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So, what I did here was combine "Welcome Home" and "Let's Be Friends" into a single story/chapter since they are both Brendan's POV and immediately follow each other in the book. This is backdated because there is nothing new to see here. And this takes place not long after "Second Thoughts".

I'm not a genius like my brother, but I'm usually pretty good at thinking things through. I'm a planner.

Only I might have missed a few tiny details when I hatched this whole scheme to start my own War. I spent weeks modifying Kalen's robots. Weeks preparing to use them. Somehow, I never thought about what'd happen after. Where I'd stay. How I'd feel about leaving my family. How they'd feel about losing another son. Not that they've noticed me much since Kalen's been gone, anyway.

At least the question of where to stay's been answered. Kalen's been living with some of those insurgents he met on the Splinternet. Guess we might be close to their place now, because the scenery we're trudging past has shifted. One minute we're in the middle of the desert and the next we're in this residential area with big old houses and scraggly tumblebrush lawns. It's not a fancy neighborhood, but you can tell people take pride in their homes. A lot of them have little rock gardens or other ornaments in front and the buildings themselves seem well-maintained.

I follow Kalen up the pebbled driveway of one of the houses. It's painted a weird dark purple but the ornamental cacti in front are trimmed just so. There's a wind sock tacked up by the front door that looks like some kind of dragon, maybe? I'm not sure what it is, but it's monster-y and has big fangs.

We're not even on the front steps when this tall, skinny guy comes flying out the front door.

"KALEN! YOU'RE BACK!" he screeches. He looks like he might be about to launch himself at my brother and hug him, but then he turns toward the open door instead. "Yeah, Devin. I forgot. I'll be quieter, okay? Yeah, I know. Kalen's a fugitive. I just got excited. Sorry, dude!"

Just watching this guy is making me tired. Or maybe it's just the whole day catching up with me.

When I woke up this morning, I had a mission. Now I've got nothing to my name but the shredded remnants of my clothes. I'm exhausted, covered in black gunk, and pretty sure I can never go home again. It feels like I've been walking for hours, long enough my anger's finally died down, leaving logic in its place. This isn't a good thing, because now I remember how my temper always gets me on trouble. It sure has this time.

"C'mon in, you guys!" The skinny hyper guy still hasn't really lowered his voice. "Oh, I'm Wes, by the way."

"Brendan." I hold my hand out and do my best not to sound grumpy. This guy is letting me stay in his house, even though he doesn't know me from Minister Squell. It's not his fault all I care about right now is a shower and a nap.

Wes yanks my arm up and down enthusiastically. I think it might come out of its socket if he doesn't stop soon. Then he tries to drag me inside, which doesn't really work because I must weigh about the same as three of him. He shoots me an awkward grin and grabs Kalen's arm instead. "I said come in, remember?"

Well, at least our new hosts seem welcoming enough.

I take a tentative step inside. Ahhhhh, climate control. After tromping around outside in the sweltering heat all day, it's all I can focus on. Until an angry voice breaks into my thoughts.

"Oh, fuck no." Apparently this is the other owner of the house? He's got long hair pulled back into a ponytail and he's almost as tall and thin as Wes but doesn't look nearly as friendly. Also, he's right up in my brother's face, arms crossed over his chest. It's a good thing his eyes don't shoot lasers like CallaBot's because Kalen would be dead if they did.

"Are you fucking serious with this shit?" Ponytail Guy isn't actually yelling but his voice just carries. I bet half the neighbors can hear him dressing down my brother. Grabbing one of CallaBot's insectile arms, I pull her into the house and shut the front door behind us. Seems like someone needs to.

CallaBot glares at me, her eyes starting to glow. I let go of her arm in a hurry.

"Does my house look like the fucking Snuggle Inn? Who the fuck are these - " Ponytail Guy shoots CallaBot a withering glance. I almost feel sorry for her, even though she's meaner than a fifty-fanged squid monster. "Who the fuck are these people and why are they fucking here?"

"Uh, Devin?" Wes looks anxious as he grabs Ponytail Guy's arm. "Dude? It's not a big deal. Calm down, okay?"

Devin glares at Wes. "I AM FUCKING CALM."

"What's the problem, Devin?" Uh oh. I recognize the pitch of Kalen's voice right now. It's the way he talks to me when I lose my temper. The snotty, entitled tone that makes me want to pound him into a bloody pulp. I hope Devin's got better impulse control than I do.

Right now, Devin looks like smoke might come out of his ears at any moment.

"It's just my brother and Calla - oh yeah, she got turned into a robot." Kalen doesn't seem to understand he should probably stop talking now. "They don't have anywhere else to go. I figured since you were letting me stay here anyway - "

"Letting you stay here?" Devin should be an opera singer or something. His vocal range is impressive. Also, I think he might kill my brother. "LETTING YOU FUCKING STAY HERE?"

Kalen's just standing there with his mouth hanging open. Good thing I closed the door or he'd catch flies.

"Devin, dude?" Wes lays a hand on his shoulder. "C'mon, it's okay. We've got plenty of room."

Devin jerks away from Wes and fixes him with his not-laser eyes. "It. Is. Not. Fucking. Okay."

I can actually feel how angry he is. The air around us is charged with his rage. If this is what it's like to be around me when I'm mad, no wonder Kalen avoids me all the time. Right now, I sure as fuck don't want to be anywhere near this guy. Good thing I'll be living with him for the foreseeable future. Maybe.

"You didn't even fucking ask if you could stay with us." Devin grabs my brother by the shoulders and growls at him. "You just fucking showed up."

Kalen just blinks at him, looking completely mystified. Oh, Kalen. This was your plan for us?

"Now you're bringing more fugitives here?" Devin steps back, crosses his arms and shakes his head. He's lowered his voice and he almost looks dazed. "I don't fucking get it. What about me and Wes? What about our lives? Did you not even consider how all of this is gonna fucking affect us?

"Devin." Wes puts an arm around his roommate. His voice is soft but firm. "Dude. It's okay. We're fine."

"Fuck it," Devin mumbles. "Wes says you can fucking stay. I don't give a shit what you people do." He turns on his heel and stomps out of the room, Wes following close behind.

Kalen's frozen in place like he's been hit with a nanoblaster stun. Today just keeps getting better.

* * * * *

"So, dude, you wanna see your room?" Wes looks me up and down, seeing how I'm covered in grime. "I bet what you really want is a shower, huh?"

I'm watching Wes's face for any sign of tension. His smile is just as big as before, like that whole argument earlier never happened. Like it's no big thing Kalen and CallaBot and I are ruining his life.

"I gave CallaBot the last room upstairs." Wes's grin fades for a moment and he looks apologetic. "She's technically a girl, y'know? The shower in that one's better. The one down here's old style, but I didn't think you'd mind. You seem tough."

I don't think robots even take showers, but I nod anyway as I follow him down a rickety wooden staircase. Guess I'll be living in the basement. Okay by me. The farther away I am from CallaBot and Devin, the better. Less chance of getting yelled at that way. I get why they don't like me and all, and it's not that I don't want to make it up to them.

Problem is, yelling leads to other things, and it's not right to hit girls, even robot ones. Or scrawny guys either.

Wes grabs my arm, guides me down a hallway lit by a single bare bulb. He stops at the end, opening a door. "Here we are! Your new quarters!"

I stare inside, bemused. My new room appears to have been a storage area in its previous incarnation. There are piles of stuff everywhere. I can't even really tell if there's a bed. Although on the bright side, there's a whole bunch of free weights shoved into a back corner. Wonder if they'll let me use them.

"Yeah, um, dude," Wes isn't smiling now. "We kinda didn't get a chance to clean it out."

"It's okay, man." I know he and Devin weren't expecting more company. "I can take care of it."

"Anything else I can get you?" Wes still looks uncertain about leaving me with this mess to clean up.

"Nah, I'm good." Oh yeah, there was one thing, but I'm nervous about asking. "Um, anyone using those weights? If not, could I keep them in here for now?"

Wes laughs out loud. "Devin and I look like we work out a lot? They came with the house. You might as well keep them. No one else here's gonna use them anyway."

* * * * *

After my shower, I'm feeling way better. The bathroom down here is old, but it's clean. The hot water feels just as great coming from a metal shower head as it does from the programmable washing stations I'm used to. Sure, I have to fiddle with the little knob thingy a bit to get the right temperature, but it's not that hard. Once I'm clean for the first time in what seems like forever, I decide to venture upstairs. I could use some human contact that doesn't involve yelling or shooting.

Of course, Wes and Kalen are playing SimFighting when I step out into the living room. I've already learned that in this house, the game involves both yelling and shooting. CallaBot is sitting on the couch, looking bored. She always looks bored unless she looks mad. Which she does as soon as she notices I'm in the room. Great.

Wes looks over at me, then squeals in frustration as his SimFighter explodes. "Hey, Brendan, wanna play?"

I suck at video games, and I don't even really like them. It's not like I'm going to say no, though. Wes is the only person who's been nice to me since I walked in the door. Really, he's the only person who's been nice to me all day. So I take the headseat he offers me and give it a shot.

After a few matches, I've had enough. Wes flails all over the place when he plays, knocking into me and screeching and being generally distracting. Of course, that only makes me even more terrible at the game than I already am. On top of that, all the quick simulated movements are making me a little sick to my stomach.

"That was fun!" Wes yells as I take off my headset. "I actually won for a change." Then he does a double-take and his goofy grin gets even bigger. "Dude, we need to find you some new clothes."

Oh, man. My own clothes are in sooty tatters, so I had to borrow a T-shirt and shorts from Kalen. They're baggy on him, but I outweigh him by a good bit. I look like one of the "fighters" from WrestleXcellence or something in these skimpy, skintight clothes. Guess at least my "costume" doesn't have any weird emblems or sashes on it, though.

Like I didn't already feel awkward enough around here. Now Wes is staring at me like I'm something shiny.

"Your arms," he breathes, his face alight with childlike wonder. "They're huge. And muscly." He's on his feet in a flash, grabbing at me before I can back away. "Can I... can I touch them?"

Guess there's no point in saying no, seeing as he's touching them already anyway.

"Don't worry, bro." It's the first time Kalen's called me that all day. "Wes did the same thing to me the first time we met in person. He doesn't mean anything by it."

"Yeah, dude," Wes agrees, running his fingers over my bicep. "People just don't look like you where I come from."

Wes looks over my shoulder, eyes widening. He drops my arm with a surprised squeak, looking like a kid caught sneaking snacks before dinner. I turn around to see Devin, who shoots me a glare that could melt UberSteel. Then he stomps off for the second time in the maybe-four-hours I've known him. Wes runs after him without another word.

Good to know I'm making friends here. I sigh and head downstairs to work out. Can't piss anyone off doing that, right?

* * * * *

I kind of just want to ignore the knock when it comes. Talking to people around here hasn't done me much good so far. But I don't really like being alone, either. At least at home, I had friends. Here, I've got no one.

More knocking. "Hey, it's Wes."

Great. Wes seems nice enough, but I'm pretty sure his buddy Devin doesn't want me talking to him.

"I made pancakes. Wanna come upstairs and have some?"

My stomach grumbles. I really do want some pancakes. My momma used to make them on weekends. I miss my momma, who always loved me just the same even though I wasn't perfect like Kalen. She was the only one who did.

I'm still not sure I want to be around Devin, though. Just my existence seems to make him mad.

"Kalen and Devin went out to get robot parts. Said they'd be gone a while." Wes says. "it's really quiet up there and CallaBot just ignores me."

I can't tell if Wes is trying to assure me it's safe to come out or just wants the company. Either way, I'm lonely and hungry so I open the door and follow him upstairs.

"One order of pancakes, coming right up!" Wes disappears into the kitchen. For a few minutes, there are banging noises and the sound of a whistled tune I don't recognize. Then he returns, setting a plate in front of me with a flourish. It's the biggest stack of pancakes I've ever seen, and he's used chocolate chips and whipped cream to make a slightly deranged-looking smiley face on the top one.

"Thanks, man," I say, digging in. They're delicious.

Wes sits down at the other side of the table, in front of a pile of tiny parts. I guess he's already eaten? It looks like he's assembling some kind of model, and he's whistling that tune as he does it.

"What is that?" I ask. "Some kind of robot?" Everyone around here seems to like robots.

"No, dude, it's the Discovery!" Wes must notice my blank look, because his eyes get all big. "Y'know, the ship from NebulaQuest?" Now he's humming the same tune he was whistling before. Maybe it's the theme music for the show? I don't watch much neurovision.

"Never seen it." For some reason I feel kind of embarrassed. Good thing I'm not a blusher.

"You've... never... seen it?" Wes is thunderstruck. "You have to watch it! It's great. They fly on a ship and meet aliens and go on adventures... And there's fight scenes and jokes and it is the best show ever made!"

Does this guy breathe through his ears or something?

* * * * *

Sitting on the couch with a belly full of pancakes, I'm feeling almost content. Sure, CallaBot is glaring at me as usual, but at least I understand why she hates me. I kind of don't blame her. Besides, she doesn't seem to like anyone else around here much, either. Case in point, she's looking at Wes as if she'd like to laser him right now.

Guess that's because Wes is running around the room like a sugar-drunk child, pretending to fly his now-finished model of the Spaceship Discovery. He's even making loud zooming noises as he barely avoids crashing into furniture.

"Y'know what would make this even better?" Wes is barely even out of breath as he finally comes to a halt.

"You not crashing around the house like an idiot?" CallaBot's voice drips with scorn.

Wes's face falls. "Aw, I was talking about my model of the Discovery. It'd be better if it lit up. Y'know what? I think I'll go buy a lighting kit for it now!" The grin is already back on his face as he dashes out the front door.

I can't help shaking my head as he goes. Wes is sweet, but he's also... different, to say the least.

"Gets on your nerves too, does he?" For once, CallaBot doesn't sound like she wants to kill me in my sleep.

"Wes is okay. He's the only one here who's been nice to me. And he makes awesome pancakes." I pause, remembering that CallaBot probably doesn't appreciate pancakes the way I do. I don't think robots eat. "Guess that's not much of a selling point for you, huh?"

"No, and besides, he's a fool." CallaBot sneers. Who knew robots could even do that? "Though at least he's not actively hostile like his little boyfriend. Ugh."

"So, um, are they... together?" I've sort of been wondering, after the whole muscle-touching incident yesterday.

"Kalen says no." CallaBot rolls her eyes. "Actually, his exact words were, 'Why'd you even think that?'"

"Oh, Kalen." I have to chuckle at my brother's cluelessness.

"I know, right? Was he even in the room with us?" CallaBot's snickering now, too.

"Why'd you even think that, CallaBot?" I do my best imitation of Kalen's high-pitched voice.

We dissolve into giggles at the same time. I'm laughing so hard I can barely catch my breath, and CallaBot's doubled over despite the fact that robots don't breathe. I think if she could cry, she'd have tears in her eyes. Every time I think I'm finished, I look up at CallaBot and it sets me off again, which gets her going again too. It's probably a full 5 minutes before we both settle down.

"Man, I needed that," I say when I'm finally capable of speech.

"Me too." CallaBot isn't smiling. Maybe her face doesn't do that? She does look happier, though, even if I'm not sure how. "I didn't even know I could laugh anymore."

I'm glad she can, and that I helped her do it. Mostly, though, it's just a relief not to feel uncomfortable for once.


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March 2017

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