⚡️ THUNDERFANG #9
As Locke learns more about NEVERMORE, the history of their names makes him question his motives and convictions. Should he keep pursuing the Benevolent?
Thing of Evil
There was so much to learn about him.
Ripley Slater was not his real name. The real Ripley died in an accident and then had his identity stolen. He had just gone through the initial admittance process for the S.P.D. New agents got their blood screened, among a million other tests, to signify that they were "normal," with no trace of Malice in their blood. It was a prime identity and it went fast.
Johnathan Morstan, the young man in front of me, jumped at the chance.
He was fifteen when he was sent to Avam. Fifteen! And the horrific details didn't stop there.
Ever since Avam's inception, the prison admitted Branded in batches. Each group was assigned a number chronologically and each Branded had a letter corresponding to their position within that group. Johnathan was one of many to be unfortunate enough to belong to the 666th intake. And as the 18th prisoner, he was branded 666R in the same spot that I was branded so long ago.
A permanent reminder that the galaxy thought of him as less than.
Those in that 666th intake were treated... poorly, both from those "watching over" the Branded and the Branded themselves. The officials gave them that number and then had the nerve to punish them for it. Meanwhile, the Branded considered it bad luck and shunned them, going so far as to dub them, "The Things of Evil." I had been there for a few years and was already waist-deep in my fair share of troubles, so I avoided them as much as I could. They were not my problem.
After the brand was seared onto his flesh, John was dumped onto the grave world with the rest of us and left to fend for himself.
I tried not to think too much about the conditions there, but if it was tough for me, I knew it had to be literal hell for him.
See, Avam didn't slap chains on us or place devices on our necks that limited our abilities. In fact, what they did was far worse: we had free reign. They let us roam around with our abilities unchecked – and unguarded. The mass murderers and wanted criminals, mixed in with teenagers and those unable to defend themselves. We were crabs in a barrel, fighting for dominance, freedom, power, and just a moment of sanity. We had cells, where some of us sought shelter and a place to sleep, but it wasn't enforced. Using them usually led to unfortunate incidents with Branded being trapped with their backs against the wall.
Johnathan survived and managed to escape two years ago with the help of Legacy, a group of people formed in the aftermath of Karim's death, devoted to helping the Branded escape Avam and find a better life.
I was proud to see that all the hard work Karim had put in had created something amazing.
// Sojourn, +1
+1 (Heart) => 3 vs 1,7. Weak hit.
Guess I'll just resupply.
+2 Supply 
I invited Johnathan – "You can keep calling me Ripley, at least in public." – back to Baker's and allowed him to rest there. His injuries were serious, but I expected him to make a full recovery in no time. And as long as everyone thought he was dead, they wouldn't miss him.
I spent the next week patrolling for Hudson as I had previously promised. It was good to get a regular beat back. Low stakes and low pressure. And I had someone to go home to and talk with. Johnathan felt like the son I never had. While the thought of living by myself was sorely missed, I enjoyed having Johnathan's company. Watt and him got along great, which made things even better.
It helped that Hudson practically forced a few credits on me. It wasn't enough to bother paying off any debt, so I set it aside for later. I hoped that all of it would have taken my mind off of Akim and the dark forces brewing within the galaxy, but it didn't. If anything, I focused more on them. I needed to know who the Benevolent were.
// Develop your Relationship with Hudson
Hudson really appreciates Locke's help. Hopefully, there's room to explore more of this relationship as the story progresses.
Hudson Baker is at 2/10 progress.
// Gather Information via Sleuth, +2
+2 (Wits) => 6 vs 3,7,8. => 6 vs 3,7. Weak hit.
+1 momentum 
What is the nature of this discovery related to the Benevolent?
Story Clue, 35: Involves a key or means of access. Hmmm.
I need some flavor. Action+Theme. 2, 96: Acquire Warning.
The Weave was no help. No one I knew had heard of any nefarious organizations run by the Salvis – well, except for the Salvis themselves. And my tried and true method of investigating – talking to Watt and staring into space – failed to illuminate a single path forward. I would have taken a vague direction at this point.
I leaned back in my chair, swiping at the air to close a search window. I'd hit nothing but dead ends. "Benevolent" wasn't exactly an uncommon word, so it made searching a bit more difficult. If I attached "Akim" or "Salvi" to the query, it just made a mess of the results. I even sat through a few of Akim's recorded speeches hoping that something was hiding within his words.
"What're you doing?" I turned to see Ri– Johnathan standing in the entryway to my office.
I didn't want to involve him. He'd already been through so much. "Nothing important."
"With good reason. You should still be resting." I stood and helped him back to the medbay.
"You're going after them, aren't you?" Well, he was observant. He limped his way back onto the somewhat soft reclining chair. I nodded. "I don't think you should. They're dangerous. Who knows what he would have done if the derelict didn't explode?"
He was right. If Akim had survived, he was going to work tirelessly at eradicating the Branded. I'd find out soon enough if his death would make him a martyr. There were still three of the Benevolent out there somewhere, too.
And where the hell is Reichenbach?
I watched as Johnathan winced in pain, his breath slow. He was far too young to have to be dealing with this mess. At his age – I found out he was actually only twenty – he should have only been worried about what he was doing after graduation, or how was he going to make a living in this crazy sector. But no, being Branded robbed him of his freedom, and now he was dealing with injuries sustained by masquerading as an SPD officer just to survive after escaping hell!
"What you've been through... It's unfair. But I can't just sit back and hide anymore. You were in the 666th intake. That means they brought in over 400 Branded since I first arrived. And we weren't there that long. They're probably in the thousands by now, with even worse conditions because we're the bad apples that escaped. Johnathan, I have to figure out who they are and take them down so no one else has to go through what either of us has."
"Why you? I learned on Avam to just... hide. Even people who were supposed to be on my side treated me like shit. Do you know why they called me NEVERMORE?" I shook my head. "I retreated. I hid in the actual cage they left for me like some sick bird who couldn't fly. It was better to be imprisoned by their" – he gestured vaguely to the world around us and winced in pain once more – "standards than get beat up or die because some Branded who got there before me decided they were bored that day or that I looked at them wrong or that I wasn't strong enough.
"To be honest, I'm not sure that this" – he gestured between himself and I – "is going to go any differently. There's probably more than one Branded with delusions of grandeur that is going to side with the people trying to lock us up for just fucking sneezing too hard. I'd hate for them to backstab you. You seem nice."
The air in the Scarlet Adler shifted. I could feel it heating up and, if I didn't know it was Johnathan, I would've thought the draft was from a breach. "Is that what happened? You were betrayed?"
"I have always been a 'thing of evil' – before, during, and after Avam. I thought I was safe around my friends and family. They turned me in without a second thought. So, cool then. I think, 'Maybe on Avam, I can trust them. My own kind.' No. I was harassed, beat up, tortured. So much so that I'd rather get branded again. I'd rather them experiment on me like the Hivebranded.
"And then I escape. You'd think I'd be free, but no. I left one cage for another. It's bigger, yeah, but still a cage. Now I'm deathly afraid of anyone finding out who and what I really am. I've been literally pretending to be someone else and just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"And while I'm happy to see a face like mine out here, I have very little hope that I can trust you. I'm quite sure you're going to let me down just like everyone else."
His words stung. I remembered the 666's time on Avam, and he was right: they had no reason to trust anyone, especially the Branded.
"And to add insult to injury, I still haven't made a dent in my debt to Diogenes. What if she rips away all that she built for me? What if I'm forced to run for the rest of my life...? I don't want to stir up any trouble, and going after the Benevolent sounds like trouble. NEVERMORE was given to mock me, and it became my stance on life. I'm never going to do more than I have to. I'm never going to do more than what is absolutely necessary. I'm never giving someone more of me than what's required. You saved my life, so you get a bit more. But once I can move again, I'm out."
Silence. He was going to leave once he was better. Fair enough. I fiddled with my black tourmaline necklace. If I could focus on everything else around me, then I had a chance at not breaking down at his words. I focused on the smell of lavender in the medbay. I noticed a light flickering and made a mental note for later. I–
Lightning sparked off of my arm.
"Take all the time you need," I mumbled in a hurry and headed out of the medbay.
I don't know if I could take anymore, not right now. What more could he say? I was doubting all of my convictions now. What would happen if I went after the Benevolent? Would I inevitably make everything worse? Would my interference get babies scanned for Malice at birth now? What about during pregnancy?
Had I been selfish in all of my endeavors before? I knew the answer to that one was mostly "Yes." Had I contributed to Johnathan's misery and those just like him? I wasn't sure. My stomach churned.
I didn't want him to try and make me feel better. He hadn't said anything mean or wrong. Our experiences had been shitty, and all he wanted to do was protect himself. I could not fault him for that.
I raised a brow, questioning what he was holding out to me. It looked like his SPD badge.
"You still deserve a bit more from me. I wasn't assigned to Akim's detail for very long, but I know where he was headed next: New Bohemia."
// Progress on Benevolent vow
Johnathan has definitely helped us out here. Not only do we know where Akim was headed – New Bohemia, Locke's home planet! – but we also get his SPD badge. Should unlock a few doors for us. [2/10]
and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Want to own Starforged for yourself? Grab it on DriveThruRPG!