Męka Niki goes on a mission to save a city, but winds up dealing with an internal dilemma in the process of doing so.
Part 1: The Train
Męka Niki pressed her polar bear snout to the glass, watching as the train clanked through a seemingly endless stretch of barren tunnel; as she saw this, a fitting expression of her life. Turning around, she sat down in the seat that she had been allotted next to the two other passengers of the tiny train.
One of the other two checked his watch. His wrist slipped slightly as he checked it, allowing Męka Niki to see the YS engraved on the back, short for Yarden…something that Męka Niki had never bothered to learn. "Five minutes to go," he said. "Nobody minds if I remind you all of the mission status?"
The other remained impassive. He looked rather like the one who had just spoken, but younger by twenty years or more. If his youth had given him anything over the older man, it was not a sudden knack for speaking at appropriate intervals.
Męka Niki shrugged. No one else was doing anything; seeing no response, she might as well respond for the other, and as she had nothing better to do, she might as well listen.
The older dolphin, Yarden, picked up on the state of affairs. "All right then," he said. "Let me just do a quick checkover of why we're here and why we're here."
Męka Niki noted with interest the changes in inflection.
"First of all," continued Yarden, "our mission is to stop a man named Glow and his backing agents, the Gone. That's where you come in, Eric." He gestured to the other dolphin. "We're stopping them from destroying a power plant in Metropolis. Now I know a thing or two about these power plants, but not nearly enough. That's where you come in, Męka Niki. I hear you've had a lot of experience with these steam-powered plants back in your dimension?"
"Enough," said Męka Niki disinterestedly.
"And I, meanwhile, will act as our leader, guiding us through these hard times," said Yarden, somewhat jokingly.
Męka Niki groaned. That line is incredibly cliché.
Eric spoke suddenly. His voice was cold and grating. "No matter how hard these times may get," he said, "I am willing and able to fight—and die, if need be—to get us through this. You may count on me to follow you unfailingly, father."
Yarden looked taken aback. "I meant it as a joke," he said. "It may be difficult, but I didn't actually mean it that seriously…"
"I honestly don't care if I do die," said Męka Niki boredly. "I'm terrible at combat, as evidenced by the easy beating I got the other day, so I'm probably going to kick the bucket this time around. But honestly, there's no point in me still being here, so I might as well…" Męka Niki trailed off and looked at the ceiling,
Something made her look away from the ceiling. It was Yarden's hand on her shoulder.
"Męka Niki," he said quietly, "I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling this way. I know you're at risk here, but please, try for me to pull through the mission if you can. Your death isn't worth—"
The cliff stood ahead of me. A few more steps into nothingness.
Did I really want to do this?
There was nothing left, though. Ten years had yielded nothing. I knew more years would never yield anything.
I took another step towards the cliff.
The hand on my shoulder—
Yarden's hand stayed firm, a comforting ge—
"Niki, please don't do this."
I looked up. It was my father.
"Niki," he said. "I know your life has been bad. But you don't need to do this to yourself. Some day, you're going to find something in life to make you feel worthwhile."
"No!" I yelled. "It's never going to happen! I don't see anything that will ever help!"
"Niki," he said—I still remember feeling soothed just by the gentle tone of his voice—"stay alive for me. Even if you don't find something of use, you staying here will help me. I'm helping retain the power plants. You staying here helps me do my job, as I know each day, when I come home, I'll see you. You bring me joy through being here." He knelt down to put both hands on my shoulders. "Please, stay here for me."
I managed to breathe. All right, if not for myself, I could at least find something of use…
"I'll stay here," I said, walking away from the cliff. "For you…and…the plants—"
"The power plant!" exclaimed Męka Niki.
Yarden and Eric exchanged confused looks.
Męka Niki regained her composure. "I meant, aren't we due to get there soon?" she said.
"Yes, we're here," said Yarden, standing up.
Part 2: Lost
Męka Niki walked through the streets of Metropolis. Boredom had set in again, and sadness from her earlier flashback. It felt like days of walking, even though Yarden's wristwatch clearly stated that it had only been fifteen minutes since they arrived.
"Why can't I ever find this useful moment?" exclaimed Męka Niki.
"I'm sorry?" said Eric—
I really do not want to explain to him.
You must. He's all you ha—
Męka Niki stifled the memory.
"I meant, when are we ever going to find this power plant?" said Męka Niki, deliberately changing her meaning. "I'd think these Metropolis people would have better maps."
Yarden looked uncomfortable. "That's the thing…there aren't maps," he said.
"Digital maps?" prompted Męka Niki.
"None of that, either," said Yarden. Then, lowering his voice for effect: "No cell towers."
"GPS?" said Męka Niki.
"Unfortunately, that's not how things work here," said Yarden.
"Wow, these people have every method of not being navigable," said Męka Niki. Then, reflectively: "Sounds like home." Her voice turned bitter. "But there, we have a good reason."
"Here we have a reason too," said Yarden. It was natural that he wouldn't want others to insult this place. After all, he lived here. "I suppose it's not a good reason, more decades of decay and negligence, but it's not really something that you or I could do anything about…"
"Of course I couldn't do anything about it," muttered Męka Niki. "I'm just a useless idiot who doesn't even live here."
Yarden didn't answer her. Surprising, given that Męka Niki hadn't said it all too quietly.
He didn't respond for the next few seconds, either. Męka Niki decided to check if he was all right.
He was locked in a battle, or rather, a standoff. He and Eric had the guns from their hip-holsters pointed at a man with a huge sphere in his chest, a glowing orb filling the hole in the center of the sphere that made his shoulders all too broad. Had it not been for the sphere, Męka Niki thought reflectively, he almost would have looked like Eric.
She couldn't analyze, though. Not without risking her friends' lives.
A whirring sound accompanied the procedure that she couldn't feel, the action of folding in the hand of one arm and folding out the chainsaw. It was clunky, and she barely understood why, when she got a pair of metal arms, she had had chainsaws installed. This would prove useful, though, if only in the mildest way possible.
She stuck a metal arm in between Eric and Yarden and their attacker. "No more standoff," she informed them. "If you want to fight, you'll have to actually do it. Stop st—"
Męka Niki stumbled backwards, a dart having hit her in the leg from the sphere-man. A beam of fire suddenly shot out of his chest. "DUCK!" yelled Yarden, and he and Eric jumped in opposite directions, leaving the beam to explode harmlessly in the middle of the road. Męka Niki admired Eric and Yarden's coordination. Being a father-and-son duo had some benefits, it seemed.
The dolphin whose chest had formerly glowed jumped down. "Shame," he said. "I can't fire again." He whipped two swords off his back. "Let's see if your melee combat is as good as your range." He suddenly leapt upon Yarden, only to have a bullet glance off his back from Eric's gun.
"Reaction times are still poor, Glow," said Eric. "Your reactions times are so identical to the man that I took out yesterday…" Another few bullets flew off first his back, then his side, then his front as Glow turned to Eric. "I do believe," continued Eric, "that you are the man who I took out yesterday. So they had to replace your chest, huh? Surprising that they didn't have to replace your abdomen too."
"The Gone," said Glow, ignoring Eric's sarcastic comments. "They did it." More bullets flew off. "You know, they were the ones who put us in the same place; to see who was fit to survive."
"Evidently, I was, as I exited the victor," said Eric, a note of smugness in his voice.
A clanging sound rang off of Glow's back as Yarden attacked it with a blade. Glow paid him no heed, which made sense, as he apparently couldn't be harmed by the blades, given that he didn't collapse upon being hit with what would have otherwise been a fatal blow. Męka Niki opted to continue watching and to avoid attacking, as she'd similarly be useless.
"You believe that you were the only one fit to survive?" said Glow. "The Gone restored me to life, so evidently, they saw something in my chaos. Perhaps, you're going to see in a minute why they kept me and didn't take to you—"
Glow's leg shot back and kicked Yarden into the wall, where he lay, looking slightly dazed and incredibly confused.
"My distractions are superb," said Glow, leering. "Yours are terrible. They send me to cause these distractions, something that they'd never trust you with, but that I like. So, how about we call it a day? A day where you end up very dead."
Yarden had gotten up and was now whispering in Męka Niki's ear. He had to stand on tiptoe to reach the ears on the top of Męka Niki's head. She would have been amused normally.
"If he's just being a distraction," Yarden continued, "you go off and find the power plant. Leave us to take out Glow."
Męka Niki nodded and sprinted down a side street.
Part 3: Fight
Męka Niki turned and raced down a different street.
Also dead end.
Męka Niki moved back to the site of the battle. Both side streets had been dead ends, so she went back the way she'd come to turn to the side there.
Męka Niki had a sudden sensation of falling. Picking herself up, she saw a jackal in a black robe doing the same.
"Oh, fancy meeting you here," he said. His voice was rough, but he was evidently trying to sound pleasant in a mocking fashion. "You're here to take out Glow? Allow me to introduce you to—THE GONE."
He flashed an ID card from his pocket. It read "Gone Agent #5711".
"I guess I'm taking you down, then," said Męka Niki.
She staggered backwards. A dagger blow had glanced off her arm, painlessly as that arm was made of metal and had no pain receptors. She placed that arm in defense of herself and swung her chainsaw arm at the agent, missing as he leapt to the side. Another blow descended on the defensive arm, then another. He kicked her backwards, then stabbed her arm to a level where he had to withdraw his dagger, the dagger that she could not feel. He stuck out his tongue at her, then fled.
Męka Niki had half a mind to pursue him, but opted to continue in pursuit of the power plant.
Then he stuck his head around the corner.
"You're unfit to survive," he said. "Your slow reflexes make you likely to die, sooner or later. There's no point in you still being here, so you might as well—"
"SHOO!" yelled Męka Niki, then waved her chainsaw at him. He disappeared from sight—
They were the ones who put us together; to see who was fit to survive.
You're unfit to survive.
You believe that you were the only one fit to survive?
Fit to survive—
Fit to survive—
I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I couldn't feel anything, except in my back and head. Even then, at fourteen, my arms and legs were metal and felt nothing. I felt nothing, except a desire to leave this world. Something I'd never do, because Dad wanted me here.
Speaking of Dad, he entered the room. Perfect timing. I groaned.
"Everything okay, Niki?" he asked with concern.
"I'm Męka Niki now," I said. I drew the word on a piece of paper nearby.
"What's the cedilla for?" he asked, pointing at the curly symbol under the e.
"It's a word in some language that AJ knows a bit of," I said. "It means—"
I really do not want to explain to him.
You must. He's all you ha—
"—torture," I said. "That's my life. Bound in this world where I have nothing but pain, bogged down by everything, meaning nothing, costing you money to feed me and power this generator on my back that makes my limbs work, just…
I couldn't believe what was coming out of my eyes. I'd never cry. I was too old for this. It was shameful. Why?
"Keep hanging on," he said gently. "Your day to help will come eventually. Some day, you will be able to help someone besides me. Especially now that you have these mechanical parts, you have a unique skill that few others can match. Don't give up hope. Some day, you'll be able to help in a way that only you can do. Don't give up hope."
Don't give up hope—
Don't give up hope—
Męka Niki breathed heavily. She still needed to find the power plant.
"You were wrong, though, Dad," she said to no one in particular. "All my mechanical parts do is inflate the bills and make me weigh more."
She pulled herself up and set down the street to try to find the plant.
Part 4: Recap
Yarden tapped her on the shoulder. She whirled around and almost hit him.
"It's just me, Yarden," he said. "Eric and I came back from fighting Glow. He ran away. While he's gone, let's look for the plant some more."
Męka Niki nodded and continued on her path, now followed by Yarden and Eric.
"Anything interesting happen over with you?" asked Męka Niki.
Yarden shrugged one shoulder. "Just what I said, not much more," he said. "You?"
"A random Gone agent ambushed me," she said. "He said…things…nothing of note. Let's forget that."
Męka Niki pulled up against a building, staring into space as she recollected earlier events. A moment later, she was sharply knocked along by Eric, earning him a disapproving look from Yarden.
"No, really, I deserved that," said Męka Niki, now following Yarden. "I shouldn't be stuck in the past. I should be living the present…my bleak, useless, painful present…instead of my bleak, useless, painful past…"
The group walked in silence until—
"Finally, the plant!" exclaimed Yarden. "All right, we need a plan."
He pulled the three of them to the side of the road, then began rapidly explaining.
"So first, the three of us are going to scout the interior," he said. "Once we find the thing, Eric, you watch our backs, while I isolate which of the models is being used and get as much info as I can. Then, I'll watch Męka Niki's back with you, Eric, while she does the rest and fixes it all up. Does that sound good?"
Eric and Męka Niki did a thumbs-up in unison.
"All right," said Yarden, then walked over to the plant.
Męka Niki reeled as Yarden smacked into her. He looked fine, but confused.
"Glow," said Eric.
"Plan change!" said Yarden, even as he attacked Glow. "Męka Niki, do what we just said! Eric and I will stay here—"
"Oh really?" sneered Glow. "Eric will stay here and fight me? He's bound to law and all that, all he can do is bounce bullets off my back. Also, yes, flee, cowards."
"We're not fleeing," said Eric. Męka Niki had to look up to see where he was: behind the wheel of a truck with Yarden in the passenger's seat. "We're being creative. Now it's your turn."
The truck came rolling at Glow, who had to dodge. Then he dodged again, then another time, as the truck turned and turned to keep coming after him.
They've got it covered. I can take this mission.
Part 5: The Plant
Find the thing, isolate the model, fix it up.
Męka Niki ticked off the items on her fingers as she entered the plant.
The central boiler was swelling and looked like it was about to burst. The pipe to feed fuel into the boiler—Męka Niki knew what these looked like—was fine. The pipe to feed in water—equally familiar—looked fine. The orifice to exude steam, however, was blatantly wrong. A set of wires clogged it up.
"I see," said Męka Niki to no one. "The wires clog up the hole, entrap the steam, thus making the plant about to explode. Clever. Now how do I do this…"
Męka Niki turned. Then she had to look down. A small child of unknown species was looking up at her.
"What do you want?" said Męka Niki.
"Please, don't let us all die here!" said the child. "You need to fix the plant or we'll all be killed!"
Męka Niki turned back to the plant—
Some day, you're going to find something in life to make you feel worthwhile.
Some day, you will be able to help someone besides me.
"Don't let us all die here, please!"
A tiger stood over me, the one who'd just given me a beating. His tone was kindly.
"If it isn't too personal, what do you do for a living?" he asked. "With that armor, I'd assume you were a mechanic, and possibly a blacksmith. Maybe an engineer?"
"Nothing," I said. "I do nothing. I'm useless."
Wait…I was wrong...
"I don't think you're useless," he said. "You certainly have an enormous amount of ability - you just have to devote yourself."
I just need to devote myself.
He was right. I need to do this.
I can save lives. I can save her life, the girl who wants my help…and all these others.
This is what I've been living for.
Męka Niki turned to the girl. "I will do this," she said, a half-smile coming onto her face as she turned back to the pipe. "Watch me."
The chainsaw hacked at the wires. Slow, unwieldy, difficult, but it got the job done. Slowly, a small hole appeared, and steam started to hiss out. Then more and more steam came out as she removed more and more of the wires. And then, suddenly, they were all gone.
The boiler had stopped swelling; as Męka Niki saw this, a fitting expression of her life.
The girl was gone; she vaguely remembered the girl thanking her. She felt like thanking the world for giving her the moment to have lived for.
Part 6: News
Męka Niki found Yarden and Eric just outside, two seconds later.
"You look remarkably cheerful," said Eric, gesturing at Męka Niki.
An awkward silence ensued.
"Any news on your end?" said Męka Niki.
Yarden was quick to respond.
"Glow escaped," he said.
Eric cut in, "That's not important. No matter how chaotic he sees himself as, he is a tool for the Gone to harness."
"Right," said Yarden. "The important thing is that you saved the power plant."
"We saved the power plant," said Męka Niki.
Another awkward silence.
"So, any news from you?" asked Yarden. "What great thing happened in there? Besides saving the power plant, I mean."
"I found meaning," stated Męka Niki bluntly. "Now I can live on. Don't ask for more details."
- Męka Niki the Polar Bear
- Yarden Seldon the Dolphin
- Eric Seldon the Dolphin
- Męka Niki's father
- Gone Agent #5711
- A young girl
- Kennedy the Chaos Tiger
- AJ the Fox (mentioned)
- Męka Niki's final flashback was written as a flashback to this Arena battle with Max. While that battle is now non-canon, Max (the other writer of the battle) has given permission for the bit used here to have happened basically as it did here for story purposes.
- The scene where Glow explains his backstory was done in an attempt to answer the flood of questions caused by writing the other story that he appears in. Of course, I'd like to think that it's in character and works for the story, but this is still why it appeared in the first place.
- In as much as there was a soundtrack that inspired this story, it was this song. (For the record, the more I hear this song, the less I like it, but I can't deny that it provided inspiration for the general feel of this story.)