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#1 Offline GSR

GSR
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Posted Dec 18 2013 - 12:47 PM

The tunnel was smothered in darkness, a long-unused passage of rock that seemed to take personal pleasure in being as foreboding as possible.  Had Keahi of the New Atero Guard ever paid heed to his surroundings, it might have almost been intimidating.  His Rau glinted in the light of his torch as he hopped over an outcropping of stone and pressed forward, eyes scanning the tunnel for any sign of danger.  In his other hand, he carried an old metal shield worn by hundreds of years of use.
 
He squinted ahead, and then turned back to the darkness behind him.  “All clear!” he yelled.
 
A minute passed, and then he saw the gleams of his companions’ torches approaching down the tunnel.  He counted them off as they rounded the corner – Agni, Kalama, Nuhrii, Igineus, and –
 
He caught the last to arrive as he stumbled over the outcropping jutting up from the floor.  An orange Kakama grinned back at him sheepishly.  “Thanks,” said Athir.
 
“I would have thought a thousand years with me would have gotten you to keep an eye out where you walked,” he chided. 
 
“Hey, you guys are the heroic guards.  I’m just tagging along here.”
 
“As always,” Keahi laughed.  “Come on.  Onwards and downwards!”
 
 
 
Athir looked up from the work order in confusion.  “A shield?”
 
The Ta-Metru forge was stuffy as always, but neither the blacksmith nor his customer took much notice.  The Matoran across from him scratched the side of his yellow Rau awkwardly.  “Is there a problem with that?”
 
Athir furrowed the brow of his own Kakama.  “No, there’s no problem, but can I ask why?”
 
“Well… just in case, you know? You never know what’s around the next corner and all that.  If one of the Vahki gets a wire crossed and mistakes my dorm for a Rahi nest or something, I’d like to have a shield to protect us with.”
 
“That’s kind of a weird situation you’ve dreamt up there.”   
 
The other Ta-Matoran huffed.  “It’s just an example, all right? I just like to be prepared.”
 
Athir smiled and put a hand up to calm his customer.  “It’s fine, it’s fine! I was curious, that’s all.  Of course we can make it.  Can I get your name?”
 
His customer relaxed.  “Keahi.” 
 
“Nice to meet you, Keahi.  My name is Athir.  I can have this done for you in, say, two days?”
 
“You’re sure?”
 
“Pretty sure.”
 
 
 
The group stopped and looked up at the massive door etched into the cavern wall.  Agni stepped forward and ran a hand over it.  “There’s carvings here, but I can’t read them.” 
 
Athir hopped forward to take a look.  “Neither can I, but it looks like they match the markings we’ve found at other labs the Great Beings left behind.”
 
“Well then,” said Keahi, “anyone have any ideas for how to get this thing open? And don’t say ‘go get Toa Tahu’.”  Nuhrii shuffled from foot to foot in embarrassment.
 
“Why not knock?” said Athir.
 
“On what?”
 
Athir pointed to a square etched in the rock on one side of the door.  “On this,” he said, and rapped a hand against it.  A blue-white glow danced along the carving, and there was a rumble from deep within. 
 
A voice spoke from a direction none of them could identify.  Worker-class Matoran identified.  Access granted.
 
Slowly, ponderously, the door slid open.
 
 
 
Keahi looked over the shield with something like wonder, and Athir felt a grin come to his face.  “I take it you find it satisfactory?”
 
“Satisfactory?” the other Matoran replied, and gave it a few experimental swishes through the air.  “It’s incredible!”
 
“It’s nothing that special, really.”
 
“So? Look at it! I feel like a thousand mad Rahi couldn’t break through this shield!”
 
 “I, uh, wouldn’t try that if I were you.  It’s just a regular old shield.”
 
“Bah! It doesn’t matter how regular it is, the important part is that it’s there.”  Keahi gave it a twirl.  “As long as I carry this shield, Ta-Metru will stand stronger!”
 
Athir laughed, then put a hand to his mask in embarrassment as his customer shot him a glare.  “Sorry, sorry.  You sound like you’re ready to go out on patrol with Toa Lhikan, is all.”
 
“Would that I could, but Lhikan is far too protective to ever let us Matoran aid him directly.  So I shall have to make do with a shield and my resolve.”
 
Athir’s grin widened.  “You know, keep on like that and you’ll get me thinking that’s all you’d even need.”
 
Keahi gave the shield another spin, and the smile on his face was so broad Athir almost felt sorry for reminding him he still had to pay.
 
 
 
The group entered the room slowly, all eyes open for trouble.  Around them, machines that had laid dormant for millennia sprang into life, the same blue-white energy shooting through them and breathing power into screens and pistons that jutted out haphazardly from every corner.
 
Athir gave a low whistle, and Keahi turned to him with a smile.  “See? Us guardsmen do find cool things once in a while.” 
 
“No kidding.”  His friend smiled in return, and Keahi felt a simple, familiar happiness float up inside him.  “Think we should go back and get a Toa or someone to look at this?”
 
He clapped the maskmaker on the shoulder.  “Now, now, Athir! It’s our duty to make sure this place is safe and sound, isn’t it? Come on, let’s have a look.”
 
“Doesn’t that imply that if it’s not safe and sound, we’ll be getting the worst of it?” Athir teased back.
 
“That’s what the guard is all about!”
 
 
 
“You’re completely nuts,” Athir said as he stared down into the hatch.
 
“It’s just a Le-Metru chute, Athir! How else are we going to get to Onu-Metru in time for the party?”
 
“We could use our feet.”
 
“We will be using them! Just not on solid ground.  Now come on, you just hop in and you’re on your way, simple as that.”  Athir opened his mouth to protest, but found the proposition stymied by Keahi grabbing him by the arm and launching them both into the waiting tube below.
 
Thirty kio and one boarding station later, the crafter spat out a mouthful of liquid protodermis.  Keahi clapped him on the back.  “See? Not that bad!”
 
Athir shook his head to work the last of the liquid out of the cracks of his mask.  “Remind me to thank the Great Spirit that I was created a Ta-Matoran.”
 
 
 
Keahi poked a screen experimentally.  “Blasted Great Beings, they never make anything easy to use,” he muttered.
 
Athir gave him a friendly tap on the top of the head, and he turned.  The maskmaker pointed to a metal chair that sat facing the row of screens.  “Maybe we ought to try using it like any sane person would?”
 
“Well, if you’re so sure about how to use all these things, be my guest,” replied the guardsman, a smile on his face. 
 
The maskmaker replied by shooting back a mischievous grin of his own and hopping into the chair.  There was a pause, and then the screens sprang to life.  Text scrolled across them unreadably fast, a mixture of Matoran and Agori that not even Mata Nui’s blessing seemed to give them the ability to read.  “What is this?” muttered Keahi.  A hint of worry sprung up within his breast, and he turned to Athir.
 
The maskmaker had furrowed his brow.  “I’m- not sure. It feels like-“ He shuddered, then half-leapt, half-fell out of the chair.  Keahi caught him before he could tumble to the ground. 
 
“Athir!” he yelled, and shook his friend by the shoulders.  He could hear the clanking footsteps of the other guardsmen as they came running in response.
 
Athir shook his head.  “I’m fine.  I’m fine.  It felt odd in that chair, is all.  For some reason, all I could think of was the Matoran Spheres.”  He shuddered again, and without thinking Keahi put his arms around the other Ta-Matoran.  Athir’s eyes widened.  “Um, Keahi? I said I was fine.”
 
“Oh.”  He backed off and scratched the back of his head awkwardly.  “Sorry, it’s just – I know you don’t like to remember those.”
 
“I don’t think any of us do,” Athir replied, and took a deep breath.  “But I’m good now.”
 
“You’re sure?”
 
“Pretty sure.”
 
 
 
Athir had thought he was ready to climb Ko-Metru’s knowledge towers, but that had been two dozen flights of stairs ago.  As he rounded the bend, he stopped for a moment and leaned against the shimmering wall, his breath coming in narrow gasps.
 
“Come on, Athir, no lollygagging about!”
 
He glanced up to see Keahi standing atop the next set of stairs, looking down at him with an impatient smile.  The maskmaker grinned back weakly.  “Not all of us spend our days scrambling up and down half-finished buildings, Keahi.”
 
“That’s no excuse for poor fitness! Now up and at it, Athir.  I didn’t get dragged along on this little sightseeing trip of yours just to drag you around!”
 
I wonder if you didn’t, thought Athir.  He took a few deep breaths and winced at the pain shooting through his lungs.  “Fine, fine,” he called up.  “I’m on my way.”
 
“That’s the spirit! Come on now, up those stairs, one, two, one, two…”
 
 
 
Vakama nodded to Agni.  “Thank you for the report, Captain.  We will send a larger group out to explore these ruins when we have an opportunity.  You are free to go.”
 
Agni gave a swift salute.  “Yes, Turaga.”  He turned to leave, and the rest of the guard made to follow suit.

“Keahi, Athir.  A moment, would you?”
 
Keahi turned back in surprise.  At his side, Athir shot him a puzzled look, and the guardsman could do nothing but shrug in response.  “Yes, sir?”

“I would like to hear more about this machine the two of you found.  It is quite rare for any of the Great Beings’ technologies to be found in working condition, and rarer still for them to give any sort of response to our attempts to use them.”

“I think it was some kind of control system, sir!” Keahi was shooting off the words almost before the Turaga had finished speaking.  “It responded quite strongly to Athir sitting in its chair, sir! I think it might have been in charge of the other machinery we found, sir!”
 
The Turaga tilted his head.  “And… why exactly do you think that, Guardsman?”

Keahi opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again-
 
“Because he has no idea, but he doesn’t want to admit it, Turaga.”  Athir’s voice was teasing.  “Keahi, maybe let me handle this one?”
 
He scratched the back of his head sheepishly.  “…I suppose you’d better ask Athir, sir.”
 
Was it his imagination, or did the Turaga smile for a second as his eyes jumped from Keahi to his friend? “Very well, then.  Athir?”

The blacksmith furrowed his brow.  “I’m really not sure, Turaga.  When I sat in it, it felt… strange.  Like it was interfacing with me as much as I was interfacing with it.”

The Turaga looked confused.  “Interfacing?”  Keahi frowned – he didn’t know the word either.
 
Athir blinked.  “Erm.  It was like it was affecting me as much as I was affecting it.  Which wasn’t very much on my part, granted.” 
 
“Do you have any idea what it might do?”
 
“I don’t know,” replied Athir.  “I’m sorry, but I really don’t.  To be honest, I can’t remember all that well – it’s all a big blurry mess.”
 
Vakama glanced over at Keahi, and the guardsman caught the hint of concern in the Turaga’s eyes.  “Listen, Athir.  There is much we do not know about our creators and what they have left behind.  It will do no good to chide you for actions already taken, but I would ask that you exercise more prudence in the future – even if our guard is hardly an environment that encourages as much.”
 
Athir looked down.  “Sorry, Tura-“
 
“He doesn’t need to apologize, sir!” Keahi all but yelled over his friend.  “I was the one who took him along, and I was the one who found the machine.  I should have exercised more prudence, sir!”
 
The Turaga looked momentarily taken aback, then shook it off.  “Guardsman Keahi.  I believe I said I am not chiding Athir.  I am simply giving the both of you advice that you may do well to heed.”
 
“I will, Turaga.”  Athir’s voice was clear and level.  “And I’m sorry for Keahi being so loud.”
 
The Turaga chuckled.  “Well, he always has been, as I’m sure we both know.  That’s all, you two.  If anything comes to mind, my door is always open.”
 
The two Ta-Matoran nodded and left the hut.  Outside, Keahi turned to Athir.  “You really can’t remember anything?”
 
“I really can’t.  It’s just a jumble of words and schematics and code, nothing concrete.”
 
“Schematics and… codes?” He knew the words, but they were unfamiliar in his mouth. 
 
Athir blinked again.  “Sorry.  Pictures and… data? No, I mean numbers.  Streams of numbers I’ve never seen before.”
 
Keahi felt a hint of unease.  “Listen, Athir, do you need to lie down? My place isn’t far from here, you could spend the night there-“
 
Athir waved him away.  “I’m sure, Keahi.  I’m in proper condition.  I’m a little tired, is all.”
 
There was something odd about his friend’s words, but when he made to speak again he saw in Athir’s eyes a familiar exasperation, and an old embarrassment rose up.  Athir always told him he worried too much - if he was tired, the last thing he needed was for Keahi to talk his ear off with pointless questions.
 
“Alright then.  I’ll stop over tomorrow morning.”
 
Athir chuckled.  “I really don’t think you have to, Keahi.  But I wouldn’t mind.”
 
 
 
“Come on, come on, come on- YES!”
 
Athir winced at Keahi’s shout of victory.  Around them, the rest of the Ta-Metru stands were going wild, and on the shifting coliseum floor below the Ta-Matoran launcher who had just scored the team’s 21st and winning point was being mobbed by his teammates.  Keahi grabbed Athir’s arm.  “Did you see that?” he yelled, “That shot was incredible!”

Athir smiled and nodded.  “I saw it, I saw it.  And I’m hearing it plenty right now.”  Around them, Turaga Dume’s voice boomed out the final score, and the crowd’s cheering intensified.  Athir grimaced and put his hands to his ears.  Keahi tilted his head in concern and said something, but Athir couldn’t make out a word over the roar of the stands.  He shook his head.  Keahi frowned and tugged him towards the stairs out.
 
Inside the coliseum’s walls, the roar had faded to a buzzing din, and Athir lowered his hands from his ears.  Keahi looked him over with worry.  “Are you alright?”
 
“I’m fine, Keahi.  I’m not used to things being quite that loud, is all.  They make the Great Furnace sound like one of my dormmates snoring!”
 
“Oh, I- sorry, Athir.  I didn’t realize you hated noise this much.”
 
“Well, this is my first Akilini match.  I guess I wasn’t expecting it to get so raucous.”
 
Keahi’s eyes widened.  “Your first? You didn’t tell me that!”  Athir grinned sheepishly, and the other Ta-Matoran shook his head.  “I can’t believe you sometimes, Athir.  You’d think you didn’t even live in the same city as the rest of us!”
 
“I’d say you’re doing plenty to change that, though.”
 
“Well, there’s nothing to be gained by sitting around in a forge all day!” Keahi’s grin was wide and confident.  There was another cheer from inside the stadium, and the smile vanished.  “But we don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.  Come on, let’s get something to eat instead.”
 
“No,” said Athir, a bit surprised at the strength of his own voice.  Keahi’s eyes went wide.  “I saw how excited you were to get these tickets - I don’t want to make you miss out on the celebration because I’m not used to a bunch of Ta-Matoran yelling.”
 
“But-“ his friend seemed uncertain.  “You looked really uncomfortable back there.  You shouldn’t be hurting just so I can watch some trophy get handed down.”
 
“Honestly, Keahi, I’m fine.  And I can always stay back here until it’s over.”
 
Keahi’s face fell, and he looked away.  “No, I just- I wanted us to spend the day together, that’s all.  It was tough getting those tickets, but – I thought we could both have a good time like this.”
 
Athir blinked.  Keahi was – upset? Over something like this? He reached out and took his friend’s hand, and the other Matoran looked up.  Athir smiled.  “Alright.  Let’s go get a bite to eat, then.  But you have to promise we’ll catch the next game that isn’t quite so huge.  Sound fair?”
 
“You’re sure you’re alright with that?”
 
“Pretty sure.”
 
Keahi looked down at their hands for a moment, then looked up with the same confident smile he’d worn the day Athir had given him his shield.  “Deal, then.  Come on – there’s this great place out in Le-Metru with fruit they grow upside-down from the bottom of the travel chutes…”
 
 
 
It was a game of Kolhii that made Keahi notice.
 
The Agori team had made a spectacular triple-play, a block that turned into a pass that turned into a shot from across the arena that left half the audience baying in dismay and the other half roaring in victory.  Keahi turned away from the match in disgust to Athir.  “We shouldn’t have hesitated making that shot.  Can you believe they left an opening like that?”
 
“Yes, I can,” replied the maskmaker.  “After all, it just happened.  Why would you doubt it?”
 
Keahi blinked.  “Athir?”
 
His friend blinked too, and then shook his head.  “Sorry, I’ve got a bit of a headache, is all.   It’ll pass.”
 
He could feel the seed of worry that had planted itself in his chest two weeks ago suddenly take root.  “That didn’t sound like a headache to me! That sounded like – I don’t know what it sounded like, but not like a headache.”
 
“I’m fine,” Athir said.  “There’s nothing wrong.”
 
“Are you sure?”
 
“I’m certain.  Absolutely certain.”
 
A chill ran down his back.  “Athir, you’re never certain.”
 
His friend blinked.  They stared at each other for a moment, a look of puzzlement on the maskmaker’s face, and then Keahi grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out of the stands.
 
 
 
Keahi paced back and forth across the floor of the forge, lost in thought.  Athir watched him in silence, the bellows behind him still hissing with the steam of having been doused for the night.
 
“I’m worried, Athir,” the builder finally said.  “Toa Lhikan hasn’t been seen in days.  The Vahki are being rougher than ever.  Something’s going on, and I don’t know what.”
 
Athir sighed.  “Listen, Keahi.  There’s no point in worrying so much about it.  We’re just a pair of Matoran – if something is happening, we’re not going to be the ones to solve it.”
 
“That’s just it, though!” Keahi shot back.  “I can’t – I can’t stand feeling like something awful is on the horizon and not facing it head-on.  We should be doing something – anything – setting up a watch, asking questions-“
 
“Keahi!” Athir stood and approached his friend.  “Listen to me.  I know you’re upset.  You’re always worrying that something bad will happen.  But you can’t let yourself get psyched out like this.”
 
The builder looked down miserably.  “But if I don’t –“
 
“Someone will.  We’re not alone in this, Keahi.  If there’s trouble on the way, Toa Lhikan will return and take care of it, or Turaga Dume will do something.”
 
“And what are we supposed to do until then?”
 
Athir put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.  “Grin and bear it.  And if something does happen, well – I made you that shield for a reason, right?”
 
Keahi glanced over his shoulder at the shining yellow disk and seemed to relax a bit.  “You did, that’s true.”
 
The maskmaker gave him a reassuring smile.  “And hey, odds are you’ll never have to use it.”
 
“Can you be sure about that?”
 
“Pretty sure.”
 
 
 
The titanic figure sighed, an enveloping, ominous sound, and drummed his fingers against the massive staff he held.  Keahi looked up at Artakha expectantly.  “Well?”
 
“You were right to bring him to me,” the creator said.  “In all my years I have never seen anything quite like this.  It is as though I am seeing my own work done a thousand times more skillfully.”
 
“And what does that mean?” he snapped back.  At his side, Athir gave only the slightest of winces at the show of disrespect.  Artakha looked down at the two of them as though he were unsure how to deal with being yelled at by a being a fourth his size.
 
“It means, young Matoran, that your friend is undergoing repairs as we speak.  Whatever machine the Great Beings left behind that he felt the need to strap himself into has begun a systemic repair and reset of each and every part of him – including his mind.”
 
“This is repair? This doesn’t look like repair! This looks like he’s forgetting how to enjoy a Kolhii match!”
 
“That is because he is,” Artakha replied sternly.  He gestured to a gold-and-white Matoran who stood silently behind the pair.  “Enea.”
 
She nodded.  “What Master Artakha means to say is that according to the research we have conducted on the original plans of the Great Beings, Matoran were not designed to act independently of their assigned systems.  Or, put simply, our consciousness is a glitch.”
 
Keahi looked at her like she had grown a second head.  “What?
 
“I assure you, Guardsman Keahi, I have spent much more time pondering the implications than most ever will.  Matoran are not supposed to feel emotion, be it joy, friendship, hatred, envy – it simply does not have a place within the Great Beings’ original design for us.  Of course, that does not change the fact that we do feel these things – but, unfortunately, it does mean that the repair systems the Great Beings left behind read our personalities as anomalies to be corrected.”
 
A picture was beginning to form in Keahi’s mind, and for not even a second did he entertain the idea of accepting it.  “That’s insane!”
 
She smiled sadly.  “No.  It is extremely sane, and quite extremely horrible.  Believe me, there is a difference.”
 
Athir’s voice was quiet.  “But I don’t feel any different.  I really don’t.”
 
“I know,” she said gently.  “That’s how we know it’s happening.”
 
There was a pounding in Keahi’s head now.  “Fine.  Fine.  What can we do?”
 
For the first time, the Av-Matoran showed hesitation.  Her eyes flicked over to Artakha.  The being nodded.
 
“Nothing,” she said.
 
 
 
The sphere was open and waiting, silent save an eerie hum, an enveloping red light spilling out from it.  Athir struggled against the Keerahk’s metal grip, the yells of other panicking Matoran surrounding him.  It’s a tomb, he thought, Great Spirit be good, it’s a tomb.  The Vahki pushed him towards it, slowly, inexorably-
 
 “LET HIM GO, YOU METAL SACK OF KRIKANLO DUNG!”
 
The Vahki turned from Athir just in time for Keahi to smash into its face shield-first like a giant red-and-yellow bullet.  It let out an electronic squawk and stumbled back, releasing its grip on Athir.  The Ta-Matoran dropped to the ground with a grunt.  “Keahi!”
 
The builder stood, gasping.  “Athir, run! Get out of he-“
 
A staff slammed against the back of his head, and Keahi yelled in agony.  The Bordakh grabbed him as he fell limply to the ground.  Without thinking, Athir leapt forward
 
The Keerahk stood and let the maskmaker slam himself into the tip of its staff.  There was a flash of white, and then nothing.
 
 
 
He held Athir’s hand on the drive back from Artakha’s fortress.  The vehicle beneath them seemed on the verge of collapsing every time it hit the slightest bump in the road – unsurprising, given that the Agori that had sold it to him had warned it was quite literally made of whatever was lying around – but Keahi hardly noticed. 
 
“Athir,” he started, and then stopped.  His friend was looking out the window in silence.
 
For a while they rode on.
 
“Athir,” he tried again.  “Do – do you believe what they said?”
 
“Yes,” he replied tonelessly.  “I can see no reason not to.”
 
“But – do you understand what that means?”
 
“Yes, perfectly.”
 
For a few more seconds they rode on in silence, and then Keahi began cursing at the top of his lungs, a string of expletives that would have given Agni more than enough justification to leave him on armor-shining duty for the next seven months.
 
Finally, his voice grew hoarse, and then there was nothing but the rumble of the road beneath them.
 
Athir squeezed his hand.  Keahi’s head turned so fast he was fairly sure he heard something in his neck crack.  “Athir?”
 
The other Ta-Matoran gave a weak smile.  “I never did like to see you upset,” he said.
 
 
 
He opened his eyes slowly and winced at the light.  There was a pounding in his head that matched the rumble of the waves lapping up against the shore as he picked himself up from the sandy beach.  An orange-and-red Turaga stood before him, concern etched across his Huna.  “Are you alright?” The Turaga asked.
 
His voice was weak.  “Where- who-?”
 
“It’s alright.  This is the island of Mata Nui.  You have arrived with your fellow Matoran.  The other Turaga and I will explain more shortly.  For now, just focus on standing.  What is your name?”
 
A name.  He could remember a name.  He opened his mouth to say it, then shook his head.  No, that wasn’t right.  His name was-
 
 “Athir.  I am Athir.”
 
“Welcome, Athir.”
 
 
 
They made camp that night under the stars.  The hunk of metal that had carried them this far had begun to splutter and shudder, and Keahi felt fairly certain that if they pressed on their journey would end in a rather unspectacular crash.  The two sat cross-legged on the desert sand, looking up.
 
“See that?” said Keahi, pointing with the hand that wasn’t clutching Athir’s harder than he cared to admit.  “Good old Red Star.  We used to make jokes about it in the guard back on the island.  We’d say Mata Nui had forgotten to put out his torch when he went to sleep, and one day he was going to wake up and all his curtains would be on fire.”
 
Athir gave another weak smile in response.  “Didn’t you do that once?”
 
“And now you know why they called me our star guardsman.”
 
Athir laughed, a small and fragile sound.  Keahi felt a tightening in his chest that was either hope or utter grief; he had a feeling the two weren’t that far apart.
 
“Listen, Athir-“ he started, then stopped, then barreled on.  “I just- I know you can beat this.  I don’t care what some old high-and-mighty wrenchman says, we’re not just some tool that you can reset when you’re done with it.  Right? We’re stronger than that.”
 
Athir’s head dipped in what might have been a nod.  “Yes, you are.”
 
“Not just me, all right? You.  And Agni.  And all the others.  We never back down, because we have courage.  And from courage comes strength.”
 
“You always did go on about that during Kolhii matches.”
 
“It’s true! Toa Hahli herself learned that from me.”
 
Athir’s smile grew.  “Well, stick a feather in your mask, then.”
 
“I would if I had any,” he laughed back, and that was when he realized how utterly hollow his own voice had become.  He took a shuddering breath.  “Athir, just – it’s going to be all right.  I’m going to protect you, like I always have.  We’re going to make it through this.”
 
Athir’s smile shrank away.  “I want to believe that, Keahi.  I do.”
 
“Then believe it,” the guardsman said.  “Just believe it, alright? Just believing it is enough, because if you do that means you’re already more than some machine.  Just like I know you are.”
 
Athir was silent for a long time.  “I’ll try,” he finally said.
 
Keahi felt his own smile fade away, and then he was wrapping his arms around his friend once more, and this time Athir did nothing but return the gesture.
 
 
 
Athir looked up from the work order.  “A shield?” he asked.
 
The Ta-Koro forge was stuffy as always, but neither the blacksmith nor his customer took much notice.  The Matoran across from him nodded proudly.  “A shield! Jaller has decided to form a guard to better protect our village against the Makuta’s Rahi, and I shall stand as a member of it!”
 
Athir smiled.  “A guard, huh? That sounds like a good idea.  I can have this done for you in, say, two days?”
 
“That would be perfect,” the other Ta-Matoran said, then stopped.  He tilted his head a hint, as though something had surprised him.  “You – what’s your name?’
 
“I’m Athir.” 
 
“Athir?” He frowned.  “That name – have we met before?”
 
“No, I don’t think so, but-“ he stopped.  Now that he looked closely, there was something familiar about the other Ta-Matoran, some bend in his mask that he felt like he’d seen a long time ago.  “What’s your name?”
 
“Keahi,” he replied, a touch of confusion in his voice.  “Maybe I’ve seen you around the village?”
 
“Maybe,” Athir replied.  “That’s probably it.”  He glanced down at the work order.  “Right.  Two days.  I’ll get right on it.”
 
Keahi nodded, still a bit of hesitation in his movements.  “Thanks,” he said, then turned to leave. 
 
Athir turned back to the forge and began to pick his tools and materials from the wall.  It wasn’t until he had laid out the shining yellow ore before him that he realized he was smiling.
 
 
 
When he opened his eyes to the cold morning light, he knew Athir was gone.
 
On the ground next to him he found a letter in the shaky handwriting of one still not accustomed to Agori pen and paper.  For a long time he looked at it, unwilling to pick it up and read the words that he knew were waiting there.
 
And then he gathered his courage and did.
 
 
 
Keahi,
 
I should have written this sooner, because I don’t know if I can write this the right way anymore.  It’s getting hard to focus on things that aren’t concrete; I can look at our ride and see that it needs the third fuel catalyzer in the secondary drive engine replaced with an equivalent part 4ACF2, but I can’t think of any of the jokes you always used to tell.  Still, I’m going to try.
 
When we talked last night, I really could believe that things were all right.  When I looked at you I could still feel the familiarity and happiness that came with every talk we’ve had and every Kolhii match we’ve watched together.  But if I looked away, even for a second, it was gone.  I can remember that I felt that way, but it’s like remembering what I made for dinner yesterday.  It’s just a fact.
 
You don’t remember much of Metru Nui, do you? None of us really do, except the Turaga.  But I can now.  The repair has been going through my memories and fixing them one-by-one.  So many of them are about you – the day we met (it was in a forge), the times you pushed me to try something new, the last minutes before the Vahki shoved us in those spheres and you tried to save me.
 
The repair isn’t stopping.  I should be scared, but I’m not, and I know I should be scared of that, but I’m still not.  But the pain’s gone along with the fear, so at least I can write the things I still know are important for you to read:

  • I know there weren’t many others back in Metru Nui who even talked to you.  Something about being too much of a worrier.  I know I was your first friend.
  • I know that if I hadn’t met you, I would’ve stayed a timid forger, unwilling to give the rest of the world a shot.  I know I wouldn’t have tried to fight back against the Vahki when they put us in the Spheres.
  • I know that whenever I was with you, it felt different than whenever I was with my other friends.  I know you were special to me, even if I can’t understand why anymore.
  • I know that if I don’t go now, you’ll have to see me at the end.  I don’t want you to remember me as a chunk of metal, and I don’t want to see the day where I look at you and feel nothing. 
  • I know this hurts, but I know you’ll be fine – I’m sure of that.  

Thank you for everything. 
 
-Athir
 
 
 
Keahi began to tear up the paper almost before he was done reading it.  He tore and tore and tore, reducing every blasted word to so many scraps, and when it was done he let them slip through his fingers and go dancing away on the wind to be buried in the desert sands. 
 
“Stupid,” he muttered, one hand curling into a fist.  “Stupid, stupid, both of us stupid, both of us so completely stupid, stupid me for never having the courage to tell him, stupid him for knowing and not telling me, stupid Great Beings and their stupid machines, stupid world, stupid universe-“
 
Still cursing to himself, he climbed into the vehicle and pointed it in the direction of New Atero. 
 
He was still a guardsman, after all.  There were things that needed protecting, and if he didn’t have the strength to do it, who would?
 

----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Author's note: This was an old fic of mine that was lost in the past downtime.  Somehow I never got around to reposting it, but here it is again! As always, comments and critique are appreciated.


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