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Advent Provides (Read Top of Story)

Jul 20th, 2020 (edited)
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  1. Important Info: I will no longer be updating this story on pastebin, just in case editing it forces their hand in deleting it, or in the event that they decide to delete it on a whim.
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  3. If you happen to get this link, the full story can be found at these links:
  4.  
  5. >https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13772551/1/Advent-Provides (Uploading it slowly on this one because it messes with the formatting)
  6. >https://archiveofourown.org/works/28167819/chapters/69020580 (Everything I have written up to this point is here)
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  9.  
  10. Life’s never been all that good to me, but Advent, Advent has been real good to me. To be honest, I didn’t have much of a life until I started working for them. I mean I had friends and stuff, but I wouldn’t call, seeing everyone else enjoying themselves while I was busy recovering from an 8 hr shift at a factory, much of a life. Now look at me, I’m a mouthpiece for Advent. Sure, I’ve got to go to events, give some speeches, and maybe cut a ribbon or two, but at least I don’t shamble home like a walking corpse and pass out every day. Hell, I’ve even got to be in a few of the programs that Advent airs, and not just anyone can say they're an officially recognized hero by Advent.
  11.  
  12. Yeah, and all it took to obtain this success was giving detailed info on the meeting location, and identities of a local rebel group. Turns out they were planning something huge, and because of me they weren’t able to execute their plan. How many years has it been since I did that, 3... 4? Honestly, it doesn’t matter, I still don’t regret doing it. Because of what I did, I’m one of their shining examples of what every citizen should be. If only they knew what I really thought about them.
  13.  
  14. The truth is I have no illusions about the work I do, what I represent, and who I work for. I know full well the Elders are the monarchs of our new world, and that they do shady things, but it doesn’t really bother me. The only difference between how the world was before and how the world is now, is that the puppet masters are out in the open, and don’t look like the puppets. Maybe that’s their way of showing just how powerful they are. People worship them, and there are statues of them everywhere, it’s real fucking obvious who’s pulling the strings around here, and it certainly isn’t us humans anymore. Though it's not all bad, this new world they made really is an improvement, for me at least. When Advent took over, it reset the pecking order in society, guys at the bottom finally had a chance to make it to the top, guys like me. All it took was an opportunity, a little ambition, and you could have a brand new life ten times better than it was before. Of course nothing lasts forever. With the rebels getting more bold and organized, I’m sure Advent will lose control one day, and if that day comes I’ll make sure I’m on the right side of history, whichever side that is.
  15.  
  16.  
  17.  
  18. The advent officer to my left grumbled something to me, about how we were getting close to the new clinic. I shook myself from my thoughts, and looked up from my brown leather shoes and tan dress pants. The shoes were actually made of real leather, one of the few relics I had from the old world. My eyes drifted around the limo, there were 3 other Advent troopers in the limo with me. Two sat at the other end of the limo, and one sat closer to me and the Advent officer, their black armor reflecting the light that came in through the tinted windows. One of them sneezed and it brought my attention to the lower part of his face that his helmet didn’t cover.
  19.  
  20. I smirked. To most of the citizenry these science experiments were human, but I knew better. One of the many privileges I enjoy because of my position: knowledge of Advent. When I was getting set up with security a few years ago I specifically requested human bodyguards, and Advent provided me with these disgusting hybrids. I know how Advent operates, I wanted guards that were human, at least genetically untouched by Advent so I could ensure their loyalties were to me. Of course it wasn’t that simple, turns out Advent doesn’t employ many humans that they didn’t tamper with. At least I was one of them.
  21.  
  22. I looked over at the Advent officer that woke me from my thoughts and nodded at him. “How much time do I have left before we get there?”
  23.  
  24. The officer straightened up and looked down at something that was hidden from my view behind his rifle. “Five - minutes.” I always hated the voices of these hybrids. They sounded like they were speaking through a cheap synthesizer and it grated on my ears.
  25.  
  26. I nodded again and reached into my tan suit jacket to pull out the notecards I made for the speech I was going to give. I reviewed over the main points Advent wanted me to hit, and the jokes I was going to make. Giving these speeches had almost become second nature to me. I’ll admit, I was nervous as hell the first few times, but I’ve given dozens of them at this point, and Advent practically writes them for me. I, of course take a little pride in my work, and threw in a few pieces of humor throughout the speech to keep myself and the crowd entertained. Advent doesn’t mind. So long as it makes the speeches seem more genuine, they don’t care what I add in. Truthfully, I’m a little proud of this one, it might be my best speech yet. I’ll definitely get em with the one about going in and getting your liver fixed twice in one week because of all the drinking you’ve done.
  27.  
  28. Chuckling to myself and putting my cards away, I looked out the window to see the crowd that had gathered to watch the opening of the new gene clinic. As I went to push on the button to roll down the window next to me, I felt a hand grab my shoulder. I looked over at the Advent Officer that sat next to me. His blocky red helmet, that looked like a rejected Tetris piece, was in my face, and from what I could see he was frowning at me.
  29.  
  30. I looked at him for a few seconds, and furrowed my brow. “Look, the crowd wants to see me. Are you suggesting your security for this ceremony is inadequate?” After I finished speaking I saw his frown deepen, so I ripped my shoulder from his grip.
  31.  
  32. The officer leaned back slowly and pushed a button on the side of his helmet close to his mouth. He spoke a few sentences of that advent language they use, before facing forward.
  33.  
  34. I returned to the window and rolled it down, as it slid down my ears began to be assaulted by the increasing sound of people cheering. Once it slid all the way down people turned their attention to me. Some people pointed, some waved at me, others just looked on with a smile. There were a lot of people here, way more than I had expected. Luckily there were enough Advent troopers to keep them at bay. Seeing their excitement, and all the families that were there made me smile genuinely. I didn’t do this for Advent, I did this for myself, but also for them too. My people, and as long as I didn’t let Advent change me, they would continue to be my people. I don’t look down on them. After all, It’s not their fault they don’t know what’s going on, it’s mine. Of course I don’t let that bother me, even if I didn’t do this, someone else would. At least I’m still fully human, at least I still have my free will. I waved back at them, shifting my gaze from person to person.
  35.  
  36. After waving for a while, I sat back into the limo and grabbed my glass of ice water from the cup holder by the window and took a drink. As I went to set it back down, the limo was rocked with an explosion. Since I never wore my seatbelt in the limo, I was not attached to anything, and bounced around the cabin as the limo flew sideways and rolled. When it finally stopped moving I was laying next to the Advent Officer, on the ceiling of the limo, which was now the floor. My drink spilled all over me, and broken glass was scattered around the inside of the cabin. When I came to my senses, first I heard gunfire and a few smaller sounding explosions. As my hearing adjusted I heard screams and the sounds of people running in panic.
  37.  
  38. The Advent Officer looked at me, and grunted. “Are you injured?” He asked in a mechanical way that implied he didn’t personally care.
  39.  
  40. I looked myself over. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a few small cuts on my hand... I think I might have a bruise or two.” I held up my hand to show him.
  41.  
  42. He nodded. “Stay in the limo.”
  43.  
  44. I pointed towards the window. “It’s those damn rebels, isn’t it? I can’t believe they’d attack an event like this, in the middle of the city.”
  45.  
  46. The Advent officer ignored me and started speaking in advent on the communicator in his helmet. He stood up and barked some orders to the troopers that were in the limo. Only two of them stood up, the other one laid in an increasing pool of orange liquid. When the explosion went off it must have hit right where he was sitting, as evidenced by the large inward dent by his seat.
  47.  
  48. My eyes went wide, and I looked away. “Damn, that must have been some explosion.” I remarked to myself.
  49.  
  50. The Advent Officer waved his hand and opened the door to the limo. The two troopers rushed outside, and he followed closely behind. I poked my head out the door, and saw him point at something that was on the other side of the limo. As they began to shoot back at the rebels, I leaned back inside the limo and eyed up the Magnetic Rifle of that dead trooper. I looked around the limo and scuttled over to grab it, and scuttled back to my spot. I clutched the weapon tightly to my chest, and fiddled with it.
  51.  
  52. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to know how to use one of these, but the factory I worked in was a weapons factory that manufactured small arms for Advent. I fucking hated my old job so much. I had planned on stealing parts to build a Magnetic rifle at home, and shooting my good for nothing boss with it outside of work. That bastard was a terror, and I would have been doing everyone involved a service, but I didn’t follow through because I found “other employment”.
  53.  
  54. I pushed a button by the handle and tugged on the rail under the barrel. It activated, and I pointed it at the door that the Advent officer exited. I’ve never actually shot one of these, but I figured I didn't have to be a good shot if a rebel stuck his head through the open door 5 ft away from me.
  55.  
  56. I waited, time passed and the battle outside didn’t show any signs of slowing down. It had felt like hours had passed, but when I looked at my arm to check my phone, only a few minutes had passed. I held this rifle with a death grip and didn’t look away from that door for a second. More time passed, and after an explosion, from what I assume was a frag grenade, went off, the sounds of gunfire started to die down, and then it just stopped. I swear I could feel my heart trying to escape my chest. The inside of the limo had started to get hot now that the AC had been disabled for a while. At least my wet suit was keeping me somewhat cool. I wiped the sweat away from my eyes and focused on that door harder.
  57.  
  58. I heard multiple sets of footsteps walking up to the limo. It sounded like I was being surrounded. Then, I heard a single set of footsteps pace around the limo and stop close to the door. I held my breath and waited. I saw a guy wearing a balaclava stick his head through the door. He was wearing some shoddy grey padded armor, and it had markings on it that clearly weren’t advent. I looked right at his face, and he looked at mine. He looked at me like he had finally found his missing sock that he had been searching hours for, but that didn’t last long. His eyes flicked from me to my gun.
  59.  
  60. I think he exclaimed something, but I didn’t hear it. I was pumped full of adrenaline, and the shock of not seeing an Advent helmet poke through that door caused me to pull the trigger instinctively. Three shots rang out and splattered red gore across the wall and floor of the limo. His body collapsed inside the limo. My eyes went wide, and I stared at what I had just done for a few agonizingly long moments. My vision began to blur, but I shook myself out of it. As if possessed, I crawled over to the body and pulled it inside the limo, and reached for the door. As I grabbed the handle, bullets whizzed past and hit the wall behind me, I yanked the door shut with all of my strength.
  61.  
  62. I crawled back to my spot and tried to not look at the two corpses that I was now sharing my limo with. I looked over at the door and saw a red handprint where I grabbed the handle, and looked at my own hands to see they were covered in that rebel’s blood. I leaned against the limo, and heard the rebels shouting obscenities as they pumped as much ammo into the limo as they could. I wasn’t scared though, these things were bullet proof, and built to withstand large explosions. Not long after, I heard the sounds of multiple advent dropships pulling up to the scene. To me they were the sounds of my salvation, but to the rebels, well, I’m sure they were shitting their pants right about now. I crawled over to the window of the door I closed to get a better look at what was going on, averting my eyes from the corpses as I passed them. I saw five rebels spaced out along some cover, they were all wearing similar looking grey padded armor, and had balaclavas on. Two rebels were close together and conversing, so I focused my attention on them.
  63.  
  64. The one on the right pointed at the limo. “If you buy me some time I can get the VIP out of that vehicle.”
  65.  
  66. The one on the left shook his head. “Look, he’s just not worth it, let’s just blow up the clinic and cut our losses while we still can.” I had never been happier to hear I wasn’t valuable enough to someone.
  67.  
  68. The one on the right looked at the limo and furrowed his brow, if I didn’t know the windows were tinted I could swear he was looking right at me. “Okay, let's get out of here.”
  69.  
  70. The rebel on the left yelled to one of his cohorts, who produced a detonator and pushed a button on it. The clinic exploded, ripping apart the wooden platform I was to give my speech on, and flinging debris everywhere.
  71.  
  72. I frowned. “Guess this event’ll have to be postponed for a while then. Maybe it’s not so bad, I’ll need a break after this, a long one.” I mumbled to myself.
  73.  
  74. After thoroughly and completely ruining my speaking event, the rebels I saw ran off to some location behind my limo, except for one who stayed behind. I watched this rebel shoot at something, but from my angle I couldn’t see what he was shooting at. Suddenly he backed away from cover and began firing his rifle from the hip. I saw what looked like a 12 foot long orange armored cobra wielding a plasma rifle slither into view.
  75.  
  76. I looked closer at it. “That’s one of those viper units I’ve heard about. Advent must be taking this attack seriously if they’re deploying advance troops.”
  77.  
  78. The rebel fired his whole clip at this viper as he continued backing away slowly. He was only like 20 ft away from it, but he missed every shot, and when he went to reload, the viper was on him in an instant. It coiled around him from toe to head, and the rebel dropped his gun in shock. It was around this point, now that I got a side view of this viper, that I realized it was not an it, but a she. Her breastplate had two extensions on it that seemed to be making space for, well, tits. The armor extensions were pronounced, but not humongous.
  79.  
  80. The viper dropped her gun too. I raised an eyebrow at that, why would she disarm herself? She looked at the rebel intensely with her crimson reptilian eyes, that contained a hunger I hadn’t seen from anyone before. The rebel looked defiantly at her, and somehow pulled a grenade from his belt. As he reached for the pin, the viper grabbed both of his hands with her’s, holding his hand and the grenade with one hand. She hissed and her hood began to flair out, the rebel flinched and released the grenade, which the viper let drop onto the ground. The rebel looked at the viper, I couldn’t see much of his face, but he looked scared shitless.
  81.  
  82. The viper’s hood retracted a little, and she seemed to calm down. She squinted her eyes, and looked around the area. Whatever she saw, or didn’t see, seemed to satisfy her, and she returned her attention to the rebel.
  83.  
  84. The two just stared at each other for a few moments. She looked him up and down like a piece of meat. Her pupils dilated and her tongue was flicking in and out slowly. Then it stopped, and her pink tongue slithered out of her mouth and down to the rebel’s head. She traced lines around the exposed parts of the rebel’s neck and face using her tongue, leaving behind trails of saliva that glistened in the light. She seemed to be taking her time, and savoring... well, something. She tightened her coils around the rebel, and felt up his body with her hands. I felt dirty watching this, I wanted to turn away. To just go back to my spot and pretend there wasn’t a 12 ft long snake lady molesting some rebel outside my limo, but I just couldn’t. It was like watching an accident take place, I had to know what was going to happen.
  85.  
  86. The rebel looked just as confused as I was, and he didn’t get any less confused when the viper pulled her tongue back into her mouth, and adjusted her grip on him. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening, I couldn't see much from my window view on the ground. She lifted the rebel up higher until their hips were level, and then started rhythmically rubbing against him. Her pace steadily increased, and she broke eye contact with the rebel to scan her surroundings again.
  87.  
  88. The rebel, now realizing what was happening, shook himself out of his trance, and he began to yell. “What the fuck are you doing? Get off me you disgusting freak!”
  89.  
  90. The viper looked back at the rebel, and lowered her... eyebrows? These vipers appeared more human, than I had initially thought. She looked angry, and wrapped her tail around the rebel’s mouth. The rebel tried to kick and squirm, but her coils held tightly against him. She grinded against him more viciously, and her tongue started flicking in and out again. The rebel kept squirming, which only seemed to excite her as she rubbed against him. I heard what sounded like hissing coming from the viper, as the tip of her tail gently slapped against the side of the rebel’s head. She quickened her pace. After a few more moments of this, the grinding came to a crescendo as she tensed up and clenched the rebel close to her body, wrapping her arms around him and squishing his face up against her breastplate. The viper's whole body shook violently, and after a few moments, her grinding slowed to a halt. She was breathing heavily as her tongue lolled out of her mouth, and her eyes seemed to have lost the intensity they once held. She looked around the immediate area again, and released the rebel’s mouth. He had stopped squirming, and from the way he hung limply in her grasp, he seemed to have resigned himself to his fate.
  91.  
  92. The viper looked at the rebel and her features softened a little. She moved her serpentine neck to put her head at eye level with him. The rebel tried to look away from her, but she grabbed his chin, and gently pointed his face at her’s. I don’t know if vipers can smile, but this one’s lips curled slightly upwards as if to mimic one. Hell, I don’t know if these things even have real lips. She moved her head forward, almost like she was going to kiss him or something.
  93.  
  94. Suddenly an unnerving thought came to mind. “Oh god, she’s going to eat him, isn’t she!”
  95.  
  96. Even in thinking that, I still couldn’t turn away. When their lips were almost touching, her pupils contracted, and she opened her mouth wide to reveal her long sharp fangs dripping with some sort of green fluid. She shot her head forward and bit down hard on the rebel’s neck. I turned away when his body started convulsing. My... curiosity, had been satisfied, and my day ruined. I crawled back to my spot and sat down, unsure what to make of what I had just witnessed.
  97.  
  98. I just stared at my shoes for a while. “Screw getting a break, I’m probably gonna need a therapist after that!” I looked at the door. “I really hope she isn’t going to be the one to save me from this limo and that the rebel is still there when I leave.”
  99.  
  100. As luck would have it, I was pulled from the limo by an advent trooper, and that viper was nowhere to be seen. As I stepped out, I saw that rebel’s body laying face up with some green fluid dripping from his neck. I shuddered when I saw the large wet spot on his pants near his crotch. At least this whole ordeal was over, and I could be taken home.
  101.  
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  103.  
  104.  
  105. Chapter 2
  106.  
  107. It had been only a day since the gene clinic opening ceremony I was going to speak at was crashed by those rebels, and I was already getting interviewed about it. I told them my side of the story, and hit all the beats Advent wanted me to. Stuff like how I was grateful for the protection and fast response of Advent, I’m actually happy they got there when they did, I definitely could have been killed that day. Also, how the troopers that died that day were with the Elders now. I’m not a big fan of the whole Elder worship thing, and I really hope I don’t go anywhere near them when I die. Being in a room with a bunch of thin grey aliens doesn’t sound like my kind of party. I, of course, omitted the viper I saw from my report to Advent and the interview.
  108.  
  109. I have been avoiding those things as much as I could since the incident. It’s crazy how you never really notice the presence of something until you’re absolutely terrified of it. I’ve been seeing them everywhere lately. In the city, in my neighborhood, there were even some in this tv studio.
  110.  
  111. That interview had taken a lot out of me, so I went to grab a soda from the vending machine down the hall. The hallway was clean and well lit, and there wasn’t much of interest in it besides the... 7 foot tall viper slithering towards me.
  112.  
  113. I kept my pace and tried to avoid making eye contact with it. It was probably just on a patrol or something, but this was the first time I had been close to one since yesterday. I felt my heart rate increase, and I knew it was looking at me as it got closer. Suddenly, I thought about it just stopping in the middle of this empty hallway, and pushing me against a wall. I started sweating, so I tugged on my red tie, which had an advent logo on it, to loosen it. I looked over at it for a second and saw it was staring at me with dilated pupils. I actually let loose a yelp when I found out it was looking at me, and snapped my head forward. It passed by me silently.
  114.  
  115. I saw my goal ahead of me: the soda machine. It had that standard Advent aesthetic to it, black with some red glowing lights. Completely designed for utility, no pizzazz whatsoever. Once I reached it, I turned around to see that viper turning a corner and traveling down another hallway. I sighed in relief as I looked over my choices: advent cola, advent orange, advent lime, or advent grape. I waved my arm in front of the machine, and my phone carried out the transaction, I pushed the button for Advent lime, and pulled out the bottle.
  116.  
  117. I started sipping on it, as I walked to my makeup room, dreading who I would surely meet there. My manager, who on the best of days was an emotionless prick. I’m not sure what the hell he is, but he certainly is not human. I’d like to say he’s a relic from the invasion, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else that looks exactly like him. I think I heard someone call him a Thin-man once, which would make sense. I mean, the guy is built like a twig, but if he is an alien I don’t understand what the Elder’s were thinking when they made him. He looks like he’s going to run for senate, or something, and he’s ugly. I wonder just how good they’ve gotten at mimicking us since the invasion?
  118.  
  119. To be honest I’m not sure why Advent keeps my manager around. Who knows, maybe he did something exceptional and this is his reward, or maybe this is a punishment. My musing came to an end, I had reached the door to my makeup room. I sighed, grabbed the door handle, and entered the room.
  120.  
  121. There he was in all of his blue suited glory, sitting in one of the pleather chairs at the back of the room. Strangely enough, I saw a short glass filled with brown liquid and ice sitting next to him on an end table. “Hello... Manny.” I’ll never know why he wants me to call him by the nickname of a 40 year old trucker, but every time I’ve tried to question him about it he dodges them. I don’t know, he probably just chose it to fuck with me.
  122.  
  123. He looked up at me and adjusted his gold rimmed spectacles. “Mr. Hickey. I see you have finished with your interview. I was watching on the Viewing screen over there.” He gestured to a TV in the corner of the room. “Your performance was... adequate.” He spoke in that matter of fact sort of way, seems he’s in a good mood today.
  124.  
  125. I chuckled and put on a smile. “Well Manny, I would have had more time to prepare If you didn’t schedule my interview the day after the event.”
  126.  
  127. Manny nodded. “You understand how media works. The story must be put out right away. We can’t have people filling in the blanks with lies, now can we?”
  128.  
  129. I rubbed my forehead and sighed. “Manny, I’m just gonna be straightforward with you, I need a break.” It took a lot of effort to squeeze that out of myself.
  130.  
  131. Manny’s brow furrowed and he looked at me with a serious expression. “Out of the question. I have you assigned to 3 interviews this week alone. You have a duty...”
  132.  
  133. Normally I can deal with Manny’s inhuman attitude, but tonight was different. I just couldn’t take the pressure anymore, so I snapped. “Manny, I fucking killed somebody yesterday! I saw his brains splatter against the wall of my limo. 24 hours ago I was in a fucking warzone! I’ve put up with a lot of shit, but I need a break.”
  134.  
  135. He put his hand up to his chin, in thought. “I do not understand why you are upset about killing a terrorist. You were instrumental in getting a substantial number of them killed years ago. This is good.”
  136.  
  137. I can’t believe he brought that up, especially now. It was 4 years ago I still remember the stench of that shitty apartment. I had been drinking all day, and finally worked up the courage to do it. I remember shakily dialing the number for Advent’s suspicious activity hotline. The woman who answered barely said a word as I told her the meeting location and time of a local rebel group. I managed to say their names to her, reading them off of a list I had made. She thanked me for my time and that was that. The decision was much harder than the act itself. Turned out they were planning something huge, and because of me they weren’t able to execute their plan. It’s the main reason I have my job. It’s why Advent put me up on a pedestal and declared me a hero.
  138.  
  139. I blinked my eyes and pushed that memory away. Manny was still talking about something, so I interrupted him. “There’s a difference between killing someone, and leaving a tip on a meeting location! I was able to do this interview, but I don’t know if I can keep it together enough to do more!”
  140.  
  141. Manny didn’t react to my outburst. He was silent, and appeared to be analyzing every word I spoke. He waited to respond until I was finished speaking. “I can see you are emotionally distraught Mr. Hickey, but I am not a therapist.” Yeah tell me something I don’t already know you alien freak. “Though, I understand your concern. It is not your duty to defend yourself, that is our duty.”
  142.  
  143. Still rageful, I butted in. “So, what are you gonna do about it?”
  144.  
  145. Manny stood up and straightened his tie. Being a head taller than me, he was looking down at me. “I would like to apologize on behalf of Advent for not providing you with adequate security. It is... regrettable that you had to experience what you did. However, because this attack was, in part, directed at you. I can arrange for you to have better security. I think Advent would consider granting you a non-trooper field operative.”
  146.  
  147. I was in shock, Manny had actually listened to my complaints for once. I guess Advent really dropped the ball on this one. I was happy to hear he’d buff my security, but I don’t like the way he described my new bodyguard. “What do you mean by non-trooper field operative?”
  148.  
  149. Manny pursed his lips. “Your new guard will not be human at all.”
  150.  
  151. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so all I said was. “No.”
  152.  
  153. Manny shook his head. “It’s not your decision to make.”
  154.  
  155. I tried to hold my tongue, but I couldn’t. “Manny, you know how I feel about non-human guards. I don’t want some... alien following me around all day! At least when I had the troopers I could pretend they were human. I can’t trust them to protect me.” My eyes widened a little, I probably shouldn’t have said that.
  156.  
  157. Manny gritted his teeth audibly, which he only did when I had managed to thoroughly piss him off. “Mr. Hickey, you are a valuable asset to Advent, and we want what is in both your and humanity’s best interests.” He pulled off his spectacles to reveal his reptilian eyes and looked directly into mine. “Just because we were born offworld doesn’t mean we aren’t earthlings. It is the will of the Elders that we all live together, and you have a duty to the Elders and to Advent. You wouldn’t be thinking of defying the Elders wishes, would you?”
  158.  
  159. Shit, he had me. There was no way I was getting out of this without just submitting. Even if Manny was an earthling, he certainly doesn’t act like one. Or, at least, I doubt he sees everyone else as fellow earthlings. “No, you’re right Manny, I’m sorry. It’s just difficult for me to adjust to new things. I’m grateful for everything Advent and the Elders have done for me and for humanity. I’ve just been under a lot of stress lately, and I need a break.”
  160.  
  161. Manny’s pupils contracted, and he seemed to be studying me while I spoke. When I finished he seemed satisfied with my answer. “I understand. I’ll see what can be arranged with this break of yours. I suppose the trauma you have experienced warrants it. As for the new bodyguard, do you understand?”
  162.  
  163. I still wasn’t ready to back down on that. “I don’t, couldn’t you just assign me more troopers this time?”
  164.  
  165. Manny shook his head. “It would be inefficient to have a large detachment of troopers protecting you at all times, and it would draw too much attention in public.”
  166.  
  167. I sighed, and looked away from Manny’s interrogating eyes. “I understand.”
  168.  
  169. I heard my manager sit back down in his chair. “Good, I’ll ensure that this is organized for tomorrow, and I will discuss the possibility of your break. You should go home now. Unless you wish to discuss something more with me?”
  170.  
  171. I chuckled. “Yeah, thanks, but I’ll have to pass on the small talk. See you around Manny.”
  172.  
  173. He put his spectacles back on. “Farewell Mr. Hickey, stay out of trouble.” As I left the room I saw him reach for the glass of whisky sitting next to his chair. I didn’t even know he could drink, but I suppose we all have our vices.
  174.  
  175. It didn’t take long before I was home. The trip to the gated community I lived in never took that long because it was close to the middle of the city. Another one of the privileges I got to enjoy: living in a well guarded little suburb reminiscent of how they used to look. My house wasn’t huge, but it was the lap of luxury compared to the shitty apartment I was assigned when I was a factory worker. Two stories (if you count the basement), four bedrooms two bathrooms, and a small backyard. It was designed as a family home, but they assigned it to me for some reason. Probably because they didn’t want to build a new one.
  176.  
  177. I walked inside and turned the lights on. Over the last two days I had started to realize how empty this house was. Usually there’d be at least one trooper outside, or in the basement, but now I was well and truly alone. I showered before going to my room. As I walked in, I looked over my posters from the old world hanging on my walls. Nothing too fancy, just some video games and one for a soda brand. It wasn’t much, but I liked to reminisce about how things used to be when I was younger. Some of my neighbors were crazy about collecting relics from the old world. Hell, Frank across the street has his basement done up to look like a speakeasy from the prohibition era. Yeah, he’s thrown some great parties.
  178.  
  179. Of course It was all just stuff to me, I didn’t really need it. I mean, I’d hate to lose my father’s leather shoes, but I’d trade it all to make this house feel less empty. This house oppressed me with the silence that pervaded throughout it. I guess It didn’t matter how many people I hung out with, or how many parties I went to. At the end of the day, I entered an empty room, turned off the lights, and climbed into a cold bed with nothing but my thoughts for company.
  180.  
  181. I chastised myself for that last thought. Shouldn’t be so pessimistic, at least I have a house, and a well paying job. I chuckled to myself as I walked through my empty room, flicked the lightswitch, and climbed into my cold bed. All I could think about was what Advent was going to assign me tomorrow as a bodyguard. I hoped it wasn’t one of those sectoids, I didn’t need Advent getting daily reports on my thoughts. It took a while, but eventually I fell into a restless sleep.
  182.  
  183.  
  184.  
  185.  
  186. Chapter 3
  187.  
  188. I woke up to the sound of my phone’s alarm going off. I shot up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I was covered in sweat and it left a large wet spot on my bed despite the temperature being set at a cool 68 °F. I think I was having a nightmare, but I couldn’t remember the details. I leaned over to face my nightstand and reached for my phone to silence the alarm. I pushed on the screen and shut off the alarm. My phone read 9:00 am in bold print back to me. I smiled because I knew that there was no way Advent could assign me to do anything without security, so I’d at least get today off.
  189.  
  190. I jumped out of bed and slipped into a t-shirt and shorts. Black with “Advent” printed on them in bold white lettering. I didn’t actually have a lot of clothes that were free of Advent branding besides my suits. Some days I didn’t mind it, and other times: it made me feel like I was marked as their property. Though, I suppose it would still be true, even if I didn't wear the clothes they gave me. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand, and strapped it to my forearm while leaving my bedroom.
  191.  
  192. I walked out into the kitchen and made myself a bowl of cereal and milk on the counter. Well, technically it’s Advent Milk Substitute, but same thing really. I’m not really sure what Milk substitute is, but it isn’t soy milk, and it tastes like what I remember milk tasting like, so I don’t have any leads.
  193.  
  194. However, today was my day off, so I guess that’s a mystery for another day. I walked over to the grey couch in my living room, and sat down, kicking my feet up on the wooden coffee table. I set the cereal on my lap and started eating while I flicked through channels on the tv across from my couch. Eventually I found a channel that was playing a movie I had seen before: Darker Streets Darker Past. It was the sequel to Dark Streets Dark past: a sci-fi dystopian film funded partially by Advent. I liked it enough, so I watched it while I finished my breakfast.
  195.  
  196. It didn’t take long to finish my cereal, so I set the bowl on my coffee table, and kept watching the movie. Eventually it finished, and I started watching the next one that came on. Hmmm, I could really go for an Advent burger right about now. I would go out, but not having security was a double edged sword. On one hand I didn’t have to do any work, and on the other it would be a terrible idea for me to go outside unescorted. Especially so soon after the terrorist attack on the gene clinic. Nope, I’ll have to wait until my new security arrives, the “non-trooper field operative” as Manny described it.
  197.  
  198. A couple hours later, and another movie watched, I got a message from Manny. It read: “Mr. Hickey, thank you for your patience. Your new bodyguard is waiting outside for you. Do understand, it took me some effort to acquire this one, so don’t judge too quickly. Also, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve gotten you two weeks paid leave. Ensure that you are in functioning form when your vacation is over, and we’ll return to your regular schedule then. Enjoy your day.”
  199.  
  200. Holy shit, that son of a... alien did it. Two weeks huh, I could do a lot during that. I sent Manny a quick response thanking him for his efforts. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t keep my new bodyguard waiting. Who knows, since they’ve given me some time off, I might be willing to forgive Advent for this whole ordeal and for foisting an alien spy on me. I suppose my old guards probably spied on me anyway, so whatever.
  201.  
  202. I grabbed my sunglasses, slipped on my leather shoes, and headed out the door. My optimism was, unfortunately, drained from my body the moment I opened my front door. There... standing? I don’t even know where this thing’s torso technically ends, but standing next to my car, with the backdoor open, in my driveway, was one of those vipers. The very thing I have been trying to avoid was outside my house and assigned to me as a bodyguard. I couldn’t believe it, I hadn’t even considered this was a possibility. Suddenly my concerns about having a sectoid as a guard disappeared now that this thing was like 30 ft away and looking right at me with crimson eyes. My heart rate began to quicken and I definitely felt like I was in fight or flight mode. I nearly collapsed at the door, but instead, I quickly ran inside, shut the door, and began frantically calling Manny on my phone.
  203.  
  204. He didn’t answer, of course he didn’t. He was fucking with me, he must have somehow found out about the incident I witnessed. Oh god, what if they suspect me of something and are planning on taking me in for questioning? Not writing something in a report is tantamount to treason in my position. I stood inside my house thinking about all the terrible things Advent could do to me if they found me guilty of treason and chastising myself for not just writing it in.
  205.  
  206. After a short while I realized something. Wait, I never told anyone about it, so the only way Advent would know is if something read my mind, but I haven't been around any psionic types, so there's no way that happened. I’m safe, for now. I’ll just have to pretend nothing is wrong and hope they don’t figure out I omitted something from the report.
  207.  
  208. I took a few deep breaths and walked out my front door, again. This time, instead of looking at me normally, the viper was looking at me with it’s head slightly cocked to the left. This one looked the same as the other ones I had seen. It was at least a foot taller than me, and it was probably like 12 or 15 feet long. Its face was strangely emotive, usually they just looked angry all the time, but this one had raised it’s... eyebrows? And it appeared to be concerned. It had some kind of cobra hood, which was weird because they’re called Vipers, not cobras. My eyes drifted down and I noticed this thing was wearing the standard armor that they all wore and the breastplate had the same two boob extensions on it. Were they all female? I have yet to see one without tits. Maybe both the males and the females have tits, now there’s a scary thought. I looked down at its tail and noticed that it had an orange and yellow pattern on it similar to a diamondback rattlesnake. Yup, standard viper, and now I was taking a ride to Advent Burger with it.
  209.  
  210. I could only stall this for so long, so I faked a smile and put on my sunglasses. As I was walking up to my car I avoided making eye contact with it, and instead eyed up that shiny plasma rifle it was carrying. Quite the piece of hardware, I’ve seen them shoot big holes through the training dummies at the quality control facility at my old factory job.
  211.  
  212. I slid past it and moved over to my seat on the left side of the car. Once I was seated it slithered in behind me and took its seat. The inside of this car was spacious, but this Viper was huge. It coiled up its body around the floor, and on the open space between us, but part of its tail was brushing up against my leg. I couldn’t help but tremble a little when its tail touched me.
  213.  
  214. The driver spoke up. “Where to, Mr. Hickey?” He sounded different from my normal driver.
  215.  
  216. I looked up at the mirror confused. I saw a new face reflected back at me. It’s unfortunate, but I think my old driver may have died. I didn’t know Ron too well, but he was nice. I should ask Manny about it later. “Take me to Advent Burger, the one on uh, 57th avenue.”
  217.  
  218. I saw the driver nod, and he pulled out of my driveway and onto the road. I shut the plexiglass window that separated the front of the car from the back, and tried to get comfortable to no avail. How could I get comfortable when I’m locked in a car with some sort of giant alien monster? I can feel it touching me right now. I know what it is capable of, I've seen it with my own eyes. I looked over at it, it didn’t seem interested in me, and was just staring out the window. Probably watching the scenery change from suburban to urban.
  219.  
  220. It definitely suspects something, it was looking at me funny when I was walking back to the car. I... I have to say something to it, so it doesn’t wonder why I’m so nervous. Wait, can these things even talk? Whatever, I might as well try.
  221.  
  222. I took a deep breath and I looked at it. “So, uh, you're my new bodyguard, huh?” It didn’t turn around until I said bodyguard. It rotated its head to face me without moving its body. Its neck was slouching since the car’s roof wasn’t very high. It seemed to be looking at me with a mild interest. Its pupils were slightly dilated and its tongue occasionally flicked out and lingered in the air for a few moments before being retracted.
  223.  
  224. Its gaze, while soft, felt scrutinizing. I continued anyway. “My name is uh, well you probably already know my name. Since you’re assigned to me and all, heh. What’s your name?”
  225.  
  226. It reached over and tapped on the shoulder pad of its armor. I looked closer to where it tapped and saw 117-45-LH printed on the armor. The surface under the LH was shiner than the area that surrounded it. It looked like it had been sanded recently.
  227.  
  228. I was surprised that it actually understood me, that’s a step up from the Advent troopers I was usually around, but that wasn’t much of a name. “Woah, you understand me?”
  229.  
  230. It smirked, I think, and spoke. “I can do more than understand.” Her voice was strange, but not unpleasant. When she spoke it sounded forced, and she lingered on the S’s half a second too long. Her d’s sounded more like t’s, and she was pronouncing all the syllables with the front of her mouth.
  231.  
  232. I was taken aback, I wasn’t sure if this thing could understand me, let alone talk back. “You... you can talk?”
  233.  
  234. She snorted a little. “I can, do you not trust your own ears?”
  235.  
  236. Is she getting snarky with me too? “No, it’s not that, uh, I’m just surprised is all. Can you all do that?”
  237.  
  238. Her smirk vanished. “No, most of my sisters would prefer to use translators, or simply don’t converse at all, but there is value in being able to speak the human tongue. It is why I was chosen for this assignment.”
  239.  
  240. “So, why did you pick English? There are more languages we speak.”
  241.  
  242. She squinted her eyes and I got the feeling she thought I was stupid. “Unless I am mistaken, it is the one that is spoken on this continent.”
  243.  
  244. It was a strange feeling conversing with this Viper. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but my fear was dissipating, and I was actually starting to relax a little. “Well it is... let’s just change the subject. Your name is 117-45-LH?”
  245.  
  246. She cocked her head slightly. “It is my designation.”
  247.  
  248. “Well, it's a mouthful, can I call you Eleven Seven, maybe even just Eleven?”
  249.  
  250. She looked up in thought for a few moments, and returned her attention to me. “It doesn’t matter what you call me.”
  251.  
  252. I forced a smile. “Ok, great.” After I said that I returned my attention back to the window, and 11-7 (eleven seven) did the same. She definitely wouldn’t suspect anything now, and soon I would be enjoying a juicy advent burger by myself.
  253.  
  254. After a few more minutes of driving, the driver knocked on the plexiglass divider and opened it. “We’re here, Mr. Hickey.”
  255.  
  256. I looked up and saw that beautiful sign with a big burger on it. I smiled, and felt my stomach growl with anticipation. “Just pull into the parking lot.” I ordered.
  257.  
  258. The driver pulled in, and I got out. I walked to the window next to him and he rolled it down. I finally got a good look at him. He was a middle aged man, who was balding slightly, and his body was dumpy looking. I spoke. “Just stay in the parking lot or something. I usually like to hang out inside for an hour or so.”
  259.  
  260. He nodded, and as I was about to turn and go inside I heard the sound of a car door closing. I looked over to see the viper’s head poking up above the car. I couldn’t let this happen, I’d already seen enough of this viper today. I didn’t need it coming inside and watching me eat lunch. “Hey, uh, 11-7...” She turned to look at me. “You don’t need to come in with me. You can just wait in the car while I eat.”
  261.  
  262. She squinted her eyes and lightly snorted. “While you are outside neighborhood D18, I am required to escort you at all times.”
  263.  
  264. I rubbed my forehead with one hand. “Look, there are a lot of people in there that know me, and I would prefer it if they didn’t see me walking around with... a giant snake.”
  265.  
  266. She lowered her scaly brows and that frown that was always on her face deepened. Her hood flared out and she didn’t even speak. She just slithered around the car and stopped when she was right next to me. I looked up at her angrily, but she just stared forward and smirked when I let out a sigh. It was too much to assume this thing would be lenient. She was as by the book as the advent troopers.
  267.  
  268. I walked up to the door, and grabbed the handle, bracing myself for what might happen inside. I pushed the door a little as I walked in, so 11-7 could grab it easier. I looked around the room, and like I had expected, everyone was staring at us. So much for keeping a low profile, Manny. It wasn’t packed, but there were still too many people inside. Luckily, I saw an empty booth away from everyone, so I was happy. I tried to ignore their stares as I walked up to the counter. As I got there I saw something that made me want to turn and leave, but it was too late because he was already waving at me.
  269.  
  270. He yelled at me from the cashier’s counter. “Heya Luke, long time no see.”
  271.  
  272. I strolled over, trying to pretend it was business as usual, while 11-7 slithered right up to my left side. “Hi Matt. How’s work.”
  273.  
  274. As 11-7 came into view, Matt gawked at her the whole time. His eyes darted from her to me. “Uhhhh, you know, hardly workin.” He cupped his mouth to direct his voice towards me and whispered. “What is that, is it with you?”
  275.  
  276. I sighed “Yes, this is my escort.” Immediately I regretted saying that.
  277.  
  278. Matt’s fear dissipated and he smiled devilishly. “Woah man, I didn’t know you were into that sort of thing, but I guess the heart wants what the heart wants.” The female cashier next to him giggled a little. Dammit, why did she have to say she was escorting me in the parking lot?
  279.  
  280. I cleared my throat. “What I meant is that she is my new bodyguard, and is filling in for my old ones.”
  281.  
  282. Matt’s tone changed to more of a somber one. “Yeah, I heard about that on the news. You still doing alright after all that? This is the first we’ve seen of you for a while.”
  283.  
  284. I nodded. “I’m still getting used to some of the changes I’ve had to make since then, but I’m fine.”
  285.  
  286. Suddenly a gruff sounding woman piped up from the back. “You gonna keep taking up my counter space, or are ya gonna order something?”
  287.  
  288. I yelled back into the kitchen. “I don’t know Debra, it is a nice counter, might stand here long enough to put you out of business.”
  289.  
  290. She yelled back. “It’s good to hear you’re alright Lucas, we were worried about ya.” Kind of funny the place I felt most appreciated was a fucking burger joint, but I’ll take it.
  291.  
  292. Matt smiled. “You want the usual?”
  293.  
  294. “Yeah, large Cowboy Burger Combo with an Advent Citrus.”
  295.  
  296. Matt typed on the machine that was in front of him on the cashier’s counter. “What does... she want?” Matt pointed at the viper standing to my left.
  297.  
  298. I hadn’t even considered that she might want something. I looked at her. “What do you want?”
  299.  
  300. She squinted her eyes and stared at the menu. After a few moments she shrugged her shoulders.
  301.  
  302. I looked back at Matt. “Just get her what I’m having.”
  303.  
  304. Matt typed on the machine more. “That’ll be 5.53 credits.” I waved my phone in front of the machine, and it transferred the funds. “Here’s your drinks, we’ll have the food ready soon.”
  305.  
  306. I grabbed my soda and stood away from the counter. I saw 11-7 drop her rifle to her side and grab her soda. She slithered over by me and wrapped her tail up, so she wasn't taking up room on the floor. I nursed my drink while we were waiting. I was content to just watch them cook in the kitchen, but I felt like someone was staring at me, so I looked and saw 11-7 watching me drink my soda with great interest.
  307.  
  308. The moment I saw her, she looked away at her soda. I watched her bring it up to her face. She seemed to be studying it. She flicked her tongue out right over the straw hole. After doing that a few times, she closed her mouth around it, and started making strange noises. This went on for an uncomfortably long amount of time, then she started to tip the cup up towards her face, and without thinking I grabbed her arm.
  309.  
  310. She looked at me with dilated pupils and raised an eyebrow. “You’re supposed to suck on the straw. Like this.” I made sucking noises, so she got the idea.
  311.  
  312. She put the straw in her mouth again, and this time I saw liquid go up through it. She smiled slightly, and she seemed quite pleased with herself. I chuckled to myself, it was pretty funny that the biological alien murder machine didn’t know how to use a straw.
  313.  
  314. After a few minutes the food was done, and I went up to grab my tray. 11-7 did the same. I went over to the other counter and as I pumped a bunch of ketchup on my tray, I noticed 11-7 was mimicking my every move. Strange, but I walked over to the empty booth I saw when I came in. Everyone in the restaurant was staring at us, but at least there wasn’t anyone directly around this booth. I took my seat, and 11-7 slithered into her seat, draping her body across the booth seat and curling the rest under the table.
  315.  
  316. I felt her tail bush up against me again, maybe I should have picked a table instead. I guess I’ll never have any respite from 11-7, so long as I’m not in my neighborhood. I unwrapped my burger and admired it for a moment. It was a thing to behold, two beef patties, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion. All held together between sesame seed buns. One of the few things I could truly lose myself in. I took a bite, savoring its flavor. My enjoyment was interrupted though because I felt 11-7 staring at me again. I looked up from my burger to see her eyes dart away from me to her burger.
  317.  
  318. I chuckled to myself, this ought to be good. I watched her poke the wrapped burger a few times before she unwrapped it. She set her plasma rifle down and leaned it against the wall. It was my turn to stare now. She held the burger in front of her face, flicking her tongue near it a couple times. She then opened her mouth up wide, and when I say wide I mean wide enough to swallow a cat. Now, I’m not a biologist or anything, but while I was feeling extremely terrified I noticed that she only had two teeth: the fangs on the roof of her mouth. Which means there was no way she was gonna chew that burger. I glanced around the room, and saw everyone else gawking at 11-7 as much as I was. She gently placed the burger in, closed her mouth around it, and swallowed.
  319.  
  320. Her face lit up, and her hard features softened a little. She seemed to enjoy it, but I couldn’t say the same. My burger looked a little less appealing now, so I started working on my fries instead. I dipped one in ketchup and ate it. I looked up expectantly at 11-7. She grabbed her large box of fries and dumped them in her mouth. Then she did something new, I watched her tongue slide out of her mouth, go down to her tray, which was like 2 feet away from her head. She scooped up most of the ketchup with her tongue, and plopped it on top of the fries in her maw. She closed her mouth and swallowed, which elicited the same reaction from her, me, and the rest of the restaurant.
  321.  
  322. My appetite had been mostly ruined. I nibbled at my burger, but only because I knew I hadn’t eaten in a while. I heard 11-7 giggle, like she actually made a giggling sound. I looked up at her.
  323.  
  324. She seemed happy, much happier than when I said I didn’t want a giant snake following me around. I was kind of feeling happy for her, then she decided to question me. “You aren’t scared of me are you?”
  325.  
  326. I almost choked on a piece of my burger, but I washed it down with some soda. She was getting suspicious. “Uh, why do you ask?”
  327.  
  328. She squinted her crimson eyes and looked directly into mine. I started to get the same feeling that I got when Manny interrogated me. “You acted strange when you were picked up. You have been nervous the whole time, and now you’re not touching your delicious food.”
  329.  
  330. Shit, and here I thought I was being careful. Looks like I’m gonna have to try harder, but I had an excellent excuse for now. “I’m not scared of you, I’m still just worried about the terrorists. It has only been two days.”
  331.  
  332. She took my response seriously, and raised her chin up in a prideful manner. “You have nothing to fear. I would die before letting those rebels touch you.“ Great, not making me feel much better, but I’m surprised she said that. It was one thing to assume it, but it was another thing entirely to hear her say it directly to me, and proudly at that.
  333.  
  334. I decided to change the subject to one less morbid. “Have you ever been to an Advent Burger before?”
  335.  
  336. She shook her head. “No.” She paused for a minute, seemingly debating whether or not to say something. “Actually, this is my first time interacting with human society.”
  337.  
  338. I raised an eyebrow at that. What did that statement even mean? Whatever it did mean, she was very deliberate with how she said it. I figured I’d turn the tables on her, since she decided to probe me earlier. “Well, for your first time you didn’t do too bad. Is that what all the staring was about?”
  339.  
  340. She froze, like a deer in headlights. “I don’t know what you’re speaking of.”
  341.  
  342. I grinned, and decided to tease her further. “Oh, you know, when you were watching me eat and mimicking my every move.”
  343.  
  344. Her eyebrows moved down a little, and her frown deepened. “Unless you can eat that burger in one bite, I was not mimicking you.” She pointed at my burger. “Are you even going to finish it?”
  345.  
  346. I actually laughed at that. “No I can’t do that. I think I’ll be taking this order to go.”
  347.  
  348. It was strange, I almost felt like I was speaking with an actual person and not some giant alien cobra lady. Hell, the way we were bickering you might even think we were friends. Whatever, maybe I didn’t have to be terrified of her. I suppose if I’m genuinely not scared of her that makes my efforts to pretend to not be scared of her, easier. I don’t trust her though, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I let my guard down around her.
  349.  
  350. We talked a little more about the weather and stuff, nothing important. Then I grabbed a bag from up front, packed away my food, and got in my car. The ride home was significantly less tense than the ride to Advent Burger. 11-7 asked me if I wanted to go anywhere else, but I declined. I’ve had enough of an adventure for today.
  351.  
  352. Once we got back to my house I waved goodbye to the driver, and to 11-7. I went inside, threw my leftovers in the fridge, and sat down on the couch to watch tv. All things considered, today wasn’t too bad. It certainly could have gone worse, and I guess I didn’t hate that viper. Maybe I’d be fine with her staying around, even though I am basically forced to keep her at this point.
  353.  
  354. A few hours later I got a call from Manny, who was checking in to see what I thought of the new bodyguard. I got mad at him for not answering my call that morning, but he shrugged it off by saying he wanted me to try her out first before he got a different one. I mentioned my old driver Ron to him, and apparently he was in the hospital, but he would be out soon and go back to driving for me. I told Manny that I liked the viper, and that she could stay on as my bodyguard. Manny sounded pleased to hear that, but what he said next complicated things. He said she would be moving into my house permanently and that Advent would be bringing over furniture for her tomorrow.
  355.  
  356. Great, now this viper would be living with me. I don’t know why I was shocked by this revelation, I mean the Advent troopers lived with me, but this somehow felt different. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but it didn’t really matter, there wasn’t much I could do about it now that things were set in motion. I could change my mind about having her as my guard, but something else would take her place. I thanked Manny and went back to watching tv.
  357.  
  358. A marathon of Home-Wreckers was playing. It was a comedy show about rebels trying to take down a government, but due to their own incompetence they failed most of the time. It was a decent show, and one I was in. I played a new recruit named Private Johnston, who accidentally joins the group thinking it was an outdoors club. I watched this show for the rest of the day, eventually passing out on the couch.
  359.  
  360.  
  361.  
  362.  
  363. Chapter 4
  364.  
  365. I’m in the limo again, sitting down in the back. I look up and see the seat is above me. The inside is empty besides the broken glass that peppered the floor. I focused my ears on what was happening around me, but heard no sounds. I looked down at my hands and saw I was holding a magnetic rifle in them. I tilted my head up, and saw the door to the limo was open, so I pointed the gun at the door, and waited. After a few moments passed I saw the head of a young man poke through the door. He looked very plain, and he wasn’t wearing any face coverings. He was wearing tattered grey armor that had no advent markings on it. He smiled at me warmly, but his sudden entrance, and the fact that he wasn’t Advent startled me, so I pulled the trigger.
  366.  
  367. Three shots rang out and hit him in the face. His head exploded, and sprayed blood all over me and the inside of the limo. It was like I had burst a balloon filled with more blood than it should have been able to contain. In an instant my vision was cut off. I felt the warmth of this man’s blood coating my entire body and the gun I was holding felt slick. I dropped the gun in shock and wiped my eyes with my hands. I opened them and looked down in horror at my bloodsoaked hands. A scream erupted from my lips. Once I started screaming I saw the familiar orange and yellow colored tail of a viper slither its way into the limo. I silenced my scream and watched it’s movements. It was feeling around the inside of the limo for something. As the tail approached me I thought about reaching for the gun, but I didn’t want to alert it to my presence. The tail slowly made its way towards me and eventually bumped into my shoe. It reared back like a cobra ready to strike, but instead of striking it tentatively began exploring my shoe. I sat there deathly still hoping it would get bored and move on, but it didn’t. It started to curl around my shoe and it wiggled its way into my pant leg, wrapping around my leg up to my calf. It yanked me out of the limo in one graceful motion. I tried to grab onto something as I was dragged out, but everything was coated in blood, so I couldn’t get a good grip.
  368.  
  369. I was laid out on the ground, and saw I was surrounded by rebels. All of their faces were covered by balaclavas and they were holding assault rifles of varying conditions. I stood up and tried to push past them, so I could get away from the limo, but they shoved me back and knocked me to the ground. When I looked up I saw another rebel without a face covering, but this one had a viper coiled around him. The viper looked me directly in the eyes, as I was laying on the ground, and bit into the rebels neck. I watched him convulse and make horrible gurgling noises for several moments before the viper tightened her body around him. I heard multiple sickening cracks. It sounded like someone breaking branches off of a living tree. The rebel’s body was mangled. His arms and legs were bent at different angles, and it looked like his chest caved in. The viper released him, letting his body fall to the ground.
  370.  
  371. When the viper let his body go he fell sideways and faced me as he was falling until he hit the ground. I saw green fluid drip from his eyes, nose and mouth. As the fluid pooled on the ground under his head, he pointed at me and spoke with a raspy voice that sounded like he had a broken larynx. “You’re... next...”
  372.  
  373. My eyes darted from him up to the viper, it was slithering towards me. I jumped up and tried to run, but it was already on me. It grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me close, coiling around my body. I felt air being squeezed out of my lungs. I couldn’t move, but I wasn’t being killed. It felt like I was being restrained with steel cable, large and muscular steel cable that was warm and had a little give to it..
  374.  
  375. She was massive, her body easily managing to surround mine in a wall of flesh. I looked up and saw her head was positioned a few feet above mine. Using the blood that coated me as lubricant, I squirmed and tried to free myself, but all I managed to do was elicit a garbled hiss from the viper. I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of watching me suffer, so I looked away from her, but she grabbed my head and turned it to face her. Her thin arms were stronger than they looked. She moved her face inches from mine, and I could see she had a mischievous look to her. Completely restrained, all I could do was just stare at her face. I tried to look around her, but I felt compelled to look at her eyes. Before I knew what had happened I was staring deep into her crimson eyes and sensing the intent in them.
  376.  
  377. I did not like what I saw behind her eyes; it wasn’t the murderous intent that frightened me, but the lust that I saw. I knew what was coming, so I yelled out for help. Her head shot forward and I closed my eyes bracing for the worst.
  378.  
  379. Instead of feeling fangs sink into my neck I felt her lips press against mine. They were surprisingly warm, and were not hard like I expected. They were soft, spongy almost. Similar in feeling to a human's lips, but I could feel the grooves in between her scales. I opened my eyes and attempted to yell for help again, but she forced her tongue into my mouth, silencing me. I felt her tongue exploring every part of my mouth. Her tongue was long, and it had an unnatural strength to it. It was like I had a slimy piece of smooth rope rolling around in my mouth. I tried to force it out with my own tongue, but she easily overpowered mine. All the while her eyes were lit with a fiery desire that she projected onto me. I thought about biting down on her tongue, but as soon as it crossed my mind, she slipped her tongue down my throat and made me gag. I coughed, and the Viper retracted her tongue. She giggled and put her hand in front of her mouth, as if to say oopsie.
  380.  
  381. I didn’t want to choke on her tongue again, so I didn’t bother calling for help this time. She winked at me, and leaned forward to kiss me again, less violently than when she started. Easing into a more sensual, passionate kiss. I felt a new sensation, a four fingered hand touched my stomach, and began exploring my torso. She lightly scratched my chest with her claws as she explored, which sent chills across my body. Much as I didn’t want to admit it I started to enjoy the sensations I was experiencing. I gave into her touches, relaxing my body. The viper must have taken this as my approval because I felt her hand change direction.
  382.  
  383. Her hand began moving down. She kept lightly scratching my skin as she worked her way down to the waistband of my pants. She started to playfully pluck at it with one of her claws, occasionally sliding a finger under the waistband and rubbing my groin as she plucked away. This teasing was near unbearable. I knew what was coming, but before I could brace myself, she slid her hand into my pants past my waistband and grabbed my junk. It caught me off guard so I tried to protest, but her undulating tongue and soft lips calmed my nerves. She gently kneaded my partially erect member with her scaled hand. Her hand was as warm and as soft as her lips. It was smooth, almost textureless. She took her time, lavishing every part of my pecker with a caressing touch that sent me into euphoria. I felt the creases in her hand bump against my head as it effortlessly glided back and forth across my cock. I looked into her eyes and saw myself reflected back in them. I bore a look of pure bliss, but something was off. I couldn’t quite place it. What was wrong? Then it hit me, I was looking into the eyes of an alien.
  384.  
  385. I realized what was happening and woke up from my trance. I bit down on her tongue and thrashed within her grasp like a fish trying desperately to return to the water. I felt her hand leave my pants and her tongue slide out of my mouth. She grabbed my head with both of her hands. She tilted my head to the side, exposing my neck, and opened her maw. Instead of hissing I heard a doorbell sound come out of her mouth. What? Is this a dream?
  386.  
  387. I sat up from the couch and scanned the room. I was in my house, and not back at the limo. My body was soaked with sweat, and my heart felt like it was bouncing around in my chest. The tv was still on, playing some show I didn’t care about.
  388.  
  389. I turned the tv off and leaned forward, rubbing my temples. “Fuck, that was terrible. I wish I didn’t remember it. Did I have the same dream yesterday?” I had a sudden realization about the nature of my dream and cringed. I slowly pulled up my waistband to look in my underwear. Clean and dry, phew, at least I wasn’t gonna have to clean anything up. I’m just gonna forget that dream happened.
  390.  
  391. The doorbell rang. I raised an eyebrow and looked at my phone. The screen was black. “Damn, guess I didn’t charge it last night.”
  392.  
  393. I stood up and cracked my back before walking up to the front door. I looked through the peephole and saw that viper from yesterday. “Why in the hell is she here? I wasn’t planning on going anywhere today.” I was anxious about letting her into my house, but my curiosity got the better of me.
  394.  
  395. I opened the door and put on a smile. “Heyyyy 11-7, what’s up?” May have played it a little too casually.
  396.  
  397. She cocked her head slightly, flicking her tongue in and out. I looked past her, and saw there were a large number of advent vehicles parked on my street. I lost what little cool I had left. “So, uh you guys having a... a, uh party or something? Heh.”
  398.  
  399. She squinted her eyes. “No, they are here to help me move in. Did your manager not inform you? You look like you woke up recently.” Now that she reminded me, Manny did message me last night.
  400.  
  401. Oh thank god. I thought Advent found out something there for a minute. “As a matter of fact, I did just get out of bed. Why, you need my help?”
  402.  
  403. She crossed her arms. “If you left the doorway that would be helpful.”
  404.  
  405. I couldn’t think of anything clever to say back, so I just went back to the living room and sat on the couch. I sighed, damn I guess this really is happening. Oh well, maybe I won’t see her so much. Maybe this’ll be like when I had the troopers guarding me. I watched 11-7 slither over to the kitchen and set her plasma rifle on the counter.
  406.  
  407. She looked at me and gestured to the rifle. “May I set this here?”
  408.  
  409. I laughed. “Leaving a high-powered rifle on the same surface I use to make sandwiches, sure, why not.”
  410.  
  411. “Okay.” She slithered over next to the couch and faced the door. I guess she doesn’t get sarcasm yet.
  412.  
  413. Three advent troopers walked in carrying a folded mattress that looked bigger than any I had seen. One of the troopers spoke to 11-7 in advent. She spoke back and looked at me. “Where will my quarters be?”
  414.  
  415. I thought for a few moments. I did not want miss, assuming she isn’t married, giant slithery snake sleeping anywhere near me, but I couldn’t make it obvious. I looked back at her. “Well there is an open room across from me, but there are a couple bedrooms in the basement and it’s wide open. You’d even have your own bathroom down there.”
  416.  
  417. She nodded. “I’ll take the room across from your room. I can come to your aid faster if there’s trouble.”
  418.  
  419. Shit. I faked a smile. “Great. Why don’t you just sleep in my room at that point, huh. Might give you an even better response time.” I mumbled that second part to myself.
  420.  
  421. 11-7 gave me a weird look, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she refocused on the troopers moving her stuff inside. She slithered over to the troopers and directed them. Good, at least I didn’t have to do anything. I turned on the tv and watched them out of the corner of my eye. I saw them carrying in a lot of things, some of them I could identify, others I could not. They brought in some kind of giant heat pad that was a similar size to that mattress, clothes, some pieces of tech, and a lot of boxes.
  422.  
  423. I got bored quickly and watched tv for a while. Over half an hour had passed and they were still bringing in stuff. I looked over to see 2 troopers carrying a large white bathtub. It was probably three times the size of the one in my bathroom.
  424.  
  425. I stood up and walked over to 11-7. “Woah, woah! What’s this? Manny didn’t say anything about remodeling my house.”
  426.  
  427. 11-7 said something to the troopers and they stopped walking. She turned around to face me and squinted her eyes. “Do you honestly think I can clean myself in that minuscule tub? I am surprised you fit in it.”
  428.  
  429. I furrowed my brow and pointed at the tub. “I did not agree to this.”
  430.  
  431. She cocked her head slightly, flicking her tongue out slower. “But you did?” She paused for a few moments before speaking again. “Not to worry, Advent will be covering the cost of all installations. You will not be charged.” She seemed pleased with herself for coming up with that response.
  432.  
  433. I sighed and waved a hand dismissively. “Whatever, I guess a bigger bathtub isn’t a big deal. Is there any other remodeling I should be made aware of?”
  434.  
  435. She said something in Advent to the troopers, and they went back to work. She thought for a few moments. “We’ll be putting a large freezer in the basement to store meat. Will that be a problem?”
  436.  
  437. I shook my head. “No, I don’t really go into the basement anyway, but why would you need so much meat storage? Are you a carnivore or something?”
  438.  
  439. She made a sound that was like a mixture between a laugh and a hiss. Hard to describe, but it sounded like someone was trying to drown a snake in a shallow pot of chili. “You don’t think I live off of fruit, do you?” She kept laughing like that after she finished. I started to get visibly uncomfortable; she noticed and stifled her laughter. “You eat meat as well.”
  440.  
  441. “I guess I do.”
  442.  
  443. She craned her head to look over her shoulder. There weren’t any troopers in the room. She looked back at me. “Don’t be concerned, as long as Advent keeps me fed I won’t get any strange ideas. Go back to watching television, you don’t have anything to worry about.” I think that was her idea of a joke, but since it involved eating me it didn’t really make me feel better. After she finished speaking she flashed a smile at me, and went back to directing the troopers.
  444.  
  445. I don’t know why, but I believed her. It's not like they were redecorating my whole house, and a bigger tub would be nice. Never could fully submerge myself in a regular sized bathtub. I suppose we have our own rooms, so It’s not like I’ll be around her all hours of the day. I shrugged and went back to watching tv. The troopers kept marching around my house, moving things and remodeling the bathroom. A many hours later they packed everything up. I saw 11-7 slither into her new room after they all left. Good, looks like I get the livingroom to myself.
  446.  
  447. I flicked through the channels for a while until I found the movie Predator playing. My parents had told me about this movie before, but I don’t remember much of what they said besides this one was different from the original. I’ve never seen the original, but this one is about an elite squad of Advent soldiers being sent to rescue some vips from rebels. After defeating all of the rebels, one survives and sabotages their transport, leaving them stranded. The rebel hunts them down, killing them one by one until the main character cleverly defeats him.
  448.  
  449. Overall, not a bad movie, so I started watching it. Partway in I heard some thumping noises coming from 11-7’s room. I turned down the volume and looked over at her door. I listened, but I didn’t hear anything else, so I went back to my movie. A couple minutes passed and I heard her door open. I rolled my eyes. Great, I had reserved myself for an extraterrestrial-less evening, but it seems that I accidentally made the reservation for two. It's bad enough that she’s sleeping next to my room, but now she’s actually coming out of her room and into my house.
  450.  
  451. As she slithered into view I saw she wasn’t wearing her armor anymore, and in its place she wore a plain white tank top. She also wasn’t wearing pants, which, I mean, how could a snake-like being wear pants, and it’s not like her armor covered her waist or anything. This tank top is technically covering more of her body than her armor did, but seeing her in that tank top somehow made her look more naked. I couldn’t help but notice her more feminine features stretching the fabric of her tank top as she passed in front of the tv. Oh, who am I fooling with this bullshit, I was staring at her tits. They weren’t huge, but they were certainly big enough to draw my attention. I watched her sit down on the couch a few feet away from me. My couch was one of those large L shaped ones, so she draped her tail... body? over the unoccupied space.
  452.  
  453. I continued to stare as she raised her arms up in the air and stretched. Her whole body tensed up and I saw the muscles in her tail flex. Taking into account her similarity to a snake and her size, that tail was strong. Strong enough to... I don’t want to think about that. I heard the tip of her tail slap the couch a few times, which caught my attention. I looked back at her to see her thrusting her chest out while she stretched, drawing my attention to her breasts further. Was she doing this on purpose? A dirty thought suddenly crossed my mind, and I had to take a step back. Oh fuck, what is wrong with me? Did I really just think that? What even are the moral implications of such a thing?
  454.  
  455. I hadn’t realized it, but I was deep in thought and still staring at 11-7. She spoke up. “Are you even watching the television?” I was until you and your stupid humanlike snake tits decided to show up.
  456.  
  457. My face felt hot and I snapped my head forward to face the tv. “Uh, yeah. It’s Predator, you ever seen it?” I hope she lets me change the subject.
  458.  
  459. I watched her through the corner of my vision. She squinted her eyes, flicking her tongue out more slowly than usual. “No... I have not. We do not get to experience much entertainment on duty.”
  460.  
  461. I tried to look over at her and while my intentions were pure, my mind wasn’t. My eyes were magnetized to her boobs. I had to force myself to look back up at her eyes. “That sucks. Well, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I’ll turn up the volume” I spat that out as quick as I could and turned up the volume using the remote. She definitely noticed that time.
  462.  
  463. If 11-7 noticed me staring at her womanly features she didn’t make it known to me. She faced forward, engrossing herself in the movie. Oh that’s nice, well time for an existential crisis.
  464.  
  465. Why the hell did I just do that... again. Am I really getting turned on by this thing sitting next to me? I don’t even know how old she is. She could be like 5 years old. I mean for god’s sake she’s a fucking alien, not a human. An alien who’s not repulsive looking, and believe me I’ve seen plenty of the freakshows Advent parades around. If anything she’s not bad looking. No, there’s no way I could even know if she looks good, we aren’t the same species, hell aren’t even in the same class. She’s a reptile... probably, and I’m a mammal. Wait, why do I care if she looks good? Whatever, I still can’t even be sure if she’s female, I’m not an alien biologist. Maybe I could figure it out?
  466.  
  467. I looked away from the movie and back at her. She was still focused on the movie, so I carefully studied her body. Unfortunately what I saw didn’t help me calm down. She had curves in all the right places. Her body was lithe and toned. There was a sort of smooth gracefulness to her figure that I could appreciate. I looked down at where her torso bent at the couch and she even had hips. Of course there were her boobs, which were still present and accounted for. I looked up at her head, and I realized something else. That hood she had didn’t touch her shoulders, and was positioned like hair on a person. I imagined her head without it, and she looked bald. The scales on her body looked soft, and probably didn’t act as a natural armor, like I had assumed. The scales on her arms and back were diamond shapes, but the ones running from her throat down to the tip of her tail were more like long and thin plates. I watched the plates flex as she adjusted her position on the couch. The plates weren’t straight though, they had a point in the center. I noticed they weren’t flat either, the points were slightly elevated. Those points made it look like she had a seam running from below her hips to the tip of her tail. What purpose it served I couldn’t say, but if I’m going with my hair hood theory, then that seam might be meant to mimic legs. I don’t get it, there seems to have been deliberate efforts to humanize these Vipers by the Elders, but to what end? Even if the Elders were trying to humanize them, I don’t think most people would be able to get past the whole giant snake thing. What with the 5 inch long fangs, resting bitch face, and the ability to crush your ribcage like a soda can. I guess I can’t be sure if it was intentional.
  468.  
  469. To conclude my analysis, oh fuck, she’s shaped like a legless supermodel with a snake-like face in a hoodie. Yeah, for the sake of my own sanity, I’m just gonna assume she’s female. But, is there really a girl sitting like 5 ft away from me right now? Am I sharing my house with a girl now? I hadn’t really considered the implications of this until now.
  470.  
  471. 11-7 made a noise, so I looked up at her face. She looked away from the movie and pointed at it. “Did you see that? That human just got blown up! This is amazing, I can see why you humans spend so much time staring at these machines.”
  472.  
  473. You know, I’d like to get blown... I shook my head violently to remove that thought from my brain.
  474.  
  475. 11-7 scanned me with her eyes. “Are you ok? You are acting strange and radiating a large amount of heat.” No, I’m not ok. I’ve got to get ahold of myself. If she can sense heat I’m already fucked. Would that be so bad? No. Stop.
  476.  
  477. I smiled and rubbed the back of my head. “Uh, yeah I’m fine. I’ve just got to uh... go to the bathroom.”
  478.  
  479. 11-7 raised an eyebrow and started saying something, but I ignored her and ran into the bathroom.
  480.  
  481. I quickly shut and locked the door. I flicked on the lights and looked around my bathroom. That new tub Advent put in was bigger in person, the damn thing took up half the bathroom. It was right up against the toilet, but it looked like I still had enough room to sit on it. Nice of Advent to be so courteous, I’d hate to have to shit standing up.
  482.  
  483. I looked at myself in the mirror. My face was kinda red and moist with sweat. I can’t believe that just happened. What would my parents think, me being guarded by an alien, much less having one move into my house and lusting after it. Yeah, that’d just be one more thing to add to the list of things they didn’t approve of. Curse my stupid primitive brain, getting me worked up over something that just mimics the female form and isn’t even human. Ugh, why did it have to be an alien? Why couldn’t I get a cute human girl to guard me? Well, I wouldn’t get a human, I’d get one of those hybrids, but at least that would be partially human. Hell I could always order the hybrid to never take off her helmet and pretend she was human. But instead, I get this serpent of temptation.
  484.  
  485. I sighed, wiping the sweat off my face with my hand and shaking it off. This is probably my fault, I clearly need to go outside and interact with people more. Even before all this terrorist bullshit I never did get out of the house much. I turned on the faucet, and splashed some cold water on my face. I shouldn’t get too comfortable around her; she’s definitely spying on me for Advent, and I can’t have her tattling on me. If I give Advent any sort of blackmail material I know they won’t hesitate to use it. My friend Carson told me about how he was forced to star in Advent educational videos for half a year because he got caught sleeping with a prostitute in between shooting scenes for an upcoming movie. Yeah, he’s one of those people. It wasn’t a terrible punishment, all things considered, but what rubs me the wrong way is he didn’t choose to do it. Things like that tread the fine line between us vips being celebrities, and being camera slaves.
  486.  
  487. I reached for a towel and dried my face. It wasn’t red anymore, and my heartbeat was back to normal. I think I’ve had enough time to cool down. Looks like I’m actually fine; I got all freaked out over nothing. I’m not a xenophile or anything. I’m just lonely and have a little cabin fever. This probably will never bother me again. I could just go hide in my room for the rest of the night. I do feel better now, but no. I’ve got to go back out there and prove I’m not a degenerate.
  488.  
  489. I turned off the light and returned to my spot on the couch. 11-7 looked at me, but didn’t turn her head away from the tv screen. I sat down and ignored her alluring humanlike body. Instead I focused my attention on the movie.
  490.  
  491. Unfortunately, that only lasted a few seconds because the moment I got comfortable she said something. “You didn’t flush the toilet.”
  492.  
  493. “Huh?” I said, not really paying attention to her.
  494.  
  495. “Why didn’t you flush the toilet?” I looked over at her and she was staring at me.
  496.  
  497. Why is she so observant? ”What, were you listening to me or something?”
  498.  
  499. Her hood retracted a little, and her eyes widened. “No, I just noticed it.”
  500.  
  501. Great, I hope she didn’t hear anything else. Sometimes I get so lost in my thoughts I just start talking outloud. “No, I didn’t flush. Why do you care exactly?”
  502.  
  503. 11-7 scrunched up her face and leaned her head back. “That’s disgusting.”
  504.  
  505. I smirked and leaned back on the couch. “Yeah, well get used to it. This is my house, and I’m not leaving the seat down for you either.”
  506.  
  507. 11-7 leaned over, closing the gap between us a little. “No need. I can’t fall in.” She looked me up and down. “unlike you.”
  508.  
  509. I really don’t want to know how she uses that toilet, but I’m definitely going to start cleaning it before I sit down. “Whatever, you enjoying the movie?”
  510.  
  511. 11-7’s face lit up. “Oh Yess, I am. It’s like I’m watching someone else’s assignment, it’s exciting. But there is something I don’t understand.”
  512.  
  513. It’s a pretty simple movie, so I was actually curious what she didn’t understand. “Oh yeah, what is it? I could probably explain it; I’ve seen this movie before.”
  514.  
  515. “I don’t understand the human rebel character, the Predator.”
  516.  
  517. “What about it don’t you understand?”
  518.  
  519. “It is impressive that he can hunt down an elite Advent squad by himself. He is the important character, but I am not learning much about him.”
  520.  
  521. “Um, well... He is the bad guy? You’re not supposed to want to empathize with him. I mean he is fighting against Advent?”
  522.  
  523. 11-7 put her hand up to her chin, and looked at the ground in thought for a while. She looked back up at me. “I’m aware of which side he is on. I just wanted to see how he hunted, so I could become better at hunting these rebels. I could have given some intel to my superiors if I saw it. You should always understand your enemy.”
  524.  
  525. I just sat there awestruck listening to this long tube with arms and tits blabber on about nothing. “What the hell are you talking about? This isn’t real, it was made up.”
  526.  
  527. 11-7 cocked her head. “Not... real?” She paused for a few moments. “What do you mean?”
  528.  
  529. I facepalmed and gestured at the tv as I spoke. “It’s entertainment, all these people are actors, I’ve actually met the guy who played the predator before and he’s not actually a rebel.”
  530.  
  531. 11-7 squinted her eyes and her pupils contracted. “Sso, you humans go out and pretend you are doing things in front of a camera to record it for others to watch?”
  532.  
  533. “Yeah, it’s a big business too; I’m actually a part of it. I’m an actor, I guess you’d call me a professional pretender. Didn’t you know that?”
  534.  
  535. 11-7 crossed her arms. “When I was briefed my superiors told me you were an asset worth protection, nothing more. So you do this too. It seems pointless.”
  536.  
  537. “You said you were enjoying the movie, that’s the point of it.”
  538.  
  539. 11-7 still had confusion plastered over her face. “You just watch it and move on to the next one. Is there no purpose beyond that?”
  540.  
  541. She really is clueless isn’t she. “Well, it’s not that simple, there is more to it than just watching. You can analyze parts of the movie, and ask questions like you did before. You can find characters you relate to and root for them. You could project yourself onto one of the characters and ask what you would do in that situation. Sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned from a movie. It’s more complex than what I’m saying, but you get what you want out of a movie. Multiple people can watch the same movie and take different things away from it.”
  542.  
  543. 11-7 pondered what I said for a bit before responding. “I think I understand.”
  544.  
  545. I smiled. “Do you now? Who’s your favorite character then?”
  546.  
  547. 11-7 pointed at one of the characters on the tv. It was a large buff man giving a monologue. “I like him, the human leader called Dutch.”
  548.  
  549. “Why do you like him?”
  550.  
  551. 11-7 was quiet for a few moments. “He’s brave and capable. His other squad members are breaking down, but despite his fears he tries to keep the squad together and keep the others alive. It is... admirable.”
  552.  
  553. I nodded. “Maybe you do understand.” I went back to watching the movie.
  554.  
  555. I was fine with finishing the movie without more talking, but 11-7 apparently wasn’t. “What is your favorite character, Lucas?”
  556.  
  557. It was strange hearing her use my first name. I’m used to most people calling me Mr. Hickey. It’s always refreshing to hear it, reminds me I’m not working. “Uh, same as you. I like Dutch.”
  558.  
  559. She looked at me expectantly for a few moments before responding. “Why do you like him?”
  560.  
  561. I thought about my answer before responding. “You know, he’s your standard action hero. Confident, contagious, strong. He’s out there fighting for what he believes in, and winning. Defending his friends and fighting against evil.” I sighed. “Sometimes I wish things like this were as black and white in real life as they are portrayed in movies.” Shit, did I really say that last part out loud?
  562.  
  563. I looked over at 11-7. She seemed to be pondering what I had just said, but her face gave me no hint of what she was thinking. She didn’t respond, she only nodded at me, and we finished the movie without talking further. I probably should have been scared that she was going to report me or something, but what would she even tell them. When the credits started rolling I yawned and told 11-7 I was going to bed. I showed her how to use the remote and went to my room.
  564.  
  565. My house did not feel so empty anymore, but at what cost? My sanity for one thing, half my couch, and one bedroom. Maybe the cost wasn’t too great, I did get a free bathtub out of the deal. I guess the saying is true: Be careful what you wish for because you might just get exactly what you ask for. I chuckled to myself as I plugged my phone in. No more “incidents” tonight after I gave myself that pep talk in the bathroom, guess I really am not a xenophile. I crawled into bed, feeling quite comfortable for once. Hopefully no nightmares tonight.
  566.  
  567.  
  568.  
  569.  
  570. Chapter 5
  571.  
  572. My alarm was going off. I sat up in my bed covered in sweat again, and reached over to shut it off. I couldn’t remember much of my dreams now, just a vague memory of being captured by terrorists and beaten with sticks. Though I’m sure there was a part where I shot that guy in the limo again, and got diddled by a viper shortly after. God damn this sucks. I really need to get out of the house today.
  573.  
  574. Normally the feeling of cool air brushing against my skin would help wake me up, but my room was sweltering, much more heat than I was used to. I looked over at the thermostat in my room and it read 82 degrees F. Dammit, now she’s fucking with the thermostat; that is where I draw the line. I threw on a pair of pants and rushed out of my bedroom. I saw the door to 11-7’s room was open, so I went out to the livingroom. As I got closer the smell of cooked eggs and bacon wafted towards me. Course, I knew it wasn’t really eggs and bacon, but imitation eggs and bacon usually tasted and smelled like it. I also heard what sounded like a cooking show playing on the tv.
  575.  
  576. She wasn’t on the couch, so I looked in the kitchen and saw her cooking on the electric stove, using some of the eggs and bacon I had delivered to me a week ago. I was planning on cooking myself a decent breakfast with them, but never got around to it. It was quite the sight to behold: her scraping at the pan with a spatula, and humming a tune cheerfully. It wasn’t one I had heard before. It sounded whimsical, and had no discernible pattern to it. She was dancing to the tune, I think. She was swaying back and forth in waves starting from her head, and going down to where her body touched the floor. I was mesmerized by how fluid and smooth the motion of her body was. She looked like she was doing a dance you might see a snake do for her snake charmer. Except she was dancing to her own tune, and I was the one who was charmed.
  577.  
  578. That smell started to get to me, which shook me from my trance. My stomach growled in anticipation as I walked up to her. I was about 2 feet away from her, and she still hadn’t noticed my presence, so I cleared my throat to get her attention.
  579.  
  580. “Oh!” She stopped moving, and I saw the tip of her tail go erect for a split second. She turned her head around to look at me, still managing what was in the pan. “Good morning, Lucas. Did you sleep well?” She was wearing my white apron and a black t-shirt underneath it.
  581.  
  582. I wanted to yell at her about the thermostat, but my stomach got the better of me. “You can cook?”
  583.  
  584. 11-7 giggled. “No, not before this morning.” She pointed over at the tv with her tail. “I started watching these cooking shows and wanted to try it. They’re very informative, they even showed how to operate the stove.”
  585.  
  586. It's a miracle she didn’t burn the house down while I was sleeping. “Oh, that’s nice. Is that for me?” I pointed at the meat cooking in the pan.
  587.  
  588. 11-7 made a gargled hissing noise after I pointed at the pan. “You must be hungry. Sorry, but I made this for myself.” Then she abandoned her post and slithered over to me. “But... if you ask nicely I might make some for you too.”
  589.  
  590. 11-7 smiled at me, and normally her being this close would unnerve me, but my hunger steeled my resolve. “Could you please make me some breakfast 11-7?” I even clasped my hands together to seal the deal.
  591.  
  592. She pretended to ponder my request for a few moments. “Since you asked so nicely, I can arrange it. Now go sit down, it will be ready soon.” She pointed at the couch with the spatula she was holding in her hand.
  593.  
  594. I sat down on the couch, and a few minutes later I was dining on some bland imitation scrambled eggs and bacon. It would seem she didn’t pay attention to the parts of the cooking show when they seasoned what they were making. The eggs were a little on the brown side, but not burnt, and the bacon was crispy. She could have done worse, and it was still better than cereal. I threw a little salt and pepper on mine.
  595.  
  596. 11-7 downed her’s instantly, like usual, which still was both gross and impressive. The plate she handed me was filled to the brim. She probably cooked all the eggs and bacon that I had in my fridge. I looked over at her, and she was watching me eat through the corner of her eye. Her appetite is near insatiable, reminds me of myself. I put in a valiant effort, but I couldn’t even finish half of what she handed me. Once I started to slow down I felt hungry eyes watching me with great interest. I didn’t even look at her, I just handed the plate over to her, and felt her grab it. A few seconds later I heard her set the plate down.
  597.  
  598. With my hunger satiated, my rational mind started to take over again. I looked over at 11-7 angrily. “So, why’d you turn the heat on?”
  599.  
  600. 11-7 looked at me and her pupils dilated. “You keep it cold in here. I’m cold-blooded, you don’t want me to freeze to death, do you?” She tilted her head down and raised her eyebrows.
  601.  
  602. Honest to god, she was trying to pull the puppy dog eyes routine. Well, the giant cobra-like humanoid eyes routine. Just how much does she know about human expression? In any case I had already eaten her bargaining chip, so I was not budging. “Don’t pull that bullshit, I know you’re not cold-blooded. I’ve seen your kind out patrolling in the freezing rain, wearing nothing but that armor that barely covers your chest.”
  603.  
  604. 11-7 snorted and looked surprised. “Alright, so you know of my species. Yes my sisters and I are partially warm-blooded, but I can not get warm as easily as you can.”
  605.  
  606. “Don’t care, it’s my house. Throw on a blanket or something, I’ve got like five of them in the closet over there.” I pointed to the closet in the hallway that led to our rooms. “Should be enough to cover yourself.”
  607.  
  608. She crossed her arms, and pouted her lips. I didn’t even know she had that much control over her lips. “Fine, but don’t expect me to cook you breakfast again.”
  609.  
  610. I just realized I didn’t even say thank you for breakfast. “Look, I appreciate the breakfast and I understand that you didn’t have to do it, but you’ve been acting very casual since you moved in. I thought you were gonna be a hardass when I first met you, but now you act like this house is your’s. Not wearing your armor, messing with my thermostat, and you could have burnt down the house while cooking breakfast.”
  611.  
  612. 11-7 looked a little sad after I finished my rant, and her hood contracted. “I’m sorry, this place is nicer than the barracks I was stationed in, and I was enjoying not having my superiors ordering me around. Your concerns are noted, but I am not wearing my armor unless we leave neighborhood D18, it is not very comfortable. I’d rather not wear anything, but my superiors told me I should wear these shirts so you don’t get uncomfortable.”
  613.  
  614. Did she just say she wants to be naked 24/7? Focus Lucas. “Ok, so let’s compromise then. Keep wearing your shirts, and don’t use the oven unless I am awake. Thermostat stays where I had it before, I get hot easily.”
  615.  
  616. 11-7 thought over what I said and nodded. “I’ll respect your wishes, but that wasn’t a compromise.”
  617.  
  618. I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
  619.  
  620. “What did you give up at your inconvenience?”
  621.  
  622. I’m honestly starting to believe she might be more intelligent than I’ve given her credit for. Even still she’s my guard, not a houseguest. “I’m not making you wear your armor, and I’m letting you use the oven even though you have no training.”
  623.  
  624. 11-7 stuck her chin up proudly. “I used it today with no trouble.”
  625.  
  626. I looked over at the oven, and back to her. “Did you remember to turn the stove off?”
  627.  
  628. 11-7 squinted her eyes and suddenly got a serious look on her face. She slithered over to the oven. She moved so fast all I saw was an orange blur, and then she was at the oven fiddling with one of the dials on it. Now that was funny, but holy shit is she fast. If I blinked I might’ve missed her standing up. Kind of cute how she gets so worked up over... Right, I still need to get out of the house. What sort of bullshit can I make up?
  629.  
  630. I got up and walked over to the oven. 11-7 was still having trouble with the dial. I cleared my throat to get her attention. She looked at me and moved away. “Like this. Turn it left until it clicks to turn it off. Turn it right to increase the heat.”
  631.  
  632. 11-7 nodded excitedly. I passed her and walked to the fridge. I opened the door and pretended to look for something. Wait, where’s my leftovers? I didn’t eat them yet. “Did you eat my burger?”
  633.  
  634. 11-7 did not respond, she just avoided looking me in the eyes.
  635.  
  636. “You’re lucky you made me breakfast because if you didn’t I would reach down your gullet and take my sandwich back out of you right now.” I made a grabbing motion at her head, and she scrunched up her face.
  637.  
  638. “I'm joking 11-7. You don’t have to take everything I say so seriously, but don’t eat my leftovers again.” She relaxed after I said that.
  639.  
  640. I went back to fake looking in the fridge. “Dammit, I’m out of... French onion dip. Looks like I’ll have to make a trip to the grocery store.”
  641.  
  642. 11-7 looked at me and squinted her eyes, flicking her tongue out slow. “You humans have a fast metabolism.”
  643.  
  644. “Uh, it’s not for right now, it’s for later, but we should go now. I don’t want to wait for it to be delivered by Advent, and no time to call for a ride.” Hopefully this will take a long time.
  645.  
  646. “You want to leave now?”
  647.  
  648. “Yeah, is that a problem?”
  649.  
  650. She shook her head. “I will get my equipment then.”
  651.  
  652. 11-7 went to her room, and I threw on a shirt. Few minutes later we were walking down the sidewalk of my suburban neighborhood towards the gate that separated us from the city. Well, I was doing the walking, 11-7 was slithering. I watched her body undulate parallel against the ground. It’s impressive how fast she can move without legs. The walk up to the gate was uneventful, but some of my neighbors gave me weird looks. It didn’t surprise me, it’s not like I had the time to tell everyone in the neighborhood about my new bodyguard. In fact, I don’t think I’ve told any of them yet.
  653.  
  654. I lived away from the gate, so I could pretend I lived in a normal neighborhood, but getting close to it reminded me that I lived in a compound. 10ft tall concrete walls, turrets everywhere, with armed guards patrolling 24/7, and it wasn’t just regular troopers, there were some psionic ones too.
  655.  
  656. I saw the gate exit on the sidewalk, and walked up to the scanner. It was a tall black pole with extensions up top that the scanners were in. These things check for weapons, illegal paraphernalia, that sort of a thing. I watched the Advent troopers as the red beam moved over my body. I got curious about how they worked one time, and looked up at the beam. I was temporarily blinded by it, and haven’t been curious since. A trooper walked up to me and scanned my phone. “Where are you traveling, Mr. Hickey? You have no plans for today.”
  657.  
  658. Oh shit, I must have forgotten to fill out the paperwork to leave my - goddamn - house. What is this, the Soviet Union? These guys better not give me a hard time. “Going to the grocery store with my guard.” I pointed back at 11-7 with my thumb. “It’ll be a short trip.”
  659.  
  660. The advent trooper talked on his coms in Advent. He was silent for a few moments, then he waved us through. “Get what you need and return.”
  661.  
  662. I was already starting to feel better. The fresh air and seeing people walking around was just what I needed. Initially I was enjoying the trip because people were giving us a wide berth, and normally the traffic is terrible. But the whole way there I kept getting more weird looks. There were even a few people that looked disgusted with me. It’s not like 11-7 was my first choice, and I didn’t like her much initially, but it was starting to wear on me a little. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, but it’s not like I can turn back now; we were already there.
  663.  
  664. The grocery store was huge, it was probably one of those big chain ones before the invasion, and was repurposed by Advent after the invasion. We walked inside past the sliding automatic doors. The building itself was bland, basically a big warehouse with a steel ceiling lit with industrial fluorescent lights, and floored with sterile white linoleum tiles. There were plenty of colorful advertisements dotting the aisles and signs hanging from the ceiling, so you couldn’t get lost. I don’t know what I expected, but the customers were giving me weird looks too. Now I’m mad, not because they’re looking at me weird, but because they don’t seem to be directing any of their looks at 11-7. At this point I’m just gonna get the dip and leave.
  665.  
  666. As we made our way to the chip aisle, we passed a family pushing around a shopping cart. Father, mother and two kids. While passing them the mother casually put herself between the kids and us.
  667.  
  668. I shook my head, and looked back at 11-7. “Being a bit dramatic there don’t ya think?” She looked at me and shrugged. I guess she was used to this kind of attention more than I was.
  669.  
  670. I saw the sign for the chip aisle and made my way to the potato chips. I reached for a bag of standard potato chips, and I felt 11-7 back up into me. I looked at the back of her head and saw her hood was flaring out.
  671.  
  672. “Woah 11-7, what’s up.”
  673.  
  674. She leaned her head over to me, but didn’t take her eyes off of the target. “An adolescent male was running towards you.” Then she returned her head to its usual position. “Leave the area, or I will be authorized to use lethal force.”
  675.  
  676. “Woah, Chill 11-7, that’s not necessary. What do you want?” I asked the guy I couldn’t see.
  677.  
  678. I saw a young man sidestep into view. He kept his distance from 11-7, and from me.
  679.  
  680. He looked both scared and excited. I’m sure a giant humanoid cobra brandishing a plasma rifle threatening you with lethal force wasn’t helping with that, but since he didn’t run away immediately that must mean he’s got something important to say. He looked rather unassuming, dressed in sweatpants, a t-shirt, and he was wearing a Starship Rangers hat. Starship Rangers was a Sci-fi movie that had its story continued with a tv show. I played a character in the movie. He took a deep breath and spoke. “Are you Lucas... Lucas Hickey? The guy who played Captain Wilkins in Starship Rangers?”
  681.  
  682. That made my day. I don’t get recognized too often by fans, and I was more than happy to humor him. “Why yes, I am. Now cadet, who are you, and who cleaned your uniform?”
  683.  
  684. He must have really appreciated that line because he laughed so hard he snorted. “Private Cody reporting for duty sir.” He put his hand up in a space cadet salute, and we both laughed. 11-7 gave us some space and was eyeing us both curiously. “I love Starship Rangers, and Captain Wilkins is my favorite character. Could I uh, get your autograph, please?”
  685.  
  686. “Sure, got something to write with, and something to sign?”
  687.  
  688. “I was actually buying some permanent markers for labeling, I’m sure they won’t mind if I open them early. Here, sign my hat.” He yanked his hat off his head and presented it to me.
  689.  
  690. I grabbed the hat and a marker and wrote “Cadet Cody. Forever forwards, never backwards (Starship Rangers slogan), and signed my name. “Here ya go.”
  691.  
  692. He was giddy with excitement and snatched the hat from me, putting it on his head as fast as he could. “Thank you so much, I can’t wait to tell my friends about this.”
  693.  
  694. “You’re welcome. Always happy to meet a fan, but I better not see that hat up for sale on the internet tonight.”
  695.  
  696. He nodded, but instead of leaving he paused and took his time looking 11-7 over and then looked back at me. He started snickering to himself as he spoke. “Don’t worry about what other people think; If I was you, I would have done the same thing. I’m even a little jealous.”
  697.  
  698. I wanted to ask him what he meant by that, but he scuttled off down the aisle. Just a weirdo I guess. I’ve had more than enough weird for today, but I had only half of what I needed.
  699.  
  700. It took less time to reach the dairy isle. I was still getting weird looks, but meeting that fan energized me. As I located the dip 11-7 tapped me on my shoulder. “That human over there has been taking pictures of you.”
  701.  
  702. “Huh” I looked over to where 11-7 gestured, and sure enough there was a guy with a camera standing partially behind a stack of 12 packs of soda.
  703.  
  704. 11-7 continued to point at him. “Do you want me to deal with him?”
  705.  
  706. I chuckled. “Oh, no. I’m flattered, I didn’t think I was important enough for paparazzi.” I yelled over to the guy. “Hey guy you don’t have to hide! You can take all the pictures you want! You want an autograph?”
  707.  
  708. The man stepped out from behind the soda and walked towards me. He looked as sleazy as a used car salesman with a haircut to match. Dressed in a greasy polo and cargo shorts. He seemed surprised that I called to him, but walked up to me all the same.
  709.  
  710. I’ve never really dealt with paparazzi before, so I just decided to be direct. “Is there like a pose you want or something?”
  711.  
  712. The man smiled. “Well, if you’d be so kind, could I get a picture of you next to your bodyguard there?” He pointed at 11-7.
  713.  
  714. I was a bit confused. “I guess, but why do you care about my bodyguard? Aren’t you here to take pictures of me?”
  715.  
  716. The man positioned himself to get a shot of both me and 11-7, and took a few pictures. “Well uh, I was just trying to get a few shots of the Advent snake fucker and his lover together.”
  717.  
  718. My mind went blank. “Excuse me, what?”
  719.  
  720. He kept looking through his camera. “Now gimme a shot of you two kissin or huggin or somethin.”
  721.  
  722. What? I looked at 11-7. She looked just as confused as me. Suddenly what he was saying clicked in my head, and it really pissed me off. “Get him the fuck away from me, 11-7.”
  723.  
  724. She hissed, slithering forward, she shoved the paparazzi guy with the side of her rifle, which knocked him down to the floor.
  725.  
  726. He climbed to his feet and shouted as he ran away. “Geeze, you asked.”
  727.  
  728. 11-7 tensed up and looked ready to pursue him. “It’s not worth it 11-7. He didn't commit a crime, it’s not like he can be arrested.”
  729.  
  730. What the hell was going on. Is that why I’ve been getting weird looks all day? I went onto the internet on my phone and looked up my name. A bunch of recently made articles popped up about me. Turns out someone got pictures of me and 11-7 together when I went to Advent Burger, and all these articles have labeled it as a date since we ate together. I scrolled through article after article, in horror, reading theoretical gossip about my love life. They said my personal life is a mystery to the general public and connected that to my new bodyguard. Apparently she is the only “woman” I’ve been seen in public with for a long time, and I guess that means that eating and chatting with 11-7 was a date. I’m not going to try to understand their logic here because there is none. I don’t really know how to say this, but to put it bluntly I’ve been branded as a Viper fucker by the media. Dammit, I was just trying to make sure Advent didn’t find out I withheld information in my report, I didn’t want any of this.
  731.  
  732. Life just isn’t fair, why is this happening. I specifically wanted to get away from this and now it’s being thrown in my face. I’ve gotta get into contact with Manny to talk about this. He... he can fix this, but first I gotta get home.
  733.  
  734. 11-7 put her hand on my shoulder. “Are you ok Lucas?”
  735.  
  736. I shoved her hand off me. “Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s just get the dip and leave.” I wasn’t leaving empty handed, especially after all this humiliation. Every single person that gave me a weird look today thinks I’m boning my bodyguard. Bastards, I’ll skin every single one of these journalists myself.
  737.  
  738. I was checked out by a cute cashier, so I smiled at her. In response she rolled her eyes at me. I couldn’t even get a smile back.
  739.  
  740. The walk home was more humiliating than I had expected. I was no longer ignorant to why people looked at me, and every face I saw was etched into my mind. Could I blame them for their disgust, no. I’d heard of scandals like this before, but they were few and far between. And I’ve never heard of a celebrity doing something like this. What made it worse was that I couldn’t be mad at them. The general population only knows what they are told, it’s the media’s fault for tarnishing my reputation.
  741.  
  742. Even though I know the Advent troopers could care less about anything other than their job, I couldn’t help but feel like they too were judging me when I passed through the gate to my neighborhood.
  743.  
  744. Finally we reached my house. I opened up the door and sat on the couch slouching in defeat. I heard 11-7 shut the front door and lock it. I looked up and watched her slither towards her room. As she moved past she cast a sympathetic glance my way, but did not say anything. I held my head in my hands and looked at the carpeted floor. Where to begin? I suppose I should call Manny, but if he’s any good at his job he probably already knows... and he told me nothing about it.
  745.  
  746. I dialed Manny’s number and called. I heard it ring three times and he picked up.
  747.  
  748. “Mr. Hickey, I was wondering when you would call.”
  749.  
  750. I’d love to argue with Manny about why he didn’t tell me, but he’s been my manager since the beginning, so I knew it wouldn’t be productive. “Cut the crap Manny. What the hell is going on?”
  751.  
  752. I heard Manny chuckle through the receiver. “Well Mr. Hickey, I think the articles speak for themselves. You’ve been fraternizing with Advent property.”
  753.  
  754. Yup, back to the same ol’ Manny, never listening to a goddamn thing I say. I’m sure playing these little games is the only pleasure he gets from his miserable existence. “Manny you know they aren’t true. You already know how I feel about alie... non-human earthlings.”
  755.  
  756. “Yes Mr. Hickey, I’m well aware of your... sentiments. These articles are nothing short of slander.”
  757.  
  758. It felt good to know at least one person in this city didn’t think I had a thing for alien snake women. “So, what should we do?”
  759.  
  760. “You will do nothing, Mr. Hickey. Continue to enjoy your vacation. I, will perform damage control. I believe we may be able to spin this to our advantage, but I will have to get into contact with some of my associates.”
  761.  
  762. I’ve been in a lotta situations lately where I’m just helpless. I don’t know why I even bother. “So, I should just do nothing?”
  763.  
  764. “I did not say to do nothing Mr. Hickey. Remember what we discussed yesterday? You should focus on getting yourself back to functioning form once your vacation is over. Do you understand?”
  765.  
  766. Well, at least I’m not under house arrest. “I understand, Manny.”
  767.  
  768. “Good, if you need anything at all send me a message. I’m going to be very busy for the next few days, and I won't be answering any unexpected phone calls.”
  769.  
  770. We said our goodbyes and I went back to leaning forward and moping. It sounded like Manny had a plan, but I can’t imagine what it is. I don’t really see how I’ll get out of this one unscathed, I’m finished. I doubt anyone will want the “Advent snake fucker” to be in their movie. I’ll be lucky to land a part as an extra after this.
  771.  
  772. My moping was unfortunately interrupted by my monopedal roommate. “Lucas, I heard what you said to your manager. I want to apologize for forcing you to take me into that restaurant. I hadn’t realized you humans liked to gossip so much.”
  773.  
  774. I raised my head slightly to look at 11-7. She was out of her armor and in a black tank top. She looked sad and maybe even guilty. Her hood was almost pulled to her head and she was fidgeting around with her hands. Too bad her being sorry wouldn’t help me. This extraterrestrial serpent is what got me in this damn situation in the first place. Sure, if I had a sectoid guarding me it would read my mind, but at least people wouldn’t gossip about whether or not I was fucking it. “You know, for someone who doesn’t have ears, you sure hear a lot.”
  775.  
  776. 11-7 nodded. “It’s a part of my assignment. If I wasn’t so observant, I would not have been picked.”
  777.  
  778. Most of my energy had been sapped by the grocery trip, and I didn’t have enough to be angry. So I responded dryly. “That wasn’t a compliment. I meant you are nosy, which is impressive considering you don’t have a nose.”
  779.  
  780. She looked confused for a few moments before she realized what I was saying. Then she put her hands on her weird human-like hips, and frowned. “I already knew from the articles you looked at. This has made you distressed, do you want to talk about it?”
  781.  
  782. The prospect of talking about this with her woke me up. “No! Even if I did want to, you would be the last thing I’d want to talk about it with.”
  783.  
  784. She snorted upon hearing me say thing, and squinted her eyes. “That is fine, I’ll leave you then. Enjoy your evening alone, Lucas.” I was no stranger to pissing people off, but hearing the word alone this time struck a chord with me.
  785.  
  786. As upset as I was, seeing her turn to slither away didn’t sit right with me, and I knew why. The prospect of being alone didn’t seem appealing anymore. I realized that no one would probably want to be around me after reading about me having a Viper fetish. Hell, I already know what my neighbors think, and the general population. I guess I could hang out with the weirdos, like that Cody guy, but I’d rather not. I was about to be well and truly alone. It was something I had experience with, something I understood. Something I despised, but could never really escape. Now it was about to become my reality. Just me and my house, no friends or family, suckling from Advent’s teat until I died. Upon reflection, I decided to not be an asshole, just this one time.
  787.  
  788. “Hey wait, 11-7.” She halted her movement, and turned to face me. “Look, I uh, didn’t mean all that. I’m just, you know, dealing with a lot of shit, and it keeps piling up.”
  789.  
  790. She didn’t look convinced. “That’s no reason to talk down to me. I did not write those articles.”
  791.  
  792. I sighed. “I’m sorry for that too. I know this isn’t your fault, it’s those damn journalists’ fault. Stirring up drama instead of reporting the news that matters. You’ve done your job well. I... I shouldn’t direct my frustration at you.”
  793.  
  794. 11-7 seemed like she was really enjoying my apology. She looked like a kid who was receiving a forced apology courtesy of her parents. When I was finished she seemed to mull it over for a while. “I can forgive you Lucas, but don’t think you can just go back to insulting me after this. My people’s bite is often worse than our bark.” She nipped the air in my general direction and turned to leave.
  795.  
  796. Again, I felt a nagging sensation at the back of my mind. What could I want? I already apologized to her; my conscience is clear. Well, I guess it has been a while since I’ve socialized with anyone outside of work, and our interaction last night was not unpleasant. Am I so starved for human interaction, that I’m seriously considering hanging around her? She isn’t even human, so I don’t think that would constitute human interaction. But, it would be better than nothing I suppose, and it’s not like this could affect public image. My curtains are drawn, and my neighbors aren’t prying. Even if someone did find out I doubt it would make things worse than they already are. There’s still plenty of time left today, and I am not going to bed early. The last thing I need right now is more dreams. Maybe she could help distract me from this shit, even if it's just for a few hours. It may be worth a try.
  797.  
  798. I saw 11-7 reaching for the doorknob to her room, and decided it was worth a try. “Don’t go just yet. Do you uh, maybe want to watch more movies tonight, or something?
  799.  
  800. 11-7 spun around and squinted her eyes. “And why would you want that?”
  801.  
  802. I shrugged and tried to play it off. “I uh... why not. Unless you’re busy with something?”
  803.  
  804. 11-7 cocked her head, and slithered up to me. “I had assumed you wanted to be away from me.” She paused for a few moments. “You’ve already apologized, you do not need to interact with me further.
  805.  
  806. “Well uh, you assumed wrong. Now come sit down, or do I have to order you to do that?” 11-7 looked cross when I mentioned ordering her. I put my hands up non-threateningly. “I was joking, it was... that was a joke.”
  807.  
  808. 11-7 relaxed her face, and snorted. “You know Lucas, I didn’t expect you to come around like that.”
  809.  
  810. Now even 11-7 was giving me a weird look, but it wasn’t disgust like everyone else, it was interest. “Well, I’m uh, full of surprises.”
  811.  
  812. 11-7 smiled and sized me up. “I can see that. Tell me, do you like me Lucas?”
  813.  
  814. I looked into her dilated crimson eyes, but couldn’t read her intent behind that question. Besides her lips which were curved upwards ever so slightly, her body language gave me no hints either, which made it an even more complicated question to answer. A question like this required a subtle and well thought out response. One that would leave both the questioner and the answerer satisfied. “Of course I do, I haven’t tried to replace you yet, have I?” Dammit, me and my damn mouth.
  815.  
  816. 11-7 snorted. “No, you haven’t.” She slithered onto the couch. “So, what did you have in mind?” Oh? Seems I spoke too soon.
  817.  
  818. I shrugged. “I don’t know, I figured I’d flick through channels until we found something that looked good.”
  819.  
  820. 11-7 gestured to the tv. “Start flicking then.” She emphasized the word flicking, which implied she didn’t know what it meant.
  821.  
  822. I chuckled and started looking. Eventually I clicked on crappy romantic comedy #503 by accident. I didn’t even see what it was called. I went to change the channel, but 11-7 was interested in it. She wanted to watch it even more when I explained why it was gonna be bad. Saying something about wanting to learn more about how humans interacted. She watched it intently, but I didn’t care for it much. I ended up studying 11-7 instead, watching her reactions to the movie. She laughed at every joke they made, and when I say every joke I mean it. There was some lame joke about the female lead’s mother being a cougar, and she laughed at it. She had a childlike sense of humor, I guarantee if I sat on a whoopee cushion she would probably think it was funny. Guess she wasn’t lying when she said she hasn’t seen much entertainment.
  823.  
  824. Honestly, the more I am around her the more human she seems. In the beginning I just assumed she was some kind of Advent attack dog, well attack snake, but she might actually have a personality... and a bad taste in comedies. I suppose it’s a good thing she’s not just a drone. She might be the only person, or alien, that’ll want to hang out with me from now on. Even still, I can’t trust her. It’s not like I can just forget what I’ve seen, and she’s a soldier. She’s not like my neighbors, who I can say off color remarks to and be fine the next day. She’s an agent of Advent. Her loyalties are with them, not me.
  825.  
  826. I looked over at her and she was giggling at another stupid joke that the protagonist of this romantic comedy made. She looked so innocent in this moment. No gun, no armor, no hostility, no professionalism. Even her crimson eyes, normally laser focused, had a twinkle to them. She was just someone sitting on a couch and enjoying a subpar film. I know what she is capable of, but can I really say that I know her? She’s still a mystery to me, maybe we could actually be friends. I can usually get a good read on people, but her, I don’t know. I’m sure the whole alien snake thing isn’t helping with that. Seeing as I’ll be stuck with her for a while I should get to know her, but where to even start? It’s difficult to get to know people, but aliens are a whole nother ball game. I’ve worked with Manny for how many years, and all I know is that he’s an asshole who drinks whisky sometimes. Shit the commercials are on, better think of something quick. I guess work is as good a place to start as anything.
  827.  
  828. 11-7 was watching the commercials, oblivious to my scheming. “So uh, 11-7, where were you stationed before this?”
  829.  
  830. She turned her head to face me. She squinted her eyes and slowly flicked her tongue out. That twinkle in her eyes was gone. “Why are you interested in that, Lucas?”
  831.  
  832. Maybe asking something related to Advent operations isn’t the best way to start off. “Oh, uh. I’m just making conversation. You know, small talk.”
  833.  
  834. 11-7 scrutinized me. It felt like she was trying to locate an inkling of proof that I had ill intentions. After a few moments she seemed satisfied. “I was stationed at base #45, it is located here in the city.”
  835.  
  836. I waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t. “What did you do at base 45? If you don’t mind me asking.”
  837.  
  838. She inspected me again, this time taking longer to do so, and again she seemed satisfied with her investigation. “I was assigned to patrol different sections of the city, sometimes deployed when conflict arose.”
  839.  
  840. “So, uh, what was that like?”
  841.  
  842. 11-7 didn’t examine me this time, she just looked confused. “I don’t understand.”
  843.  
  844. Ugh, she must not talk to people very much. “I mean, what did you do specifically, and did you enjoy it?”
  845.  
  846. “Enjoy... it?”
  847.  
  848. “Yeah, you’re enjoying the movies, right?” I pointed at the tv. “Did you enjoy your work?”
  849.  
  850. She looked away from me and back at the movie, but she wasn’t watching it. She was silent for a few moments before responding. “I enjoy combat, but patrols are boring. Nothing ever happened on patrol.”
  851.  
  852. Now we’re getting somewhere. “What was your housing like?”
  853.  
  854. “Do you mean quarters?”
  855.  
  856. “Yes”
  857.  
  858. “Bunkhouse, we were crammed together in one building. Each species had their own bunkhouse, all kept separate. Viper bunkhouse was far from entrance to base.”
  859.  
  860. “Interesting, what was that like? Being it a bunkhouse.”
  861.  
  862. She shook her head. “Bad, no room, bed was stiff, all showered together. No free time for us, only work. Food was bad, but not terrible.”
  863.  
  864. Sounds about right. That probably was standard military life for human soldiers before the war. “Can’t say I’d want to live like that. My apartment was pretty bad before I got this place.”
  865.  
  866. 11-7 cocked her head. “You lived somewhere else before?”
  867.  
  868. “Yeah, I used to live in a shitty two bedroom apartment with... myself, and I worked at a small arms factory. Made weapons like the one you carry around.” Let’s not open that can of worms now.
  869.  
  870. 11-7 looked surprised. “Engineer of weapons. That is a respectable job, a necessary one.”
  871.  
  872. “Well, I didn’t design them. I just built them.”
  873.  
  874. She nodded. “Fabrication is just as important.”
  875.  
  876. Wow, some actual appreciation for my old job; she’s gonna make me blush. “So, you were all kept in separate bunkhouses, huh? Must be weird sharing a house with a human then.”
  877.  
  878. 11-7 took some time to answer. “It has been interesting. You are strange, but I like it here better than the barracks.”
  879.  
  880. Strange? What does that mean? Did she notice the desire, or the fear? “I’m glad to hear it I guess. What do you mean I’m strange?”
  881.  
  882. 11-7 looked at me and put her hands on her... lap? She looked like a parent about to tell their child something they didn't want to hear. “Don’t become agitated, your behavior is normal for humans.”
  883.  
  884. Oh, so it's a human thing then. “Well, how am I strange? I’m not going to get mad.”
  885.  
  886. She snorted. “You can’t seem to make up your mind about how to interact with me.”
  887.  
  888. Yup, she noticed, probably both. Shit, how well can she read me? I could be an open book to her for all I know. I should just be honest. "Having you here has been an adjustment for me, but don’t get me wrong. I am happy that you’re here 11-7. You were a little overzealous, but you did a good job keeping me safe today. I’m sure people would have harassed me if you weren’t backing me up.”
  889.  
  890. She cocked her head. “You really mean that?”
  891.  
  892. “I do.”
  893.  
  894. I saw her lips curl upward into a slight smile. The movie started back up soon after, which ended our conversation.
  895.  
  896. We watched movies all day, and well into the night. I was dozing off around the third or fourth romantic comedy. Eventually the boredom overtook my desire to stay awake and I fell asleep. When I woke up, a different movie was playing and I had leaned back on the couch while I dozed off. I felt cool scales touching my arm. I looked to my right and 11-7 was sitting very close to me. My arm was laying on the couch, and the side of 11-7’s hips were pushed right up against it. I blinked a few times to make sure she was really there. 11-7 didn’t disappear, she had actually scooted all the way over to sit next to me and was watching the movie intently. How long has she been sitting like this? I didn’t know how to react, so I just pretended to wake up. The moment I stirred I felt the sensation of her cool flesh leave immediately, and I heard something heavy slide across the cushions. When I looked over at 11-7 she cast me a nervous glance, like she was trying to figure out if I knew something. Great, if she wants to pretend that didn’t happen, then I’ll play along.
  897.  
  898. Well this has certainly been an eventful day. I yawned. “I’m going to bed 11-7, don’t stay up too late.”
  899.  
  900. She seemed to relax when I didn’t mention anything about the whole sitting next to me thing. “Goodnight Lucas, but I only sleep for 4 hrs a day.”
  901.  
  902. That was surprising. “What, why?”
  903.  
  904. “My species has been genetically modified by the Elders to be more effective in combat.”
  905.  
  906. “Whatever, I don’t want to discuss genetics now, or how that would make you more effective in combat. Enjoy your 4 hrs of sleep, but don’t watch too many of those romantic comedies. They’ll rot your brain.”
  907.  
  908. 11-7 looked concerned. “Do they really?”
  909.  
  910. “No, it’s a figure of speech 11-7.”
  911.  
  912. She nodded. “Oh, I understand.”
  913.  
  914. She really needs to work on her understanding of human phrases. Though, I suppose it’s impressive that she can carry a conversation at all. I left and went to my bedroom.
  915.  
  916. It only took one day to ruin my career. I suppose it’s fitting, considering it took me one day to build it. Damn those journalists. And now instead of getting away from that serpent, I’m being pushed closer to her. Not that I’m a completely unwilling party to it. I mean, she was sitting close to me while I slept, and was embarrassed about it when I woke up. That’s cute as fuck; I never stood a chance, did I? No, this isn’t right, I’ve got to do something. How could things even work between us? Who knows what she has going on anatomically. She might not have anything... down there, since these Vipers never wear things that cover their waist. There’s still a chance for redemption, I can save myself before things get too serious. I just have to think about how. I looked at my phone, 12:22 am. Too late now, I’ll sleep on it. I climbed into bed and plugged in my phone.
  917.  
  918. She really sat right next to me, didn’t she? Hell, I’m surprised she wasn’t holding my hand when I woke up. That’s so corny, like something from a movie... I’m going to have to start keeping tabs on what she’s watching. I swear if I have any more weird dreams about Vipers or terrorists, or viper terrorists I’m gonna have to do something drastic. Sleep came easy, I didn’t have much energy left after the grocery trip, and those romantic comedies took what I had left.
  919.  
  920.  
  921.  
  922.  
  923. Chapter 6
  924.  
  925. I shot up in bed, wide awake. My heart was thumping in my chest and I was breathing heavy. I checked the time on my phone: 8:27 am, half an hour before I’m usually up. I didn’t remember my dream from last night at all, I was just experiencing the aftershock of it. Lucky me. I’m not going to chance it by going back to sleep though, so I might as well get up. I got ready for the day and went into the hallway.
  926.  
  927. 11-7’s bedroom door was open, and I heard the tv playing some show. I walked out into the living room, expecting to see her, but she was nowhere to be found. I sat down on the couch and started flicking through channels. As I was flicking through the channels I heard a strange noise, so I turned down the volume.
  928.  
  929. It sounded like quiet grunting, and it was coming from the... bathroom. I cautiously made my way over to the door. Assuming someone didn’t break into my house and decide to use the bathroom, 11-7 was in there doing - something. Normally, I would just walk away my face redder than when I arrived, but she sounded like she was in pain. I even heard something that sounded like someone was rubbing a balloon.
  930.  
  931. I didn’t know what the hell was going on in there, but because of the ruckus she was making I felt compelled to speak up. I knocked on the door. “Uh, you alright in there... 11-7?”
  932.  
  933. I heard the sounds stop, but she didn’t respond. “I might have some uh, laxatives if you need them. Not sure if they’ll work on you though.”
  934.  
  935. I heard a popping sound, and things were silent for a few moments before she spoke up. “I’m fine Lucas, thank you.”
  936.  
  937. Definitely going to need to clean and sterilize the whole bathroom before I use it next time. “Oh, ok then. Good luck, I guess.”
  938.  
  939. She didn’t respond, and I just sat on the couch and turned up the volume on the tv until I couldn’t hear her grunts anymore. Some time after I sat down I saw the bathroom door open, and she was carrying something in her hands. I didn’t get a good look at it because the moment she came out of the bathroom she ducked into her bedroom. Whatever she was carrying looked somewhat big. What the hell was she doing in there?
  940.  
  941. I watched her bedroom door, expecting her to come out at some point, but she didn’t. I kept watching tv for a few hours until I heard my phone start ringing. I looked at the caller ID. It displayed the word Manager back to me. Manny? What the hell could he want? I answered the call.
  942.  
  943. “Mr. Hickey, I have found an excellent opportunity to help restore your reputation.” He sounded like he was out of breath.
  944.  
  945. Something already? Damn, he really worked fast for this one. Though I’m not much use to Advent with a tarnished reputation. “Don’t keep me in suspense, what is it?”
  946.  
  947. “Do not interrupt me while I explain it.” Manny paused for a few moments. “I have been contacted by several different news agencies that expressed interest in interviewing you about your “date” with unit 117-45-LH. I turned down all but one of those that asked. The one I didn’t turn down has a good reputation. It’s a woman by the name of Martha Clarks. She works for a pop culture news show, perhaps you’ve heard of her? ” He stopped speaking.
  948.  
  949. I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean he had 3 interviews lined up for me after I was nearly killed by terrorists. “Give me a break, It’s been like one day since I found out.”
  950.  
  951. He cleared his throat. “I understand Mr. Hickey, but you need to understand your position. I won’t force you to do this. Whether you go or not is up to you, but this is in your best interest. I can try and salvage your reputation on my own, but I cannot guarantee my level of success. You would look better if you went to this interview, instead of hiding in your house. Think of it, you’d be representing yourself and standing up to your accusers. It would make you look strong and independent in the public’s eye, which I believe is the image you wish to maintain.”
  952.  
  953. I hate it when he’s right. I sighed. “What will it be like?”
  954.  
  955. His tone changed, he sounded chipper, or as close as Manny could get to chipper. “It will be short approximately 5-10 minutes in length. The questions will be straightforward and easy. For once, all you have to do is tell the truth. This should be a simple task.”
  956.  
  957. Maybe this won’t be too bad. “Okay, I’ll do it. Anything else I need to know?”
  958.  
  959. “You old driver Ronald will pick you up at 3:30 and get you to the news station at 4. Once you get there I’ll brief you further on what will happen. You’ll have a short meeting with Miss Clarks that I will observe, and you’ll give the interview shortly after.”
  960.  
  961. “Jeez you really planned all this out, huh?”
  962.  
  963. “You’re a smart man Mr. Hickey. You know when to take an opportunity if presented with one. I had faith you would make the correct decision.”
  964.  
  965. “Thanks, I guess. Talk to you later.”
  966.  
  967. “Goodbye, Mr. Hickey.”
  968.  
  969. I hung up and stared at my phone until the screen went black. I saw my face reflected back at me. What Manny said was true, this interview is an excellent opportunity. Assuming that Martha Clarks isn’t going to try and goad me into saying something I shouldn’t. Of course Manny is good at vetting those types, and I’m sure Advent still wants to help me with my reputation. I’m sure if I was unsalvageable they wouldn’t hesitate to throw me under the bus. But I don’t think I’m at that point yet.
  970.  
  971. I’ve got to prepare for this thing somehow. I could start with remembering what happened and once I’ve gotten that down I’ll modify it to make me look better. As long as the questions are focused on what happened I should be ok. It's a short interview, she’s not gonna have enough time to go on tangents. The more I think about this interview, the better it sounds.
  972.  
  973. I spent the next few hours preparing for my interview. Luckily, I wasn’t distracted by anything during that time. My reptilian roommate must have been occupied with something because she didn’t come out of her room until it was time for me to leave. I threw on my tan suit with a red tie, and walked over to 11-7’s door.
  974.  
  975. -
  976.  
  977. 11-7 cocked her head. “You are giving an interview about the event that has caused you much distress?”
  978.  
  979. “Yeah, I’m not super excited about it, but I have to do it. Driver’s here, so get ready quick. I’ll be outside by the car.”
  980.  
  981. She nodded and pulled her head into her bedroom before shutting the door.
  982.  
  983. Strange that she’s been in her room all day, but it’s probably nothing. After all, I was content with hiding in my house for the rest of my vacation.
  984.  
  985. I walked out to the car and there I saw Ron leaning against the side of the car smoking a cigarette. He looked like someone’s grandpa, and in fact he was, he’s talked about his grandchildren to me before. He had a thick grey moustache that spread across his upper lip, and had thinning hair up top that he usually covered up with a fishing-related baseball cap. He wore thick glasses because he refused to get any gene-modifications to fix his eyes, but despite that he’s the best driver I’ve had.
  986.  
  987. He’s never told me why, but I know why. It’s probably for the same reason I’ve never used one of those gene clinics. Some of my neighbors don’t care about that and they often brag about the new modifications they’ve gotten at neighborhood parties. For most of us we knew better. It’s a rule that no one put in place and one we’ve never discussed: don’t let Advent modify you. Course we can’t criticize people for getting modifications either, that would make the unspoken rule, spoken and then the thin line we all tread would fall out from under us. We were lucky, due to our positions in society my neighbors and I were not “encouraged” to go to the gene clinics like most civilians were. Advent was already getting its use out of us. I don’t know exactly what goes on at those clinics, but they aren’t just for the benefit of humanity, of that I am certain.
  988.  
  989. He pulled his cigarette out of his mouth and waved at me as I was walking up to him. “Howdy.”
  990.  
  991. I smiled. “Ron, you old fuck, I thought you were dead. They really let you out of the hospital this soon?”
  992.  
  993. He chuckled. “No, ya see I had to break out, the police are still after me. But ya know it takes a lot more than a bomb blast to keep this ol’ soldier down. What happened to you? I saw the interview when I was layin in a hospital bed, but ya know how these things go.”
  994.  
  995. “Good to hear. Yeah, what you heard on the news was true. I killed one of those terrorists and barely got out of there with my life.”
  996.  
  997. “I wish I was back there with ya and not knocked out in the front seat. We coulda gotten all of them bastards, instead of just one. Speaking of that, where’s your en-tour-age.”
  998.  
  999. “Trying out a new word?”
  1000.  
  1001. “I figured I should try and learn some new ones. I’m starting to get tired of using the same ones.”
  1002.  
  1003. “Good for you. She’ll be out in a bit. She’s getting ready.”
  1004.  
  1005. He got a look in his eye. “She’ll? She’s? You holdin out on me boy?”
  1006.  
  1007. Oh great here we go. “It’s not what you think, she is just - my bodyguard.”
  1008.  
  1009. He took a long and thoughtful drag from his cigarette. “Oh I think it’s exactly what I think it is. You sweet talked Advent - and somehow got yerself a hot and bea-u-tiful broad to guard you. I’ve seen some of them girlies walking around on patrol a few times, and they ain’t half bad lookin. So, she’s livin in your house, huh?”
  1010.  
  1011. “Well, of course she lives with me, that's Advent's policy. But she is not...”
  1012.  
  1013. “Oh ho ho, someone’s red at the cheeks. Give me details boyo. Do you like her? Is she a looker?” He cupped invisible breasts in front of his chest, still holding the cigarette. “How large are her assets?”
  1014.  
  1015. I was about to again attempt to explain an important detail to him, but 11-7 made her appearance, so it was unnecessary. Ron was mid-puff when he saw her slither out of my house. He looked to my left and his eyes widened. The smoke he was breathing out got caught in his throat, and he broke out into a coughing fit.
  1016.  
  1017. He leaned over while he was coughing. “Why - didn’t - you - say she was - a goddamn snake.” He struggled to get that sentence out while he was coughing.”
  1018.  
  1019. I spoke quietly to Him. “I was trying to Ron, but you kept interrupting me, you jackass.”
  1020.  
  1021. After a few deep breaths He straightened himself out. He looked at 11-7 again, seemingly appraising her with the focus of a jeweler as she was slithering over. He elbowed me and whispered. “Well she does have pretty large knockers fer a snake. Spose I can’t blame ya.” He started to cackle after saying that.
  1022.  
  1023. 11-7 looked at us both through squinched eyes. “What are you two taking about?”
  1024.  
  1025. God this is so embarrassing. “Nothing.” I gestured to Ron. “This is...”
  1026.  
  1027. He took his hat off and did a little bow. “Ronald Gallagher, best diver in the city. At yer service mam.” Always the show off, guess he really has healed up.
  1028.  
  1029. She cocked her head. “Your designation isn’t Ron?”
  1030.  
  1031. Ron put his hat back on and looked at me with an eyebrow raised. I answered the question he didn’t ask. “She's asking about your name.”
  1032.  
  1033. He looked back at her. “No mam, it is a nickname.”
  1034.  
  1035. “Nick - name?”
  1036.  
  1037. He removed his hat for a second and scratched his head. “It is a name my friends call me, but not my real name. My nickname is short for Ronald”
  1038.  
  1039. She pondered what he said, and glanced my way a few times while she was thinking. Then she looked at him. “May I call you Ron?”
  1040.  
  1041. He smiled. “Well, seeing as you were so polite about it, sure.”
  1042.  
  1043. She smiled slightly. “Thank you... Ron.”
  1044.  
  1045. He returned his attention to me. “So I’m taking you to an interview huh. Thought you were on vacation?”
  1046.  
  1047. “I am, this isn’t technically for work. It’s for me.”
  1048.  
  1049. “Well, I reckon we best get a move on then. You can tell me the details while I drive.”
  1050.  
  1051. The drive to the news station was uneventful. Ron seemed to be getting along well with 11-7 after his initial shock, which wasn’t surprising. When Ron wasn’t around his wife, he spent most of his down time leering at anything with tits and two legs. Though 11-7 doesn’t have legs, so I guess it’s just anything with tits now. I was quiet for the drive, going over what I had planned to say for the interview in my head.
  1052.  
  1053. “We’re here!”
  1054.  
  1055. I shook myself from my thoughts “Huh, what?”
  1056.  
  1057. Ron looked back at me. “Get yer head outta yer ass, ya got an interview ta do.”
  1058.  
  1059. “Right you are, I’ll see you around.”
  1060.  
  1061. I stepped out of the car and squinted my eyes. I put my sunglasses back on and got a good look at the building. It was standard fare for a building on the outskirts of downtown. White colored metal, covered with picture windows. The shape was blocky with lots of hard edges. No effort put into the look of the architecture at all. Definitely a building made after the invasion by Advent. The only thing on it that made it stand out from the buildings around it was the sign above the entrance that read: The Public Echo, in blue text.
  1062.  
  1063. As I walked towards the entrance I heard 11-7 slide up next to me. She spoke, to my surprise. “Are you certain you want to do this?”
  1064.  
  1065. I looked at her. She seemed somewhat concerned, but I couldn’t tell if it was for me or for herself. “I don’t want to do this, but that’s life. More often than not I have to do things I don’t want to. It’s not like someone else could do this interview for me.” Her concern remained, but I could tell by the way she looked at me that she understood why I was going.
  1066.  
  1067. We walked through the glass double doors and went through a small security checkpoint. A man in a black suit walked up to me once we were through. “Mr. Hickey I presume.”
  1068.  
  1069. “That’d be me.”
  1070.  
  1071. “If you’ll follow me I can take you to your room. Your manager is waiting for you there.”
  1072.  
  1073. I followed the man to a staircase. We were about halfway to the next floor when I heard 11-7 say something. “Is there an elevator nearby?”
  1074.  
  1075. The man and I turned around and saw her at the bottom of the stairs. Her hood was contracted slightly and I noticed the tip of her tail was curled up.
  1076.  
  1077. I’d never thought about her climbing stairs until now, so I spoke first. “You can’t climb stairs?”
  1078.  
  1079. She furrowed her brow. “I can maneuver up stairs... Just not stairs that are this steep while wearing all my equipment.” Considering how thick her body is, I can see how it would be difficult to get any traction or purchase on these stairs. Good thing to note if I ever get chased by a Viper I suppose.
  1080.  
  1081. The man responded. “There is one down that hall and to the left. The room is on the second floor. Mr. Hickey and I will wait for you outside of the elevator.”
  1082.  
  1083. With that 11-7 quickly slithered off down the hall. We made it up the stairs and waited outside of the elevator. It sounded with a ding and as the doors slowly slid open I saw her looking irritated. I couldn't help but chortle at the thought of a trained Advent soldier being unable to use certain kinds of stairs. She stared daggers at me in response, as she moved out of the elevator.
  1084.  
  1085. It was a short walk the rest of the way to my room. I said goodbye to the man and walked in. It looked the same as any other waiting room I’d been in. Few comfortable looking reclining chairs, big mirror, and a small fridge with some refreshments. Manny was pacing around in the corner of the room with his hands behind his back when we walked in. I stepped to the side of the door, so 11-7 had room to enter.
  1086.  
  1087. Manny looked over at me and grinned. “Welcome Mr. Hickey. Punctual as always.” He turned his attention to 11-7. “Unit 117, I do believe this is the first time I’ve seen you in the flesh. How are you liking your assignment? I hope Mr. Hickey hasn’t been giving you too much grief.”
  1088.  
  1089. Her body language changed the moment my manager addressed her. She seemed more rigid and her movements were deliberate, mechanical almost. Her tone changed too, and she spoke with little inflection. “Mr. Hickey has been accommodating and friendly towards me. I have no complaints about my assignment.” It was strange to hear them talk about me. Most people would consider this to be rude, but as usual Manny probably knew that and didn’t care.
  1090.  
  1091. “Good.” He lifted up his spectacles for a moment and scanned her face. “Not too friendly, I hope.” she shook her head almost imperceptibly and that seemed to satisfy him. Manny turned his gaze to me. “I wish we were here under better circumstances, but as you know Mr. Hickey you have an interview to do. Miss Clarks shall be here shortly, so I’ll brief you now.” Manny and I sat on two chairs that were across from each other with a coffee table in the middle.
  1092.  
  1093. The brief was short and sweet. The interview length had decreased by a few minutes, which I didn’t mind, but it seemed pretty straightforward. 11-7 initially seemed interested, but after a few minutes that interest disappeared completely. She was sitting on one of the chairs with her body stretched out on the floor. We had gotten far into a discussion on strategy for the interview before I heard a knock at the door.
  1094.  
  1095. “May I come in Mr. Hickey?” The voice was feminine sounding and it was muffled through the door.
  1096.  
  1097. I looked from the door to Manny. He spoke up. “Come in Miss Clarks, we are sufficiently prepared.”
  1098.  
  1099. The door opened and I finally got a look at Miss Clarks. She was younger looking than I expected. Fair skinned and had a face that was pleasing to the eye. Brown eyes, and long brown hair. She wore a black coat over a white blouse, and a medium length black skirt that held tightly to her body. Her whole look screamed librarian at me.
  1100.  
  1101. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you Mr. Hickey.” She walked towards me and offered her hand for me to shake. I saw 11-7 tense up out of the corner of my eye as I shook it. “How are you doing?”
  1102.  
  1103. I chuckled at her question. “I’ve been better Miss Clarks, I’ve definitely been better.”
  1104.  
  1105. She smiled. “Well I hope to change that. All too often people’s lives get ruined over rumors and... misinformation. I want to give you a space to tell the world what really happened, whatever that might be.”
  1106.  
  1107. Yeah, out of the goodness of your heart, huh. Or is it because you want the ratings. “That’s a nice sentiment. So, what do you want to discuss before the interview?”
  1108.  
  1109. “I want to get to know you better before the interview, so I know who I’m interviewing. Talking to a person face to face is so much more interesting than reading and doing research.”
  1110.  
  1111. I shrugged. “I guess I can see that. Well let’s get down to business. I sat back down in my chair and Manny got up out of his, and gestured for Miss Clarks to sit in it.
  1112.  
  1113. She seemed conflicted and looked like she was about to speak before she decided against it. Then after a few moments she decided to speak. “I was uh, hoping I’d have Mr. Hickey all to myself for this conversation.”
  1114.  
  1115. Manny gritted his teeth audibly. “That wasn’t what was agreed upon Miss Clarks.”
  1116.  
  1117. She looked like she had been caught stealing something. “I know, I know. It’s just I want him to act casually around me so he’ll be more comfortable during the interview.” Yeah, or she’s gonna try and get me alone so she can record me saying something stupid. But honestly I’m not even getting that vibe from her.
  1118.  
  1119. I waved Manny over. “Let me discuss this with my manager.”
  1120.  
  1121. He walked over. “I don’t know why you are even entertaining this Mr. Hickey. This is not a good idea.”
  1122.  
  1123. “It would make me look more genuine. I just want to confirm some things with you before I decide. Does she really have a good reputation? And is this place funded by Advent?”
  1124.  
  1125. He nodded. “She has not tried to entrap any of the people she’s interviewed, and her interviews tend to be more casual in appearance. So she is likely being genuine with her intentions. The Public Echo is partially funded by Advent, but not completely. I still would advise against this Mr. Hickey.”
  1126.  
  1127. I glanced back at 11-7, she was watching Miss Clarks closely. She met my gaze when she noticed I was looking at her. Unfortunately, she didn’t offer any hints as to what she was thinking and went back to watching Miss Clarks after a few moments.
  1128.  
  1129. I decided to agree to a private conversation with Miss Clarks. “I’ll do it, since it’ll help with the interview.”
  1130.  
  1131. I saw a spark behind her eyes ignite. “Thank you so much. You won’t regret this.”
  1132.  
  1133. She sat down in the chair across from me, and I watched as Manny and 11-7 left the room. Manny left immediately, but 11-7 took her sweet time, and stared down Miss Clarks the whole way out, even casting a final hostile glance before closing the door. Why is she so hostile towards Miss Clarks? She must have picked up on something I didn’t, this may have been a bad idea.
  1134.  
  1135. Miss Clarks seemed oblivious to 11-7’s hostility. She was focused entirely on me now. “I’m so happy you agreed to this. You have no idea how hard it was to get this interview. I was actually interviewed by your manager yesterday, and he did his research on me.”
  1136.  
  1137. I nodded. “Yeah, he’s good at what he does, I can’t deny that. So, uh how do you want to do this Miss Clarks?”
  1138.  
  1139. She giggled. “Well you can start by dropping the formality Lucas. You can call me Martha.”
  1140.  
  1141. “Ok Martha, so what did you want to talk about.”
  1142.  
  1143. “Oh I just want to learn about your background a little, but I think we should start with an easy one to break the ice.” She got a serious look in her eye. What... is your favorite color?”
  1144.  
  1145. My favorite color, what is this preschool? I sighed “Red.”
  1146.  
  1147. “Oh come on, liven up. You know your manager isn’t here anymore. You don’t have to score points by picking Advent’s color.”
  1148.  
  1149. I snickered a little at that. “Alright, but red is actually my favorite color. Kind of convenient since it’s plastered everywhere though.”
  1150.  
  1151. She nodded and pulled out a notepad. “Likes the color red.” She spoke aloud as she wrote on the notepad. “It’s a start. Why do you like the color red?”
  1152.  
  1153. “Well, I just do... I guess it’s a color that’s really eye-catching and it’s the color of passion.”
  1154.  
  1155. “A man of passion then. Should I make a note of that?”
  1156.  
  1157. “What, you need to make a note of that? I thought it was obvious.”
  1158.  
  1159. She started laughing, and it took her a few moments to calm down. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to forgive me. I’m somewhat of a fan of you.”
  1160.  
  1161. I find that hard to believe. I’m not a well known actor, and it’s hard to believe my interviewer just so happens to be a fan. “Are you now... Tell me, what’s your favorite performance of mine?”
  1162.  
  1163. “Ooo, that’s a toughy.” She paused for a few moments to think. “I really liked your performance in Intruder. Your portrayal of a man just trying to protect his family was powerful, and that scene when the wife died was so sad. I cry every time I see it.”
  1164.  
  1165. “I wasn’t expecting that. Didn’t Intruder do bad at the box office though?”
  1166.  
  1167. She nodded. “It did, but it wasn’t because of your performance.”
  1168.  
  1169. “Well, thank you. I try to put my all into my roles, even if I play a small part. Kind of ironic that’s the only movie I was the lead in and it bombed... Let’s move on to your questions about my background.”
  1170.  
  1171. Martha was scribbling furiously and looked up at me after I suggested we move on. “Oh, ok. I just want to make sure I have your background right.” She flipped back in her notepad and assumed a more professional seating position. “So, when you were younger you lived on a farm with your parents?”
  1172.  
  1173. “I did.”
  1174.  
  1175. “What was that like?”
  1176.  
  1177. Thinking back on my younger years always brings back bad memories. I sighed. “It was alright. Had a big family, so I was never lonely. Plenty of brothers and sisters to keep me company, but there was a lot of work to be done, and all of us had to pull our own weight. We had to work together as a family to overcome a lot of challenges, especially during Advent’s... liberation.”
  1178.  
  1179. She wrote some things down. “Interesting. Do you keep in contact with your family?”
  1180.  
  1181. I shook my head. “Not really, they never approved of me leaving, or of my choices after leaving. I doubt they’d want to talk to me, even after all I’ve done for myself... Course it’s my life to live, not theirs.”
  1182.  
  1183. “Why did you leave?”
  1184.  
  1185. I chuckled at that question. “Why does anyone move out of their parents house? I wanted to see what was out there beyond the fence of the farm and the small town we lived near. I wanted to come to the city and make something of myself without their help. Plus I was never really cut out to be a farmer.”
  1186.  
  1187. Martha’s cheery disposition turned more solemn. “That must have been hard on you... I can’t imagine not speaking to my parents.”
  1188.  
  1189. “Yeah. Well, I get by, and it doesn’t bother me that much anymore.”
  1190.  
  1191. She scribbled on her notepad some more. “What was your relationship with your parents like before you left?”
  1192.  
  1193. “What is this, a therapy session? I don’t see how my relationship with my parents has any bearing on the interview we’ll be doing today.”
  1194.  
  1195. She looked a little caught off guard by my outburst. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to overstep my bounds. I was just trying to get a profile on you, in case you wanted to do future interviews with me.”
  1196.  
  1197. “Well that’s fine, but let’s just stick to the script. And don’t ask me any questions like that when we do the actual interview.”
  1198.  
  1199. “Don’t worry I won’t ask you anything like that. I want to get your side of the story on the air, not your background.”
  1200.  
  1201. “Thank you.”
  1202.  
  1203. An alarm started to go off. She looked at her phone and pushed on the screen. “Well, that’s all the time we have together for now.’ She stood up, and walked over to me. I stood up too. She reached a hand forward for me to shake. I shook it. “It was interesting meeting you Lucas, I can’t wait to talk more, in front of a camera. See you in 20 minutes.”
  1204.  
  1205. She turned to leave the room, and I couldn’t help but notice the way her hips swayed as she walked out of the room. As soon as she left 11-7 and Manny came back into the room. Manny was impressed with my ability to keep Martha talking about nothing important, even though I was just answering her questions. 11-7 didn’t say much, she just nodded at me when I looked at her. I prepared some more and sat around drinking cans of apple juice, because that was the only non alcoholic beverage they had in the fridge, waiting for the interview to start. Eventually I heard a knock at the door, and walked off towards the set.
  1206.  
  1207. The interview room was well lit and clean. There were a number of staff walking around adjusting the lighting and various other things, and a man stood next to a large camera. The interview area was set up to look like a living room. Carpeting on the floor two comfy looking chairs separated by a few feet. There were some water bottles on a wooden table that sat in between them. Around and above the area being filmed it looked like a steel and concrete warehouse. I guess that’s how it always is with people, they only care about what’s on the surface, or what they can see.
  1208.  
  1209. Philosophy aside, I saw Martha was already sitting in her chair, so I sat down in my chair across from her. She spoke first. “Are you ready Lucas?”
  1210.  
  1211. I nodded. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
  1212.  
  1213. The tv camera guy counted down from three using his fingers and we were live. Martha gave her introduction. “I’m here today with actor Lucas Hickey, who you may know as Private Johnston from the popular show Home-Wreckers. He has been in the public’s eye recently because of some gossip about his relationship with his bodyguard.” She paused for a few moments and looked over at me. “I think we should address the question that’s on everyone’s mind before we get into the details. So tell us, are the rumors true?”
  1214.  
  1215. I shook my head. “No, this is simply a made up theory that came from a few photos. A theory that some journalists jumped on to get the story out first without bothering to investigate.”
  1216.  
  1217. She smiled. “And that’s why I brought you on, so we could hear the truth. Which leads me into my next question, what actually happened that day at Advent Burger?” She leaned forward slightly after finishing.
  1218.  
  1219. I paused for a few moments to gather up my thoughts. “My new bodyguard had been assigned to me recently, and now that I had some protection again I felt safe enough to go out.”
  1220.  
  1221. I paused for a few seconds, so Martha butted in. “I’m surprised you would go out so soon after the terrorist attack.”
  1222.  
  1223. I chuckled. “Yeah, well Advent assured me I would be fine, so I trusted them. Haven’t been attacked since that day, so they were right. Anyway, I decided to go to an Advent burger. And, of course, my bodyguard had to come with me, for my safety. So we went to Advent Burger together.”
  1224.  
  1225. “Then your guard was there to protect you?”
  1226.  
  1227. “Yes, exactly, but apparently that's not obvious to some people. I was a bit hesitant to bring her in with me, but it was better to not take that chance.”
  1228.  
  1229. She paused for a few moments before responding. “That explains why your guard was there with you, but why were you eating together?”
  1230.  
  1231. I cleared my throat and swallowed. “It would have been rude if I was stuffing my face in front of her, and didn’t offer to get her something beforehand.”
  1232.  
  1233. She seemed satisfied with my answer. “My, such a gentleman.” She laughed after saying that. “So, what exactly is your relationship with your bodyguard?”
  1234.  
  1235. This question was the one I prepared for the most. “We interact with one another, but we are not friends. Our relationship is strictly professional. I don’t know her very well, at best we are acquainted with one another.” Not exactly true, but I’ve got an image to keep, and I cannot leave this open ended.
  1236.  
  1237. She referred to her notes after I answered the question. “One of the rumors that has been circulating is that it lives in your house with you.”
  1238.  
  1239. I nodded. “It is standard procedure that Advent security staff live with the person that they are protecting. Before I had her, three Advent troopers were living in my house. There are additional measures in place to protect me at home, but I won’t go into detail about them for obvious reasons.”
  1240.  
  1241. She laughed. “Are you sure you don’t want to give us detailed information on your security system?”
  1242.  
  1243. I chuckled and shook my head. “No, maybe if you got me drunk enough I would.”
  1244.  
  1245. As Martha laughed again, she looked over at the cameraman. He signaled to her by holding up two fingers. “One final question, I noticed you’ve referred to your bodyguard using she and her during this interview. What is that about?”
  1246.  
  1247. That was unexpected. I paused for a few moments to think of a response “Well, she’s not an it. - I mean, she can not only talk, but she can also hold a conversation... It would be demeaning to refer to her as an it.” This next line I just thought of will probably get Manny’s dick hard, if he has one. “Besides, it is the Elder’s will that we all live together in harmony. We should all respect our fellow earthlings, no matter what they look like.” I smiled after saying that. God that’s so cringy, I hope it’s not showing up on my face.
  1248.  
  1249. She looked at the camera. “That’s all we have time for today unfortunately. I must say, I’m convinced. But don’t stop here guys, carry on the conversation online. And remember to keep tuning into The Public Echo for your professional pop culture news.” She looked over at me. “It’s been a pleasure Lucas.”
  1250.  
  1251. “The pleasure was all mine Martha.”
  1252.  
  1253. We shook hands and the camera man gave us a hand signal that implied the broadcast had been cut.
  1254.  
  1255. Martha laughed. “Wow, you are really good at this. I even threw you a curveball there at the end.”
  1256.  
  1257. I shrugged. “When you do public speaking and Acting as a career you tend to get good at it.”
  1258.  
  1259. “You’re not upset about any of the questions are you? I didn’t want to press you too hard.”
  1260.  
  1261. I shook my head. “I think we stayed on track, which was the important part. I’m feeling pretty good about this interview. But I’ve got to go meet with my manager. I’ll see you later.”
  1262.  
  1263. She looked like she wanted to say something, but she didn’t stop me when I walked away. “Goodbye...”
  1264.  
  1265. The walk back to my waiting room was short and once inside I was greeted by a pleased Manny.
  1266.  
  1267. “I couldn’t have said it better myself Mr. Hickey. Once again you prove your value to Advent.”
  1268.  
  1269. “Hey thanks, maybe we should celebrate a little. There are some drinks in that fridge other than apple juice.”
  1270.  
  1271. I saw his eyes widen in surprise, but he didn’t say no. I went over to the fridge and grabbed myself a beer and handed one to him.
  1272.  
  1273. I looked at 11-7, but when her gaze met mine I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. She seemed reserved. “You want one?”
  1274.  
  1275. She shook her head, and didn’t speak. After that she avoided looking at me. I went and sat on a chair.
  1276.  
  1277. Manny looked over at me, still standing up. “This isn’t Liquor Mr. Hickey.”
  1278.  
  1279. I cracked mine open and took a sip. “Nope, but it does the same thing as liquor. You just have to drink more of it.”
  1280.  
  1281. He nodded and gulped some of it down. I saw a look of disgust spread across his face. “It tastes disgusting.”
  1282.  
  1283. I laughed at that. “Most people don’t drink it for the taste. Least, I don’t.” I took another drink.
  1284.  
  1285. He sat down across from me, examining the can in his hand. “I suppose a celebration is in order. Your performance was exemplary today.”
  1286.  
  1287. I knocked back a few beers with Manny as we discussed my performance in the interview. As I was starting to feel buzzed our conversation topics shifted to small talk. 11-7 observed us, but her gaze was empty. I detected no emotion from it, and she didn’t speak to either of us.
  1288.  
  1289. “So, you like alcohol. Better be careful, it might grab hold of you like it did the Native Americans.”
  1290.  
  1291. Manny shook his head. “Don’t compare me to them. I have the ability to stop whenever I want to.”
  1292.  
  1293. “Have you ever been to a bar, or a club? There are all kinds of drinks you can order. Most of them taste better than beer.” I said as I finished another can of beer.
  1294.  
  1295. He shook his head. “Being surrounded by a large grouping of intoxicated humans with loud music playing is not worthwhile, when I can buy drinks somewhere else.”
  1296.  
  1297. “Ey fair enough. It’s about the experience though. The music’s usually not terrible. Just beats with synth and shitty pop music. You can ignore it.”
  1298.  
  1299. “I do not understand why anyone would want to go.”
  1300.  
  1301. “Some people go to meet other people...” It was then I got a really good idea. “Hey, I just thought of something. I feel great after that interview. What if I went down to a club, and showed the public that I’m still - on the market.”
  1302.  
  1303. His lips stretched into a wicked smile. “I like the way you think Mr. Hickey... but is this strictly for business, or pleasure?”
  1304.  
  1305. I shrugged. “A little of both I guess.”
  1306.  
  1307. “What club did you have in mind?”
  1308.  
  1309. “Hmmm, could try the new one downtown. I think it’s called Exxsite or something.”
  1310.  
  1311. “I can easily get you in. When did you want to be there?”
  1312.  
  1313. “Sooner rather than later.”
  1314.  
  1315. He nodded. “I will return to my abode and organize it. You’ll receive a message if I’m successful.”
  1316.  
  1317. He strode out the door, leaving me and 11-7 alone. I drank in silence for a while, then I turned around to look over at her. “Great interview huh.” I did a fist pump with my arm as I said that.
  1318.  
  1319. She looked at me with a neutral expression, and spoke with a tinge of animosity in her voice. “Yes, very - professional.”
  1320.  
  1321. I laughed. “That’s it? I killed it out there! I had that interviewer eating out of the palm of my hand.”
  1322.  
  1323. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. “You did good.”
  1324.  
  1325. She’s talking like Manny is still here. “Lighten up a little 11-7. Manny’s not here anymore, you don’t have to be so serious around me.”
  1326.  
  1327. She was about to respond, then I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and saw a familiar interviewer standing there. “Oh, Martha. Hello.”
  1328.  
  1329. She started playing with her hair a little, and didn’t meet my gaze. “Hey, I was wondering if you’d want to go to a party later. I’m allowed to bring one guest and I figured why not you.”
  1330.  
  1331. “Uhhh. Well, I already have plans unfortunately. Sorry, maybe another time.”
  1332.  
  1333. She met my gaze. “Oh don’t be sorry. Here’s my number if you ever want to do something.” She thrust a piece of paper in my hands and left the door way, walking down the hall.
  1334.  
  1335. I watched her walk down the hall and went back into the room when I saw her turn a corner. As I was looking at her number I saw 11-7 watching me with great interest out of the corner of my eye. I chuckled and ripped up the paper before shoving the pieces in my pocket.
  1336.  
  1337. 11-7 spoke up. “Why did you just rip that up?”
  1338.  
  1339. “Huh” I looked over at her.
  1340.  
  1341. Her eyes were squinted and she seemed very invested in my answer. “That woman gave you a way to contact her. Why did you destroy it?”
  1342.  
  1343. “Oh, that's easy. Journalists and vip’s don’t mix. Things just wouldn’t work out between Martha and me because I can’t trust her. Never know when she might turn on me to get out some big story to further her career.”
  1344.  
  1345. She looked satisfied and pondered what I said. “I understand.”
  1346.  
  1347. I sighed. “Yup, that’s the position I’m put in. It’s difficult to find people to hang out with that you can trust to not stab you in the back first chance they get.” I took another swig from my beer.
  1348.  
  1349. She lowered her head and stared at the ground for a few moments. Then she looked back up at me. “Do you trust - me?”
  1350.  
  1351. I chuckled and pointed at her. “You’re funny.” She looked uncertain. “Course I do, you haven’t given me a reason not to anyway.” Jeez that was a weird thing to say, maybe I’d better slow down on the brewskis.
  1352.  
  1353. She turned her head and I saw a small grin cross her face. I got a message on my phone and looked to see who it was. It was Manny, and he got me a spot at the club I mentioned.
  1354.  
  1355. “Looks like we’re going on a field trip.”
  1356.  
  1357. She looked back at me, and cocked her head slightly. “What do you mean?”
  1358.  
  1359. “Manny got me a spot at the club I mentioned earlier.”
  1360.  
  1361. “You want to go out now?”
  1362.  
  1363. “Yeah, why not? Could be another opportunity to dispel the rumors.”
  1364.  
  1365. Her hood contracted slightly, and she shook her head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, so soon after the interview.”
  1366.  
  1367. “Oh please, don’t be so negative. Anyway, we should get going. Ron is waiting for us.”
  1368.  
  1369. As I left the room I noticed 11-7 was hesitant to leave, but soon after I was in the hallway she slithered out and caught up to me. As we got to the stairs I felt her tap my shoulder.
  1370.  
  1371. I turned to look at her. “I’ll use the elevator.”
  1372.  
  1373. “Ok.” So I followed her to the elevator. Kind of weird that she requested that I go with her, but whatever. When we got to the door she slithered in, and gave me a strange look when I walked in behind her. It was a little cramped, but she coiled up her body so I had some space.
  1374.  
  1375. I looked up over my shoulder at her. “You know, you’re really good at that.”
  1376.  
  1377. She squinted her eyes and looked down at me. “What am I good at.”
  1378.  
  1379. I gestured to her body. “The coiling... thing. I mean, you are like massive and you somehow always manage to take up so little space. It’s impressive.”
  1380.  
  1381. She gave me another look that made me feel like I was the giant alien in the elevator, instead of her. After a few more moments the doors to the elevator opened and soon after we were outside and climbing into the car. Ron was pretty enthusiastic about me going to a club and said I should get out like this more often.
  1382.  
  1383. As we were driving down 11-7 broke the silence with a query. “Why are you going to a nightclub?”
  1384.  
  1385. “It’s to uh, pick up chicks, and to show I’m still on the market.”
  1386.  
  1387. She was quiet, probably processing what I said, for a few moments. “Acquiring young chickens? And you're attempting to sell them? But there are none anymore. It is Advent policy that people are not allowed to own any animals. I would have to report you, please reconsider this Lucas.”
  1388.  
  1389. I heard Ron start laughing. “You don’t know diddly squat, do ya snake.”
  1390.  
  1391. She looked at him and furrowed her brow. “I know what is illegal and what isn’t.”
  1392.  
  1393. “Chill out there, I’m not doing anything illegal. That was just an expression.”
  1394.  
  1395. She looked at me indignantly. “What does picking up chicks mean then.”
  1396.  
  1397. I chuckled. “Well uh, it’s when you go out and look for some ladies, converse with them for a bit, and try to convince them to come home with you.”
  1398.  
  1399. Ron stopped at a red light and looked back at me. “You are too... tech-ni-cal with your descriptions. You won’t catch any honeys talkin like that.”
  1400.  
  1401. I pointed at myself with my thumb. “I am a master of seduction. Just you wait and see, I’ll bring back a Gal with me.”
  1402.  
  1403. “Might get cramped in the back if there’s three of ya. She’ll have to sit up front with Uncle Ron.” He patted the passenger seat in the front.
  1404.  
  1405. I laughed at that.
  1406.  
  1407. 11-7 thought about this for a few moments, and her tongue was flicking out much slower than usual. “I do not think you will have much success Lucas.” She stated it like a fact, but I think she was joking around.
  1408.  
  1409. I heard Ron burst into laughter. “See, even the snake is questioning your ability.”
  1410.  
  1411. I looked at her and she was snickering to herself, like a child. The audacity of this alien. “Oh what do you know, you didn’t even know what picking up chicks meant.”
  1412.  
  1413. She stopped snickering and looked at me with a smirk. “You are correct, I didn’t, but I’ve learned much about human behavior since I received this assignment.”
  1414.  
  1415. I poked 11-7 in her shoulder pad as I spoke. Her hood flared out and her eyes widened slightly. “I’ll show you. Maybe I’ll bring back 2 or 3 girls just to show you how wrong you are.”
  1416.  
  1417. She squinted her eyes and leaned her head closer to me. “We will see.”
  1418.  
  1419. So she accepted my challenge, great. There's just one problem: my confidence is a leaning tower that is currently being propped up with cans of beer. Judging from her body language she seems pretty confident in her assessment of me. There’s no way she could know I’m inexperienced with this, can she smell the virgin on me? Not that I am a virgin, I just don’t do this on the regular, or at all really. Why am I always getting into these stupid situations.
  1420.  
  1421. The rest of the drive there was relatively quiet, with 11-7 casting me a snide glance every once in a while. I thought about what the hell I was going to do when we got there. Soon enough I heard the sound of muffled beats and EDM. I looked out the window as we pulled up. It was almost dark out now, the street and the sidewalk were lit up with intermittent street lights that cast a hazy white glow over everything. The building itself was black with white stone tiles adorning the wall. There were no windows, just a door, and a glowing white sign that spelled Exxcite. The clean minimalist look of it made it stand out from the buildings that surrounded it. Well that, and the long line of people standing along the sidewalk to get in.
  1422.  
  1423. He pulled up on the other side of the line. “We ave arrived. Jesus, I’d hate to be standin in a line like that.”
  1424.  
  1425. I smirked and looked at him. “You think I wait in lines old man? You forget, I work for Advent.”
  1426.  
  1427. I opened the door and stumbled out of the car. I looked back and saw 11-7 slithering out. Once she was out, It took me a few moments to gather my thoughts, but I told her my game plan. “Now listen, not everyone is as used to you as I am, so when I’m making my moves...” Shit, I lost my train of thought. “Could you like, guard me from a distance?”
  1428.  
  1429. She nodded. “I wouldn’t want to hurt your chances Lucas; I will observe from a distance.” She leaned forward slightly. “But I will be observing closely.”
  1430.  
  1431. “Uh, good to know, follow me, and don’t talk to anyone.”
  1432.  
  1433. As I walked up to the door of the nightclub I noticed that some of the people standing in line shot me nasty looks. Eh, their fault for not being famous. I walked up to the bouncer, who was a behemoth of a man crammed into a black button up shirt and black slacks. He was almost as wide as he was tall, bald with a short trimmed beard. He was already talking to some people, so I waited for him to finish with them. He let them walk in and then turned his attention to me.
  1434.  
  1435. “Sorry buddy, you and your...” He was looking at 11-7 and her plasma rifle. He seemed to be slightly unnerved.
  1436.  
  1437. “Bodyguard.”
  1438.  
  1439. “You and your... bodyguard will have to get in line.”
  1440.  
  1441. “I should be on the VIP list, look up the name Lucas Hickey.”
  1442.  
  1443. “Okay, I'll look.” He started typing on a tablet device he was holding. After a few seconds he looked back up at me. “Yeah you’re on the list, you can head on through.”
  1444.  
  1445. “Thank you.” I walked past him into the nightclub. I’m sure he was happy to get away from us. The moment I walked in all of my senses were bombarded. There were flashing lights of different colors, some generic electronic music with a repeating beat was playing loudly, and it smelled like sweat and alcohol. The inside was sizable, sporting many tables, a big dance floor with a DJ booth, and more than one bar. It was packed, why there had to be at least 100 people here.
  1446.  
  1447. I looked at 11-7 she was scanning the entire room, probably looking for potential threats. I walked over to an empty table and as she followed me, she got plenty of looks on the way there, but it didn’t seem like she cared. Lucky for her I guess, too focused on her job to realize how much she stood out. All these people, it’s been ages since I’ve done something like this. I might need a shot of liquid confidence, maybe even 2 or 3.
  1448.  
  1449. “I’ll be going up to the bar, so where do you want to sit?”
  1450.  
  1451. She didn’t even look at me, she continued to survey the surrounding area as she spoke to me. “This spot has a sufficient view of the bar, I will be here.”
  1452.  
  1453. “Ok, I guess I’ll holler if I need you.”
  1454.  
  1455. She regarded me with a serious expression. “That won’t be necessary.”
  1456.  
  1457. “O-kay? Good to know, I guess.” I walked up to the bar and sat on an empty barstool. The bartender walked over to me. He wore a black button up shirt and black slacks, same as the bouncer out front; must be their uniform.
  1458.  
  1459. “What would you like to drink, sir?”
  1460.  
  1461. “Uhhhh, just get me a shot of vodka, and a rum and cola.”
  1462.  
  1463. “Right away sir.” He typed on a tablet on a stand and gestured for me to pay. I waved by phone in front of it. While he made my drinks, I surveyed my surroundings. I saw two girls, who were attractive looking sitting together at the end of the bar, there's a mark. I also saw a more mature woman sitting alone at a table looking somewhat sad, mark number two. I heard the bartender set my drinks down, so I turned back to face the bar. I slammed the shot and took a few big gulps of my rum cola, before heading over to the two girls. Here I go.
  1464.  
  1465. As I approached they were talking about someone named Jessica. I interrupted them. “So, how are you ladies doing tonight?”
  1466.  
  1467. They both turned to face me, and seemed interested in my sudden appearance. The one on the right was a longhaired blonde and was wearing a tight purple dress. The other one was a brunette with short wavy hair in a modest black blouse and trouser combo. The blonde spoke first. “We’re doing great, super excited about getting into this club.”
  1468.  
  1469. The brunette shared her sentiments. “Yeah, the wait to get in took for-ever.”
  1470.  
  1471. “That line did look pretty long, course I got it right away, so the wait wasn’t too bad for me.”
  1472.  
  1473. The blonde looked surprised, but the brunette wasn’t impressed. “Yeah, right. Who are you?”
  1474.  
  1475. “The name’s Lucas, Lucas Hickey. I’m an actor, been in a few movies and TV shows.”
  1476.  
  1477. The brunette frowned. “I’ve never heard of you.” The blonde seemed to be in deep thought about something.
  1478.  
  1479. Well that’s understandable, not everyone knows who I am, but this exchange isn’t going well, time to change the subject. “I noticed you ladies didn’t have any drinks, so I figured I’d come over and fix that problem.”
  1480.  
  1481. The promise of a free drink did catch the brunette’s attention. “I could use a drink, what about you Stacy?”
  1482.  
  1483. “I’ll get one too.”
  1484.  
  1485. “Go ahead and ask the bartender I’ll pay for it.”
  1486.  
  1487. The two women got their drinks and were sipping on them happily.
  1488.  
  1489. I leaned onto the bar and tried to sound serious for a moment. “Now, let me ask you ladies a question real quick. Have either of you had an officially recognized hero buy you a drink before?”
  1490.  
  1491. The brunette responded. “No, I haven’t. Who are you?”
  1492.  
  1493. I started to explain to them who I was, and what I did as a job. The brunette seemed to be interested in me, but just as I was about to seal the deal, the blonde spoke up. “I thought I recognized you, you’re that guy who fucked his viper bodyguard. Oh my god, he’s the Advent snake fucker, Skylar.” Instantly the brunette backed off.
  1494.  
  1495. God - fucking - dammit. I cleared my throat. “Those are unsubstantiated rumors that were peddled by shitty journalists.”
  1496.  
  1497. They didn’t respond. “Look, I just did an interview about this a couple hours ago...”
  1498.  
  1499. They still didn’t look like they believed me. This went south very fast, guess it’s time to go big, or go home. “You know hypothetically speaking, if I could keep a creature of that size - satisfied, that would be good for you wouldn’t it?” I raised my eyebrows a few times in quick succession, for added effect.
  1500.  
  1501. Disgust crawled across both of their faces. The blonde spoke up first. “You’re a creep.”
  1502.  
  1503. I looked to the brunette for support, but she turned away from me. Then they got up and walked over to some girl that was waving at them, presumably that was Jessica. Damn, I was so close, stupid blonde. If only she was airhead type, I could have gotten some action. I finished the rest of my rum and cola, and got a refill. After chilling at the bar for a few minutes I decided to try again. After all, not everyone thinks the same, time for round 2.
  1504.  
  1505. The rest of the night went just as terribly, as I tried talking to various women. Some recognized me as the Advent snake fucker, others said they had boyfriends that were just not present apparently. Hell, a few of them just outright ignored me. Tonight was not going as well as I hoped it would, and I'm not getting the self confidence boost I so sorely needed. Throughout that time I kept looking back at 11-7, expecting her to be laughing at my failures, or at least to cast me a smug look. But every time she bore a neutral expression and seemed to be more focused on her job than mocking me.
  1506.  
  1507. After all that failure I just decided to sit at the bar, I was tired and didn’t feel like talking to anyone else. I sat there sipping at my rum cola until it ran out, then I started chewing the ice that was leftover. I sat there alone for quite some time, then I felt a tap on my shoulder and saw an arm reach in front of me and set a drink down.
  1508.  
  1509. “Need a refill mister?” The voice was feminine and I kind of recognized it, but I couldn’t figure out who it was.
  1510.  
  1511. I turned to face the mystery woman. “Hey, thanks... Claire.” This night was about to get even worse.
  1512.  
  1513. She sat down next to me, and I looked her up and down. She was wearing a black crop top and a short skirt that barely made it to her knees. She brushed a few strands of her brown curly hair away from her face. “Long time no see Lucas, having some trouble with the ladies tonight.”
  1514.  
  1515. “Yeah, I would have preferred the long time no see. And what I am doing is not any of your business.”
  1516.  
  1517. She made a fake shocked expression. “So rude. I know we separated on not the best terms, but that was like 3 years ago, you should let it go.”
  1518.  
  1519. She’s just trying to get me riled up, and you know what, it’s working. “Listen you lucid bitch, you cheated on me. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
  1520.  
  1521. “I know, you hate me. I’m not asking you to forgive me, I just want to talk is all. You’re the only person I know here.”
  1522.  
  1523. I looked at her face, she was as drunk as I was. Not worth the energy. “Whatever, I don’t care.”
  1524.  
  1525. “So, how have you been. You know, I still watch some of your movies now and again.”
  1526.  
  1527. “I’m fine. Where is your fiancé anyway. I’m sure he’d have something to say about you talking to me.”
  1528.  
  1529. She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “Oh Mark, he’s working overtime at the gene clinic tonight.”
  1530.  
  1531. I scoffed. “He let you come here by yourself, what a cuck. You two are perfect for each other.”
  1532.  
  1533. She frowned, seems like I finally got under her skin. “I could say the same about you, and that bodyguard of yours.” she smirked.
  1534.  
  1535. OK, that is the last time I take that sitting down tonight. “Oh would you shut up. We lived together for a few years, you know I hate those fucking aliens. I don’t even like talking to them, much less fucking one.”
  1536.  
  1537. She took a sip of her drink and smiled coyly at me. “People change Lucas, and it has been a while since we lived together. Never knew you were such a freak underneath that soft exterior, makes me wish we didn’t break up.”
  1538.  
  1539. “Just get the fuck away from me. You’ve had your fun, now go find someone else to cheat on your fiancé with.”
  1540.  
  1541. “I would never cheat on my fiancé, you are so childish.”
  1542.  
  1543. I stood up and pointed at her. “Childish! I...”
  1544.  
  1545. Just as I was really about to lay into her 11-7 slithered up beside me and spoke. “Is this female bothering you Lucas?”
  1546.  
  1547. The sudden appearance of 11-7 startled Claire for a few moments, but after the initial shock was over a devilish smile grew across her face. “So, I finally get to meet her. The hussy you replaced me with.”
  1548.  
  1549. 11-7 observed Claire closely. “Who is this female Lucas? Is she one of your old bodyguards?”
  1550.  
  1551. I looked down at the ground and rubbed my forehead with my hand. “No, she is my ex girlfriend.”
  1552.  
  1553. “That’s right. I am, and I am not going anywhere.”
  1554.  
  1555. I looked up at 11-7, she was relaxed. Her sharp crimson eyes had softened and I think she was offering me a look of sympathy. She must understand what's going on. I don't know how though. I'm betting she saw this exact scenario in a movie. I cleared my throat. “Could you get rid of her, she is bothering me.”
  1556.  
  1557. She nodded and moved in between me and Claire. “Ok, fine. I’ll go somewhere else. You don’t have to push me. But let me tell you something snake, girl to girl. You can do so much better than that pathetic loser standing behind you. He’s got a lot of baggage you don’t need in your life. Just look at him, he can't even get rid of me himself. He has to get you to do it for him.”
  1558.  
  1559. Yeah, because I'd look real good getting into a fight with my ex girlfriend at a nightclub. Luckily I didn't have to say anything. 11-7 hissed at her, and she ran off somewhere in the club. 11-7 turned around to face me. I was expecting her to mock me, to say that she had won our stupid little competition, but surprisingly she didn’t. She just offered the same sympathetic look she did before. “Are you ok, Lu...”
  1560.  
  1561. “Yeah, I’m fine! And I’m not letting that retarded bitch ruin my night, again.” I chugged the rest of the rum cola Claire bought me and ordered another. “Keep watching me, I’ll be out on the dance floor.”
  1562.  
  1563. She looked concerned as I stormed off, but did not say anything. I spent the next hour or so drinking and dancing, after a while, I started to get tired, and my head started to hurt. So, I walked over to where I saw 11-7 sitting. I saw her head focus squarely on me above the tables and the people. It was like a prairie dog poking out of a hole. It made me laugh. She tracked me with her eyes as I approached.
  1564.  
  1565. “Ready - to go.”
  1566.  
  1567. She squinted her eyes and her tongue flicked out slower. “Lucas you sound strange?” Then she looked away and quickly scanned the immediate area.
  1568.  
  1569. “I don’t know what you’re saying. Let me tell Ron ta pick us up.” I started typing on my phone but I was having trouble clicking on Ron. “Hey, yu got hands, righ. Could you click on Ron for me?”
  1570.  
  1571. I reached my arm out to her and stumbled forward. I would have fallen face first on the floor, but she moved her tail under me. I heard a meaty slap as I landed on it, but it didn't hurt. The scales on her tail were soft, and it was yielding on the surface with a firm muscular interior, it felt somewhat warm too. It was quite comfortable to lay on, like a tepid mattress. My eyes drifted shut and was content to be where I was, but I felt her wrap her tail around my chest and got pulled up on my feet.
  1572.  
  1573. She looked very concerned now. Her usual steely disposition while on duty had shattered like a pane of glass. “Lucas, talk to me, are you ok?”
  1574.  
  1575. “PShhh, yeah I’m good. Just a lil inebriated. Coul you click Ron. Iss right there.”
  1576.  
  1577. She did what I asked, and Ron picked up right away. “I've been waitin for ya to call, so did ya catch any tail?”
  1578.  
  1579. “Nah, tail caught me, but had fun. Talked to lots - a women.”
  1580.  
  1581. I heard him laugh. “Sounds like you had fun, I’ll pull out front where I dropped you off.”
  1582.  
  1583. “Ok - bye.” I hung up and tried to walk forward by myself. For some reason the ground was shifting around and I was having trouble placing my footing. I stumbled forward and grabbed onto a table. 11-7 moved herself under my arm, and supported me as we walked out the door. Her head darted side to side as we moved forward, checking around the club for threats presumably.
  1584.  
  1585. She looked concerned and I felt bad, so I tried to alleviate that. “Aww, you worried bout mee?”
  1586.  
  1587. Her brow furrowed. “Yes I am. Have you been poisoned?”
  1588.  
  1589. I let out a loud belch. “In a maer of speakin.”
  1590.  
  1591. She kept looking at my face to check on my condition as she walked me out the door. Once we were outside it was even darker than before; there was a full moon out tonight and the sky was full of stars. I was entranced by the beautiful night sky for a few moments before the sound of a passing car brought me back down to earth. My eyes drifted over to the viper that was basically carrying me. I could sense the determination radiating off of her and I couldn't help but examine her as we headed towards the car. Now, I don’t know if it was the streetlights, the moon shining down, or all the alcohol I drank, but she looked... different. The way the light refracted off her orange scales made it look like she was glowing and it highlighted the features on her face and body; her lithe and supple body, with humanlike features. Maybe the snakelike features weren’t that bad either... That, coupled with her soft worried expression that replaced the usual serious one, and her striking dilated crimson eyes, which were staring deeply into mine....
  1592.  
  1593. “Di you do some’n with your whole look? Cuss you look - good tonight.”
  1594.  
  1595. Her eyes widened slightly. “No, I look the same as I always do.”
  1596.  
  1597. “Huuh, thass cool. Thanksh for carry me.”
  1598.  
  1599. She nodded. “You’re welcome - Lucas.”
  1600.  
  1601. Shortly after that exchange we reached the car and I crawled in. I don’t remember much after that. I heard 11-7 talking to Ron, and she sounded worried, but I think she calmed down after a while. I remember her walking me to the house and I made it to my bed. When I was in it I remember feeling a sharp pain on my hand, must have hit it on my desk, and then I got really tired after that and fell asleep.
  1602.  
  1603.  
  1604.  
  1605.  
  1606. Chapter 7
  1607.  
  1608. I had dreams again, not the rebel and viper filled nightmares I was used to, just strange ones. I saw doctors and nurses, I think, or at least there were people in lab coats. They were all around me and saying things I couldn’t quite make out. They poked and prodded at me with various tools and needles. There was a steady beeping sound that seemed to never stop and it pounded against my eardrums something fierce. I couldn’t move much and I felt tinges of pain every now and again. It felt like I was in sleep paralysis. Everything I experienced made me feel nervous, helpless even. People moved around me, but I couldn’t. As I drifted in and out of this dream I saw 11-7 was there. She wasn’t always right next to me, in fact she was in the background most of the time, but she always looked so concerned. When the people left she would hover over me and observe my condition. Even going as far as to press her fingers into my neck, presumably to check my pulse. I would have been scared, but her presence calmed me. I felt safe, so I relaxed...
  1609.  
  1610. -
  1611.  
  1612. I slowly opened my eyes and woke up. I felt sore all over, like I had slept in a metal box filled with rocks, but at least I didn’t have a hangover. The first thing I noticed was that I did not wake up in my own bed. Something was touching my left arm, so I looked over at it. There was an IV in it, and I followed the soft plastic tube that went from my hand to a bag of saline solution hanging next to my bed. I felt panic start to build inside me and looked at my body, I lifted up the blanket I was under and saw I was in a hospital gown. I was laying in a hospital bed. I sat up off the plastic pillows I was laying on and looked around, I was in a small hospital room. Compete with a window covered with drab floral curtains, bathroom at the back, and a bunch of equipment hooked up to the bed and to me. There was a tv in the corner that was on. It was playing a news report. The news anchor was talking about a rise in terrorist attacks on the city, and about the measures Advent was taking to prevent them. I also saw a familiar orange serpent draped and curled around some chairs in the corner. She was in her armor and perked up immediately when I looked at her. I saw her hands shoot towards the remote.
  1613.  
  1614. 11-7 pushed a button on the remote and I heard the tv shut off. She looked happy for a second, and then she got this look like she had been punched in the back of the head. “Lucas, you’re awake.”
  1615.  
  1616. I looked down at my body. “I am.” Then I looked back up at her. “Did I over do it last night?”
  1617.  
  1618. She averted her gaze from me, instead choosing to look at the remote she was holding. “You did, but...”
  1619.  
  1620. I leaned back into my bed and heard the soft crinkle of plastic. “Fuck, I can’t believe I drank so much I got alcohol poisoning. I’m such an idiot...”
  1621.  
  1622. I heard her mumbling, so I stopped talking. “I, uh didn’t catch that.”
  1623.  
  1624. She turned the remote over and toyed with it in her hands, seemingly analyzing every detail on it. “You weren’t admitted here because of alcohol poisoning.”
  1625.  
  1626. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why else would I be here? ” As I was thinking I noticed my right arm was especially sore, so I adjusted it to get more comfortable. As I did, I noticed there was a black spot the size of my thumb on the back of my hand, and the skin around it was dark and veiny. “Eugh! What the fuck is that?” I brought my hand closer to my face to get a better look at it.
  1627.  
  1628. I heard her mutter something, but I was too focused on my hand to hear it. “That’s so weird, it looks bruised?”
  1629.  
  1630. She decided to look up from that interesting remote and at me. “It’s my fault. I... I unintentionally bit you, Lucas.” She blurted out quickly.
  1631.  
  1632. I focused on her instead of my hand. “What?” I looked at my hand again. There was a scar in the middle of the black spot that was approximately the same diameter as her fangs I had seen before. I shuddered at the thought of one of those gnarly things piercing my hand. “I’m inclined to believe you, but I barely remember anything from last night.”
  1633.  
  1634. She cocked her head and I saw something flash across her face for a second, relief maybe. “What - do you remember?”
  1635.  
  1636. I leaned forward and put my non-bitten hand on my head. Being careful to not rip out the IV. “Uhh. I remember my ex pissing me off, and dancing. I remember leaving the club and getting home, but the details are fuzzy.”
  1637.  
  1638. “Ron said this might happen. I thought you had been poisoned by terrorists last night, but he explained what - drunk was to me.”
  1639.  
  1640. I laughed and tilted my head up so I could see her. “You really don’t know much, do you?”
  1641.  
  1642. She offered an indignant look. “I know enough, and what I don’t know, I learn.”
  1643.  
  1644. Can’t really argue with that. “Ok, but what happened after we left the club? I didn’t say anything weird once we left, did I?”
  1645.  
  1646. She went back to looking at the remote, and picked at one of the buttons with her claws. “You did say many - weird - things.”
  1647.  
  1648. “Do you remember any of them?”
  1649.  
  1650. My question breathed some life into her. She stopped toying with the remote and her posture became slightly more erect for a second. “No.”
  1651.  
  1652. I decided not to press her, since I probably didn’t say anything too uncharacteristic. “Uh, ok... So, how’d I get bit.”
  1653.  
  1654. She resumed playing with the remote. “After we arrived at your house I helped you into your room, and set you on the bed. Ron told me to not leave you alone, and make sure you slept on your side, in case you started to vomit. So I stayed in your room to observe, but you refused to sleep. You kept making comments and talking to me. I - became agitated and...”
  1655.  
  1656. I chuckled. “You do realize how this sounds, don’t you?.”
  1657.  
  1658. Her head spun to my direction and her hood flared out. She spoke with urgency. “I did not bite you intentionally, let me finish.” She broke off her eye contact and continued. “I became agitated and yelled at you. I said some cruel things I’d rather not repeat, but it didn’t work. You just laughed and said I reminded you of some person called Miss Bitey. I don’t know what your relationship was with this Miss Bitey, but you got up on your knees and reached out to my face. You said you wondered if I would do the same thing she did.”
  1659.  
  1660. “I really said Miss Bitey?” I laughed. “Aww man, I haven’t thought about that snake in years.”
  1661.  
  1662. She squinted her eyes. “Miss Bitey is a snake?”
  1663.  
  1664. “Yeah, I had her when I was young. It was a rat snake that I caught in our cornfield and decided to keep as a pet.”
  1665.  
  1666. She crossed her arms, remote still in hand, and furrowed her brow. “Do I really remind you of an animal you found in a dirt field?”
  1667.  
  1668. I looked away from her, in thought. “Hmmm, well she was long and snakelike, and she was pretty aggressive, so I see how I made the connection.”
  1669.  
  1670. “I am Aggressive?”
  1671.  
  1672. Ah, shit. I must still be groggy from whatever the fuck they’ve been pumping me full of. I looked back at her and she was more upset than before. “Well, I mean when I was drunk I could... What I’m trying to say is being aggressive isn’t a bad trait for a bodyguard to have. I would prefer it, over you being complaisant.”
  1673.  
  1674. She uncrossed her arms and leaned back into the chairs she was on. “I thought aggression was a trait humans found undesirable.”
  1675.  
  1676. I gestured at her with my bitten hand. “Normally it would be, but like I said you’re my bodyguard. You need to be aggressive for my sake. But it’s not a good trait for a pet to have. Course she wasn’t captive bred, so it was expected, but I did take good care of her even though she was bitey.” I smiled. “Now that I think about it you both have bitten me, maybe you have more in common than I thought.”
  1677.  
  1678. 11-7 snorted, and ignored my comment. “You don’t have it anymore, so what happened to this snake?”
  1679.  
  1680. “Oh, uh. During Advent’s... liberation I had trouble feeding her, so I released her back to the wild. One of my brothers talked about eating her too, so I was kind of forced to... but we’re getting off topic. What happened next?”
  1681.  
  1682. She didn’t turn away this time and she looked somewhat calmer as she explained, but she didn’t look me in the eyes. “You reached for my face; I believe you were trying to touch me. I protested and told you to lay back down, but you fell over while leaning forward - and you shoved your arm into my mouth.”
  1683.  
  1684. “What?” I stared at her in disbelief and looked at my arm. “Like my whole arm?”
  1685.  
  1686. She nodded hesitantly. “Yes, your entire arm... Up to your shoulder.” She pointed at my shoulder with a claw.
  1687.  
  1688. I kept staring at my arm and tried to not think about how much of me she could fit in her mouth. “My whole arm, wow. Wait a second, how does that work? Didn’t you try to stop me?”
  1689.  
  1690. “I don’t have teeth like you Lucas. There wasn’t much I could do once you fell. It just slid in, and your body is so heavy you yanked my head down on the bed.”
  1691.  
  1692. “I think I’m starting to get the picture.”
  1693.  
  1694. She looked away. “You, freaked out and tried to forcefully remove your arm, and I was startled by - everything. You were squirming the whole time I was trying to carefully pull your arm out. My fangs unfolded, and once it was almost out I bit your hand.”
  1695.  
  1696. “I see, well that's unfortunate. Heh, kinda glad I don’t remember it.”
  1697.  
  1698. She looked back at me with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. “You’re not upset with me?”
  1699.  
  1700. I laughed. “I mean it sucks that you bit me, but I did shove my entire arm down your throat. Some things are unavoidable.”
  1701.  
  1702. Relief washed over her like a wave, and she was calm for a few moments. It seemed like we were done talking, so I looked out the window at the city, but the sound of plastic hitting wood caught my attention. The calm was gone from her and in its place I saw a fire ignite in her eyes. “I’ve had to deal with much, while you were sleeping. I... I thought you would die, or never wake up, and if that happened I’d...” She paused and pointed at me with one of her four fingered hands, a scowl adorning her face. “Don’t you drink like that again.”
  1703.  
  1704. She was so worried about me reprimanding her, and now she’s doing it to me. Ugh. “Who are you, my mother? I’ll drink as much as I want.”
  1705.  
  1706. My statement only seemed to increase her fury. “Do you realize you almost lost your hand?”
  1707.  
  1708. I had to do a double take. “What?”
  1709.  
  1710. She calmed down slightly, having successfully gotten my attention. “If I didn’t inject you with the viper antivenom I keep in my room, the physicians said your hand would’ve been amputated.” She made a chopping motion with one of her hands.
  1711.  
  1712. “That’s unnerving... Well, I’m sure Advent could have grown me a new one or something, but I’ll take it easier from now on, I don’t drink that much anyway.”
  1713.  
  1714. The fire wasn’t entirely extinguished. “I am happy to hear you say that, but you should not be so dismissive. You could have been permanently hurt.” The way she looked at me, there was the anger, but she was concerned too. Whether it was for my sake, or because it was her job I couldn't tell.
  1715.  
  1716. Either way, comforting people doesn’t seem to be her strong suit. “Well maybe I’m just not scared of being killed by you.”
  1717.  
  1718. And like that the anger was gone, snuffed out like a candle. She observed me for a few moments after I said that, and smiled slightly. I guess she believed me.
  1719.  
  1720. I took a deep breath and looked around the room. “So, when do I get out?”
  1721.  
  1722. She put a clawed finger up to her chin. “I believe the physician said the day you woke up you could be discharged.”
  1723.  
  1724. “Nice, wait. The day I woke up? What day is it?”
  1725.  
  1726. Her eyes widened slightly, and I got the impression she wasn’t supposed to reveal that. “It’s... Monday.”
  1727.  
  1728. “I’ve been out of it for 2 whole days?”
  1729.  
  1730. She wavered in her answer and I noticed the tip of her tail was flicking back and forth. “Yes, but you are alright, so there’s no problems now.”
  1731.  
  1732. “Sure, I’m fine now, but what if this happens again?”
  1733.  
  1734. “Don’t worry, this won’t happen again.”
  1735.  
  1736. No she’s right, this actually is something I shouldn’t worry about. I chuckled. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’d have to stick my arm in your mouth again for this to happen.”
  1737.  
  1738. She shook her head. “Not, that. You were - immunized against viper venom.”
  1739.  
  1740. “Really, I’m totally immune now?” She nodded her head. “That’s awesome... wait, it didn’t naturally happen, did it?” I didn’t wait for her to answer. “Did they inject me with anything? Like anything weird?” 11-7 hesitated to speak, so I panicked a little. “Did they inject me with anything weird!”
  1741.  
  1742. She reared her head back and turned away from me. “I... don’t know. They injected you with many things.”
  1743.  
  1744. I assessed my condition, and besides the pain I didn’t feel different. “Well, I don’t feel any different, so maybe I’m fine.” I looked out the window again, I watched some cars pull in and out of the parking lot. As I did, It finally hit me. “I’ve been asleep for two whole days, wow. Two days gone, just like that, heh. Feels like I’ve only been asleep for a few hours”
  1745.  
  1746. She piped in. “It could have been longer.” I think she was trying to make me feel better, but it just reminded me I could have died.
  1747.  
  1748. Let’s get off this topic. “It could have.” I chuckled, and looked at her. “So, what’d you do this whole time? Anything fun?”
  1749.  
  1750. She shook her head. “I’ve been in this room with you since you were admitted.” She held up the remote and pointed at the tv on the wall with a clawed finger. “The television has provided - entertainment.”
  1751.  
  1752. “You’ve been here with me the whole time?”
  1753.  
  1754. She cocked her head, and looked at me like she thought I was stupid. “Yes, I wouldn’t be a good bodyguard if I left you alone in such a vulnerable state.” She gestured to my body with one of her hands.
  1755.  
  1756. She really stayed beside me while I was comatose in bed for two days. I don’t know what to say; I don't think I know anyone who’d do that for me except... As I spoke I tried to sound as grateful as I could. “Thank you. I really mean it.”
  1757.  
  1758. She looked surprised by my appreciation. “You’re welcome Lucas, but I am just doing my job.”
  1759.  
  1760. “You sure are... Now get one of those doctors in here. I want to go home and get out of this stupid gown.”
  1761.  
  1762. -
  1763.  
  1764. The doctor explained everything to me, said that I only got a little venom in my body when I got bit. Which was lucky because their bites usually inject enough venom to fill a small glass. He explained the effects of viper venom to me for all my trouble, apparently it’s a neurotoxin that attacks nerve tissue, which makes it difficult for the person to breathe. Depending on the amount of venom injected, if left untreated, a bite will make a person unable to move after 10 minutes, and can kill a person in 50 minutes. S'pose I’m lucky the job of the viper that bit me was to keep me alive. That’s only if you get bit though, he went on and on about the different effects of venom being spit at you. After talking my ear off, he confirmed that I am indeed immune to Viper venom, and said something about injecting me with modified B-cells. I was pissed that they did that without my permission, but he assured me they didn’t mess with my DNA at all. Whatever I guess, it’s not like they can take out what they put in me. With that done, I signed some papers, and soon enough I was home.
  1765.  
  1766. -
  1767.  
  1768. It had been a few hours since I was discharged from the hospital. I was under strict orders to not be physically active for the day. That wouldn’t be a problem for me, I wasn’t planning on taking up jogging the day I got out of the hospital or anything. So, I was sitting on the couch bored out of my mind. 11-7 was next to me; she had changed out of her armor when we got back and put on a loose white t-shirt. She was reacting to whatever was playing on the tv.
  1769.  
  1770. My eyes started to drift closed but then I heard 11-7 say something. “Is there anything to do here besides watch television?
  1771.  
  1772. I opened my eyes and leaned over to look at her. “You know you can just call it TV.”
  1773.  
  1774. “T - V? I’ve heard you say that before.”
  1775.  
  1776. “Yeah, it’s short for television.”
  1777.  
  1778. “But that’s not what it is, it is a television set.”
  1779.  
  1780. She sounds like a fucking grandma. “Whatever, I don’t care how you want to say it.”
  1781.  
  1782. She rephrased her previous question. “Is there anything else to do indoors besides watch the television?”
  1783.  
  1784. “Already bored with watching TV?”
  1785.  
  1786. “No. Everything that is available right now I have already seen. You must have some other form of - entertainment?”
  1787.  
  1788. I almost wanted to make an inappropriate joke here, but decided against it. I looked away in thought for a few moments. “Hmmmmm, I do have an old game console, but I haven’t used it in a while.”
  1789.  
  1790. With the amount of time I’ve spent around her I had started to learn some of the intricacies of viper body language. The moment I said game console she became interested in what I was saying. Which was marked by her becoming extremely focused and deliberate with her movements. Her tongue flicked out of her mouth slower and it would hang in the air for longer than usual. “What is a - gai-ma consle ?”
  1791.  
  1792. I was nonchalant about it, I mean a game console was no great mystery to me. “It's a machine you can play video games on.”
  1793.  
  1794. She became more interested in what I had to say, and was about to speak, but I cut her off because I knew what she was going to ask. “A video game is like a movie that you can control.”
  1795.  
  1796. Her eyes lit up, and I saw understanding in her slitted pupils. “It’s like a simulation, then!”
  1797.  
  1798. I was caught off guard by her enthusiasm. “Yeah, I suppose. What do you mean by simulation?”
  1799.  
  1800. She was going to say something, but her words got caught in her mouth. She paused for a few moments, seemingly deciding whether to say it or not. “I’m not at liberty to discuss that.” Her head drooped slightly, and I got the impression she was disappointed that she couldn’t tell me.
  1801.  
  1802. I had to imagine her being hooked up to some kind of VR setup. Virtual Reality was still Sci-fi for the most part when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Advent figured it out. I stifled a laugh after imagining 11-7 being hooked up to a bunch of equipment. “Hey, it’s cool. I’ll get my console set up. Shouldn’t take me too long.” The head droop stopped after that.
  1803.  
  1804. I walked up to the entertainment center my TV was sitting on and opened up one of the drawers at the bottom. Inside was sitting a bunch of cables I never bothered to organize, 4 black controllers, and underneath that mess was a black box. I pulled out the cables and controllers to set them aside. I reached in and lifted out the box. it was coated in a thick layer of dust, an indicator of how little I’ve used it since I moved into this house. I held it in front of me and blew the dust off of it like an ancient tome from an abandoned library. And there, in the middle of a green circle at the top of the box I saw a familiar word that I haven’t read for a few years.
  1805.  
  1806. I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, and 11-7 leaned over me to read the word out loud. “Is it Zbox, or Ks-box?”
  1807.  
  1808. “Holy shit! Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
  1809.  
  1810. She backed off. “I apologize.”
  1811.  
  1812. “It’s ok. And it's - X - box by the way.” I got to work setting it up. My TV was older, it needed the component ports so that I could hook my Xbox up to it. Kept it from my days at the apartment.
  1813.  
  1814. As I was hooking it up I heard her say something behind me. “This - Xbox looks old. Where did you acquire it?”
  1815.  
  1816. I spoke from behind the entertainment center as I plugged in the power cord. “It was my dad’s, he got it when he was - a young man. Course he’s a full time farmer, so as he got older he stopped having the time for things like that, so it became me and my brothers and sisters Xbox.”
  1817.  
  1818. “You shared it with siblings? Why do you have it now?”
  1819.  
  1820. I started fucking with the component cables, trying to make sure I plugged them in right. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to make the cables a different color than the ports they plugged into. “Well, when - I moved to the city, I just took it with me. I liked it more than everyone else, and they had the newer version of it anyway, so I figured no one would miss it.” I finally got the cables plugged in right, and turned on the Xbox.
  1821.  
  1822. 11-7 appeared to be mesmerized by the startup screen for a few moments before she came to her senses. “You stole it?”
  1823.  
  1824. I raised up my hands. “Now, now. Let’s not label me like I’m some kind of common criminal. They let me take it. My dad watched me put it in a box and didn’t say anything.”
  1825.  
  1826. She looked down at the Xbox on the floor as she spoke. “I understand.”
  1827.  
  1828. I walked towards my room. “I’m gonna go get the games for it.” I went into my closet and grabbed a small plastic tote from the back. I brought the tote into the livingroom to the clear delight of her.
  1829.  
  1830. I pulled off the lid and took a step back. “Take your pick.”
  1831.  
  1832. She tensed up to pounce on the tote, but stopped short. “Are you sure you want me to dig through your possessions?”
  1833.  
  1834. I laughed. “Go right ahead, you’re the one who gave me the idea anyway. Just be careful, don’t poke any holes in the cases.”
  1835.  
  1836. She nodded and started sifting through the tote. I sat on the couch and watched her look at each game case individually. She read some of them out loud and was constantly asking me questions about each one. I’ve played all those games like 20 times each, so I was able to answer every one. It was entertaining to watch her excitedly analyze them. She treated the cover like a work of art and read the back like some religious text. Each game she picked up was a treasure to be discovered and understood. It gave me a flashback to when my Dad pulled all of this out for the first time and I was the one asking all the questions about the games as he happily described them to me. I wonder if this was how he felt that day? Showing off something he loved to someone who had never heard of it.
  1837.  
  1838. I sat there basking in that memory of happier and simpler times, before 11-7 brought me back to real life. “What is this one.” She held out a game I was familiar with, but dreaded explaining to her.
  1839.  
  1840. The cover read “Halo, Combat Evolved”. “Oh that, - it’s another war game, but it takes place in the future.”
  1841.  
  1842. “I want to try this one.” She started to look at the back, but I snatched it out of her grasp before she could read it. She looked at me and frowned.
  1843.  
  1844. Shit, I’m pretty sure this game is contraband by Advent standards. I read the back and the first sentence was: Bent on humankind’s extermination, a fellowship of alien races known as the Covenant... Yeah, I’m gonna have to convince her to play something else. I pretended to be disinterested. “Oh, this game, It’s not real fun. There’s still plenty more to look at, you’ve only gone through half the tote.”
  1845.  
  1846. I think the fact I was discouraging her from playing it only made her more interested. She seemed resolute in her decision. “I want to play that Halo game. I am interested in what your species thought the evolution of combat would be.”
  1847.  
  1848. I can’t discourage her more, or she’ll start asking questions. Maybe we’ll play like 1 level and she’ll get bored. I can always hope. “Ok, I guess we can.” I begrudgingly walked up to the box and put the disk in. 11-7 was awestruck and tracked the disk tray as it moved out and back in. She was even more surprised when plugged in two controllers, and placed one in her hands.
  1849.  
  1850. She turned the controller over in her hands, looking at it while she spoke. “What is this?”
  1851.  
  1852. “It’s a controller. Like the remote controls the TV, this controls the Xbox.”
  1853.  
  1854. She pointed at the controller I was holding. “But you have one too.”
  1855.  
  1856. I was walking over to the couch to sit down as she asked me, luckily the controller’s chord was long enough for me to do that. “Yeah, we can both play it at the same time.”
  1857.  
  1858. She looked at the Xbox and back at me. “It is a cooperative game?” I nodded my head in response and she looked back at the Xbox. “This machine is more advanced than I thought it would be.”
  1859.  
  1860. She joined me on the couch, unfortunately the chord wasn’t long enough for her to sit in her usual spot, so she had to sit much closer to me than usual. I found myself not minding it that much. She tried to figure out how to hold the controller and kept gripping it in weird ways, she even held it like a gun. I cleared my throat and that got her attention. “You hold it like this.”
  1861.  
  1862. She looked at my hands and mimicked the way I had them positioned. I noticed her fingers were a lot longer than mine, even if she didn’t have claws, so she might have trouble holding it. I was about to explain to her how to use it, but she was pushing the buttons with her fingers instead of her claws, and she was holding it properly, so I didn’t bother. The design is intuitive enough, I suppose.
  1863.  
  1864. I heard Gregorian chanting, which signaled that the game was on the main menu screen. “I’ll start it on normal difficulty, this game isn’t really hard.”
  1865.  
  1866. As I went to click normal, she grabbed my arm. I turned to face her, and she looked upset. “Do you not think I am capable of winning this primitive combat simulation?”
  1867.  
  1868. Her gaze was intense, I saw years maybe even decades of combat experience in those red slanted orbs. I never expected to get the grizzled veteran treatment from her. I looked down at my controller and attempted to reason with her. “I’m not saying you can’t. I’m just saying this is your first time holding a controller, and I haven’t played in years.”
  1869.  
  1870. She released my arm. “Do not fear. I will see us to victory.” I looked back at her and she slithered up on the couch to make herself taller than me. She was looking down at me and had a smirk plastered on her smug snakelike face. Her body oozed confidence.
  1871.  
  1872. “You know what, sure.” I set the difficulty to legendary. Maybe this’ll teach her a little something about humility, or better yet - convince her to play something else.
  1873.  
  1874. The game started, and she was already running around the starting area. Seems like she got a handle on the controls easily enough.
  1875.  
  1876. We were running through the opening portion where we didn’t have a gun, and she voiced her concerns with the articulation of a five year old. “Why do we not have weapons yet? When do we get to kill things? This simulation is boring.”
  1877.  
  1878. I chuckled and wagged a finger at her. “So impatient, we’ll get a gun when we get to the bridge.”
  1879.  
  1880. She ignored my chastising. “How long will that take?”
  1881.  
  1882. “In a bit, it gets exciting.”
  1883.  
  1884. A few moments later and she was face to face with the Covenant, specifically an elite and a few grunts. She faced her character towards them and watched as a sliding door closed in front of them. I was walking ahead, but she stayed there. I nervously glanced at her and she was clearly in thought. Squinted eyes, slow tongue flicks. I’m screwed, aren’t I?
  1885.  
  1886. She slowly turned her head to look at me. “Lucas, what are they, the Covenant soldiers? They don’t look human.”
  1887.  
  1888. I felt my heart rate increase and I decided to lie. “Oh the Covenant, yeah. They’re uh - mutants.”
  1889.  
  1890. She crossed her arms and looked at me like a mother who knew her child was lying. “ - Mutants. Mutants in space?”
  1891.  
  1892. I did not look directly at her. “Yeah, I mean it was a pretty original concept for the time, heh.” I’m not sure if she believed me, but she stopped asking me questions
  1893.  
  1894. We eventually got out guns and then real fun began. 11-7 was doing better than I expected, but not by much. She was constantly getting hit and looking at the controller angrily. I was in my element, all that time I spent playing this game came flooding back to me. I was clearly carrying her, but I couldn’t tell if she was enjoying the game. She was completely focused and didn’t say much, I noticed her tail would shift around while we played, and that she would flick the tip of her tail when she got hit sometimes.
  1895.  
  1896. Eventually she died, specifically from a plasma grenade that was stuck to her character, which elicited an annoyed hiss from her. She slumped back on the couch and crossed her arms. I tried to cheer her up. “Don’t worry, I can just go back to an area where there are no enemies and you’ll respawn.”
  1897.  
  1898. She looked at me and I saw hope in her eyes. “I get to keep playing?”
  1899.  
  1900. “Well yeah, it would kind of suck if you couldn’t respawn. This game is supposed to be fun.”
  1901.  
  1902. “I - understand.”
  1903.  
  1904. I walked out of the battle and after a minute or so, she respawned and we were back in the action. She spoke as we finished off everyone in the room. “You said earlier that children played this? This is a game for children?”
  1905.  
  1906. I shook my hand in front of her. “Sort of, it was made for adults, but children played it too.”
  1907.  
  1908. “I am impressed. This primitive combat simulation is difficult, the fact that a child could win is surprising. And you won this, as a child?”
  1909.  
  1910. It was nice to get a compliment, but I didn’t see it as much of a feat. “I did, but keep in mind you can keep trying. The only way to lose this game is to quit playing.”
  1911.  
  1912. “Do not sell yourself short Lucas. I would be impressed if a fledgling viper could accomplish one of these - levels.”
  1913.  
  1914. Initially I thought she was fucking with me or something, but she genuinely seemed impressed. “Thanks. You know, if you watch me while we’re playing, you may learn a thing or two.”
  1915.  
  1916. She snorted at my comment and went back to focusing on the game. We got through the rest of the first level just fine, and she was getting better at the game. The second level started and we walked out of an escape pod, and encountered more Covenant.
  1917.  
  1918. We were killing them left and right, and made our way through the level. 11-7 looked like she was finally having some fun. I saw a hint of glee in her otherwise focused eyes. We made our way to a marker, where some other marines had survived. We killed more Covenant, and as the last elite was shot, something that I dreaded, but expected at this point, happened. One of the marines said “One Alien Down!”
  1919.  
  1920. I wanted to hope that she didn’t hear it, but when I glanced in her direction she was looking at me and frowning, more than usual. Her hands were on her humanlike snake hips, and the controller had been set down on my coffee table. “Lucas.”
  1921.  
  1922. I am about to be arrested by my own bodyguard. I paused the game and slowly turned my head to face her. “Yyyes?”
  1923.  
  1924. She pointed at the TV. “What did that digital human - just say?”
  1925.  
  1926. I faked a smile and shrugged. “Something about killing a creature unfamiliar to him.”
  1927.  
  1928. She put her hand under her chin and leaned on the back of the couch. “I am not a fool. I had my suspicions, but now I cannot pretend otherwise.”
  1929.  
  1930. I gave in. “Ok, so there’s aliens in the game. It’s not that big of a deal.”
  1931.  
  1932. She scoffed and looked at the tv for a moment before looking back at me. “Not that big of a deal. Lucas, you play as humans, and are fighting against a multispecies alliance of aliens. This game is Anti-Advent propaganda.”
  1933.  
  1934. I am so fucked. All the shit I’ve done for them, and now I’m gonna get canned for some stupid game I forgot about owning. I’ve got to say something. “I’m loyal to Advent, I have never once faltered with that. It’s just a game that only I have access to. I wasn’t going to distribute it to anyone.”
  1935.  
  1936. She crossed her arms and paused for a moment. She gestured to me and the game with one of her hands as she spoke. “I’ve seen your record, your loyalty is reliable, but I cannot allow you to keep this. It’s illegal.”
  1937.  
  1938. Well, at least I’m not getting arrested, but still I can’t just let her throw it away. Playing it reminded me, this is one of my favorite video games, and I’ve had a lot of good memories with it. “Come on, we’re friends, right? I won’t let anyone else play it.”
  1939.  
  1940. She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Are we friends?”
  1941.  
  1942. What is she getting at? “Sure we are, we’ve hung out enough haven’t we?”
  1943.  
  1944. She pointed at me. “Do not lie to me. I thought we were friends, until you did that interview with that female. I saw what you said.”
  1945.  
  1946. That explains why she was acting weird after the interview. She must be so confused right now. “I’m sorry about that. Let me explain something.” How the fuck do I even explain this to a being that doesn’t interact with society much? I began. “There are - two of me. There is me, the Lucas that lives in this house, the Lucas that you know. And then there is Lucas the actor, he walks around in public. I have an image to maintain and I can’t let people - fill in the - blanks.” Damn I’m starting to sound like my manager.
  1947.  
  1948. After I finished speaking I saw her tail flick. “You have spoken about image before. How the public sees you, I understand...” She paused for a few moments, taking time to scan my face while she decided what to say. “I can’t believe you. You told me yourself that you are a professional pretender. How do I truly know you’re not just saying all this so I don’t dispose of your game?” She regarded me with a serious expression, and it felt like she was interrogating me.
  1949.  
  1950. Huh, I hadn’t realized she valued our friendship at all. I mean whether she wanted to be my friend never crossed my mind. Are we friends? What even is a friend? I could just say yes and move on, but I didn’t want to lie to her, she deserved an actual answer. It took me a few moments, but I reached a conclusion. I looked at her eyes. I hadn’t really considered how autonomous she was until now. Sure I have been enjoying hanging out with her, but I couldn’t say I thought she was capable of doing things Advent didn’t directly approve. Caring about a relationship is a distinctly human trait. Maybe now I saw a soul behind those eyes, real emotion. Perhaps even a reflection of myself, both literally and metaphorically. “In the beginning I was scared of you.” She rolled her eyes again and stopped looking at me. “I know you knew that, I was just - admitting it. Over time I adjusted, and I’m no longer scared of you. Huh, I mean you bit me, and here I am playing video games with you. That’s gotta count for something, right.”
  1951.  
  1952. She turned around to face me after that, interested in what I had to say now. “That’s true, you did humor me after we returned from the hospital.” She played with her hands as she spoke and looked down at them. “And it was my fault you were there in the first place.”
  1953.  
  1954. “Hey it’s fine, don’t worry about it. I mean I enjoy hanging out with you. Hell, you fuckin watched over me for two whole days. I don’t think I know anyone that would do that for me, even if you were just doing your job.” I paused for a moment to decide if I should say this or not, but fuck it. “If I’m being honest I feel indebted to you because you didn’t leave me to die on my bed like an idiot.”
  1955.  
  1956. I noticed her body stiffened a little. “That is my assignment Lucas, to keep you alive.”
  1957.  
  1958. “Does that not make us friends?”
  1959.  
  1960. She looked down. “I am not sure. I haven’t had many friends.”
  1961.  
  1962. I tried to ease some of the tension, and now - sadness, in the room, by giving her an endearing smack on the back. “Well, you have one now.” I smiled as I hit her back.
  1963.  
  1964. She moved away from me quickly and lowered herself onto the couch in some kind of a defensive posture. Her hood was wide and her tongue was flicking out slowly. I put my hands up. “Sorry, I uh, wasn't - attacking you. It was a friendly slap.”
  1965.  
  1966. She squinted her eyes and observed me for a few moments before relaxing. “Friendly - slap. You humans have odd gestures of friendship.”
  1967.  
  1968. I shrugged in a comedic manner. “Some of us do anyway.” I grabbed her controller and tried to hand it to her. “ You know, if you confiscate the game we won’t be able to play it together anymore.”
  1969.  
  1970. Her eyes darted between the controller and me. She crept forward and snatched it out of my hands before sitting down and getting comfortable on the couch. She tossed a sly look my way as she spoke. “I will make an exception this time, since we are friends, but if anyone else finds out we are both in trouble.”
  1971.  
  1972. I grabbed my controller and unpaused the game. “I guess we’d better make it worth the risk then.”
  1973.  
  1974. The levels seem to pass bye, as we played the game. 11-7 started talking after a few hours, she stopped taking the game as seriously and started to comment on things that happened. Making fun of me when I died, complaining when she died, she even was trying to make small talk with me. It was nice. Before I had her as my bodyguard I felt like a prisoner in my own house at times. Even though I’ve never done anything that would piss off Advent, living with three troopers made me feel like if I ever did, I would be arrested immediately. She made an exception for me in this instance. I wasn’t even sure Advent soldiers, especially the alien ones, were capable of doing that. Whatever the case, I’m certainly not complaining. I’d much rather have a friend in my house than a prison guard. For the first time since she arrived, I think I was actually happy she got assigned to me.
  1975.  
  1976. All this self reflection had an affect on my game performance, and I got killed. 11-7 laughed at me, and told me I should use cover more. She walked backwards and I respawned. We both charged back at the aliens that had killed me before.
  1977.  
  1978. As we were killing them, she made a comment that caught me off guard. “I’ve studied your history somewhat, you know.” She paused for a few moments. “Your species’ history, I mean.”
  1979.  
  1980. I wasn’t really listening to her and was focused on the game. “Yeah, that’s cool.”
  1981.  
  1982. She kept going. “I don’t understand, your history and media are filled with war and battle and conflict, but before Advent liberated you there were no recent conflicts between major powers.”
  1983.  
  1984. I still wasn’t paying much attention. “Huh, oh that’s probably because of the nukes. Mutually assured destruction and all that.”
  1985.  
  1986. “Yes, the - nuclear weapons your civilization managed to develop. Crude but effective. The more I understand about your society, the more I understand why the Elders are so interested in your species.”
  1987.  
  1988. That caught my attention. “Are you suggesting we have some kind of warrior culture or something?”
  1989.  
  1990. She chuckled in a snake sort of a way. “It’s not a suggestion Lucas, it is an observation. You are so clearly obsessed with it, even from an early age.”
  1991.  
  1992. She seemed so sure of her assessment, which upset me. “Oh, come on. There is plenty of human media that is not related to war or conflict.”
  1993.  
  1994. She smiled, like really smiled. I’m talking grinning from ear to ear. Well, if she had ears. “Yes, but which do you like more?”
  1995.  
  1996. I thought back on my childhood, and honestly pretty much everything I watched and played had some amount of violence in it. I couldn’t really argue with her. “Ok, so there may be some truth to that. But what about your culture? I have yet to see a Viper baker.”
  1997.  
  1998. She stopped playing and looked down at her controller. She fiddled with the thumbsticks with one of her claws, and it was a long time before she responded. “I - We don’t have culture.”
  1999.  
  2000. I didn’t believe her, but I paused the game. “What do you mean you don’t have a culture?”
  2001.  
  2002. She set down the controller and looked at me. I heard a sigh escape her lips before she responded. “We are born and bred to be soldiers. We are not like you, we do not live separately from Advent, we are Advent.”
  2003.  
  2004. That’s some heavy shit, I didn’t expect her to open up like that. “So, you don’t have - like - any music, art, architecture, food, stories even?”
  2005.  
  2006. She shook her head. “No, we are just soldiers. The only thing we have is our own language, but we are only permitted to speak Advent while on duty. ”
  2007.  
  2008. “That’s cool, that you have your own language, I mean. What does it sound like?”
  2009.  
  2010. She smiled at me and spoke a sentence of what I assume was her language. I was prepared to hear something stereotypical of a snake, namely just a lot of S’s, but it was different. There were a lot of consonants and some of the sounds she made I had never heard in human language before. I’d assume some of those sounds were only capable of being produced by a creature with a long prehensile tongue.
  2011.  
  2012. “I didn’t expect it to sound like that. What did you say?”
  2013.  
  2014. She gestured to me and to the tv “I said I am enjoying this activity with you.”
  2015.  
  2016. “Happy to hear. It sounds, uh, unique. But I doubt I could ever speak it though. Don't have the proper equipment.” I chuckled after saying that.
  2017.  
  2018. Her eyes widened a little and she shook her hands at me. “Oh no no no. Don’t worry, you don’t have to learn. I speak the human tongue, it is easier this way.”
  2019.  
  2020. “That’s true.” I paused for a few moments thinking of what to say next. “You’re not from Earth. I mean I never heard stories about Vipers before Advent arrived. Don’t you have a home planet to return to, or to visit?”
  2021.  
  2022. She shrugged her shoulders, and I saw a deep sadness in her eyes. Not the kind that would produce tears, but disappointment. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve only known the inside of a spaceship and earth.”
  2023.  
  2024. “Damn, I’m sorry. I can’t - imagine living like that. Not having a home, a culture, a past history to be proud of. That would suck.” I wish I could say more, but I’ve never been good at comforting people before, guess we have something in common.
  2025.  
  2026. It was then I noticed how close 11-7 and I were sitting. I think she noticed too because she scooched away slightly. “It is ok. My sisters don’t understand why this is bad, but I am happy to see you understand.” She blinked her eyes a few times and smiled at me. “Let us continue the game.”
  2027.  
  2028. So we kept playing Halo, well into the night. About halfway through it I turned down the difficulty because we started dying too much and we were both getting angry about it. Playing this game with her was the most fun I’d had in a long time. Granted, it wasn’t contending with much. Really helped me forget about the failures of last night, or 3 nights ago I should say. Eventually we beat it, and I felt a wave of nostalgia while we were watching the final cutscene. She was sad that the game was over, but I reassured her that there was a sequel. She wanted to play it right now, but I was dozing off a little there on the last level, so I told her I was going to bed. But, I gave her permission to use the Xbox whenever she wanted to, much to her delight. I think I’d enjoy having her ability to not need sleep as much, especially these days. We exchanged goodnights, and I went to my room.
  2029.  
  2030.  
  2031. I climbed into my bed, and plugged in my phone. By all accounts I should be terrified of her, I mean she almost killed me. But, I’m just not, seeing how she lives firsthand has all but eliminated that fear. I mean if she was staring daggers at me all hours of the day and being silent, like how every Viper I’ve come across has acted in public, I would still be scared of her, but she isn’t. It makes me wonder if the aliens have more autonomy than the troopers. All those years that I lived with the troopers they never once spoke to me about anything other than business, they were like robots. Since she doesn’t have a culture, or even a home planet it really makes me think. What if the Elders just grabbed a few of them to clone, and never bothered making an alliance with them. But if they did, why not do that with us? Whatever the reason I can see why they keep us separate. It was a small gesture, not destroying my game, but it said a lot. Maybe other Vipers harbor some sort of empathy for humanity. If 11-7 does, then there must be others. I really should be getting to sleep, as much as I’m dreading it. Something tells me I won’t be lucky with not having dreams like I was when I was comatose in bed for the last 3 days.
  2032.  
  2033.  
  2034.  
  2035.  
  2036. Chapter 8
  2037.  
  2038. I heard a steady beeping sound again, and sat up in bed. I frantically looked around. I was in my room, and not at the hospital. That was a relief, I shut my alarm off. Then I remembered it, my dream. I leaned forward and rubbed my temples. I was there again, in the limo, helpless and alone. The gun, it saved me, but only temporarily. I saw the blood again, it was all over me, I couldn’t get it off. Those terrorists dragged me out, and they beat me until I was weak. A viper came over and... I don’t want to think about that. They’re still not going away. How long has it been now, a week, maybe longer? Will they ever go away? I looked around my room again, and let out a sigh. They’re just dreams, they can’t hurt me now that I’m awake. I’ll go and get some water.
  2039.  
  2040. I threw on the first thing I found, which was a white t-shirt and shorts, and left my room. I didn’t take in my surroundings as I walked, I was completely focused on getting a glass of water. There was something playing on the TV, but I didn’t hear it too well. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with some water from the dispenser on the fridge. I watched the level of water steadily rise in the glass as I held it against the button. Once it was full, I drank it slowly, savoring that cool sweetness sliding down my throat. It was comforting, reminded me I was awake now. I felt someone tap on my shoulder, so I turned around.
  2041.  
  2042. There was a viper in front of me now. I felt my fight or flight reaction kick in as it spoke to me. “Lucas, can you help me?” She had a confused look to her.
  2043.  
  2044. I relaxed slightly. It was the Viper I knew. Can’t believe I got scared like that. “With, with what?”
  2045.  
  2046. 11-7 crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. “The - showering facilities. I asked you the moment you left your room, but you ignored me.”
  2047.  
  2048. I rubbed my eyes with my free hand and took a deep breath. “Sure, can you... give me a minute.”
  2049.  
  2050. Her tongue flicks slowed and she squinted her eyes. She leaned her head forward, closer to my face and examined me. “Are you alright?”
  2051.  
  2052. I looked at the glass of water I was holding and blinked my eyes slowly. “Yeah, I just woke up. I need a minute.”
  2053.  
  2054. She still looked slightly concerned, but she nodded her head and slithered off to the bathroom.
  2055.  
  2056. I turned to face the fridge and continued to stare at my water. These dreams aren’t going to go away on their own, are they? I guess I’ll have to keep trying to forget, there’s not much else I can do. Well, besides going to a clinic, but if I wanted to live in a chemically induced fantasy I’d smoke crack. At least then the tap wouldn’t be controlled by Advent. It would end up becoming another way they’d control me. I finished off the rest of my water and made my way over to the bathroom.
  2057.  
  2058. My head was tilted downwards as I walked in. I looked upwards once I was standing on cool floor tiles. I saw the grey tiles, passed my bathroom mat, saw the bathtub, then I spotted creamy white scaled plates accented with orange at the sides. I followed those plates up. I almost made it to her chest before I realized she was not wearing a shirt.
  2059.  
  2060. Suddenly I was no longer tired. I slammed my eyes shut and exclaimed the first thing that came to mind. “Woah! Why in god's name are you naked?”
  2061.  
  2062. I could not see her, but the sassiness was palpable. I could almost see her putting her hands on her hips as she spoke. “I asked for your help using the shower. I can not use it if I am clothed.”
  2063.  
  2064. “Wait a second, if you don’t know how to use the shower that means you haven’t used it since you got here.”
  2065.  
  2066. I heard her chuckle. “Yes, well I am not shedding hair - and skin - everywhere - all the time, like you. I shed cleanly once a month, so I do not get filthy as fast as you do.”
  2067.  
  2068. “I’ll take your word for it, just put on a shirt - please. I can show you how to use the shower and then I’ll leave.”
  2069.  
  2070. I heard her claws scratch the bathroom sink’s counter. Her voice sounded semi-muffled as she spoke. “You humans are such prudes, I don’t understand why. But it was humorous to see your reaction.”
  2071.  
  2072. I didn’t appreciate being mocked. “Your - tits - are hanging out. People don’t just do that out of nowhere.”
  2073.  
  2074. “Why not?” I’d assume she was fucking with me, but her tone sounded genuinely curious.
  2075.  
  2076. “It’s uh, more of an intimate thing...”
  2077.  
  2078. She was silent for a few moments. “I do not understand. How?”
  2079.  
  2080. She couldn’t have picked a better time to ask me about this. Oh who am I kidding I wouldn’t be comfortable talking about this with her anytime. “Look, I uh. I don’t exactly feel - comfortable discussing that with you right now.”
  2081.  
  2082. I heard her snort. “So prudish, can’t even say why. Maybe you are scared. My body is not scary, - you can look if you want, see it for yourself”
  2083.  
  2084. While some parts of her were scarier than others, I was more interested to take her up on that offer than I cared to admit. “ - Can you just put on a shirt, so that...”
  2085.  
  2086. She cut me off with a laugh. “I put on my shirt a long time ago. Open your eyes and see.”
  2087.  
  2088. I slowly opened my eyes, prepared to shut them if I didn’t see any fabric. I saw the crinkles of fabric and the shadows it cast, so I fully opened my eyes. There in the tub was 11-7. She was wearing a white T-shirt and a smug look. “Thank - you.” Was all I could think to say as I walked up to the bathtub.
  2089.  
  2090. On my approach I got a strange feeling, a primal feeling. Not - that - kind of a primal feeling. I felt like I was being stalked, hunted even. I looked up at her and she was studying me closely as I walked up. It felt like she was purposely hiding her body language from me. She was planning something, something - mischievous I think. The tub was too big for me to reach the knobs from the edge, so I had to climb in.
  2091.  
  2092. Once I stepped into the tub it felt like I had entered the lair of a great beast, and there was no turning back. Her body was lazily laid out around the edges of the tub, and she moved so I could make it to the shower knobs. It was hard not to notice I was surrounded on all sides by her. She moved up close to me as I explained how the knobs worked, and how to plug up the tub if she wanted to have a bath. I showed her how to use the detachable shower head, and I even pointed out where I kept the towels. The whole time she didn’t say much, just nodded her head mostly. I wanted to say it was my mind playing tricks on me, but I could swear she was repositioning her body as I was talking to her. Against my better judgment I ignored the warnings my instincts were sounding off.
  2093.  
  2094. It didn’t take me long to finish that up, I mean it’s a damn shower, not a rocketship. As smart as I thought she was, she apparently needed to be shown how to use everything in this house. “Well that about sums it up. Pretty easy to figure out. If it gives you any trouble let me know. Sometimes the water heater can be finicky.”
  2095.  
  2096. She didn’t respond, but her body started to move. I kept talking to hide my nervousness. “Uh, heh. I keep asking Advent to replace it, but they’re really dragging their feet...”
  2097.  
  2098. She still wasn’t responding, and kept moving. She had this focused expression on her face, but I couldn’t place the intent behind it. My discomfort had reached its peak, I got spooked and tried to jump out of the tub. I was stopped short by her body, she had raised part of it in front of me, and now I was lifted in the air slightly by her tail. I leaned backwards and slid off of it back into the tub on my feet. I looked at her. “What are you, uh - doing?” I laughed nervously.
  2099.  
  2100. She smiled and looked me up and down. It almost felt like she was appraising me. She wasn’t coiled around me or even touching me, but she had positioned her body so I could not leave the bathtub. I waited, time ticked by and she didn’t say anything. After she had examined me for a bit her expression changed. The focus in her eyes petered out and she seemed disappointed. Then, just as I was about to try to jump out again, she spoke. “Still scared of me?” I was about to respond to that, but I felt something smack me on the back of the shoulder, and she yelled. “Friendly slap!” I looked over my shoulder and saw the tip of her tail hovering there. She wiggled it in a waving motion when I looked at it. Just like that the tension in the room was gone and she moved her body out of the way.
  2101.  
  2102. Not taking any chances I scrambled over her and got out of the tub. When I turned around she had a hand over her mouth and she was snickering. I started laughing a little too, now that I realized she was just fucking with me. I pointed at her. “You knew exactly what you were doing. I’ll get you back for that.”
  2103.  
  2104. She kept laughing as she spoke. “You - are so jumpy, I didn’t - have to touch you, didn’t have to say anything. There’s no need to be afraid.”
  2105.  
  2106. I shrugged. “Hey, lets see how uncomfortable you’d get if I was twice as big as you, and surrounding you in a bathtub.” I laughed after saying that.
  2107.  
  2108. “Yes, you are not long enough for that.” She stopped talking for a few moments and quieted her laughter. Then she got a cheeky look in her eye. “Want to see something - interesting?”
  2109.  
  2110. I raised an eyebrow. “Sure, what?” I saw her hands shoot towards the bottom of her shirt and begin to lift up. I spun around 180 degrees, walked out of the bathroom, and closed the door behind me. I could still hear her laughing as I sat down on the couch. I chuckled to myself as I thought about that. What a weirdo, guess that’s what I get for being friends with an alien. That was such a strange interaction I don’t even know what to make of it. Probably just her trying to prank me or something, I have to get her back for that.
  2111.  
  2112. What to do today, I should probably stretch my legs a little since I’ve been inactive for 3 days. I went to go get some breakfast, but I heard my doorbell ring, so I went to answer the door instead.
  2113.  
  2114. I wonder who it could be. I looked through my peephole and saw someone unexpected. Standing on my porch was my neighbor from across the street: Franklin. He was pretty plain looking, greying hair combed to the side, black framed glasses. A blue button up shirt paired with khakis. He looked chipper, so I opened the door.
  2115.  
  2116. He smiled once he saw me. “Mornin Lucas.” He looked around. “Nice weather today.”
  2117.  
  2118. “Hey Frank. Yeah, I was thinking about going on a walk. You know, stretch my legs a little.”
  2119.  
  2120. He nodded. “You should check out Slader Park, it’s real nice this time of year.”
  2121.  
  2122. I rubbed my chin as I thought. “Slader Park, I’ve heard of it. I just might go.”
  2123.  
  2124. “It’s great, I still go up there with Maggie sometimes.” He paused for a few moments. “It’s good to hear that you’re ok. Some of us were worried about you. Saw you get carted off in an ambulance a few days ago, and haven’t heard from you since. I saw you got back yesterday, and figured I’d come over and check up on you.”
  2125.  
  2126. “Oh that, yeah. I had an accident, had to stay in the hospital a few days. Nothing too serious.”
  2127.  
  2128. He looked curious, but didn’t press me. Probably out of politeness. “I see, seems like you’re ok now, if you’re planning on going on a walk.”
  2129.  
  2130. I nodded. “Doing a lot better now.”
  2131.  
  2132. He looked behind me and into my house. “Where’s your new bodyguard? Jim and Judy mentioned you got a new one to me this weekend at the bonfire they were having.”
  2133.  
  2134. Word gets around I suppose. “She’s busy with - something - at the moment.”
  2135.  
  2136. He looked slightly disappointed. “That’s too bad I was hoping I could meet her. Another time then. - Is she really a, a snake?”
  2137.  
  2138. “Yeah, they’re called Vipers. You’ve seen them around haven’t you?”
  2139.  
  2140. “Sure, sure, I’ve seen them around, just never up close... I know some people gave you a hard time in the neighborhood when those rumors about you came out. I wanted to let you know no one here on street q12 believes that garbage, and neither do I.” He looked kind of angry and he pointed behind himself at the neighborhood as he spoke, but that’s just how he was when he was being serious.
  2141.  
  2142. That made me smile. “Thanks man. It’s been tough these last few days.”
  2143.  
  2144. He looked back at me. “You’re welcome. I’ll tell you though, and I’m sure you’ve already thought about this. But, if you got a new girlfriend people would stop telling these lies.”
  2145.  
  2146. I chuckled and shrugged my shoulders. “I mean I’m keeping my eyes open but that’s easier said than done.”
  2147.  
  2148. He laughed. “I hear you. I’ll tell you what, you’ll never know where you’ll meet her until you do, and it’ll be in the strangest place. I met my wife at a garage sale, we both wanted the same rug. I let her have it, if she’d let me come over and see it sometimes.”
  2149.  
  2150. “Yeah, you’re right, maybe I should go rug shopping. I bet I’d run into plenty of women under 50.” Frank laughed at my joke. “But, It’s not a big deal anymore. I’ve been feeling much better since I did the interview.”
  2151.  
  2152. “Good, I didn’t catch it, but my daughter told me about it.”
  2153.  
  2154. I didn’t really want to be talking to Frank all day, so I tried to end the conversation. “It was good to hear from you, but I got stuff to do...”
  2155.  
  2156. He nodded, but as I was shutting the door he had something else to say. “Oh, I just remembered what I wanted to ask you. I’m having a barbeque this weekend. My kids are back from college for spring break and I wanted to celebrate. I’m inviting everyone on the street, like I always do. Did you want to come?”
  2157.  
  2158. That piqued my interest. “As if I could say no to free barbeque. When is it?”
  2159.  
  2160. “Saturday at noon, but you can come down whenever. I’ll start cooking at noon. And uh, you’re bodyguard - is she...”
  2161.  
  2162. I answered the question he was taking too long to ask. “Yeah she is more lively than the troopers; I don’t think she’d start any trouble either. - I don’t have to bring her if you don’t want me to, but I’ll probably bring her back a plate.”
  2163.  
  2164. He looked around for a few moments in thought and rubbed that back of his head. “Uhh, if you think she’ll be a good guest you can bring her. I trust you.”
  2165.  
  2166. I nodded. “In that case, I will. You probably won’t have any leftovers though.”
  2167.  
  2168. He chuckled. “That’s fine we always have too many anyway.” He turned to leave and waved at me. “I’ll see you Saturday.”
  2169.  
  2170. “See you then.” I shut my door.
  2171.  
  2172. As I walked back into the livingroom I heard 11-7 yell from the bathroom. “Lucas! How do I shut off the shower?”
  2173.  
  2174. I laughed and walked up to the bathroom door. “If you can’t figure that out yourself, you don’t deserve to use the shower anymore.” I heard her giggling in there after I said that. I sat down on the couch and watched some TV, I’m sure there’s something decent on.
  2175.  
  2176. I wasn’t sitting there alone for long, eventually she came out of the bathroom and joined me, donning a black tank top that had Advent written across her chest in white text. I went to the bathroom soon after she left it and saw there were like 5 towels hanging up.
  2177.  
  2178. Once I finished my business I yelled from the hallway. “Damn, how many towels do you need to use?”
  2179.  
  2180. She put a claw up to her chin and pretended to think about it. “I believe it was five.”
  2181.  
  2182. “That’s a lot.”
  2183.  
  2184. She snorted and gestured to herself. “For you maybe. I was being modest, I could have used more.”
  2185.  
  2186. I chuckled. “I believe you, just make sure you wash them because I don’t want to accidentally use one of yours.”
  2187.  
  2188. “Worried you’ll get a disease? I should ensure I don’t use yours; you are the one who sheds skin everywhere.”
  2189.  
  2190. I chuckled and sat down on the couch. “Speaking of which, you should let me know when you do shed, maybe I can make a pair of snakeskin boots, or a hat.” She crossed her arms and cocked her head as I continued. “Oh, who am I kidding. With how big you are, I could probably get an entire outfit, jacket, pants, belt, and all the rest.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t look so glum, I’d let you wear the jacket and the hat sometimes.”
  2191.  
  2192. I laughed at my own joke, and she shook her head. “Would you wear clothes made of your own dead skin?”
  2193.  
  2194. I shrugged and kept laughing. “I might, if that were possible.”
  2195.  
  2196. She grabbed the remote and turned up the volume on the tv, but I saw her crack a smile. I started messaging Manny on my phone. I told him I was alive, and well. He was pleased to hear from me and apologized for 11-7 almost killing me. He sent me this huge message that I skimmed through. But, what he said next surprised me, he offered to replace her if I wanted to, and assured me he would understand if I did.
  2197.  
  2198. I looked up from my phone and at her. She was lounging on the couch like she usually did. Most of her body was on the couch, but she was too - long - to fit it all on, so some of it was on the floor. The tip of her tail was swaying back and forth while she watched tv. Kinda cute, well in a giant alien snake sort of a way, I guess.
  2199.  
  2200. As I was looking at her she looked back at me. We stared at each other for a few moments, I saw confusion in her crimson eyes at first, but then she smiled at me, I smiled back. No words needed to be exchanged, replacing her wasn’t something I’d even entertain. She turned her head to watch tv, and I gave my manager my answer. He was fine with it, after all it was less work for him to do, and he approved my outing to Slader Park.
  2201.  
  2202. -
  2203.  
  2204. We hung out in the house for an hour or two before we left. 11-7 was interested in going to the park. It wasn’t too far from my neighborhood, so I decided to hoof it. We made it through the checkpoint and were on our way to the park. Traffic on the way there wasn’t too bad, so we didn’t have to wait long at the cross walks. Some people looked at her, but no one was looking at me. I guess being in a coma for two days made me old news, and I was perfectly fine with that. Soon enough I saw the sign for Slader park.
  2205.  
  2206. It was an oasis surrounded by a concrete desert. Green grass, flowers, trees, a lake, and plenty of open space. It would probably be some nice scenery for a walk. As we entered the park I realized I was a little short-winded from the journey there, and I saw a perfectly placed bench under a tree in some shade.
  2207.  
  2208. I pointed over at the park bench. “Let’s have a seat for a bit.”
  2209.  
  2210. 11-7 looked at me and nodded. We both made our way to the bench, and I sat down. She stayed standing, well standing as much as a snake could anyway. I noticed my sunglasses had a smudge on them, so I cleaned them off with my shirt and watched her as I did. She was constantly scanning our surroundings, laser focused on finding potential threats, taking extra care to analyze the people passing by us. They, of course, kept their distance. I don’t think most people would want to get close to anyone brandishing a plasma rifle, much less a giant armored alien cobra holding one. It was so strange, she is always like this when we leave my neighborhood. It was a stark contrast to how calm she seemed at home. I wish I could tell her to relax, but I’m not so sure that would be a good idea. I could still talk to her at least.
  2211.  
  2212. I put my cleaned sunglasses back on. “Anything out of place?”
  2213.  
  2214. She didn’t look at me. “Nothing, yet.”
  2215.  
  2216. I waited for her to say something else, but she didn’t. I gestured in front of me. “Nice day isn’t it? Not a cloud in the sky, and there’s a nice breeze.”
  2217.  
  2218. I saw her nod, but she was more interested in everything around us. “Yes.”
  2219.  
  2220. She’s really not giving me much to work with, is she? Whatever, guess I’ll just think out loud. “It’s uh, crazy the things you take for granted. When I was younger I could go outside and get scenery like this whenever I wanted, but there were no people and no noise pollution. Just the wind blowing through the trees and the birds tweeting. Though this is still nice.”
  2221.  
  2222. 11-7 caught me off guard and spoke up. She looked at me over her shoulder while she spoke. “Do you miss it? Being on your farm.”
  2223.  
  2224. I chuckled and leaned forward. “So, you are listening.”
  2225.  
  2226. “I am always listening, Lucas.” She went back to facing forward.
  2227.  
  2228. Not too closely I hope. “Okay. Uh yeah, sometimes I miss it. Things were simpler there, more serene too. Didn’t have to worry about the future back then, well - before the liberation anyway. Now I gotta be worried about being killed every time I leave my neighborhood it seems.”
  2229.  
  2230. She kept scanning the area. “That must be difficult.”
  2231.  
  2232. “It is, - but seeing you doing your job makes it a little easier to relax.”
  2233.  
  2234. She nodded, but didn’t respond. I stood up. “Well, I’ve been sitting long enough, s’pose I should walk around, like I planned to.”
  2235.  
  2236. We walked around for a bit, I was trying to find an area that had less people in it so our conversation would be a little less one sided. As we walked around most people only gave us passing glances. It was normal to see Advent troops patrolling around the city, so seeing one in the park did not interest anyone. Eventually I found an area that no one was hanging around in. It was the area surrounding the statue of General Slader at the center of the park. It was a nice area, all things considered. There were some flower beds, and a few benches. The statue itself was modestly sized, and was bronze in color. Guess it was a coincidence no one was here. 11-7 seemed to calm down slightly once there were less people around. I walked over and skimmed the plaque under the statue.
  2237.  
  2238. It said something about on this day August 15th, 2015 General Douglas Slader, under orders to fight against the Elders, commanded his army to stand down, saving countless lives. There was more written, but I didn’t bother reading it.
  2239.  
  2240. I heard her say something once I finished reading it. “Anything interesting on that plaque?”
  2241.  
  2242. I turned around to face her. She was still looking around, but she really did look a lot calmer. I noticed her tongue was flicking out more now. “Not really, just some General not listening to his orders during the liberation.”
  2243.  
  2244. She kept looking around. “It is interesting that he would disobey his superiors.”
  2245.  
  2246. I chuckled and shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah, well, some of us are pretty good at that. For better or for worse.”
  2247.  
  2248. She nodded. “I agree, it would be situation dependent.” She didn’t speak for a few moments. “Do you think he did the right thing?”
  2249.  
  2250. That question caught me off guard. I didn’t want to lie, so I just spoke my mind. “He probably saved a lot of lives, both human and alien, but it wasn’t very honorable of him to just surrender like that. Course - how much honor is there in death, really.”
  2251.  
  2252. She smiled and held her head high. “There is much honor in death. I would sooner die, than surrender to the terrorists.”
  2253.  
  2254. I can’t imagine thinking like that. Does she really not value her own life? “You’d throw your life away, just like that?”
  2255.  
  2256. She looked confused for a few moments and then her expression changed to a serious one as she spoke. “It would not be -thrown - away - as you say. I have a duty and a responsibility to Advent, and to you, Lucas.”
  2257.  
  2258. That took the wind out of my sails. “Oh...” I was trying to think about what to say next, but I noticed her skin was glistening. At first I thought it was a trick of the light, so I walked a little closer. As I did I saw droplets on her face. “Are, are - you - wet?”
  2259.  
  2260. She looked at me and cocked her head slightly. “Yes, the temperature is high.” She gestured towards the sky. “I am perspiring. You are doing it as well?”
  2261.  
  2262. “You can sweat? I thought you were a reptile?”
  2263.  
  2264. She turned her head side to side and didn’t see anyone around us. She dropped her rifle to her side, and gestured at me and to herself while she talked. “Lucas, I am not from earth. The evolution of your - reptiles - has no bearing on my sspecies’ss evolution.” I giggled a little as she messed up the pronunciation of species, and she frowned in response.
  2265.  
  2266. “Hmm, that makes sense. It’s kind of hard for me to not make comparisons though.”
  2267.  
  2268. She put her free hand on her hip. “I could compare you to other things as well, but I won’t unless you give me a reason to.”
  2269.  
  2270. I laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
  2271.  
  2272. I saw her tongue flick out and hang in the air in the direction the breeze was blowing for a few seconds. She tensed up and gripped her rifle. I turned around to see what she was looking at. After a few seconds I heard the sound of bikes pedaling. Then some guy and a girl rode past the statue on bikes. They didn’t even look at either of us, they were too busy looking at each other.
  2273.  
  2274. I looked back at 11-7, she wasn’t as tense anymore. “Wow, that tongue of yours is pretty handy. You could smell them before I could even hear them.”
  2275.  
  2276. She nodded. “It is when there are not so many of you around. You have a - strong scent.” She paused for a few moments and looked around. “Is this all you do at a park?”
  2277.  
  2278. “You mean, like hang out.”
  2279.  
  2280. “Yes, - hang - out -. Do nothing?”
  2281.  
  2282. I shook my head. “No hang out means to like be somewhere, usually with other people. You can do things, but you don’t have to.”
  2283.  
  2284. “I - understand.”
  2285.  
  2286. I smacked my lips and realized my mouth was a little dry. “I don’t know about you, but I’m thirsty. Is there a water fountain around here?”
  2287.  
  2288. She pointed at something behind the statue by a flower bed. “There.”
  2289.  
  2290. “Nice.” I walked over to where she pointed. It was a standard water fountain that had a button right on the dispenser, this one was made of stone though, and actually looked kind of nice. Advent probably didn’t build it. As I was getting my drink, it was my turn for a mischievous idea. I realized there may be a way I could prank 11-7 for this morning. I stopped halfway through my drink and pressed lightly on the button. The water didn’t come out enough for me to drink.
  2291.  
  2292. I pretended to examine the dispenser. “I think there’s something blocking the dispenser, could you come take a look. You probably have better eyes than me.”
  2293.  
  2294. I looked back at her and she snorted. “I can.” Once she slithered up to the water fountain she dropped her rifle to her side and I moved out of the way, still holding my finger on the button. She looked at the water fountain, but did not get close to it. “I don’t see anything.”
  2295.  
  2296. I pointed at the dispenser. “Look closer, I’m pretty sure I saw something. She leaned her head forward and looked into the hole of the dispenser. She had brought her face close enough to the water fountain, so I made my move. I pushed down on the button and it squirted some water on her face.
  2297.  
  2298. She jerked away from the fountain and turned her head to the side as she wiped the water off of her eye with her free hand. She looked back at me and frowned.
  2299.  
  2300. I smiled and made a finger gun gesture with my hand. “Hey, I warned ya. I told you I’d get you back for this morning.”
  2301.  
  2302. She lifted her chin up and snorted. “Clever, but I will not fall for it twice.”
  2303.  
  2304. I laughed. “It only had to work once.”
  2305.  
  2306. I was starting to worry that she wasn’t gonna be a good sport about my little prank, but she smiled and let loose a laugh of her own. “You understand I will have to - get you back - now.”
  2307.  
  2308. I nodded at her. “Good luck.”
  2309.  
  2310. We walked around the park some more, and after a while I got tired, so we decided to go home. We ended up exiting the park at the other end because that’s where we happened to be when I wanted to leave. I ended up taking us on a weird route home, and got us a little lost. 11-7 suggested we should cut through the train station to get us back on familiar territory, which sounded like a great idea.
  2311.  
  2312. The train station wasn’t very big, Advent didn’t use these for transporting people, just on loading and off loading cargo. There were plenty of sensors around, but since we weren’t going near the train we didn’t need to go through any checkpoints. As we walked through I got a strange feeling, the area was being heavily patrolled. There were a lot of troopers, a few sectoids, some vipers and even an Advent Mech.
  2313.  
  2314. One of the troopers walked up to us and addressed 11-7 in Advent. She responded and he walked back to where he was before.
  2315.  
  2316. I started to get nervous. “Heh, lotta soldiers around here, huh.”
  2317.  
  2318. She nodded at one of the train cars. “Important cargo. We are free to pass through.”
  2319.  
  2320. “Good. Let’s pass through, a little faster. I don’t want to hang around here and get arrested.”
  2321.  
  2322. There were some other people here too. They were standing in a group over by a bench chatting, and there was an old woman sitting on a different bench by herself. She looked bored and her eyes lazily drifted around. As we were walking past them I felt someone grab my hand, and I heard gunfire. There was a sectoid like 20 feet in front of me, I watched as its head exploded into lime green chunks and its body flopped onto the ground like a limp fish.
  2323.  
  2324. 11-7 yanked me over the benches and got low behind it. “Keep low! Don’t make yourself a target!”
  2325.  
  2326. The Advent troops all sprung into action and started shooting. That group of people that were talking made themselves scarce, but the old lady stayed right where she was. I saw some rebels poke out from the rooftops, and a few were on the ground. An explosion went off, and 11-7 started to return fire with her plasma rifle over the bench.
  2327.  
  2328. I just sat next to her, trying to keep myself from panicking. I felt it again, that dark shadow over me. Before, when I was in the limo I didn’t notice it, I was numb to it because I didn’t know how to react. But I was feeling it now, death looming over me. It was happening again, why was it happening again. Why now? My heart rate increased and I got the urge to just get up and sprint the hell out of here. To get away from this bloodbath as fast as possible and to forget I was even here. It sounded like a good idea until I realized if I did that I would probably get shot immediately. I’ve got to keep ahold of myself. I have no combat experience whatsoever, so I have to stay here and listen to 11-7, it’ll be my best chance. But one stray grenade is all it would take, I wouldn’t be able to get out of the way in time.
  2329.  
  2330. I looked at her, she was entirely focused on combat. As far as I knew she didn’t even know I was here anymore. I am so fucked, and I don’t even have a gun this time. I didn’t even have the illusion of being able to defend myself. I peeked through a slit on the bench to see what was going on. I watched one of these rebels vault over the cover he was behind, charge a trooper with a machete. He had on the standard grey armor they all wear, and it was stained with orange splatters as he brutally cut down the Advent trooper. This guy swung his machete at least 12 times. The whole time he had this manic look on his face, wide eyed with a big smile, and he was laughing the whole time he was chopping. He ducked behind cover when he was finished. All this advanced tech Advent has, all these alien freaks with psychic powers that they command, and I just witnessed one of their soldiers get chopped up with a machete like a fucking cartel victim. The only way this would have been more insane is if he used a wooden club like a damn caveman. These terrorists are nuts.
  2331.  
  2332. The Advent mech let loose a volley of rockets at one of the buildings the rebels were on top of, and destroyed half of it. It crumbled in on itself and coated the surrounding area in debris, spreading fire everywhere. I was in shock, one mech was able to destroy that much in like 12 seconds. Advent clearly doesn't care about property damage, so long as they killed all these rebels. I saw an RPG get shot from one of the other buildings, and the missile hit the mech right in the chest. The shrapnel produced by the missile shredded the Advent trooper and the viper that were near the mech.
  2333.  
  2334. The old woman that was sitting on a bench watched this all unfold, completely unfazed. After watching that trooper get hacked up, she stood up and calmly walked over towards the rebel with a machete. When she was about halfway there, I - well - she fucking shapeshifted into a monster. It was like 8ft tall and looked like something out of a goddamn horror movie. It was giant and pink and, and goopy looking, like it was made out of wet clay. It had these long black gruesome claws - three on each hand. The rebel stopped laughing, and dread spread across his face as this freakish thing hobbled right up to him. The monster slashed at him with its claws. They cut through his armor, and the metal barrier he was next to, like a hot knife through butter. I saw blood leaking out of the tears in his armor and some of it had splattered onto the ground, staining the light colored concrete red. He pulled out a shotgun and pumped a few rounds into it. The bullets ripped chunks off of it, and when pieces of that thing hit the ground they dissolved into a liquid. It seemed unfazed by the damage and raised an arm to slash at him again. He held up the shotgun to block its attack and it ripped one of his arms off. It soared through the air and landed outside of my vision. I turned away from the carnage. I - I’m going to die here, aren’t I? And if the rebels don’t kill me, the giant shape-shifting monster will.
  2335.  
  2336. My fear reached its peak, I couldn’t think straight. I covered my ears and hoped it would be over soon. I watched 11-7 pop in and out of cover next to me, shooting at things I didn’t want to see anymore. She looked stoic as she fought, completely unaffected by the events transpiring in front of her. I wish I could be like her in that way: no regrets, no fear, completely focused on the task at hand. I doubt she’ll ever have to deal with nightmares of this day. I turned to my left and saw a trooper say something to her. I wasn’t sure what he said because they always speak Advent around me, but I looked over at her, and she was tensing up. I got the feeling he was telling her to move up. I wasn’t sure what to do, I couldn’t imagine being alone in a situation like this, again. This time it was even worse, I wasn’t inside a bulletproof limo with the doors locked, gun in hand. The only thing keeping me from becoming terrorist target practice was a flimsy metal bench and 11-7. One of these things was immensely more valuable than the other. I wasn’t thinking clearly anymore, I instinctively grabbed 11-7’s arm, like a child. She instantly locked eyes with me, I saw confusion in those crimson orbs.
  2337.  
  2338. I stared into her eyes for a few moments, trying to impress on her how fucked up I was right now, before I found my voice. “Please... don’t leave me.” Was all I could say. I sounded hoarse and quiet. It was probably a pathetic display.
  2339.  
  2340. Her eyes softened slightly and she nodded at me. She looked back at the trooper and said something to him in Advent. He pointed behind us to an alley. She looked back at me. “I’m evacuating you, there will be more troops here shortly. They do not require my assistance.”
  2341.  
  2342. I had never been more happy to hear something in my life. She pointed to the same alley the trooper pointed to earlier. “We are retreating down that alley. The rebels are only attacking from their position on the other side.” I nodded. “You’ll go first, and I will be behind you. You will run when I say to” I nodded again.
  2343.  
  2344. She looked through the slit on the bench for a long time before she yelled for me to move. I didn’t wait for her to say it twice. I sprinted down that alley as fast as I could, and I could hear 11-7 right behind me. There was a trash can tipped over in the middle of the alley that I hurdled over like a gold medal Olympic runner. I turned right once I was out of the alley. I was on the sidewalk next to a road. The entire area had been blocked off by Advent, and there was no traffic or people to be seen. How long were we in combat for, I wonder?
  2345.  
  2346. I turned around to see 11-7 slither out of the alley tactfully. I could still feel the adrenaline pumping through my body, but I was not dead. I looked over myself and patted down my body. “Ha, ha! I am alive, and not a scratch on me! I could hug you, you magnificent serpent!”
  2347.  
  2348. A smile spread across her face as she leaned up against a wall. “I’m happy to hear you are ok.”
  2349.  
  2350. I noticed some yellow liquid dripping down her armor. I followed it up and saw a hole in the middle of a large indent on her shoulder. I pointed at it. “Oh no. No, you were hit.”
  2351.  
  2352. She calmly looked at her shoulder. “I was. It must have happened while we ran into the alley.”
  2353.  
  2354. I started to panic again. “Fuck, what should we do! It looks like you’re losing a lot of blood.”
  2355.  
  2356. I heard the sound of metal scraping against metal as she drifted down and sat against the wall. She set down her rifle and grunted in pain as she started fiddling with her shoulder pad. “There’s - a medkit in my armor. By my waist.” Her shoulder pad hit the concrete sidewalk with a clank, and I kneeled down by her.
  2357.  
  2358. I started feeling around.. “Where is it? I don’t see anything.”
  2359.  
  2360. “Push in on my back.” She turned sideways so I could see better.
  2361.  
  2362. I saw a few gold colored ridge shaped things. They were where, well the butt of a human would be relative to their torso, but this was a serious situation and I didn’t have time to worry about such things. I reached out and pushed on them frantically, one of them popped out and a small black object with a nozzle fell on the ground.
  2363.  
  2364. I picked it up and showed it to her. “Is this it?”
  2365.  
  2366. She nodded and turned her body to face me. “It is, hold the nozzle in front of my wound and push the button on the back.”
  2367.  
  2368. I went over to her shoulder, there was yellow blood everywhere, and I couldn't see the wound, so I grabbed the bottom of my white shirt and tried to soak up some of the blood. She hissed as I did it, but I tried to ignore it. I was able to soak up enough blood so I could see the wound, and I followed her instructions. As I pushed on the button with my thumb some blue colored spray came out of the nozzle and instantly sealed the wound. It had created some blue colored scab thing over her wound. I heard 11-7 grunt while she was sprayed.
  2369.  
  2370. Once it was done I backed off and looked at her face. She looked a little worse for wear, but seemed cognizant. “Are you ok? It sounded like that hurt.”
  2371.  
  2372. She tilted her head up to look at me and smiled. I saw mischievousness in her slitted pupils. “Aww, are you worried about me?”
  2373.  
  2374. That was an uncharacteristic thing for her to say. I gestured at her bullet wound. “Well, yeah. You got shot. I don’t want you to die, especially now. After you, uh got me out of there.”
  2375.  
  2376. She giggled and got up after a few moments. I picked up her plasma rifle and handed it to her. “I’ll be alright, but the bullet will have to be removed by a physician.”
  2377.  
  2378. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. So, what do we do now?”
  2379.  
  2380. She looked over her shoulder at the alley we exited that battlefield from. “We should get further away from the terrorists. We are not safe yet.”
  2381.  
  2382. We moved away from the alley, neither of us said anything. Eventually we encountered an Advent blockade. They had made a makeshift barricade using two of their patrol cars, and there were some Advent troopers directing traffic. Two of the troopers walked up to us and started talking to 11-7. It was strange that they kept choosing to talk to her, over me, but I wasn’t complaining. I wasn’t in a chatty mood right now. After they spoke to each other for a few minutes, they stopped and 11-7 looked at me.
  2383.  
  2384. She smiled, but her voice sounded uncertain. “They are going to - take you home, and I must go to a physician. Separate.”
  2385.  
  2386. I didn’t want to be alone, and I certainly didn’t want her to be alone either. “Can’t I go with you?”
  2387.  
  2388. She shook her head. “You will be safer at home. I won’t be gone for a long time, 6 hours at the maximum.”
  2389.  
  2390. I still wasn’t just gonna let her leave. “I don’t care, I just want to make sure you are ok. How can you...”
  2391.  
  2392. She gingerly set her free hand on my shoulder, and snaked her head down to be eye level with me. “No need to worry, I will be alright. Go home.” She smiled again, but I sensed a hint of something else, maybe she didn’t want me to leave either.
  2393.  
  2394. I turned away from her gaze for a few moments and looked back at her. Her eyes were pleading with me. I figured it would be easier if I just went along with it. I relented and let out a sigh. “You’ll be back tonight?”
  2395.  
  2396. She nodded. “Most likely.”
  2397.  
  2398. “Okay, - I’ll go.” I saw her eyes soften. She gave my shoulder a squeeze for a few moments and let go. She followed one of the troopers, and I was led away by the other trooper into a patrol car.
  2399.  
  2400. -
  2401.  
  2402. The drive was short, but it felt long. I went inside, locked the front door, and plopped down on my couch.
  2403.  
  2404. I turned on the tv, but I didn’t really watch it. I kinda just stared at it. Before I even knew what happened 2 hours had passed. Is this what it was like in my house before she showed up? It’s only been like a week, but I can’t even remember what it was like without her. I mean it feels like she’s lived me my whole life. And now, my house is so empty. I looked down at my white shirt, there was a large yellow crusty stain on it, her blood. I hope she’s ok, I can’t believe I’m actually worried about her. It was weird, I was rarely concerned about anything other than myself. It's fine, it's a natural reaction to be worried about a friend being in the hospital, there's nothing weird about that. This is such bullshit, she stayed by my side for 2 whole days, and I didn't even stay with her in the hospital for a few hours. Granted, I was ordered not to, but I'll have to make it up to her somehow. Even so, I shouldn’t worry, I mean she probably gets shot like this once a week, or something. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing though. I looked up to see what was playing on tv, it was the Starship Rangers movie. I saw a scene of my character, Captain Wilkins, leading a squad to clear these mutant bugs out of his ship. He didn’t look scared, even as some of his squad members got ripped apart by bugs, he kept going.
  2405.  
  2406. My eyes drifted back to 11-7’s bloodstain on my shirt. Maybe if I wasn’t so useless I could have prevented this. I wouldn’t even have needed to pick up a gun. If I had just - put more effort into remembering the route home, this wouldn’t have happened. I looked back up at the tv. I saw how stoic Captain Wilkins looked in the face of danger; it reminded me of how 11-7 looked while fighting today. What did they have that I didn’t? - They’re probably just not massive pussies. I chuckled to myself. I should probably change out of this shirt.
  2407.  
  2408. I took a shower and changed into some clean clothes, I scooched all five of her towels to the side on the drying bar to make room for mine. She still wasn’t home yet. I sat down on the couch and changed the channel. I already knew how Starship Rangers ended, and I did not want to see myself die tonight, even if it was in a movie. I waited as long as I could, well into the night, but she still wasn’t back yet. The whole time I felt like a nervous wreck. I couldn’t help but imagine some rebels breaking into my house, and every little sound I heard made me jump. It took a while, but eventually I gave up on waiting and decided to go to bed. As I crawled in I felt uncertain. What would the future bring? Will she inevitably end up dying for my sake? Fighting against some dumb terrorists who think it would be a good idea to kidnap a D-list celebrity. I don’t deserve that kind of loyalty... Here I am being all pessimistic again, it’s not like they were after - me - this time. I fell into a restless sleep.
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