Sometimes, especially at night when he closed his eyes and tried to sleep, he felt as if he were being sucked into that monster’s body again. As long as he lived, he would never forget that moment. Seventeen! Look out behind you! Then the beast had come up before him, so proud with his ambush that he had licked his lips in delight. You should have listened to your friend.
He shuddered, splashing cold water onto his face and taking several deep breaths. It was alright; he was safe, and Cell was dead. Confronting his emotions with logic did little to sooth them, however. In the wilderness of Monster Island, Seventeen lived with his wife, their daughter, and their adopted sons. That was it. No other human contact was viable, nor desired. Sure, the kids went to the mainland for school, but he rarely came into contact with any humans save for his family and poachers (and the odd video call with his government liaison every six or so months).
Five more had arrived that morning, before the sun had risen. He had vaporized them, like those who had come before. Seventeen was not about to let their carcasses pollute the island with their presence. The poachers were seeking the Minotaurus, of which there were only a handful remaining. It was his job to protect them. He had been astute, always vigilant during the waking hours, but they had started sneaking in under cover of darkness as well. He did his best to patrol the island, but even androids had to sleep occasionally. A trio had snuck onto the wildlife reserve the previous night. It had been nothing to end their lives, but even so, all these deaths were starting to weigh on him. Why so many were willing to throw their lives away for the immortality elixir, he could not understand. Perhaps it was ironic, but at the same time, the desperation behind their actions made him feel ill.
His lip was trembling. He tried to stop it, but could not. He and his family hadn’t lived there for even two years. At first, the poachers had shown up in a few ragtag bands. For almost two weeks, it had been pretty bad, but after word of Seventeen’s power had spread through the poachers’ circles, they had seemingly given up. For a time, nobody had been willing to set foot on Monster Island. Those months had been good. He longed for those days.
Now, the poachers had grown desperate enough to send in teams at all hours of the day, completely aware that he would hunt down most of them. They were banking on the wild hope of one or two groups slipping in while he slept to steal the Minotaurus’ horns. To Seventeen’s shame, that had worked for them two times before, and so, it was no great mystery why they were keeping at their costly strategy. He knew he had to be better.
This house had belonged to the previous park ranger. It was older than Seventeen. He liked that about the place. It wasn’t in the best condition (the roof over his bedroom leaked, and there were plenty of bugs), yet that only added to his appreciation of this place. It would have been unnatural to live in a mansion in the forest. His gaze lingered on the old faucet, its dull color no longer silver, but faded to foggy grey. It was chipped in several places along its face. Running his thumb down it, he took another deep breath and returned to the kitchen.
She was talking about her research on the island’s raptor population, and her intention to increase their numbers by at least thirty percent by the end of the year. He had heard this speech three times already, so it was easy to zone out. Seventeen was not proud to admit it. He loved her. But sometimes, this feeling was overwhelming. His eyes lazily followed a tiny green bug buzzing around the table, looking for scraps. He had half a mind to zap it.
His daughter kissed him goodbye before her mother flew her in their Capsule Corp. plane to kindergarten, and that snapped him out of it for a while. The boys, being two years younger, required tending to for breakfast. Of course, that had been left for him to do. After finishing his meal, suppressing a succession of yawns, Seventeen woke them up, dragged them to the kitchen, and warmed them up some leftovers. They didn’t like the eggs much, but that’s why there was bacon too. Even toddlers were aware enough to know bacon was the best food in the world.
For a man possessing infinite energy, he was finding the human part of himself–that which needed sleep–to be remarkably stubborn. He was glad to be alone with the boys, at least. They were too young to tax him mentally. Nevertheless, weary as he was, Seventeen could not shake the memories of his past, no matter how hard he tried. His mouth had gone dry. Even while he played with the boys in their room, supervising their building of a lego city, he was unable to shake the memory of that beast springing upon him in all its insidious glee, its tail falling over him, and all going dark. That had been when he had lost control.
He never wanted to lose control.
As luck would have it, Seventeen was only able to spend about eight minutes with the toddlers before he noticed the smoke rising in the distance. Moreover, two power readings had entered the island. He silently cursed himself for losing focus. Nonetheless, their power readings were extraordinary for poachers. These two could have competed at a high level in the World Martial Arts Tournament. His programming told him that one was of a similar power reading (although slightly weaker) to that of the Crane Hermit–the man who had trained Tien Shinhan. The other reading was slightly higher, and did not exactly correspond to any noteworthy warrior.
He sensed them approaching the Minotaurus reserve. They were moving more quickly than the usual poachers. He glanced down at the boys, running his hand through the nearest one’s hair, a grin forming on his lips, before placing them in their cribette so they wouldn’t get into any trouble while he was away. He walked to their door. Then, sensing the poachers’ increasing speed, he ran to the front door, and kicked off, shooting across the island with all of his energy.
The green bug was in his eye the entire time. He couldn’t quash the bloody damn thing, and it was starting to become more than a bother.
There came a day when the old Crane Hermit and Mercenary Tao, having lost favor in the world at large, showed up on Monster Island searching for glory. Like any good poachers, they had come for the horns of a Minotaurus, which could be made into an immortality elixir in some obscure context (which needn’t be detailed, for it’s filthy business). Finding the reserve very much stocked with animals, and very poorly guarded, Tao scouted the land, soon spotting the legendary beasts drinking in a ravine deep in the heart of the island.
There, he and the Crane Hermit butchered a Minotaurus, draining its blood in the river leading out to sea.
They drug its carcass through the forest, chortling together at their luck.
Many years ago, the Crane Hermit and his brother had taken an immortality elixir to become immortal (as one does). Suffice to say, they had been around for hundreds of years, so it had to have worked. This is not to say that Minotaurus horns had been involved in their previous ritual. In fact, it was not at all clear how Tao and his brother knew of Monster Island in the first place. Such trifling matters were not important in this context.
Seedy as chili pepper, they slunk through the forest. In high spirits, Tao fired off a Dodon Ray at a rabbit for looking at him sideways.
That proved to be a most unfortunate error, as seconds later, Seventeen, wearing his pajamas and holding a hunting rifle, appeared before the two, a snarling frown upon his face.
“What did you do…?!”
“Oh, do shut up, young man.”
“We’re taking this boar back with us. It attacked us, we defended ourselves, and now we have use for its meat. Fair’s fair.”
“That is no boar. It’s a Minotaurus. But you already knew that. Don’t play dumb. You poachers are all the same.”
“How dare you?! You will not slander the reputation of the Crane School!”
“Nor of Mercenary Tao, the greatest assassin the world has ever known!” added his brother.
“I know who you are. You taught Tien,” he said with a nod. “I’m not surprised.”
They were stunned that he knew that. He hardly cared. Seventeen aimed his rifle at the men, causing them to raise their hands as if in surrender. Yet in the next moment, Tao fired a Dodon Ray at him, the old cybernetic mess that he was. The android had merely to twitch his neck to dodge the attack. The man was surprisingly accurate with his aim, even if his technique was slow and weak. Seventeen fired two shots.
They each swatted the bullet sent for them aside.
He tossed the gun to the forest floor. That they were of sufficient strength to dodge bullets made this all the more pathetic. “You’re not leaving with that.”
“Go on and get, or we’ll kill you!” the Crane Hermit spat.
“You have ten seconds to try whatever you wish. After that, I’m going to break your necks.”
For a moment, they sneered and leered, and made no action. Then panic set in and they attacked with a pair of Dodon Rays. These were faster than the one conjured before. He could tell they had put most of their energy into this attempt.
As Dodon Rays pierced through Seventeen’s afterimage, he kneed them, one after another, feeling their feeble old bones shatter against his kneecaps. They fell gasping and choking; yawning, he landed behind them, watching them lie there spasming in pain until they were gone. Only then did he destroy their bodies.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” he murmured to the slain beast before vaporizing it too. “I won’t let that happen again.”
Another flash of light pulsed through the forest, and from a nearby branch, a red-footed booby gave him a throaty squawk. Picking up his rifle and kicking off from the ground, he chirped back at it, doing his best impression, which spooked the poor bird badly, causing it to fall off the branch in a cloud of feathers.