Xedrik struggled to keep his eyes open. His back and neck were stiff from the hours spent hunched over his work desk, and his amber eyes were strained from working in the dark. The only source of illumination he had was the overly-bright beam from his spyders. He didn’t know what to think. The four cups of milk and sugar and cream and marshmallows with coffee had long been emptied by now, and the floor of the large, spacious basement had become a miserable sea of discarded, scratched out, and crumpled up papers that barely passed as blueprints.
This was the state Xedrik Xircut found himself in at five in the morning. Or maybe it was the afternoon already? It’s hard to tell. His clock has been busted since yesterday. It also didn’t help that his small home in Regensburg was farther from the rest of the houses in their tiny neighborhood, limiting their contact with the rest of society.
Or maybe that was last week too? He didn’t know what day it was either.
Xedrik sighed and ran his gloved hand through his messy brown hair. He put the soldering iron to rest. Okay. Admittedly, he was going nowhere with this project. Reducing the amount of radiation his miniature generator produced was unbelievably impossible. It ran on fulgerium. Fulgerium. The very energy source he’s used countless times before, but now, it showed signs of instability. Perhaps his latest source was sending him defective goods, or maybe it’s. . .
He shook his head. No, definitely not. It would be impossible for that to be the case, regardless of what it could mean. Besides, the idea itself was completely conjecture anyways.
There was a knock on the door. Xedrik pulled himself out of his thoughts and turned around to look, even though he already knew who it was.
Standing in the partially open doorway was Derek. His long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail with a scrap of cloth around his head, suggesting that he just came back to their bunker from the factory. He was hunched in over himself and leaned most of his weight against the frame, just barely on the brink of collapse. The man stunk of heavy booze, and the strange stains on his work shirt only furthered Xedrik’s theory. The man looked up and they locked eyes. The dark swells under his grey eyes told him everything.
“The engine was a no-go?” Xedrik asked, but he already knew what the answer would be.
His elder brother slammed the door open and let out a cry of frustration before falling face-flat on the floor. The howls and sobs confirmed Xedrik’s question, and he let out a long sigh before his brother’s antics. Figures.
He stood up from his work table and went towards the broken, crying man. He hooked his arms under his, taking great care to stay as far away from his brother’s booze-filled breath as he hauled him to his feet. Derek’s sobs evolved into cries of anguish as he clung onto his little brother’s brown cargo pants. Xedrik just shook his head in disapproval, all too used to this song and dance by now.
“Come on, brother,” Xedrik grunted as he hauled Derek to his feet. “You can collapse in your own room, I’m working.”
That only seemed to send his older brother into another round of wailing. Xedrik groaned as his brother sobbed into his previously white-washed shirt, soaking it with his tears and snot.
“Derek,” Xedrik warned.
His older brother sniffled, hiccuping as he tried to speak. He babbled something incoherent at first, but his second attempt proved to be far more successful. “I-I-I r-ran it so many t-t-times, so many-!” He hiccuped, but it was more from the booze than the tears. “Times! It w-worked every single time, b-b-but when I sh-showed it t-t-t-to my bosses i-it didn’t. . .”
He never finished that sentence. He burst into tears once more, his wails starting to grate against Xedrik’s ears. He shook his head and wrapped an arm around his elder brother’s shoulders, guiding him to sit down on his cot. Derek laid down instead and clung onto his little brother’s waist, burying his face into the younger one’s stomach. Xedrik ran his fingers through the other one’s hair, undoing the ponytail and the cloth bandana.
“Shh, shhh,” Xedrick soflty hushed, his brother’s sobs weakening. He gently rocked him back and forth, softly singing a lullaby from their childhood. As with all lost and distraught children, the adult Derek found his cries subsiding until only sniffles remain.
He chuckled. Xedrik looked at his brother in confusion, who only offered up a weak smile to the younger one. “You’re just like mom, you know?”
Xedrik said nothing. He only ran his fingers through his brother’s hair some more, a bittersweet memory of times long past.
He shook his head. He lightly nudged his brother, saying, “Come on. Let’s take another look at that engine. Maybe one of the circuits are fried or something.”
Derek shook his head and chuckled. “That’s what you said the last time, and you know how that turned out. I still have parts of my shirt in between the gears!”
Xedrik turned red. He glanced away, rubbing his neck in embarrassment. “I’m not good with mechanics. . .”
“Yeah. I hate to say it, but you suck.”
“Wow, you are such a fountain of inspiration dear brother!”
“So you’re not a robotics geek?”
They both looked at each other and a beat passed in silence. They laughed. Despite everything that happened in their lives, despite of all of the rejection and failures, they would always have each other. It’s them against the world, two brothers from Abya Yala that were good for nothing except building stuff.
Xedrik stopped laughing all at once and turned his attention onto his brother. Derek hissed and sat up, gripping his left arm.
The older brother turned to his younger sibling at the call of his name. Xedrik could see his face tense from pain, and he noticed that he gripped his arm tighter. Yet despite that, Derek tried to smile and reassure him. “It’s fine. Nothing a wrench can’t fix.”
Xedrik grabbed his brother’s arm and dragged him to his worktable. His brother protested of course, saying that he was in perfectly good health and that he should be more worried about his coffee preferences (it’s an abomination, an abomination). But being the worried younger brother that he is, Xedrik flat-out ignored him and picked up his soldering iron. His eyes flicked from his brother’s eyes and the sleeve of his long shirt. Derek sighed, wanting to get away from all this, but he knew that his brother would hunt him down for it.
And so reluctantly, the older brother complied to the demands of his younger sibling. Derek rolled up the sleeve of his left arm for Xedrik to work on.
Or rather, what was left of it.
Everything was still made of flesh and bone above his elbow. It was still human. But everything below that was an amalgamation of wires and metal. His bones had been replaced with steel rods. His flesh was now a mesh of wires and cords. And the nerves?
Powered by fulgerium. It was the only way he could move his fingers like everyone else could.
Xedrik made quick work of inspecting his arm for any irregularities. There. One of the wires was coming loose, and it was slightly scraping against the fulgerium nerves inside. Xedrik grabbed a pair of electrically-insulated tweezers and got to work, gently moving away some of the wires to get to the defective one. It was a quiet for a while as Xedrik worked.
“So,” Derek began, trying to break the silence. “I got a letter today.”
“Mm,” Xedrik nodded absently, still focused on his task.
Derek was put off by his younger brother ignoring him, but he knew that his next words would garner his attention. “It’s unmarked.”
“Here,” Derek reached into the back pocket of his work jeans. He held out a small, cream-colored envelope for his brother. It was slightly dirty from being with Derek at work, but even the soot couldn’t hide the letter’s importance. Xedrick took the envelope in his hand and inspected it, flipping it over to the back.
His eyes widened. “This. . . Is for me?”
Derek nodded, his face completely grim. “Yeah. There were two of them, one for each of us. I haven’t opened mine yet, I. . . wanted to open it with you.”
Xedrick had no words. He didn’t need any, his brother’s eyes were telling him everything that needed to be said. He glanced at the letter. His brother nodded, and he took his letter out. They held their letters in front of them and braced themselves. They each took a deep breath, thinking of not the letter, not themselves, not of their futures, but of each other.
The letters were torn open.