V. Forward

Louis was the first to notice Ada. The bird's head darted in her direction as it shuffled on its post. Hawthorne turned, a brief look of surprise on her face before she grinned.

"If it isn't the reclusive armorer," Hawthorne said. "I was just thinking about checking on you."

Ada reached the top of the stairs and marveled at the expanse of the Last City stretching from Hawthorne's vantage point.

"Oh? Was I making too much noise again?"

Hawthorne shook her head. "The opposite; way too quiet down there."

Ada chuckled. "Things have been going more smoothly as of late."

"Glad to hear it," Hawthorne said and nodded. She removed a morsel of meat from the pouch at her waist and tossed towards Louis, who gobbled it voraciously. "So what was the answer?"

"Centuries-old research on matter programming, left behind by a megalomaniac," Ada said.

Hawthorne whistled. "Sounds like a trip."

"It has been. I feel quite changed by this experience," Ada said, a slight lilt to her voice.

"Change can be good."

Ada watched engine flares weave through the City's expanse. "There was one thing from our last conversation that stuck with me."

Hawthorne raised an eyebrow.

"Only one? That's definitely disappointing."

"You said you weren't sure if I had any friends," Ada continued.

"Ada, I didn't mean to—"

"If I'm being honest, social connection has never been my strong suit."

"I know that it can be scary to put yourself out there. Especially with everything you've been through," Hawthorne said softly.

Ada considered her words. "It can be. But I'm finding this new journey to be a little less daunting, when I'm willing to walk it with others."

"Sounds like a pretty good lesson," Hawthorne said with a smirk.

Ada let her gaze wander over the constellation of architecture gleaming in the Last City; the meandering grid of roadways and the rolling landscape beyond. She breathed in deeply, letting the air fill her chassis.

"I should probably get back down there. I have a lot of work ahead of me," Ada said, clearing her throat.

Hawthorne clasped a hand on Ada's shoulder, startling the Exo. "Don't be a stranger, Ada. You come up from your cave more often, you might find you have more friends than you think."

The Underdog

Category: Suraya Hawthorne


IV. A Guiding Hand

Category: Book: Pathfinding