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Chronicles of a Wandering Nothing
Working on Xerxies's backstory, just a pet project.
Exposition (Chapter 1)
Xerxies wondered how much she had lost so far, how many memories had been destroyed for her freedom. There was no way to know, they were gone without even the hint of what was once there. Just an emptiness that was worse than any other pain she’d experienced. Nothing hurt quite as bad as loss of self. As ceasing to be a person.

Beaten and conquered, her people had lost their planet to Earthlings, colonists who set out to mingle with their race and live in harmony. All they did was destroy. They fashioned a collar-like device that had healing abilities, like a permanent med kit they could carry everywhere. Then, once everyone was wearing it, a free ‘gift’ from the human settlers, they activated a wave pulse from their satellite that caused everyone to stop.

Mind control, they called it. Removed the native’s ability to fight back, forced them to obey orders. Worst of all, they couldn’t shift. The Earthlings called them shape shifters, or just shifters for short, the impatient race the humans were. They were essentially humanoid in appearance, but had to ability to change their outward appearance to anything bipedal. They were still the same on the inside, something the static humans couldn’t comprehend.

Those who truly wished to could change gender at will, though without any outside pressures most stayed the same or shifted once and were done with it. It hardly mattered to anyone whether you were your original gender or not, they felt that the outside should represent what was on the inside. Many shifters chose to change the color of their skin, eyes and hair, but very rarely were there identification problems between acquaintances. They knew each other well enough to be able to tell who it was, even if they were wearing a different shell.

The self, specifically the inner self, was the most important thing across their many cultures. You could be whatever you wanted on the outside, you were always still yourself on the inside.

Their shifting came at a high price though. Every change involved a memory. It didn’t have to be important, it could be what that individual wore a week ago. It just had to be a memory of something. This was why many people chose to keep their form the way it was, risking the self was too dangerous. The freedom to do so though, the humans stole it, their most fundamental freedom.

Xerxies could shift, however. An Earthling scientist with enough integrity and compassion to counterbalance the dishonesty and bigotry within the upper echelons of the human colonists had fashioned a device that jammed the signal to the collar long enough to remove it. He told her the materials needed, showed her the blueprints for the device, had her take it apart and put it back together countless times. He knew it wasn’t long before they traced the disturbance the jammer created in their control field back to him.

He was right. A week after her collar was removed, she found his apartment in ruins, his body full of holes. When she tried to leave, they were waiting for her. She was faster though, shifters were more athletically capable than humans, faster, stronger, tougher. The scars had long since been shifted away. She couldn’t afford to keep them, it was enough to trace her by.

“How long? How long until all these memories are gone too? The doctor, my people, what my home looked like before the humans cannibalized our spires to make ugly blocks that towered towards the sky?” Xerxies mumbled, more to herself than her current company. What was his name? She couldn’t recall. Maybe she never knew in the first place.

“This is bigger than you, Xerxies. You know that. If you succeed, even if you lose everything, it will be a small price to pay for our freedom,” he answered, nondescript voice bouncing off the curved walls of the sewer they were in. His appearance was human, plain. Not pretty, not ugly, vaguely brown hair and flat brown eyes. Not very tall or short, not extremely fit. His way of blending in.

“Who are you again?” She returned, perhaps a little too harshly. Losing every memory she had meant quite a lot to her. Not for the first time she tried to remember why this was even worth it.

He sighed, “Leto. Not that you’ll remember after you shift again. Why is it that you always pick memories of new people to erase? Seems pretty antisocial.”

“Because what happens now isn’t half as important as what happened before. You don’t matter, Leto. In the grand scheme of things, you’ll just be another nameless stepping stone,” she snapped. Definitely too harsh. Couldn’t be helped though, she wanted to make sure that she was the first person he forgot next he shifted.

“And one day you won’t be anything but a name, Xerxies. But maybe you’ll accomplish something before then. Think you can go that far? I doubt it. Once you start forgetting the important memories you’ll give up and leave us like this.”

“I don’t see you doing anything, child. You just hide among them and pretend. You seduced an innocent woman into removing your collar just so you could escape, you have no right to speak. You’re only helping me because…Actually, why are you helping me?” She could remember how he got free of his collar, but not who he was or why he was here. Maybe she should be more selective with what memories she erased.

“Always forgetting. I’ve been traveling with you for twenty days, and every time you shift you forget my name or why I’m here. I guess I should be happy you’re not losing your core memories, but really, you could at least try to find something else insignificant. Maybe next time just forget what you ate for lunch?”

She blinked, “Have we already eaten lunch?” Another sigh from Leto.

“Nevermind. I’m traveling with you to help you collect the materials for the signal disruptor. You said, and I quote ‘If we can make another one, the bubble it creates would allow several people to remove their collars at the same time, even if we could only use it once before they caught on. Then we can go for the man in control’. Ringing a bell yet?”

“The plan yes. You? Not so much. We’re on the third mark, aren’t we? The warehouse that has two of the pieces.”

“Do you even know what day it is? What time it is?” He asked in exasperation. It seemed like he’d already dealt with this too much.

“No, and neither are important. Besides, I have you to remember for me.”

“For as long as I bother staying with you. I could leave whenever, and you wouldn’t even remember me well enough to know I was gone.”

Wrong. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. She wouldn’t remember his name, or the days they spent together, but she’d feel the emptiness of the memories of him she erased. The pain would only increase from here, until she was nothing. Until her mind collapsed in on itself like a dying star. Would anyone remember her? Or, like a black hole, would she just suck every proof of existence into herself when she ceased to be?

Leto called her name and touched her arm, drawing her attention away from her thoughts. She shook her head and told him not to leave, not yet. The plan had to be carried out. He seemed to understand that emotional attachment was pointless, they’d only forget each other anyways. It was so far one of two good attributes he had, other than being persistent.

“We hit our mark in an hour. It is the warehouse, and it’s heavily guarded. They’ve caught on to us, if you don’t remember the last raid.”

She didn’t. She’d shifted two dozen times in the past few days trying to get them off their trail. Every thing from the past week was gone, all she knew was that she had two of the pieces they needed so far. Only seven more rare components to go. How it happened didn’t matter, just that it did.

Her memories were means to an end. She just had to keep the ones that made her who she was. The scientist, Gand, had locked the memories from before the occupation of her home planet, she couldn’t access them, but she couldn’t lose them either. She just hoped he put some sort of key in her mind, so that when it was all over, those memories, the precious few memories that told her who she was, would come rushing back.

For now though, she was a name and a mission. Even though it hurt, even though it would only get worse, she had to keep going. Until the last memory she had, the memory of seven letters in sequence that made her different from every other being on this planet, she would push on. Once she lost that, there wouldn’t be anything left to push.

“Will any other shifters be there?” She queried vaguely, trusting him to follow the conversation better than she did.

“At the warehouse? Yeah, two of the guards are confirmed shifters. Not armed, just meat shields, as always.”

“You’d think they’d trust people until mind control with guns, but I suppose even they realize their inventions could fail.”

“Hey Xerxies, I’ve been wondering…Why do you call us shifters rather than the real name for our people?”

“I forgot what it was. Don’t bother telling me what it is either. You know our rules, sacred words are never to be spoken by strange tongues. I’m just a shifter now. All I ever will be.”

He shook his head, almost looking sad for a moment before a blank look settled on his face once again. Leto didn’t hate her yet, and she had to wonder why. She apparently needed to work harder.

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