered almost every surface in sight, the only remaining sign of the dead bodies Davídrius had buried earlier in the day. Now, his former home of Riken was but a gathering of ruins; where it was once a bastion against the terrible desert outside, it was now merely a part of the vast wastelands itself.

The Velocitechnic cast a sullen glance to the side as the sound of a motor reached his ears, but he made no further attempt to investigate. Instead he turned back to the sunset, sitting as still as the ruins around him, almost as if he were a part of them himself.

“I knew I’d find you here.”

“I thought I told you goodbye,” Davídrius replied flatly, making no attempt at eye-contact as Selind approached the short building he was sitting on.

“You never say goodbye,” she countered, “and when you do, you never mean it. That’s why you’re here.”

The Velocitechnic glanced down at her and then returned his gaze to the sunset. Selind stared at him for a few moments before sighing and leaning against the wall, electing to join Davídrius in silence and sunset observance.

“…I killed ‘em all.”

“Huh?” Selind looked up at Davídrius again.

“The Bleeders,” he responded sullenly. “I found the nearest encampments, and killed ‘em all. Not a Bleeder left standing for a few hundred kilometers in any direction.”

“Wow… impressive.”

“Yeah, but… …was it right?”

“’Right?’” Selind echoed incredulously. “You’ve killed Bleeders before. What’s different now?”

“…”

“An eye for an eye, they always say.”

“Yeah, well they also say it makes the whole world blind.”

“…It’s not like you to be all philosophical.”

“Well it’s not like me to fail so massively against the Bleeders either, yet here we are.”

Selind glanced around at the surrounding ruins. “This wasn’t your fault… You had no way of knowin’ that the Bleeders could manage such a counterattack.”

“Just like I’ve got no way of knowin’ whether random Bleeder Joe Schmoe actually joined voluntarily or was pressed into joinin’ and I killed ‘im for no reason, or like how I’ve got no way of knowin’ if I actually could’ve stopped a massive attack on Riken, or like how I’ve got no way of knowin’ if leavin’ Treséd was ever the right decision, or like how I’ve got no way of knowin’ if I made the right choice when I killed one of my friends half a week ago, or like I know anythin, really.”

“You’ve never doubted yourself before, not like this. What gives?”

The Velocitechnic gave a lofty sigh, staring out into the distance as Selind watched him warily.

“I always thought I was right,” he eventually responded, his voice low, “that, you know, that killin’ is the answer. Someone’s a threat to you or someone else, you take ‘em out. Don’t have the time to deal with all the what-ifs. Or, I guess… you could actually say that I just never thought about it in the first place. It’s easy to make decisions when you don’t think, and just react. That was before, though, before I left. Made some… I guess you could call them friends. I dunno. Feels hard saying that now, though.”

Selind frowned as Davídrius looked down at his hands.

“You’ve heard ‘bout the Nanocreatures, right? An’ all that metallic infection shit?”

“You mentioned them the last time we talked.”

“Oh. Right. Well, one of my… …one of my teammates got infected. Corrupted. Whatever you call it. Shortly after the Nanocreatures showed up and started wreakin’ havoc, she lost control of her body. Like… the corruption was takin’ over. Yeah, corruption sounds better than infection, keh. Infections don’t really make you attack your best friend against your will, do they?”

“…”

“She and her friend got locked in a fight, but I… cut the fight short. By killin’ the corrupted one. …At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. I mean, I still think it was the right thing to do. But her friend blamed me for it, and at the time I thought she was wrong, but now that I think about it… I don’t know…”

“This…” Selind shifted uncomfortably. “…This sounds a lot like what happened with Hanas.”

Davídrius winced visibly. “I… I know. I said as much myself.”

“You know you couldn’t’ve saved her. You’d done everythin’ you were physically capable of; you would’ve had to time travel to do any more for her than you did.”

“I know that. That’s why— that’s why I regretted not killin’ her immediately, to end her misery early. That’s why I killed my recent friend so quickly.”

“Then why the hell are you doubtin’ yourself?”

“Because, I—” The Velocitechnic paused for a moment, pursing his lips as he clenched his fists. “…It was my fault she got corrupted in the first place. I mean, I didn’t know it happened when it did, but, in hindsight — if I had just been payin’ attention, if I had been a little bit faster, I could’ve stopped the damn bug, and none of this would’ve happened. She’d still be here, her friend wouldn’t be in fuckin’ jail, I wouldn’t be down here beatin’ myself up while everyone else is off on a mission to who-knows-where… Or, maybe if I hadn’t left Riken in the first place, then I’d’ve been here to protect everyone, and Hero Machina probably wouldn’t’ve been sent to that damned Earthian planet in the first place, and everyone would be fine. But instead, they’re fuckin’ dead.”

Selind sighed, moving her eyes off of Davídrius and up to the darkening sky above. “So, that’s it?”

“…‘That’s it?’” he growled, glaring down at her. “The fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“Earlier, when you were askin’ about if killin’ was the right thing to do — were you askin’ because you were actually wonderin’ about the moral consequences of killin’ in general? Or was it because you had to kill someone who was close to you, and you’re startin’ to feel guilty about it?”

“I, I don’t…”

“I’d almost thought you’d changed, again.” She closed her eyes wearily. “…I should stop doin’ that.”

“Dammit Selind, you keep goin’ on about this ‘change’ shit but you never explain yourself. Just fuckin’ tell me already.”

“…Your problem is that you’re stuck in the past,” Selind responded quietly.

“…What?”

“You take the sayin’ ‘hindsight is 20/20’ and then run it into the ground. You act in the moment, but as soon as it’s over, you think back and find every single li’l mistake you made and every li’l thing that you could’ve done better, and then you blame yourself for the whole situation. You even blame yourself for your Dad’s death and that happened while you were bein’ fuckin’ born. It’s why you’re a terrible protector.”

“A terrible—?! I was the only fucking Chaotic in the region for years! I was the best Guardian this side of Tresnon. All the other compounds wished they could be under my protection.”

“No.” Selind shook her head. “You were a fine Guardian, but you’re a bad protector, because what you did wasn’t protection — it was retaliation. A way for you to take out your frustrations about your own short-comings on others.”

“What…?”

“You blamed yourself for your dad’s death, so you took up the role of the father figure to your siblings, even though you were still just a pup — hell, even though y’all didn’t share a dad. Then, you blamed yourself for your family’s deaths, so you took up the role of Riken’s Guardian, even though you weren’t even 10. You blamed yourself for Hanas’s loss, so you took it upon yourself to take out her controller and Strén. Then, apparently, you blamed yourself for your friend’s ‘corruption,’ so you came down here in an attempt to balance it all out by killin’ some Bleeders — and then, when you learned about Riken, you only blamed yourself again and decided to take out all of the Bleeders in the area.” Selind stepped away from the wall and turned toward Davídrius, her back to the horizon as the sun finally disappeared behind it. “Don’t you see a pattern here? Everythin’ you do is reactionary, everythin’ is based on anger or self-blame. ‘Specially recently. You said you took out all the Bleeders within a few hundred kilometers, right? You sure as hell could’ve done that a few months ago when you left, but you didn’t. The only reason you did now was ‘cause you got angry. And that’s always been the case with you. You don’t protect people, you don’t deter threats. You react to disasters, you retaliate against criminals… that ain’t protection. That’s revenge.”

Davídrius scowled and looked away in a pointed effort to ignore Selind’s gaze. “You think you’ve got me all figured out, just like that, huh?”

“You aren’t a super complicated person. …Well, not to a fellow Guardian, at least.”

“Gee, that really makes me feel better.”

“Davídrius, I’m tryin’ to help you…”

“Well maybe you should help yourself first, huh? Fix your own fuckin’ mistakes before you try fixin’ mine.”

“Look, I know… I know I’ve made mistakes. But that doesn’t mean everything I say or do is wrong. You can’t just ignore what other people say ‘cause it hurts. A little pain now is worth it if you can prevent a lot down the line, you know?”

Davídrius sighed impatiently. “I knew I shouldn’t’ve tried talkin’ to you…”

“…Is that really what you think?” Selind crossed her arms, her eyes narrowed. “I’m tryin’ to help. Do you just want me to listen to your pathetic self-doubt and nod my head in agreement?”

“As if I need your help. Or any help.”

“Cut the bullshit, Davídrius. You’re only 21, of course you need help. Everyone does.”

Davídrius glanced at Selind and then looked away dismissively. “You could really do without the holier-than-thou attitude.”

“Ha! Never could handle a woman like me, could you?” Selind smirked bitterly. “You never liked it when people disagreed with you. I guess that’s why you liked Hanas so much, huh? I bet she never refused you.”

“You take that back,” Davídrius growled, dropping from his perch on the rooftop to draw one of his sabers on Selind.

“What’re you gonna do? Kill me?”

“I—!” he started, but stopped himself and settled into a deep scowl.

“See?” Selind replied quietly, “all you can think about is revenge. Retaliation. When you were Guardian of Riken, you weren’t there to protect their future. You weren’t tryin’ to help the compound grow and thrive, not as a primary goal at least. You were there to retaliate against massacres, and that’s all. And you know what? It hurts to hear, but I bet that’s why they kept happenin’. You can’t spend your whole life reactin’ to things, sometimes you gotta go out and do things before anyone else can. You can’t just dwell on the past and blame yourself all the time, ‘cause the past can’t change. But the future can.”

Davídrius pursed his lips again, but eventually he slowly lowered his saber. “You think it’s as simple as that?” he responded flatly, “just… stop thinkin’ about the past?”

“Well, no.” She shook her head. “Obviously it ain’t that simple. For you… I’m sure it’s hard. But you aren’t just protectin’ a small compound anymore. You’re workin’ with the Nimaliakians. And based on what you’ve told me, you’re actually fightin’ those Nanocreature things. You’re fightin’ to protect the whole damn galaxy now, Davídrius, and the galaxy’s a big place. You can’t blame yourself for every failure out there, for everythin’ that you might’ve done wrong, for everythin’ that you could’ve done right. It’s too much; you’ll kill yourself.”

“Hn.”

“I admit I’ve made mistakes… mistakes that’ve forced me to stay here. I don’t know if I can ever actually leave Treséd in good conscience…” She sighed. “But you ain’t made those mistakes. Not yet. I don’t think you realize what you got, Davídrius — you have an opportunity that most Tresédians will never get, an opportunity to get off this damn rock legitimately and make a name for yourself out there. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, you know. Don’t waste it ‘cause you can’t get over your past.”

Davídrius stared at Selind for several moments before sighing and shifting his gaze to the horizon, and then up to the twilit sky. “…I had forgotten how wordy you can get.”

Selind smirked. “Well, that’s why I drink. I tend to get quieter when drunk. Sometimes. Really weird how that works.”

“Implyin’ that you aren’t weird by default?”

“Funny.” Selind planted her hands on her hips. “But I meant everythin’ I said, Davídrius.”

“Yeah, yeah…” He glanced away as he absentmindedly sheathed his saber. “I guess… I don’t completely regret talkin’ to you.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t expect much more from you. You should really think about it, though. You’re still young. I’d hate to see you screw this up.”

“You keep treatin’ me like I’m a kid, but you ain’t much older, you know.”

“…It sure don’t feel like I’m 23. Feel a lot older than that.”

“You almost look the part, too.”

“Hey!” She shoved Davídrius playfully. “You tryin’ to call me a hag?”

“Your words, not mine.” He smirked back, but quickly adopted a more serious expression. “You keep talkin’ like you’re stuck here, but I told you a couple days ago; it wouldn’t be hard at all for you to leave.”

“No…” Selind responded wistfully as she turned back toward the horizon. “I… can’t leave. Not yet. There’s still a couple anchors here that… that I’m not sure I can leave behind.”

“Thinkin’ about goin’ back to Austilad?”

“I dunno. Maybe. …It’d be pretty arrogant to expect him to accept me back, though.”

“Ha. Just a little bit ago, you were tellin’ me to focus more on the future, and here you are, stuck on the past yourself.”

Selind chuckled uneasily. “I never could take my own advice, could I.”

“No, you couldn’t,” Davídrius replied. “…It’s not all bad, though. We’ve all got our flaws.”

“Some broad strokes, there.”

“Yeah yeah, whatever.” The Velocitechnic shook his head as he shifted his gaze to the sky above, where the stars were just beginning to make themselves visible. Selind slowly followed suit, the two Tresédians staring upwards and taking in the dark sights in silence.

“…Hey, Selind?”

“Yeah?”

“…Thanks. For bein’ here. And listenin’.”

She glanced over at the Velocitechnic, but he continued observing the sky, either not noticing her attention or ignoring it outright.

“…Heh,” she eventually responded as she returned her eyes to the skies. “Anythin’ for a friend.”

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