9.1 New Neighbors

The air should’ve been filled with the sounds of diamond-hard claws on metal. Tes could feel the vibrations of the huge Dracori rending the metal beneath her feet, but the sound never reached her ears. It was a strange and different feeling, but she had had her share of strange and different feelings lately.

“ALIA(nearly there, almost through, prepare).” The charged word didn’t need the air to propagate, it burrowed into her mind regardless. Tes stood and gazed around her. The flat metal surface of the Exiles’ moon stretched out to the horizon on all sides, smooth apart from the hole which the Dracori was digging deeper and deeper into the guts of the metal moon. The blank expanse was broken only by the three Drya and their riders around her. In the alien surroundings, the riders at least, provided a comfortable familiarity; their varying shades of green hair marked them out as members of her tribe, as her figurative friends and family.

And some literal family, she corrected herself with a smile, watching her brother Krin step off of his beast. Krin reached for a bridle out of reflex, and the Drya leaned back and snorted, its mental occupant looking down with derision. Tes grinned as Krin blushed and turned away, and catching sight of her grin, he made a face at his sister.

“NOAH(is now finally the time after such waiting)? CHIA(my sister’s voice heard)?” His question comprised of charged words in the silence echoed in her mind, and Tes shook her head. After a long period of frustration, she had decided not to speak at all rather than to endure the annoying rasp of magic that charged words required. Her family had taken it in stride, perhaps willing to overlook it given how well-behaved she was in other areas. She had never, for example, tried to escape.

“RUM(Gossip and tales fly among us) DRKS(you take Drya between your legs as lovers). FAL(will you not raise your voice to deny it)?” Krin asked.

Tes grinned and gave her brother the finger, and he chuckled silently.

What an immature child. She thought affectionately. She was glad that he was here with her, and even more glad that he had made it past the fighting in the stars. Her friend Poa was there as well, and she had interacted with Ipt and Loo before too, but she shared a greater bond with her brother than anyone else in her life. It was Krin who had helped her adapt to every aspect of Terran life, it was Krin who had patiently walked her through understanding the power of magic that coursed through her veins.

He teased and joked and was irreverent, but he was always careful to avoid joking about things that mattered. He had never brought up the humiliating incident when she had used her Coricia at the table not knowing how private it was. He never poked fun at the fact that it had taken days for her hair to shift from the hideous black color to its natural beautiful green. He didn’t make fun of her for not always being a Terran, or that she only had one eye. If he knew where she had come from before, he thankfully kept it to himself. She didn’t want to know.

I suppose it’s here. Tes realized belatedly. It would explain why she knew so much about the moon, despite it being the first time she could remember being there. They had landed on the southern tip, which meant that the Dracori would be digging through the moon’s metal crust right into the sleeping rooms. She had wondered at the Duke’s decision to send a rookie Terran like her out on such an important mission, but it made sense now; she would have instinctive knowledge of the interior of the moon.

If I came from the Exiles’ moon, that means I’m an Exile. I was an Exile. Tes turned the thought over in her head, half-expecting to suddenly feel nostalgia or horror or pain. There was no emotion connected to the words, and Tes breathed a sigh of relief. The thought of betraying her adoptive mother and father was enough to almost break her heart, and imagining the look on Krin’s face if she turned against them was unthinkable. Whatever life she’d had before, she loved her life now.

Her parents had been shocked the first time she had come to them, indicating by signs that the magic that held her mind safely intact was beginning to unravel. She had let them know the second she felt stirrings of homesickness, some memory had begun pressing against the new life she knew.

“I am glad you warned us Tes, but….Why did you tell us this DAO(dearest daughter, little one)? Why not ESE(run away from us, leave us behind, try to escape)?” Her father had asked in his booming voice, his charged word jovial even though his face had been concerned. Even if she had spoke, Tes wouldn’t have known how to put her thoughts into worlds, and she had simply shrugged and put her hands in the shape of a heart. She loved her family, and they took care of her. She was forming friendships with her tribemates, and they were starting to accept her as one of her own. She was well fed and happy, and could see a wonderful future there in the village. There was even an adorable fruit merchant down the path who Tes fancied, and she was sure the girl showed off her cleavage on purpose whenever Tes came by to buy ingredients for dinner. What could that other life offer that compared, whatever life she’d had before Meo the mind-soother had worked his craft on her.

The vibrations in the ground beneath her changed, and after a few moments the Dracori’s head emerged, its eyes glinting with human intelligence.

It could’ve been worse for me, Tes mused as the Dracori emerged from the tunnel it had dug, I could’ve been gifted to Blue tribe like her. She had heard rumors that the blue tribe mind-soothers were so inept that they didn’t even bother trying for an elegant solution as Meo had, instead simply shackling the other gift-girl with something akin to amnesia. Barbarians. Tes frowned. She still didn’t quite see why the tribes worked together, as stupid as blue tribe and weak as purple tribe were. Her mother had tried to tell her how bad things had been even a few months ago, the constant skirmishes and turf wars, but Tes didn’t quite follow it all. She thought they should easily be able to crush the others, but that decision wasn’t up to her, it was the Duke’s call.

The blue prince who led them gestured with the claw of the Drya he was inhabiting, and the group slowly entered the tunnel, finding handholds in the claw gouges the Dracori had left behind her. Up so close, Tes could at least appreciate the power that the blue tribe held. The creatures were magnificent and powerful, and when their minds were bound to the mages, they had the cleverness of a human behind them. The Drya and Dracori, with the human passengers in their minds, were the blue tribes contribution to this mission, much as Tes and her fellow riders were the green tribes’. The purple tribe had expended perilous amounts of magic to send the entire team up through the green clouds, and it had left every man and woman of them drained, sluggish, and debilitated.

And vulnerable to attack. Tes thought, feeling around in the dark for a foothold in the dim tunnel. But I suppose the Duke knows best who we should attack. Her stomach suddenly lurched as the tunnel wall turned into the tunnel floor beneath her without moving. The feeling was disorienting, and Tes had no idea how it had happened, but from her lack of surprise she assumed it was something she knew in her past life. Gravitas? Tes shrugged it off as unimportant, carefully standing and testing her weight.

She made her way deeper inside, and it only took a few more moments before she reached the room. A thin membrane was stretched across the huge opening the Dracori had made; the metal healing itself from the wound the Dracori had given it. Tes swept her hand to one side, creating a sharp dagger of green magic to tear a rip, letting her pass through. Air hissed past her face, air that smelled too-clean. Fake air.

The Drya and riders entered the room without an issue as Tes looked around her. Although she kept bracing herself for some memory to strike her, she was blessedly detached at the sights. The sleeping room was gigantic, with more than enough room for the twelve large beds that lay in two rows. The Dracori was able to fit in one end of the room without being cramped, and though she was small for a Dracori, she was still as large as three men. Her small size was probably why they brought a Dracori-of-the-Wave, Tes realized, instead of a Dracori-of-the-Flame or a Dracori-of-the-Stone.

“How is there air here?” Ipt ran a hand through his dark green curls, and Tes noted that she could faintly hear his uncharged words.

“I don’t know.” The words seemed strange coming from the mouth of a Drya, but their mission’s leader, a blue Prince, had no other way of communicating, inhabiting the mind of the creature. “Not PRIL(of so much importance that we must focus on it). We will move STH(very quickly and very decisively) from here. One blue, one green, and take down any Exile you see. Tes, you and Jia will go COH(both in concert with each other, supporting and defending each other) to the heart of the moon. Stop the heart, then come back here.”

The Drya and riders left the room quickly by its single door, into the darkened hallways. Tes couldn’t be sure what was lurking in the darkness beyond, but she knew that the Exiles wouldn’t hesitate to kill and destroy those that she held dear.

“Krin!” Tes called out, and her brother turned at the doorway, eyebrows raised. Her heart ached at the thought of anything happening to him, and though it was the first time she had spoken since the day after she awoke, she couldn’t bear the thought of anything hurting him without her knowing how grateful she was. “Please…” she said quietly, “please be KIA(take caution and care, come to no harm and return to me).” She almost gagged on the magic that surged in her throat, but the look on her brother’s face was worth it. He grinned at her and gave a quick nod, and then he was gone.

Tes turned to observe the Dracori. She was looking around her with narrowed reptilian eyes, but she jerked her large head up and down once at Tes when she saw the girl looking.

“If you’re the other gift, they must’ve caught both of us at the same time.” Tes commented, letting herself lapse into the barbaric magicless speech that came naturally to her. “We were probably both attacking the Terrans at once. Probably even knew each other.” She didn’t feel any particular emotion about that fact beyond vague interest, but it was something to think about, that she and the mind inside the Dracori might’ve been friends, or sisters, or enemies. The large creature was looking at her with tilted head, obviously confused.

Purple tribe can’t do mind-soothing for shit. Tes snorted in derision, but she softened as the Dracori shook its head as if trying to clear an insect from its face. Poor girl probably doesn’t know up from down right now.

“It’s okay.” She reassured, reaching out a hand and patting the large creature on the flank. “Don’t try to remember. Just go with your gut and stick with me, and we’ll give the Exiles hell together, does that sound good?” The Dracori shifted, looking uncertain, but it nodded again, one giant nod. Tes didn’t know if the girl couldn’t speak through the Dracori’s mouth, or if she simply chose not to, but she was strangely comfortable as a companion.

She closed her eyes and tried to picture the Exiles’ moon in wide and general terms, nothing specific, just a gut feeling of where everything lay.

“It won’t have just one heart, there will be four of them.” She finally said. “That’s the impression I have. We would have to rip them all out to kill the moon, but I get the feeling that wouldn’t be good for us.” She opened her eyes to look up at her large companion, and the beast nodded and held up two claws.

“Two? Alright, if you say so. The closest one feels like it will be…there?” She pointed at one wall, and the Dracori nodded again. “Okay then. The Exiles are pretty rude, making these doors all too small for you to pass through them. Why don’t you help them out a bit?” It was strange to see a sly smile creep across the massive reptile’s face, but Tes grinned in response. The Dracori coiled up, then launched itself at the metal wall, and Tes laughed delightedly over the shrieking sound of metal tearing.


They were covered in engine lubricant and smears of thick black oil, and Tes sported an electrical burn on one shoulder, but both the woman and the Dracori were in good spirits as they moved from room to room. The two alternated forging pathways through the moon, the Dracori rending giant holes in the walls and Tes blowing them away with short bursts of magic. After they left each room they tore down the ceiling and ripped up the floor, leaving a gaping space three times its previous size before moving on. Behind them, the entire floor was open and wide, much more inviting than the claustrophobic little rooms had been before. There was no bright sun or warm breeze, but at least the ceilings were much higher. They had yet to encounter a lit room or any sign of an Exile.

It took them a few hours to make a full revolution of the moon, carving the once-many-rooms into one huge doughnut-shape in the process. By the time they reached the wreckage of the sleeping room where they had started, the Drya and riders were already back and waiting for them. They too were unharmed, and a small knot in Tes’ stomach unwound.

“Did you tear out its heart?” Their leader asked. Tes held up two fingers at the same time the Dracori did, and they looked at each other and grinned.

“Do you think this time for JOK(children’s games, playing about)?” The Drya snapped with the voice of their leader. “I did not know the moon had two hearts. You did well.”

Tes didn’t correct him. Leaving two of the moon’s four hearts would let air and light fill the moon, and more importantly it would keep the food-makers working. The Drya continued.

“We met no Exiles. Take the DRA(dracori) to the SPHEC(very core of the moon, it’s center) and deal what harm you may to the Exiles. Come back here when through.” Tes didn’t question the order, she just started moving, not bothering to see if the Dracori was following. A more prideful Terran might’ve questioned the blue Prince, asking why it was that she alone would make the first forray, but Tes showed her pride in the green tribe by obeying orders. Besides, this way she didn’t have to speak.

The Dracori had crouched down low at her side; now that they had a goal besides generalized chaos, she only used her claws when they came to doorways, prying the locked doors from their frames and widening openings just enough to pass through.

“Hold on a second.” Tes paused when they reached the room; gigantic and filled with tables. The Dracori sat down by the door obligingly, as Tes walked over to the line of alcoves on one side of the wall. There were glyphs in shining silver above each alcove, but she didn’t bother trying to read them, instead trying to not think about her actions. She let habit take her, and picked up a tray without really knowing what it was for. Moving from alcove to alcove, Tes set the tray down, moving her fingers across the glyphs experimentally and observing the results. Small cubes of unknown materials dropped onto the tray in each alcove, and Tes smiled as she scooped up a handful, shoving them in her pocket.

“You hungry?” She asked as they continued on, and tossed one of the cubes to the Dracori next to her. The beast snatched the snack from the air and munched contentedly as they walked, and Tes followed suit. They moved in silence through the hallways, every so often the Dracori would huff and Tes would toss her another cube. It took them another half-hour before they reached the wall.


It was lucky that they were moving as slowly as they were, or the wall might’ve caused some damage. One moment there was just another hallway with a door at the other end, and the next moment a long silver barrier had sprang up from the bottom of the room to the top, moving so quickly that the metallic snap made Tes jump as it closed together. Had the Dracori been halfway across the line, it might’ve actually hurt or killed the creature, and that would’ve been horrible.

“Would you have felt that, felt the pain? I mean the real you on the planet, the girl behind the Dracori?” Tes asked, curious. The Dracori nodded solemnly, its eyes wide, and Tes turned an angry eye toward the silver wall. They hadn’t encountered any resistance at all up until that point; even when they had torn through the heart rooms and ripped the Exiles’ moon’s hearts from their casings there had been nothing to stop them, nothing to fight them. If there was a wall in front of them now, it meant that the Exiles hid behind it.

“You think your silver wall will keep you safe from us?” Tes called, although it was more for show than because she actually thought the Exiles could hear her. No matter, they would hear her soon enough. She raised a hand and let magic course through arm, spiralling out in a streak of lightning at the silver wall. It arced and burst, the beautiful light reflecting and refracting in a hundred hues of green, but the wall remained unscratched.

Tes’ eyes narrowed, and she nodded her head to the Dracori. The beautiful creature coiled again and sprung, its heavy muscles flinging it forward, claws outstretched. With a crash and a small cry, the Dracori hit the wall so hard that the ground around its base buckled, but the wall itself stood firm. It hadn’t even been marked.

As the Dracori rose to its four feet, a snarl on its snout, Tes walked closer, investigating the floor where it had buckled.

Perhaps we can burrow under it… Her brief-lived hopes were dashed when she saw that the wall extended past the buckling, no doubt into the floor beneath, and beneath that even. So, the Exiles hide themselves in a pretty silver shell?

“We should tell the Prince of their silver wall.” Tes remarked briefly to her companion. “Are you badly injured?” The Dracori shook her head, but it was staring murderously at the pristine gleaming surface. She breathed in deep, and Tes realized what she was about to do just in time to stop her.

“No no!” She shouted hastily. “Don’t breathe a wave, not in here! You’ll fill the room with water, and we don’t know how to deal with that yet! Just let us report to the Prince, he’ll tell us what he wants us to do.” The Dracori stared daggers at the wall, but she begrudgingly let herself be led away.

“Um, excuse me.” The voice was incredibly polite and rather quiet, but both Tes and the Dracori spun on the spot as if it had been an explosion.

“Where are you?” Tes’ fingers buzzed with a lance of lightning waiting to be unleashed.

“Ah, this is hard to explain, but I’m not anywhere you can reach. You’re just hearing my voice right now, so you don’t have to worry about trying to kill me, we can just chat.”

“We can chat face to face if you pull down your wall.”

“Well, technically we can’t ever chat face to face, but that’s not important, because we heard your little baby dragon tell you to kill a bunch of us, so the shield is staying up I’m afraid.”

The Exiles can hear every word within their moon. Tes nodded to herself. That was good information to know.

“Are you their queen then?” She asked. “Why do you speak to us if you won’t bring down the wall?”

“The queen? Hmm I like the sound of that, but no, I’m afraid not. It’s a long story, but you can think of me as the mind inside of the Orbital. You can call me Blue.”

“What is an Orbital? The Exiles’ moon?”

“Probably. But anyways, enough chit-chat, I’ve got some impatient people on my side of the shield that would like me to tell you something they find very important.”

Tes folded her arms in front of her chest, and for lack of a better target, faced the wall. She didn’t know if the Prince would want her talking to the Exiles, but she had already learned valuable information, it couldn’t hurt to potentially learn more.

“I’m listening, mind-of-the-moon. When you are done speaking we will talk about you lowering your wall. Perhaps we can come to an agreement.”

“Not likely. Alright, so the first thing I’m being told to tell you is this: your real name is Tess.”

Tes blinked her good eye, tilting her head to one side.

“Yes.” She said. “I know. What of it?”

“Really? Wow I thought that would garner more of a reaction. Umm, alright, we’re all really confused over here now. We assumed that you had been brainwashed or something. Why are you helping the Terrans?”

“I am a Terran.” Tes lifted her chin, half in defiance, half in pride. “I help because I can, because I have power to help my tribe. Do I need a better reason?”

“Well that is a definite answer on the whole ‘brainwashed’ question, I suppose. Alright, Tess, I want you to think back carefully. Your squadmates love you, and they would really appreciate it if you snapped out of it and stop tearing Pivot to shreds. Do you remember your squadmates Tess? Aimee and Missy, Li and Jackson, Marcus and Alex and Preston? Do you remember your Captain, Jane Appet?”

“I don’t know them.” Tes shrugged. Behind her, a soft whimper caught her attention. The Dracori was backed into a corner, it’s eyes wide, shaking its head as if trying to dislodge a water droplet from its ear.

The girl in the Dracori was an Exile too. Tes realized. “The names must mean something to her, and the blue tribe mind-soother’s shitty soothing is falling apart.*

“Go back to the Prince.” She snapped, and the Dracori looked up at her, confusion in its eyes. “Go!”

“That’s not super helpful to the Drake, because I have speakers left in most of the rooms between here and there.” The voice said smugly. “But as a show of good faith, I’ll leave your pet Drake alone.”

“I don’t know these names.” Tess repeated with finality.

“Think, Tess, really think. Do you remember Julia? You two loved each other, true love, a love so deep that you were willing-”

“I should clarify, so that you understand me fully.” Tes held up a hand to interrupt the voice. She spoke calmly and evenly, staring into the wall since she didn’t know where else to look. “I believe you when you say these things. I know I had a life before. I am sure that it’s difficult for these squid-mates to see someone wearing the face of their friend, with the power and bearing of the green tribe. But I do not know those names. I do not wish to know those names. My name is Tes, and one day it will be charged with power and spoken throughout my tribe. Today is not that day, but it will be one day. Today, I will find a way through your silver wall. I will find you Exiles where you hide, and I will kill you all.”

Tes had never been more proud of Meo the mind-soother’s work. If there was anything that would test his improvements to her mind, it was this. And here she was, sound and whole, without the faintest trace of doubt in her head. She may have loved Julia in her past life, but the girl was nothing but a pleasant-sounding name to her now.

“The enemy of the green tribe is an enemy to me, and I am not the woman whose face you know. I will have no mercy on those who know think they know me, so it is only fair to warn you so that you expect none.” The silence stretched on for some time, and Tes suspected they were talking on the other side of the wall.

“You should hear the ruckus that caused over here.” The disembodied voice finally chuckled. “We’ve got people saying you should die, people saying we should let you in to see their faces, it’s a madhouse. The things humans do ’cause of emotion, I swear.”

“You aren’t human?”

“Thankfully not. If I were human I’d have some modicum of guilt about doing this.”

Tes had already braced herself for a fight based on the words alone, and judging by the hissing coming from the dark corners of the room, the voice had released snakes.

“That’s a really fine reaction time you have there.” The voice complimented. “I wouldn’t bother though.”

It took longer than she would’ve liked to admit for Tes to realize that there were no snakes in the room. The hiss was the sound of air being released into surroundings. It puzzled Tes until she remembered the rumors; Exiles died without air.

“If you’ve poisoned the air, know that you waste your magic.” She smirked.

“Well I don’t know about poison, it’s more of a knockout-….I’m sorry, did you say magic?”

“And now I will return to the Prince, and we will begin taking your silver wall apart.”

“Walls, plural.” The voice chuckled as Tes turned to leave. “And good luck with that.”

Tes had entered through the mangled doorway ripped open by the Dracori, but now on the other side of that doorway, in the middle of the room beyond, lay another silver wall.

No. No no no. Tes shot an experimental blast of magic at the wall that lay behind her, but just like the other, her lightning left no mark. She glanced at the walls to her left and right.

“You’re welcome to give them a try,” the smug voice of Blue seemed to read her thoughts, “but there’s another shield on either side. It’s more of a grid of shields than a line of them. The General saw you coming a mile away.”

“You’re lying.” Tes hazarded, but her gut was telling her that the mind of the moon was too smug to be lying. “If the walls form a grid, why wouldn’t you raise them all the second we entered?”

“Well first of all, silver-plated senstone is expensive, and we just didn’t have enough at such short notice. Secondly, the walls are hard to install. Really we barely had time to set them up in the center of the Orbital, and-…I’m being told to stop sharing info with you now.”

“Gods’ blessings.” Tes muttered, spinning slowly in a circle, trying to think of some method of escape.

“Oh but I don’t have to stop talking. I have some more messages to pass on from your teammates. You know, the ones you’re stabbing in the back? Let’s see, this first one is from Alex. She says-” Tes finally located the source of the voice, a tiny metal box in the corner of the room. It wasn’t made of the indestructible silver, and a lance of lightning was enough to shear it in half, plunging the room into silence.

Tes sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by rubble, and waited for her Terran brethren to rescue her.


Previous Chapter (SFW): General of the Shrike
Previous Chapter (NSFW): General of the Shrike
Next Chapter (NSFW): Life in the Pearl

SFW 8.3 – General of the Shrike

Gre lounged in his cushioned seat, idly twirling his finger around a lock of hair of the woman who sat at his feet. She leaned her head against his knee, subservient and compliant.

“Do nerves plague you, GEA(great master and commander)?” She asked. Gre liked how she charged her words; hesitantly and timidly, like a child. The meanings didn’t spring into his mind like a charged word normally would, instead they brushed against it.

“Nerves?” Prince Gre chuckled at the suggestion. “I am the first Prince to lead the ARA(trained soldiers and warriors) of all three tribes to the stars, why would I waste my time with nerves?”

“The first?” The girl looked at him with surprise. “We have sent Shrikes to the stars ‘fore now, no?” Gre smiled again. The way she avoided long words was adorable, trying to escape the rasping feeling of magic against one’s throat. It was a harsh feeling to get used to, but most adults had overcome their reluctance long ago. The childlike innocent in one he slept with should have turned him off, but although he would never admit it, her naivette made her even more enjoyable to him.

“The tribes have sent their Shrikes to the stars, yes.” He clarified. “But ALO(separate and disjointed, weak and divided). But now we three tribes have at last been CONBI(unified and aligned in our purposes, united for one cause). One tribe’s Shrikes had not touched the star-born, our Drak(dracori) could not pull them from the sky. Now…now we may yet break them. And the HOI(great gift and honor of leading*) has been made mine.”

“Such a great gift is fair for one of your PEO(strength and power).” The woman said, and Gre rolled his eyes. Her flattery was as unsubtle and transparent as her burgeoning magic. “But since when do the tribes work TSA(alongside another)?” Her brow furrowed, as if she should know the answer but couldn’t remember it. “What could make them…us…let go of our DIF(those things which separate)? Why don’t I know what made us change?”

“You should be proud, Jia.” Gre continued twisting the strand of her blue hair around his finger, tugging affectionately. “You were a part of that change.”

“Me? How?”

“You were a gift, from the blue tribe to me. Well, to the green tribe and thus to me. In that gift they showed that ALL(an alliance and joining together) can help us both.”

“I was a gift?” Jia furrowed her brow in deep thought. “Then…did I come from the blue tribe? Why can’t I remember?”

“RE(remember and recall).” Gre corrected, frowning. “Speak PRI(properly, with the decorum of a lady).” She was still lost in thought, and Gre tugged at the lock of hair still in his hand. She looked up him with wide eyes, and his annoyance evaporated. How could he be angry at the little vixen, with her innocent face and hair that shone of blue? “Don’t fret, you will learn in time JIA(my little jewel, my darling gem).”

“What was that you called me, just then my lord? JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)?”

“What of it?” Gre began preparing for the Shrikes’ assault, using a tongue of magic to heat the container of water that stood on the table nearby. “You may not have earned your NEA(honorable second name, charged name) yet, but in times like that…well..” He shrugged. It was no strange things to call a lover by a name with a magical charge, in a moment of passion. Not that Jia would know that, of course.

“It’s just…I feel as if I have heard that name. But DIF(changed a tiny bit, the smallest fraction). Not JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)…but JIA(my darling gem, my little Jule)? Or JIA(my darling gem, my little Julia)? I don’t know…” Jia suddenly clutched her head in her hands, “…those aren’t even words. I don’t understand what I’m feeling right now.”

“UN(fully comprehend).” Gre snapped the correction, startling her out of her reverie. “You don’t UN(completely grasp all of the details) what you’re FAE(experiencing within your heart), Jia you are full grown, it is EMB(makes you look childish, makes me look foolish) when you use such words. And as for what names you have heard.” His voice was cold, and his lip curled with disdain. “I have no want to hear of your past bed mates and what they called you.”

“Oh gods, my lord I did not mean-”

“I know, you mean no harm, but guard your tongue Jia, else you bring harm REG(without intending to).” Jia looked at her feet, then went about preparing the rest of the tent, arranging a small pillows on the floor of the warm tent, crushing herbs in a bowl at the table. Gre almost felt guilty, steamrolling the poor girl into ignoring her own memories, but the more he let her remember, the longer it would take for the magic at work in her mind to take effect.

It had smoothed over most of the wrinkles that the past had left, but the work was fragile yet. Overt memories like family and friends, lovers and home, had been locked away. Her name was more primary to who she was, and it was foolish of him to call her by something so similar.

“My Lord.” One of his men called from outside the tent. “The Shrikes will slip from the clouds soon.”

“You may enter.” His Linkers entered, all of them dressed in robes of deep green.

“I hope you are all PRE(ready to witness and be a part) of this day.” Gre said gravely, as Jia walked among the Linkers, handing each a small clay cup of the tea. “The first day we win a Shrike, the first day we set foot on the stars.”

“So say all who lead a Shrike.” One of the Linkers seemed weary, although he met Gre’s eyes steadily. “I have heard this speech before.”

“No more words then.” Gre stepped over to his cushioned chair and settled in it, letting the Linkers settle onto the cushions on the ground and accepting his own cup of tea from Jia. “You have heard the speech? Then let us live it.”


Gre smacked his lips and grimaced. As usual, the tea had tasted foul, but it had acted quickly. Though he could still faintly see the walls of his tent, his ethereal visions was becoming stronger by the second. He moved his head from side to side experimentally, and although his physical body stayed still, his vision swam as the view changed.

“I have SEA(merged and slipped within the mind) with my Drya.” He said casually, as if he wasn’t proud about being the first.

Just another reminder whose magics are the most powerful.

“I have SEA(dipped into the thoughts), my lord.”

“As have I.”

One by one his Linkers around the room called out, and Gre mentally counted them off. Seven minds, all connected with the minds of the far-off animals. He turned his head, and thousands of leagues away the previously-dumb Drya turned his in response, looking back and forth through the fog at those around him. Gre felt the creature’s muscles shift like his own, he felt the heavy weight of its scales on his back. He turned to watch the giant Dracori that flew with them, and around it the rest of the Drya, smaller versions of the same creature.

Gre watched the swarm around him carefully. It was easy to tell the difference between a mindless Drya and one whose mind was possessed of his Terran brethren, although he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had changed. The way they moved, the way they looked around them, every line of their scaled bodies seemed to speak of intelligence. The riders on the back of each Drya could tell as well, for they were whooping and cheering from their backs now. Gre smiled even though the Drya he possessed could not mimic the action.

“My lord,” the Linker’s voice sounded far away, “would it not have been best if you took the Drak(dracori)?” The man’s implication was clear: wouldn’t it be better for anyone to take the Dracori instead of the untried and unconfident woman? In his small Drya body, Gre glanced up at the magnificent creature just beside him.

All Dracori were awe-inspiring, of course, but Gre had a special place in his heart for a Dracori-of-the-Wave. Its scales were so dark that they appeared black in the light of the surface, but against the true dark of space their scales revealed the beautiful deep blue within.

“Jia, have you SEA(melded minds) with the Drak yet?” Gre’s own voice sounded faint in his ears.

“I am TRI(attempting something that is new, struggling with something difficult).”

“My lord, if I may-” one of the Linkers began, but Gre cut him off sharply.

“I am not a fool. The girl will link to the DRA(dracori), and you will hold your tongue.” Even locked away under layers of magic, the girl had knowledge that would help them make this the most successful Shrike team, the only successful Shrike team, to ever be sent to the Exiles’ moons.

That is assuming she can slip into his mind. He thought worriedly, glancing up at the Dracori again with the eyes of his Drya. On the creature’s back rode the green tribe’s little gift, her legs wrapped tight in the saddle that had been fashioned just for her. She had no idea what an honor she had received; the first human to ride on the back of a Dracori, and she hadn’t even been born a Terran. Even so, the girl on the dragon’s back looked around her with glee in her one good eye, the other hidden behind a cloth patch and her short green hair.

Gre was startled out of his reverie when the Dracori suddenly turned its head to look back at him, an intelligence in its eyes.

“I did it my lord!” Jia said excitedly.

“Good girl.” Gre murmured approvingly. “Now we must-”

It was his third time in control of a creature who broke through the green fog, but it still took his breath away each time. A deep blackness speckled with points of light, the darkest void punctuated by the brightest tiny lights.

“The torches in the emptiness.” One of the Linkers said quietly. It sounded as if he was crying, but there was no shame in that, especially if it was his first time. Even Gre felt a tear slide down his cheek.

“It somehow feels like home.” Jia murmured, and Gre hurriedly got them back on track.

“There is the Exiles’ moon,” he pointed with a scaled claw, “the blemish that taints the beautiful darkness of space.” The Dracori and the smaller Drya, each controlled from within the tent, turned and moved in the direction he had indicated. The Exiles’ moon sat like an ugly diamond in the sky, still some ways off.

“Where are the Exiles’ small beasts?” One of the Linkers asked.

“Our riders are still gob-stuck at the sight of the stars.” Gre reassured. “They will soon give us sight.” In a few moments he was proven right, as the men and women who rode on the Drya began casting spells. Something behind Gre’s borrowed eyes clicked, and suddenly he could see for leagues, his vision enhanced and sharpened by the magic that coursed through the beast.

“What is this? A trick? A trap?” He looked around with his newly enhanced vision, but his magical eyes revealed the same information they had without magic; a paltry twenty of the metal beasts circled the Exiles’ moon. He wracked his memory for stories of Shrikes in the past. Were the Exiles holding back? Hiding in the moon? Why?

“Did we catch them UA(with stealth and skill, catching them unawares without even meaning to)?”

“They know when we come.” Gre dismissed the Linker’s idea, and he wrinkled his scaly brow in thought. “Yet here they fly, with just the SCNU(a trifling number, barely as many as they send for a single Dracori). Two tens of them? And not a beast more?”

“They fight each other.” Jia spoke as if she was in a daze, or trying to recall through the haze of memory. “The moon that gifts the small beasts must be at war with the moon we fly to.”

“There is just one moon that gifts the beasts?” Gre asked, surprised.

“Just one. Academy.” Jia answered, and although Gre frowned, he didn’t reprimand her.

“There they are. To the west, far, far to the west.” A Linker said, and Gre looked out across the leagues and leagues of space between them. Sure enough, the horrible metal beasts were departing from the faroff moon.

Too far away. Gre realized with glee. It will take them too long to get here.

“AYA(attack without mercy, rend them apart).”

It took only a few more minutes for them to close the distance between the clouds and the Exiles’ moon, and even before then the riders began casting spells. The lights from the spells with their fiery trials were like comets streaking across the heavens, and although they were too far away to aim well, Gre knew that they struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. The Exiles’ beasts left trails too as they hurtled towards them, and excitement bubbled in Gre’s chest as he watched the two groups move closer.

“I know them!” Jia sounded excited too, as their enhanced vision let them see the Exiles within the beasts. “I know how they fight…I know what they’ll do.” Gre hoped she wouldn’t think too hard about how she knew them, but before he had time to worry about it the two tiny armies met, and chaos reigned.

Gre had faced the Exiles in winged combat before, in the empty reaches of space. Their beasts were nimble and they were intelligent, but there were certain maneuvers that never failed to confound their sense. He tried one right from the start, spreading his wings and snapping to a halt in the air. The Exile’s beast in front of him was firing jets of flame, but it had tried to lead him with the shots. His sudden stop had confused his opponent, as it always did, and Gre smiled predatorily as it floundered in the air, trying to make a wide turn like a fish. He swept forward to take advantage of his enemy’s weakness, landing on the beast and tearing at its wings with his claws. His rider raised a shield of ice to deflect the bursts of flame fired by his enemy’s comrades.

Gre would’ve liked to rip through to the helpless human Exile within its dead beast, but instead he launched off of the metal carcass and returned to the fray. Every tooth and claw was needed in a Shrike, especially if they were to be the first to succeed. To his right one of the Drya was pierced through the heart with a gout of flame, and Gre’s human ears on the planet heard the Linker scream in pain.

“SIA(still the mewling tongue in your cowardly head)!” Gre snapped, trying to focus on the scolding and the fighting at the same time. “You lay here, hurt but safe. Your brave RIA(the steadfast, the courageous, the rider) shall fall through space till the end of time, thanks to your PIT(horrifying lack of skill).” He vaguely heard the healers helping the Linker out, but he dismissed all thought of him.

The Linker will at least live. He thought sadly, watching the dead Drya and rider float off into the void while trying to dodge blasts of fire himself.

“We bring more Drya than ever we have, and they bring less beasts.” Laughed one of the Linkers next to him in the tent. Gre cast his gaze around and found him in space, a skinny Drya who was chasing one of the Exile’s beasts down. “Pso will be the last of us lost in this fight.” Though Gre privately agreed, he stole another glance at the Exile beasts coming from the other moon, Academy, still a long ways away. They flew as fast as he had ever seen their beasts fly, but…he glanced around the battlefield again.

…They do not fly fast enough.

“Eyes down.” He snapped, and a few Drya dove to intercept Exiles’ beasts that were trying to sneak up from beneath them. “Do you think me a fool, Exiles?” He muttered under his breath. “I fight not as if I am on land, I know that a fight in the stars is as one in the sea. We watch up and down.” Even so, he had had to warn the others, perhaps he should focus more on command and less on fighting. As much as he wished to take part in the battle himself, Gre flew a small ways away, watching the fight from a wide view.

“One of you, go help Kon.” He ordered. “The poor fool has three beasts on his tail.” Other than Kon, the rest of them were doing well. Already the dead husks of metal beasts floated in the field, and only one of his own had fallen. In the middle of the battlefield, like a planet around whom the fight orbited, Jia and Tes fought the Exiles. It was beautiful, in both concept and in execution. They did not remember their old comrades, but they instinctively knew how they thought. They had no memory of being lovers, but their motions synced and complimented each other as if they were one body, even with Jia in the body of a Dracori.

Tes was hurling out lances of magic, arcing from her fist into space. It was wild and unkempt magic, and it rarely struck its target, but when it did hit an Exile it would draw the beast in, yanking it against its will and reeling it towards the center. Try as they might, any ship so ensnared would soon come within reach of Jia’s claws, and she would pluck it from the air as easily as a farmer might pluck a pomfruit.

She’s being very delicate with them. Gre realized with worry. The great beast was carefully raking her claws across the beasts she captured, shearing off metal wings and destroying their firing stings and then leaving them to drift in space, when she could have been crushing them in her giant teeth or ripping them apart to leave their human occupants drifting instead. Gre had heard Exiles died in space, gasping for air like fishes out of water. Could it be that a part of Jia’s mind is still one of them? He worried. Is she concerned about hurting them?

Jia unleashed her first breath, and all doubt left Gre’s mind. On the surface the Dracori-of-the-wave’s breath would be powerful, a stream of water that could crush houses into rubble. Out in the depths of space, it was devastating. Shapeless globules of water shot forth from her mouth, of such size and speed that they were overwhelming to even look at. One globule hit a moving beast with such force that the metal dented, slamming it backward. Although the lights remained, the ship drifted, so its human must be dead within. Another beast became trapped inside a sphere of water, its tail flaring but unable to move.

“The beasts from Academy come soon.” Jia murmured, and the Dracori began moving. The Drya followed, Gre right behind. Exiles’ beasts buzzed around them like flies, but Jia crushed them like flies as well; plucking some out of the air, blasting waves of water at others. On her back, Tes flung lightning bolts of magic across the skies, and the other riders had taken her cues. Instead of the mix of spells that a Shrike team usually used, the void between the stars was filled with arcing lightning, and where they struck the beasts, their lights died.

Gre couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the display. Yes, the Exiles inside still lived, he could see that, but within their dead beasts they could do nothing to stop the Shrike. He had heard the Princes speak of their attempts, attempts to burn, to crush, to melt, to kill, but Jia and Tes knew exactly how to stop them. For a moment Gre considered staying and waiting for the Academy Exiles to reach them, but he shook his head. Overconfidence would do him no favors, and it wasn’t needed when he was so close.

The Exiles’ moon loomed before him, closer than he had ever seen it before.

Closer than anyone has seen it before. He thought triumphantly. Closer than-

“DIVE!” Jia suddenly screamed. Gre shot downward out of instinct, as did most of the others. Less than a second after the girl had screamed, the Exiles’ moon fired.

It was as if someone had bottled the sun and now hurled it just behind Gre’s head. He wasn’t looking at the beam, but the heat of it burned his skin, even in the blank ether of space where heat did not move as freely as in the air. Their riders must’ve been confused and disoriented before, but they were screaming now, shrieking in terror. Ahead of him Jia’s Dracori was flying and Gre blindly followed her as another bottled sun blazed past them.

“What is happening? How is this happening?” He could hear the healers shrieking in the tent, but Gre couldn’t focus on anything but following the Dracori-of-the-waves in front of him. They were so close now, so close to the very surface of the moon, it couldn’t end like this. Another bottled sun blinded him for moment, and then his claws scrambled on a metal surface, his scaly belly touched a warm and solid ground. Gre panted in his comfortable chair, waiting long tense moments for sight to return to his Drya.

Slowly, he began making out blurry shapes around him. After the sudden screaming and panic, the silence seemed deafening, both to his ears in space and his ears in the tent. He looked around, blinking rapidly. Panting, dishevelled, but whole and alive, three Drya and their riders looked back at him, as did Tes and the Dracori. They stood on the smooth metal surface of the Exiles’ moon.

“They can’t hurt us here. They risk harming their moon.” Jia said, breaking the silence.

“Healers, what happened to the others? What were you screaming about?” One of the Linkers said shakily. Still in control of their Drya, none of them could move their heads to look around them in the tent.

“They died.” One of the healers finally said. “They died right in front of us. I…I didn’t know they could die.”

“And now-” Gre cleared his throat, shaken but determined not to show it. “-now we give the Exiles back their death. Jia.”

On his order, the Dracori flexed the muscles along its wide arms. It sunk its claws into the surface of the moon, rending it and sending huge shards of metal floating into the air.

“It is a great ACI(honor of exploration and conquest, accomplishment that none have achieved), to make it in the moon.” He said, as the Dracori dug into the surface beneath them.

“The Exiles will try to push us out, of course. They will fall on us in waves.” Despite their success, the Linker’s voice sounded muted and downcast. Gre’s answer was similarly grim.

“I hope so.”


Previous Chapter (SFW): General of Pivot
Next Chapter (SFW): New Neighbors

8.3 – General of the Shrike

Gre lounged in his cushioned seat, idly twirling his finger around a lock of hair of the woman who sat at his feet. She leaned her head against his knee, subservient and compliant.

“Do nerves plague you, GEA(great master and commander)?” She asked. Gre liked how she charged her words; hesitantly and timidly, like a child. The meanings didn’t spring into his mind like a charged word normally would, instead they brushed against it.

“Nerves?” Prince Gre chuckled at the suggestion. “I am the first Prince to lead the ARA(trained soldiers and warriors) of all three tribes to the stars, why would I waste my time with nerves?”

“The first?” The girl looked at him with surprise. “We have sent Shrikes to the stars ‘fore now, no?” Gre smiled again. The way she avoided long words was adorable, trying to escape the rasping feeling of magic against one’s throat. It was a harsh feeling to get used to, but most adults had overcome their reluctance long ago. The childlike innocent in one he slept with should have turned him off, but although he would never admit it, her naivette made her even more enjoyable to him.

“The tribes have sent their Shrikes to the stars, yes.” He clarified. “But ALO(separate and disjointed, weak and divided). But now we three tribes have at last been CONBI(unified and aligned in our purposes, united for one cause). One tribe’s Shrikes had not touched the star-born, our Drak(dracori) could not pull them from the sky. Now…now we may yet break them. And the HOI(great gift and honor of leading*) has been made mine.”

“Such a great gift is fair for one of your PEO(strength and power).” The woman said, and Gre rolled his eyes. Her flattery was as unsubtle and transparent as her burgeoning magic. “But since when do the tribes work TSA(alongside another)?” Her brow furrowed, as if she should know the answer but couldn’t remember it. “What could make them…us…let go of our DIF(those things which separate)? Why don’t I know what made us change?”

“You should be proud, Jia.” Gre continued twisting the strand of her blue hair around his finger, tugging affectionately. “You were a part of that change.”

“Me? How?”

“You were a gift, from the blue tribe to me. Well, to the green tribe and thus to me. In that gift they showed that ALL(an alliance and joining together) can help us both.”

“I was a gift?” Jia furrowed her brow in deep thought. “Then…did I come from the blue tribe? Why can’t I remember?”

“RE(remember and recall).” Gre corrected, frowning. “Speak PRI(properly, with the decorum of a lady).” She was still lost in thought, and Gre tugged at the lock of hair still in his hand. She looked up him with wide eyes, and his annoyance evaporated. How could he be angry at the little vixen, with her innocent face and hair that shone of blue? He tugged again, pulling her head a little closer. When she realized what he wanted, his little pet grinned.

“But sir! The Shrikes! Don’t they need us soon?”

“They won’t break through the clouds for an hour.” Gre stroked her hair, twisting his fingers through it as he pulled her head closer to him. “Plenty of time for you to distract me.”

Jia was already standing, and Gre leaned back against the cushions as she straddled him. She had taken to wearing loose clothes, easy to slip off of her, and Gre appreciated the ease of access he had to her body. He pulled with a rough disregard, and the top of her robes slipped off of her shoulders, revealing her milky skin and large breasts. Her shining blue hair fell and obscured the sight, and Gre impatiently flicked it aside.

“How do you wish me to be for you, my lord? How do you wish me to act?” Jia leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his face in to press against her chest. Gre enjoyed the feeling of smooth skin against his cheeks, thinking the question over. She had shown herself to be quite the actress, able to give him the shy and innocent, the vulgar and experienced, even, when a dark mood took him, a play-acted reluctance. But today he was impatient, already ready to take her. He yanked at her robes, and she lifted to let him pull them off of her completely.

Leaning back, he took in the sight of the woman straddling him. Jia leaned back, giving him a complete view of her whole body, her long neck and slender arms, the new piercing in her navel, the pouting lips of her sex. She hadn’t been using the crystal for long enough for the patch of hair between her legs to match the blue of the hair on her head, so he had made her shave it completely. Although he knew he would enjoy it when it grew back in, she wore the shaved look well.

He reached down and ran a thumb over her bare mound, layering a buzz of magic through the skin of his finger.

“Oh!” Jia gasped, and Gre smiled. The magic would be working through her loins, exciting nerves and stimulating senses. “My lord wants me soon, it would seem!”

“Your lord wants you now.” Gre growled. He slid a finger experimentally inside of her, and nodded approvingly when she pushed her hips forward, moving it deeper. Her slit was already accommodatingly wet, but he shot another surge of magic through his fingertips, a lance of lust that would take her from the inside, moving from toe to head. Jia shivered and wiggled her hips, moving his finger around inside her.

“If my lord wants me now, then take me now.” She said breathlessly. “I am yours.” Gre untied the lacings of his pants, and she lifted obligingly to let him slip the fabric down his legs. He watched her face as she looked down at his exposed member, and the hungry look in her eyes was enough to erase doubts he might have. The Dukes wouldn’t like it if they knew he was taking the girl’s body, but at the moment he didn’t particularly care.

Jia was rubbing her shaved sex against his cock, but he didn’t have any patience for teasing at the moment. He grabbed her hips and pulled her towards him, and taking his suggestion she reached down and guided his member between her legs. Breathing heavily, Jia lowered herself down on him, taking him inside her inch by inch. Impatient as he was, Gre let her move at her own pace. She was wet, but she was so tight that he didn’t dare thrust like he wanted to; he didn’t want to risk actually hurting her. Her snatch squeezed at his shaft with every motion, and her hands were clenched into fists on his chest. It was nearly too much, the expression on her face and the tightness of her cunt, her willingness and her naked body on top of him.

“Oh fuck.” Jia whimpered through clenched teeth. “Fuck, your cock is too big for me.” The dirty words in her sweet little mouth almost sent him over the edge, and Gre pushed her away, grunting as his length slipped out of her. The Dukes would only be displeased if they knew he took her body, if he came in her and got her with child they would have his head on a pike. Jia looked worried as he held her at arm’s length. “I didn’t mean you had to stop, my lord, I can try to take it all.” She said.

“No need.” Gre brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. “If you are in pain, you can please me in other ways.” He brushed his thumb over her lips, and she smiled and slid down between his legs.

She was awkward and inexperienced with her mouth, but her efforts at riding him already had Gre hovering on the edge of orgasm. When she took his dick between her lips and began to suck he leaned back and breathed deeply. Her tongue slid back and forth across its head, and the knowledge that she was licking up her own juices made him even harder in her mouth. He grabbed a handful of her beautiful blue hair and pulled her head further down, thrusting his member deeper into her throat. She gagged, but staunchly bobbed her head up and down, taking him in her mouth all the way down to the root and then sliding him out to take a breath again.

After the pleasure of penetrating her, it took less than minutes to push him to the edge once more, and Gre clenched the arms of his chair and let out a sigh as he came. Jia moved her tongue more slowly as he filled her mouth with his cum, and he forgot his reservations as he enjoyed the feeling of suction and warmth that she provided.

“Oh Jia! Gods JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel).” He charged the word involuntarily, letting the orgasm get the better of him. His cry turned into a moan as he slowly came down off of the high of it. Jia looked up at him, her smiling mouth full but a question in her eyes.

“Swallow it.” Gre ordered. Jia made a face, as if she would stick out her tongue at him, but she obediently gulped, then opened her mouth to show him it was empty. “Good girl.”

“Thank you, my lord. I am glad to have pleased you.” Jia wiped her mouth and reached for her robes, and Gre began adjusting his own.

“You do please me. You were a fine gift.”

“My lord…” Jia seemed pensive as she slide her robe back on. “What was that you called me, just then? JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)?”

“What of it?” Gre began preparing for the Shrikes’ assault, using a tongue of magic to heat the container of water that stood on the table nearby. “You may not have earned your NEA(honorable second name, charged name) yet, but in times like that…well..” He shrugged. It was no strange things to call out a lover’s name with a magical charge, in a moment of passion. Not that Jia would know that, of course.

“It’s just…I feel as if I have heard that name. But DIF(changed a tiny bit, the smallest fraction). Not JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)…but JIA(my darling gem, my little Jule)? Or JIA(my darling gem, my little Julia)? I don’t know…” Jia suddenly clutched her head in her hands, “…those aren’t even words. I don’t understand what I’m feeling right now.”

“UN(fully comprehend).” Gre snapped the correction, startling her out of her reverie. “You don’t UN(completely grasp all of the details) what you’re FAE(experiencing within your heart), Jia you are full grown, it is EMB(makes you look childish, makes me look foolish) when you use such words. And as for what names you have heard.” His voice was cold, and his lip curled with disdain. “I have no want to hear of your past bed mates and what they called you.”

“Oh gods, my lord I did not mean-”

“I know, you mean no harm, but guard your tongue Jia, else you bring harm REG(without intending to).” Jia looked at her feet, then went about preparing the rest of the tent, arranging a small pillows on the floor of the warm tent, crushing herbs in a bowl at the table. Gre almost felt guilty, steamrolling the poor girl into ignoring her own memories, but the more he let her remember, the longer it would take for the magic at work in her mind to take effect.

It had smoothed over most of the wrinkles that the past had left, but the work was fragile yet. Overt memories like family and friends, lovers and home, had been locked away. Her name was more primary to who she was, and it was foolish of him to call her by something so similar.

“My Lord.” One of his men called from outside the tent. “The Shrikes will slip from the clouds soon.”

“You may enter.” Gre glanced at Jia, but she was decent and covered, and had even pulled her long hair back into a ponytail to hide how dishevelled it was. Of course, his men would know or assume what he used her for, but Gre appreciated decorum. His Linkers entered, all of them dressed in robes of deep green.

“I hope you are all PRE(ready to witness and be a part) of this day.” Gre said gravely, as Jia walked among the Linkers, handing each a small clay cup of the tea. “The first day we win a Shrike, the first day we set foot on the stars.”

“So say all who lead a Shrike.” One of the Linkers seemed weary, although he met Gre’s eyes steadily. “I have heard this speech before.”

“No more words then.” Gre stepped over to his cushioned chair and settled in it, letting the Linkers settle onto the cushions on the ground and accepting his own cup of tea from Jia. “You have heard the speech? Then let us live it.”


Gre smacked his lips and grimaced. As usual, the tea had tasted foul, but it had acted quickly. Though he could still faintly see the walls of his tent, his ethereal visions was becoming stronger by the second. He moved his head from side to side experimentally, and although his physical body stayed still, his vision swam as the view changed.

“I have SEA(merged and slipped within the mind) with my Drya.” He said casually, as if he wasn’t proud about being the first.

Just another reminder whose magics are the most powerful.

“I have SEA(dipped into the thoughts), my lord.”

“As have I.”

One by one his Linkers around the room called out, and Gre mentally counted them off. Seven minds, all connected with the minds of the far-off animals. He turned his head, and thousands of leagues away the previously-dumb Drya turned his in response, looking back and forth through the fog at those around him. Gre felt the creature’s muscles shift like his own, he felt the heavy weight of its scales on his back. He turned to watch the giant Dracori that flew with them, and around it the rest of the Drya, smaller versions of the same creature.

Gre watched the swarm around him carefully. It was easy to tell the difference between a mindless Drya and one whose mind was possessed of his Terran brethren, although he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had changed. The way they moved, the way they looked around them, every line of their scaled bodies seemed to speak of intelligence. The riders on the back of each Drya could tell as well, for they were whooping and cheering from their backs now. Gre smiled even though the Drya he possessed could not mimic the action.

“My lord,” the Linker’s voice sounded far away, “would it not have been best if you took the Drak(dracori)?” The man’s implication was clear: wouldn’t it be better for anyone to take the Dracori instead of the untried and unconfident woman? In his small Drya body, Gre glanced up at the magnificent creature just beside him.

All Dracori were awe-inspiring, of course, but Gre had a special place in his heart for a Dracori-of-the-Wave. Its scales were so dark that they appeared black in the light of the surface, but against the true dark of space their scales revealed the beautiful deep blue within.

“Jia, have you SEA(melded minds) with the Drak yet?” Gre’s own voice sounded faint in his ears.

“I am TRI(attempting something that is new, struggling with something difficult).”

“My lord, if I may-” one of the Linkers began, but Gre cut him off sharply.

“I am not a fool. The girl will link to the DRA(dracori), and you will hold your tongue.” Even locked away under layers of magic, the girl had knowledge that would help them make this the most successful Shrike team, the only successful Shrike team, to ever be sent to the Exiles’ moons.

That is assuming she can slip into his mind. He thought worriedly, glancing up at the Dracori again with the eyes of his Drya. On the creature’s back rode the green tribe’s little gift, her legs wrapped tight in the saddle that had been fashioned just for her. She had no idea what an honor she had received; the first human to ride on the back of a Dracori, and she hadn’t even been born a Terran. Even so, the girl on the dragon’s back looked around her with glee in her one good eye, the other hidden behind a cloth patch and her short green hair.

Gre was startled out of his reverie when the Dracori suddenly turned its head to look back at him, an intelligence in its eyes.

“I did it my lord!” Jia said excitedly.

“Good girl.” Gre murmured approvingly. “Now we must-”

It was his third time in control of a creature who broke through the green fog, but it still took his breath away each time. A deep blackness speckled with points of light, the darkest void punctuated by the brightest tiny lights.

“The torches in the emptiness.” One of the Linkers said quietly. It sounded as if he was crying, but there was no shame in that, especially if it was his first time. Even Gre felt a tear slide down his cheek.

“It somehow feels like home.” Jia murmured, and Gre hurriedly got them back on track.

“There is the Exiles’ moon,” he pointed with a scaled claw, “the blemish that taints the beautiful darkness of space.” The Dracori and the smaller Drya, each controlled from within the tent, turned and moved in the direction he had indicated. The Exiles’ moon sat like an ugly diamond in the sky, still some ways off.

“Where are the Exiles’ small beasts?” One of the Linkers asked.

“Our riders are still gob-stuck at the sight of the stars.” Gre reassured. “They will soon give us sight.” In a few moments he was proven right, as the men and women who rode on the Drya began casting spells. Something behind Gre’s borrowed eyes clicked, and suddenly he could see for leagues, his vision enhanced and sharpened by the magic that coursed through the beast.

“What is this? A trick? A trap?” He looked around with his newly enhanced vision, but his magical eyes revealed the same information they had without magic; a paltry twenty of the metal beasts circled the Exiles’ moon. He wracked his memory for stories of Shrikes in the past. Were the Exiles holding back? Hiding in the moon? Why?

“Did we catch them UA(with stealth and skill, catching them unawares without even meaning to)?”

“They know when we come.” Gre dismissed the Linker’s idea, and he wrinkled his scaly brow in thought. “Yet here they fly, with just the SCNU(a trifling number, barely as many as they send for a single Dracori). Two tens of them? And not a beast more?”

“They fight each other.” Jia spoke as if she was in a daze, or trying to recall through the haze of memory. “The moon that gifts the small beasts must be at war with the moon we fly to.”

“There is just one moon that gifts the beasts?” Gre asked, surprised.

“Just one. Academy.” Jia answered, and although Gre frowned, he didn’t reprimand her.

“There they are. To the west, far, far to the west.” A Linker said, and Gre looked out across the leagues and leagues of space between them. Sure enough, the horrible metal beasts were departing from the faroff moon.

Too far away. Gre realized with glee. It will take them too long to get here.

“AYA(attack without mercy, rend them apart).”

It took only a few more minutes for them to close the distance between the clouds and the Exiles’ moon, and even before then the riders began casting spells. The lights from the spells with their fiery trials were like comets streaking across the heavens, and although they were too far away to aim well, Gre knew that they struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. The Exiles’ beasts left trails too as they hurtled towards them, and excitement bubbled in Gre’s chest as he watched the two groups move closer.

“I know them!” Jia sounded excited too, as their enhanced vision let them see the Exiles within the beasts. “I know how they fight…I know what they’ll do.” Gre hoped she wouldn’t think too hard about how she knew them, but before he had time to worry about it the two tiny armies met, and chaos reigned.

Gre had faced the Exiles in winged combat before, in the empty reaches of space. Their beasts were nimble and they were intelligent, but there were certain maneuvers that never failed to confound their sense. He tried one right from the start, spreading his wings and snapping to a halt in the air. The Exile’s beast in front of him was firing jets of flame, but it had tried to lead him with the shots. His sudden stop had confused his opponent, as it always did, and Gre smiled predatorily as it floundered in the air, trying to make a wide turn like a fish. He swept forward to take advantage of his enemy’s weakness, landing on the beast and tearing at its wings with his claws. His rider raised a shield of ice to deflect the bursts of flame fired by his enemy’s comrades.

Gre would’ve liked to rip through to the helpless human Exile within its dead beast, but instead he launched off of the metal carcass and returned to the fray. Every tooth and claw was needed in a Shrike, especially if they were to be the first to succeed. To his right one of the Drya was pierced through the heart with a gout of flame, and Gre’s human ears on the planet heard the Linker scream in pain.

“SIA(still the mewling tongue in your cowardly head)!” Gre snapped, trying to focus on the scolding and the fighting at the same time. “You lay here, hurt but safe. Your brave RIA(the steadfast, the courageous, the rider) shall fall through space till the end of time, thanks to your PIT(horrifying lack of skill).” He vaguely heard the healers helping the Linker out, but he dismissed all thought of him.

The Linker will at least live. He thought sadly, watching the dead Drya and rider float off into the void while trying to dodge blasts of fire himself.

“We bring more Drya than ever we have, and they bring less beasts.” Laughed one of the Linkers next to him in the tent. Gre cast his gaze around and found him in space, a skinny Drya who was chasing one of the Exile’s beasts down. “Pso will be the last of us lost in this fight.” Though Gre privately agreed, he stole another glance at the Exile beasts coming from the other moon, Academy, still a long ways away. They flew as fast as he had ever seen their beasts fly, but…he glanced around the battlefield again.

…They do not fly fast enough.

“Eyes down.” He snapped, and a few Drya dove to intercept Exiles’ beasts that were trying to sneak up from beneath them. “Do you think me a fool, Exiles?” He muttered under his breath. “I fight not as if I am on land, I know that a fight in the stars is as one in the sea. We watch up and down.” Even so, he had had to warn the others, perhaps he should focus more on command and less on fighting. As much as he wished to take part in the battle himself, Gre flew a small ways away, watching the fight from a wide view.

“One of you, go help Kon.” He ordered. “The poor fool has three beasts on his tail.” Other than Kon, the rest of them were doing well. Already the dead husks of metal beasts floated in the field, and only one of his own had fallen. In the middle of the battlefield, like a planet around whom the fight orbited, Jia and Tes fought the Exiles. It was beautiful, in both concept and in execution. They did not remember their old comrades, but they instinctively knew how they thought. They had no memory of being lovers, but their motions synced and complimented each other as if they were one body, even with Jia in the body of a Dracori.

Tes was hurling out lances of magic, arcing from her fist into space. It was wild and unkempt magic, and it rarely struck its target, but when it did hit an Exile it would draw the beast in, yanking it against its will and reeling it towards the center. Try as they might, any ship so ensnared would soon come within reach of Jia’s claws, and she would pluck it from the air as easily as a farmer might pluck a pomfruit.

She’s being very delicate with them. Gre realized with worry. The great beast was carefully raking her claws across the beasts she captured, shearing off metal wings and destroying their firing stings and then leaving them to drift in space, when she could have been crushing them in her giant teeth or ripping them apart to leave their human occupants drifting instead. Gre had heard Exiles died in space, gasping for air like fishes out of water. Could it be that a part of Jia’s mind is still one of them? He worried. Is she concerned about hurting them?

Jia unleashed her first breath, and all doubt left Gre’s mind. On the surface the Dracori-of-the-wave’s breath would be powerful, a stream of water that could crush houses into rubble. Out in the depths of space, it was devastating. Shapeless globules of water shot forth from her mouth, of such size and speed that they were overwhelming to even look at. One globule hit a moving beast with such force that the metal dented, slamming it backward. Although the lights remained, the ship drifted, so its human must be dead within. Another beast became trapped inside a sphere of water, its tail flaring but unable to move.

“The beasts from Academy come soon.” Jia murmured, and the Dracori began moving. The Drya followed, Gre right behind. Exiles’ beasts buzzed around them like flies, but Jia crushed them like flies as well; plucking some out of the air, blasting waves of water at others. On her back, Tes flung lightning bolts of magic across the skies, and the other riders had taken her cues. Instead of the mix of spells that a Shrike team usually used, the void between the stars was filled with arcing lightning, and where they struck the beasts, their lights died.

Gre couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the display. Yes, the Exiles inside still lived, he could see that, but within their dead beasts they could do nothing to stop the Shrike. He had heard the Princes speak of their attempts, attempts to burn, to crush, to melt, to kill, but Jia and Tes knew exactly how to stop them. For a moment Gre considered staying and waiting for the Academy Exiles to reach them, but he shook his head. Overconfidence would do him no favors, and it wasn’t needed when he was so close.

The Exiles’ moon loomed before him, closer than he had ever seen it before.

Closer than anyone has seen it before. He thought triumphantly. Closer than-

“DIVE!” Jia suddenly screamed. Gre shot downward out of instinct, as did most of the others. Less than a second after the girl had screamed, the Exiles’ moon fired.

It was as if someone had bottled the sun and now hurled it just behind Gre’s head. He wasn’t looking at the beam, but the heat of it burned his skin, even in the blank ether of space where heat did not move as freely as in the air. Their riders must’ve been confused and disoriented before, but they were screaming now, shrieking in terror. Ahead of him Jia’s Dracori was flying and Gre blindly followed her as another bottled sun blazed past them.

“What is happening? How is this happening?” He could hear the healers shrieking in the tent, but Gre couldn’t focus on anything but following the Dracori-of-the-waves in front of him. They were so close now, so close to the very surface of the moon, it couldn’t end like this. Another bottled sun blinded him for moment, and then his claws scrambled on a metal surface, his scaly belly touched a warm and solid ground. Gre panted in his comfortable chair, waiting long tense moments for sight to return to his Drya.

Slowly, he began making out blurry shapes around him. After the sudden screaming and panic, the silence seemed deafening, both to his ears in space and his ears in the tent. He looked around, blinking rapidly. Panting, dishevelled, but whole and alive, three Drya and their riders looked back at him, as did Tes and the Dracori. They stood on the smooth metal surface of the Exiles’ moon.

“They can’t hurt us here. They risk harming their moon.” Jia said, breaking the silence.

“Healers, what happened to the others? What were you screaming about?” One of the Linkers said shakily. Still in control of their Drya, none of them could move their heads to look around them in the tent.

“They died.” One of the healers finally said. “They died right in front of us. I…I didn’t know they could die.”

“And now-” Gre cleared his throat, shaken but determined not to show it. “-now we give the Exiles back their death. Jia.”

On his order, the Dracori flexed the muscles along its wide arms. It sunk its claws into the surface of the moon, rending it and sending huge shards of metal floating into the air.

“It is a great ACI(honor of exploration and conquest, accomplishment that none have achieved), to make it in the moon.” He said, as the Dracori dug into the surface beneath them.

“The Exiles will try to push us out, of course. They will fall on us in waves.” Despite their success, the Linker’s voice sounded muted and downcast. Gre’s answer was similarly grim.

“I hope so.”


Previous Chapter (SFW): General of Pivot
Next Chapter (SFW): New Neighbors

8.2 – General of Pivot

General Hunter woke up, and spent thirty minutes staring into the ceiling. His screen pinged a few times, but he ignored it, mustering the energy and motivation to get out of bed. When he finally did it was with a heaviness, as if the soul that moved him had been drained from him.

Which it has.

Grabbing the nearly empty bottle of caffehol from the nightstand, Hunter shuffled to the closet, pulling out a uniform without looking and throwing it to the bed.

Don’t open the door. He ordered himself, even as he slid the door next to his closet open and looked inside. Errisa’s bodyframe lay standing up in the small enclosure, still and silent, eyes closed. Hunter found it easier to think of her as ‘sleeping’, rather than ‘charging’, but this bodyframe had no consciousness inside it. If he turned it on it would simply stare straight ahead, unthinking and motionless. This wasn’t his wife’s sleeping body, the cold frame was her corpse.

Hunter threw the bottle across the room and marched into the elevator. What did it matter whether he showered or not, whether he changed or not? There were lives on this station worth getting out of bed for, and he would take care of his station, but his wasn’t one of them. Without Errisa there was no point in caring for himself.

“She’s not even dead.” He snarled to himself as the elevator hummed in it’s path down the decks. “She’s out there somewhere, with whoever was smart enough to give her what she needed. The Marshal’s covenants were more important to you than your own wife, so you lost her.” The elevator door opened, and Hunter stumbled into his office. He stared at the dark screens in front of him, brooding.

And where are you now, Erissa? Was it Auspus himself, is that why you broke things as you left? Or was freeing the Captains and crippling the generators your own personal ‘fuck you’ to me? Did you hate me that much for not giving you that one little thing? Was the bottleneck all you really cared about? Was any of it real? The door pinged, and Hunter turned his screens on with a wave before he answered.

“Come.” Kathryn was busy on her screen even as she entered. Hunter glowered at the messages scrawling across the display on his screen without reading them, staring through them.

“You don’t look too good sir.” His Chief of Security said bluntly, sitting on the other side of his desk.

“Didn’t ask how I looked.”

“You don’t smell too good either.”

“Did you need something Chief Kathryn?” Hunter snapped. “Do I need to smell pretty to do my damn job? No? Then what’s your point?”

“My point, sir, is that you’re in no state to be doing your job right now.” Kathryn didn’t quail beneath his anger, as Hunter knew she wouldn’t. He sighed, passing his hand through his short hair.

“I shouldn’t take this out on you.” He growled.

“You’re under a lot of stress right now.” Kathryn waved a hand. “I understand, although it does make me think twice about giving you this report.” Hunter responded with a dark glare, and Kathryn sighed.

“Chief of Information Errisa is back sir.”

Hunter was moving before Kathryn had finished her sentence, and she rose to follow him as he all but ran down the hallway.

“How long? Where?”

“She requested a landing clearance twenty minutes ago. She’ll be docking in a few minutes. Deck G.”

They stepped into the elevator together, and Hunter pressed the button several times in rapid succession before the doors slid closed. Watching the deck letters slide by slowly, Hunter felt the urge to pace the length of the elevator.

“Get an engineer on these elevators this week.” He snapped. “We’re Orbital Fucking Pivot, there’s no excuse for elevators this slow.”

“I’ll make a note of it sir. More pertinently, Chief Errisa is in a dart shuttle, no weapons, but we’ve been scanning her ship ever since she transmitted her security codes. There isn’t a sign of a bomb, but we’re not ruling out the possibility of a virus. Given the havoc she caused in the generators, it’s also possible that she’s just trying to get within close enough range to launch another network attack.”

Hunter was barely listening, launching from the elevator as soon as the doors hissed open.

“Status.” He barked as he entered the control room overlooking the empty hangar. One of the techs swivelled in his chair to face the General.

“Still scanning sir. Trying to hunt out potential biological attacks is tricky, so we’ll be another half hour-”

“Give clearance to land and open the hangar.”

“Sir? Is that…is that wise?”

“Don’t question me tech. I need to talk to her, give her clearance.”

“General, I need a word. In private?” Kathryn asked quietly. Hunter made an impatient motion, but his Chief of Security grabbed him by the arm. “Please?” The action was inappropriate, so unlike her that it startled Hunter out of his single-minded focus. He followed her out of the control room, into the empty hallway outside.

“Sir, I apologize for overstepping my bounds.” Kathryn spoke quietly and respectfully. “But we both know that in this situation you are emotionally compromised.”

“I don’t know what you-”

“Please, sir.” Kathryn held up a hand. “Even if I hadn’t known about your relationship beforehand, your reaction to her betrayal in the past forty-eight hours has shown your feelings, at least to your Chiefs. If you were thinking more clearly, you would see the danger of blindly accepting someone on board who actively sabotaged Orbital Pivot’s efforts.”

“Very well, you’re right. Chief Errisa is my wife.” Any reservation that Hunter had seemed to pale in the face of getting into that hangar, of speaking to Errisa. “I don’t care what danger I’m blindly accepting. Since you seem to have forgotten Kathryn, you are subordinate to me. You will follow my orders.”

“General, I can’t force you to do anything, but I’m the Chief of Security and it is my duty to protect the men and women of this Orbital. You’re willing to risk your life for her, but I can’t let you risk everyone else’s.” Hunter stared at his Chief for long moments, and she met his gaze, unwavering.

“You realize that by pressing this point you are risking your career, Chief Kathryn.”

“I realize sir.”

Hunter’s eyes narrowed.

“Well then, as long as you realize.” He spun on his heel and re-entered the control room.

“Keep scanning that ship.” He snapped. “As soon as they land, seal off the hangar bay. I’m going in through the airlock alone, I want any air contaminated from the hangar vented into space. What are the nearest wireless access points?”

“The hotsources on Decks F and I serve this deck sir.”

“Shut them off and lock them down. No wireless access within a hundred meters of this hangar. As far as physical security goes, I’m sure our Chief of Security has a squadron of security forces waiting outside of the main hangar doors-”

“Two squads.” Kathryn murmured.

“-give them full access should she order it. If anything happens to me that incapacitates me, I am officially transferring command to Kathryn. Is that understood?” The mood in the control room was so tense that Hunter could almost feel the air buzzing, but he was distracted at the sight through the window, as on the other side of the glass the hangar bay doors slid open. The techs were smart enough to keep silent as the small ship slipped into the bay.

Nicknamed after an ancient thrown weapon, the dart-class was the fastest ship in the Orbit, and it took less than a second for it to move into the middle of the wide deck and settle to the deck floor. The faint noise of instruments ticking and pinging were the only sounds that filled the small room, but to Hunter they seemed too loud. Two people exited the ship before the hangar bay doors had even closed, which meant both were synthetics for whom the lack of oxygen wouldn’t be a hindrance.

Is that who she left me for? The sight of Errisa felt like a punch to the heart, but Hunter didn’t recognize the man next to her, a middle-aged man with wise creases at the corners of his eyes. Not wise creases, artificial creases. He thought bitterly, surprised at himself at how quickly the thought came to him. Was he so petty that a betrayal from his wife would make him prejudiced against all synthetics?

The two were standing in front of the ship now, and the hangar doors had sealed shut.

“The bay is sealed off sir.” One of the braver techs said quietly. Hunter felt numb as he stepped down the stairs at the bottom of the control room, entering the airlock. Behind him the first door sealed, and in front of him the second opened. The hangar seemed so much larger as he walked across it, but Hunter barely noticed anything but his wife, standing there with her companion next to the ship. Her head was tilted to one side, and she was watching him with a strange smile on her face.

Mocking? Pitying? I’ve been married to her for seventeen years, but I swear I haven’t seen that smile in my life. It felt as if the walk was taking forever. What would he even say to her? What was there to ask? “Why” seemed so inadequate. He was only a few feet from them now, and he opened his mouth awkwardly.

“Oh Hunter!” The middle-aged man cried, and he threw himself into Hunter’s arms.

What.

The General’s eyes widened, and he tried to force the universe to make some kind of sense again. The stranger was clasping him in his arms so tightly, sobbing into his shoulder, and somehow, in some way, there had to be an explanation that made that make sense. In front of him, Errisa broke down into peals of laughter.

“Oh my god,” she gasped in between giggles, “oh my god your face!”

“Errisa…” Hunter stood ramrod-straight, as if he could force the world into order, while the man took a sudden step back, looking embarrassed. “…what.”

“No no I can’t.” Errisa was doubled over now, laughing so hard that tears streamed down her face. “It’s too funny, oh my god you have to tell him Errisa, I can’t.”

“Hunter.” The man spoke gently, as if soothing a confused child, making a calming gesture that was intimately familiar. “We need to talk.”


Hunter entered the Chief’s conference room in something of a haze, both happy and distracted. He had cleaned and shaved, and was wearing a fresh uniform, and as he sat down in his customary seat he felt whole for the first time in days. The conflict between Academy and Pivot seemed trivial now that he had his wife back, even if there was the small matter of an extra personality in the mix.

“Chiefs.” He smiled at the assembled men and women, the best minds on his Orbital. “I’ve just received a news ping, and by now Generals Poulay and Buramis will have received it as well. General Auspus has been removed from command of Orbital Academy.” The reactions were as dramatic as he had hoped. Chief Pepper gasped aloud, his eyes bugging out, and even Chief Kathryn raised a surprised eyebrow.

“Orbit save us!” Muttered Chief Mabel. “The Marshal has interceded! What did Auspus do to change the Marshal’s mind?”

“The bulletin didn’t say.” General Hunter leaned back in his chair. “But needless to say, the new General of Academy is going to be quite busy with his sudden responsibility. I am entirely confident that this feud between us and the Academy-Techrider alliance is drawing to an end.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Chief Adamsly nodded. “Minera has been hounding us for locitor spikes, but without new ones coming in from Techrider we don’t know that we can spare any of ours.”

“Our security’s weapon cores drain after about three weeks.” Chief Kathryn added quietly. “Their charging stations are large enough that only Academy houses them; we have enough to last our security’s weaponry for another week before they need to swap out.”

“I didn’t know that.” Hunter said with surprise.

“Didn’t see the need to trouble you with it until now sir.”

“I also worry about our production lines.” Chief Exla spoke up. “With no shipments made, we’re getting a little backed up down in…assembly…” She trailed off as the middle-aged man entered.

“Chiefs, please welcome back Chief of Information Errisa.” Hunter said as Errisa sat down, a little clumsily, in the seat reserved for her.

“Not quite myself.” Errisa joked in the voice of the older man. “But the information you’ve heard about my betrayal was false. Strangely explainable.”

“Sir, with all due respect we can’t sit here and accept Chief Errisa back in our ranks, not without a heavy inquiry, or at the very least some proof of whatever excuse she’s managed to come up with.” General Pepper huffed.

“Her….his….Chief Errisa’s explanation was enough to satisfy me.” General Hunter said. Confusing, but enough. “There will be an inquiry, and there will be explanation and proof, after a sort. In the meantime, however, I’m afraid you’re all going to have to trust me, because there is a time-sensitive matter in which I would like your opinions.” Hunter met the eyes of each of his Chiefs in turn, waiting until they either nodded their compliance or looked away. He knew he was burning away much of his capital with each of them, asking them to trust him, but he had priorities. “Glad to hear it. Now, with ex-General Auspus removed from command, I’m expecting a transmission from his replacement at any minute. I’m surprised, in fact, that he’s taken this long to get in touch with us.”

“It’s most likely that he’s meeting with General Poulay.” Chief Kathryn was checking stats on her screen as she spoke, but Hunter didn’t begrudge her that. She had proven that she could multitask and still hold a conversation. “As the ally of Orbital Academy, Techrider will want to be heavily involved with any deals they make to stop the embargo. Auspus’ replacement will probably want to pick Poulay’s brain on tips and tricks, since Poulay is his or her one General-level contact.”

“Typically a new General meets in open session with all of us.” Hunter growled. “I’m not quite sure I like that this kid’s first impression of dealing with Generals is going to be whatever messages Auspus left behind and Poulay’s manipulation.”

“Can you blame him? We’re at war General Hunter, I would hardly consult with my enemies for tips of the trade.”

“Point. So, what tack should we take with the newly minted General when he finally does communicate with us?”

“I would suggest we make a bid for peace.” Chief Pepper said at once.

“I didn’t think we had that many casualties, for the Chief of Health to be so eager to end the embargo.” Hunter raised an eyebrow.

“There don’t have to be casualties to see how this situation doesn’t help us sir. We may not have many injuries yet, but if we keep up this stalemate it will slowly grind away at all of the Orbitals but Basura in the Orbit. This is the best time to make a bid, when we’re faced with a green General who will be willing to back down.”

“Especially if we don’t demand concessions.” Hunter was unused to the wise gravelly tone that Errisa now bore. “He would see it as an out that let him save face without having to deal with a war as his first order of the Orbital.”

“Why not demand concessions? We’re winning this fight.” Chief Mabel said. “Is that what you’ve come back to do, convince us to back down?”

“The Chief of Information is right.” Chief Pepper frowned. “I’d much rather end this quickly. We don’t-” His words were interrupted by an emergency ping, the red light indicating a General on the other end.

“Thank you for your input.” General Hunter said, and the Chiefs sat a little straighter, their expressions a little more severe. General hunter watched the subtle transformation around the table with pride. His Chiefs bickered and fought among themselves, they challenged and questioned him, but against outsiders they would back him up to the hilt. Hunter squared his shoulders and slid his hand across the acceptance button.

In the center of the table, two holographic screens opened, the first displaying General Poulay’s severe face, glaring down over her glasses with disapproval. On the other was a bright and rugged face, grey hair matching a grey scar that ran the length of his face and down across his throat.

“Congratulations on your promotion, General Winchest.” General Hunter nodded to the new General, ignoring Poulay.

“Nnnnot bad for someone who was sitting in your prison cell just a few short days ago, eh Gen’ral Hunter?” Winchest’s throat augmentation took a second to kick on, and the first few words of his sentence came out in a harsh rasp, but the man seemed in good spirits.

“It’s a messy business, this.” Hunter nodded sagely. “I hope that we can end this ’embargo’ matter quickly, now that we don’t have stubborn hands at the helm.”

“His was not the only stubborn hand at a helm, General.” Poulay spoke sharply.

“I’m just as eager to end this nastiness as you, General Hunter. Fortunately for both of us, I fully expect this meeting to end our differences.” Winchest spoke much more confidently than Hunter would’ve expected. During his first few meetings, Hunter had stuttered and stammered over the most basic trade ratio agreements; he wasn’t sure how he would’ve handled a war meeting back then. Out of the corner of his eye, Hunter watched small messages scrolling across the top of the screen at his desk, sent surreptitiously from his Chiefs.

“Seems too calm.” ~Errisa

“Smooth as steel, this one. Expected jumpier.” ~Mabel

“Too easy. Has ace-in-hole?” ~Kathryn

“Am I to take it you have a proposal?” Hunter cleared the messages with a wave. Despite his Chief’s misgivings, he was calm. Hunter was prepared to end the war now, without concessions on either side. If Winchest was about to make an offer, it could hardly hurt to hear him out, and perhaps Pivot would come out ahead in this little misadventure.

“I do.” Winchest looked down at the screen in front of him, invisible to General Hunter. “I am proposing that you step down as General of Orbital Pivot.” He would’ve gone on, but the Chiefs around the table erupted into exclamations of shock and outrage.

Too calm. What are you holding? Hunter scrutinized General Winchest in the screen, trying to read something in his face. After a few moments, the din died down, and Winchest continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted.

“You will remain in Orbital Pivot as a Chief-level, in a position of your choice. Control of Orbital Pivot will pass to me, to be held in addition to my current post.”

“You have to know my answer to this question, General Winchest.” Hunter felt more keyed up and tense the more relaxed and comfortable Winchest seemed. “We’re at a stalemate in this war, and by our calculations you’ll have to switch to half power in a few days. You can’t keep this up without the supplies from General Buramis and Orbital Minera…” Hunter sighed and closed his eyes at the realization. “…who has thrown her lot in and joined you, hasn’t she.”

“Unfortunately not. General Buramis,” General Poulay spoke the name as if it had a distasteful flavor, “has for whatever reason made it clear that she still wishes to back you in this childish and dangerous midlife crisis.”

“What then? I don’t have time for this.” Hunter slammed his hand down on the table. “What have you got that makes you so god-damned cocky?”

“General Hunter, the technicians of Orbital Techrider have made note of activity on a vector towards Orbital Pivot.” To his credit, General Winchest didn’t deliver the news with the smugness that Auspus would’ve, although Poulay looked on with a self-satisfied smile. “At this point there is enough resolution to identify it through the fog. There is a Terran Shrike team on a course for your Orbital.”

“You’re lying.” General Hunter spat. Across the table, Chief Exla stood from her seat and made her way out of the room, and Chief Kathryn slammed a few keystrokes into her personal screen. Hunter nodded as emergency lights across the edges of the room glowed with a steady blue. The same emergency warning lights would be lighting in every room and hallway of the Orbital. Lying or not, they couldn’t afford to take chances.

“We knew you would assume as much.” General Winchest said. “We have a transmission packet waiting to send, containing the scan data. You’ll see that we aren’t lying.”

“The last Drake attack was two months ago, Winchest!” Hunter shouted. “They can’t rally a Shrike team that fast, they’ve never been able to, we know that about the Terrans.”

“And the Drake attack preceding it was only three months before that, Hunter. Which, if you’ll remember, had also never happened.” Winchest was too calm for such a disaster, Hunter was so sure that he was lying…no matter what his gut was telling him. Hunter rested his head on one hand, the energy and life that had surged through him a mere hour ago suddenly drained.

“You son of a bitch.” He snarled, staring at the table in front of him. Around him, his Chiefs were frozen and staring back and forth between them, all but Kathryn, who continued to throw orders across her screen as fast as her fingers would let her.

“I assure you General, I’m not the one that brought them.”

“You’re the one who’s fucking lying about it.” Hunter snapped. “A Shrike team, coming up off the surface less than ten weeks from the last Drake attack? And of the five Orbitals to hit, they just-so-happen to be headed for Pivot? Bullshit.”

“He’s having so much trouble accepting this, I almost don’t want to tell him the rest.” General Poulay smirked.

“He deserves to know.” Winchest said shortly, turning back to the screen. “Hunter…they’ve got a Drake with them.”

The silence stretched for long minutes, before Hunter gave off a strangled laugh.

“A Shrike team and a Drake. Now you’re just being transparent Winchest. What else is there? Are they sending the fog at us like a weapon? Perhaps tossing the planet at us with an oversized slingshot?”

“Hunter, this isn’t a joking matter.”

“Oh no, I should think not, what with Shrikes and Drakes and the kitchen sink flying in our face. It’s about as serious as matters can get.” Hunter chuckled weakly. “And I suppose Orbital Academy can convince them all to turn around and fly away if we give you what you ask for?”

“I’m going to be honest with you, Hunter.” General Winchest leaned forward. “I’m not sure we can drive them off. Both at the same time? I’m not sure at alll. But if we do, it will only be because every damn ship, every damn trick, and every damn resource in the entire Orbit is dedicated to it. Even with all the firepower we can throw at them, it might not be enough.”

“So I abdicate, you take over, and we just wait for this convenient swarm to show up then shall we?” Hunter said sarcastically. Kathryn had finally finished typing in her commands, her men presumably moving through the station to prepare.

“No.” General Winchest shot a look at his other screen before speaking. “What happens is that you give me your word, in front of us Generals and your Chiefs, that you will abdicate. Then we will collectively deal with the Shrike and the Drake.”

“Are you a fool?” General Poulay looked surprised for the first time in their conversation. “You’re going to give away your one bargaining chip on his word?”

“General Hunter is a man of his word.” Winchest kept Hunter’s gaze. “And if we wait until the very end, it might be too late. We mobilize now, and we do what needs to be done. I trust Hunter to keep his promises.”

“That’s a very foolish trust to place on him.” Poulay began, but General Winchest cut her off sharply.

“You mentioned in our meeting that you would follow my lead in the negotiations, General Poulay. This is my lead. I would ask that you keep your own word and follow.”

“It makes no difference.” General Hunter stood up from his seat. His blood was pounding in his ears. “I’m not going to be bullied into stepping down from my place as General by whatever your plan entails.”

“General Hunter, I would urge you to reconsider.” Winchest said earnestly. “Do not risk the lives of the men and women aboard Orbital Pivot, your men and women, over stubbornness.”

“You’re the one risking their lives.” Hunter snarled. “Your selfish bid for power is the only thing keeping you from your duties. If Orbital Academy isn’t willing to protect the Orbit from this, what the damned hell are you good for?”

“Orbital Academy cannot protect the Orbit without the support of the Orbit, Hunter. Your war has removed that support.”

“This conversation is over.”

“We are sending you a live stream of the scanning data from Techrider, General.” Poulay was keying in strokes even as she spoke. “Much as I dislike you and yours, the men and women under your command don’t deserve to die because you’re too stupid to make good choices.”

“I hope you reconsider, General Hunter.” It seemed like General Winchest had aged over the course of the conversation. “Every last Academy flyer will be prepped and suited up and in the Academy hangar bays, waiting to launch. All you need to do is say the word, and I’ll give the order.”

“Tell them to sit tight while you go to hell.” Hunter roared, slamming his fist so hard into the disconnect button that something crunched beneath his fingers. “Report.”

“The live stream confirms what they’re telling us.” Errisa’s new rasp grated on Hunter’s ears.

“Could it be a fake?”

“Could be. It’d be hard to fake, but if it’s real it would take me more time to prove than we have.”

“They’re not likely to give us a fake feed, sir.” Chief Pepper said quietly. “It’s not as if we’d give our word and then give up control if nothing comes out of that fog.”

“How long have we got?” Hunter asked, not wanting to know the answer.

“About an hour before they break the fog.”

Hunter was right. He didn’t want to know.


“I’m supposed to inform you that all of our flyers are going to die.” Chief Exla’s voice crackled in Hunter’s ear as he wordlessly pointed out on a set of blueprints where the engineers should be moving.

“That doesn’t sound like our pilots. They’re usually more cocky than that.” He muttered.

“It was one of the Academy rookies. I told him that I’d pass on the message.”

“Remind me again why we let them on the damned Orbital in the first place?”

“Because you’re a sucker for a sob story?” Hunter grinned. “At least it’s another nine ships we can get in the air.”

“How many flyers does that give us in total?”

“Twenty ships. Not all of them are trained well, but they should be able to fly at least.”

“It’s not enough.”

“It’s what we’ve got sir.”

Hunter nodded, even though Exla couldn’t see him. He turned to Chief Adamsly to continue his conversation.

“Errisa’s telling me we have eighty to a hundred minutes. Can you get it built?”

“We’ll push hard.” Adamsly used his stylus to make a few marks on the blueprints. “We can definitely make it if we don’t include this section.” Hunter looked the changes over. As it was drawn, the shielding could slam shut in a nanosecond, locking the innermost handful of decks shut so tight that a Drake itself couldn’t tear them out.

“How long after this thing shuts do we have?”

“Run out of air in twenty-four hours. I suspect we’ll cook alive in twelve though.”

“Encouraging.”

“I didn’t invent heat dissipation sir.”

“Get your men on it. I’ll take cooked and suffocated over…whatever the Terrans want with us.”

“Captain, we’ve got visitors.” Chief Kathryn’s voice sounded strained, which actually frightened Hunter.

“FUCK,” he shouted, “we were supposed to have longer! We were supposed to have an hour!”

“It’s not the Shrike team sir. It’s a transport from Basura. The Red Forces.”

“Oh, I forgot. Thank you Kathryn. I was expecting them.”

“I think that’s for me.” Errisa whispered through his earpiece, as Hunter turned on his heel and marched toward his quarters’ elevator.

“Are you ready for them my love?” He muttered into the comms.

“Ready as one can be to die, my dear.”

“Aren’t you so fucking funny.”

“Sorry. You’re a little stressed right now, I guess.”

“You think?”

“Goodnight my darling. Give ’em hell from me, and I’ll see you on the other side.”

Hunter reached the elevator that led to his quarters, where two covered gurneys lay. He could’ve had someone do this part, but it seemed more appropriate for him to handle them himself.


He met the Red Forces halfway between the hangar and the elevator, in a long carpeted hallway. Two men and a woman, all dressed in neat red uniforms, their frank expressions curious and bored at the same time.

“You tracked my chip, you could’ve seen I was coming.” Hunter snapped.

“We wanted to see more of the station, you ended up walking less. No harm done.” The woman at the head of the group stared frankly at the two gurneys that Hunter dragged behind me. “Are those the offending synthetics?”

“My Chief of Information and the other frame she brought with her.” Hunter glared at the three in red.

“Why’d she bring the frame? It was empty.”

“She didn’t say. Maybe she thought you’d only take one back.”

“Hmm. Here’s your replacement.” The woman stepped aside, revealing a figure Hunter hadn’t seen hidden behind the Red Forces.

She was small and short, her long hair falling down in braids to her knees. Her skin was pale, and her hair was snow-white.

“The Marshal appreciates what a sacrifice this is to you.”

“Seven years.” Hunter couldn’t help but interrupt. “The sacrifice of a marriage of seven years.”

“Indeed. As a concession, he’s provided you with one of Basura’s very latest models.”

“That’s…considerate.”

“A blank slate in physical appearance, her hair color and length are adjustable, as is her skin tint.” Hunter felt bad for the girl. No one should depend on the Red Forces for an introduction.

The Red Force woman was showing her off like the latest piece of technology, which technically she was, but he could see the blush rising on the girl’s cheeks.

“Alright, I get the picture.” He shifted from one foot to another.

“You can even configure her pubic hair to match-”

“I get it!” Hunter growled. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m a little busy preparing for the Shrike Team.”

“We heard about the incoming Shrike team. We understand you have an option to get Orbital Academy to assist?” One of them men asked, speaking for the first time.

“An option I won’t take.”

“That seems unwise. Perhaps you should reconsider.”

“Are you taking this frames or what?”

“We were told to check them first.”

Hunter winced as they removed the sheets from the gurneys. He hadn’t had time to grow used to the middle-aged man, but his wife’s Chief bodyframe laying cold and lifeless on the second gurney made the pit in his stomach gnaw at him.

“Your third frame? The second your wife used?”

“I’d prefer to have my technicians transfer my new wife into that frame. It might make the transition easier.”

“Of course. We’ll leave this one, and let you have use of both.” The awkwardness stretched as the Red Forces dragged the gurneys away, leaving Hunter alone with the small woman, who stared silently at her feet.

“Listen, um…what’s your name?”

“They didn’t give me one.”

“I’m sorry to have to…wait, really?”

“They said you would give me one that pleased you.” The woman seemed close to tears.

They couldn’t even do her the courtesy of being okay with it? Hunter thought angrily. Instead of just forcing her out here to be mine? He should be busying himself with preparation, but instead he sighed and held out a hand.

“I’ll take you to our room, there’s someone there who can explain things better than I can.”

“Don’t you have more important things to be doing?”

Hunter let his mind shift for a moment. A shrike, a drake, no ships, no time, his wife in danger, his Orbital in danger, all of the problems loomed around him. But here, in the girl who needed comfort, there was at least was one tiny, insignificant problem that he could overcome.

“Nothing comes to mind.” He said kindly, and took her hand.


Previous Chapter (SFW): General of Academy
Next Chapter (SFW): General of the Shrike
Next Chapter (NSFW): General of the Shrike
 

8.1 – General of Academy

Lieutenant James pulled himself across the dirt, trying to ignore the trail of blood he was dragging behind him. The trail would make him trivial to track, of course, but if one of the Terrans got close enough to track him, he was as good as dead anyways.

“You should just give up, Jimmy.” He said, his voice breaking as he moved another arm’s-length. “Where are you even going Jimmy? Get to that clump of trees, and then what Jimmy?”

Is it normal to talk to myself like this? Probably not. I’m probably going into shock. James glanced behind him, surprisingly calm as he carefully looked down at his legs. “Well ain’t that a pretty sight! Can you even tell where your legs end anymore Jimmy? Nah, you can’t. Twists of meat now, ain’t they Jimmy?”

Okay, stop. I need to pull myself together. James pushed himself onto his back and stared into the green-tinted sky.

“Deep breaths Jimmy. Focus Jimmy. And for god’s sake Jimmy, stop talking to yourself.” He lapsed into silence, taking deep breaths and blinking slowly.

The pain repressors would wear off within an hour or so, that was when he would really go into shock. In the meantime, besides the weariness, James felt almost peaceful. Unlike the quiet thrum of the Orbital, the silence on the surface wasn’t true silence. Little snips of music reached his ears from far off, made by the animals that lived here. Irregular drones of tiny animals, the insect-class, filled the blanks between them.

“They’re playing me a song, that’s kind of them.” James chuckled. “They should do that up in the Orbit, play some music to send a soul to sleep. Wish I could tell them that, music makes it hurt a little less. Makes the heart hurt, I mean, the legs’ll still hurt plenty.”

He lifted his head to check on his legs again. It was almost fascinating how much damage they’d incurred in the crash; they were a wreckage of mangled gore.

“Hate that it ends here though, so young and all.” He sighed. It was tiring now, filling his lungs with air. “I suppose…S’ppose it must be the same with everyone. Nobody’s gonna die like this and think ‘well, I suppose I’m done then’. Still, wish I could’ve…” another arduous, laborious breath “…wish I could’ve done more with my life.”

“What would you do with your life, space boy?” It was such a sweet, feminine voice that James wasn’t sure he had actually heard it. He cast his eyes around for some time before his gaze settled on the woman. She was rosy and alert, squatting by a nearby tree with her arms resting on her knees. James was having trouble focusing, and he felt as if he was noticing things in the wrong order. He noticed her matronly air and comfortable confidence before he noticed the knife in her hand, and it took him long moments after he saw her short curls of lavender hair before he put two and two together.

“Terran?” He slurred.

“You say ‘I would do more with my life’.” The Terran approached, but James was too tired to be worried. He might even still have his pistol in his holster, he hadn’t noticed.

“Yea, I think I’d…think I’d do more with it. ‘ventually.” He tried to shrug. “Not much good now, but I would’ve gotten…gotten my shit together.” His voice was so weak that the Terran had to lean close just to hear him.

That would’ve been a great plan, pretending to be dying and killing her when her guard went down. James thought, absentmindedly staring at her face. If I weren’t actually dying.

“Tell me, space boy. Talk to me. What would be your ‘shit’ that you got done?”

James chuckled. His last words were going to be reminiscing about what might have been, and with a Terran no less.

“Actually apply myself.” He coughed, closing his eyes. “Get a promotion, get a girlfriend. Nah, fuck it, ‘slong as I’m dreaming, I’d get all the promotions. I’d get promoted to Marshal of the Orbit, impress all the smart guys and fuck all the pretty girls. Then I’d fuck all the smart girls and lord it over all the pretty guys.”

“That’s very ABI(ambitious, adventurous, motivational).” The Terran girl’s words burrowed into his mind, like an annoying insect’s sting, but everything was fading out anyways. “I am Cha, what is your name?”

And…now…death… James thought, feeling himself slip under the darkness that had been hovering around him.

“What is your name, space boy?” He barely heard her, barely felt her arms around him.

“James.” He mumbled. “James Auspus.”


General Auspus sank into the depths of his chair, as if he could fall asleep if he got comfortable enough. Every day would always present a new set of challenges, but he didn’t see that as a good thing. A day’s challenges weren’t opportunities, they weren’t lovely little possibilities to highlight the strengths of a great leader. Auspus sifted through the messages on his screen, flipping most of them into a lower priority queue. Challenges were enemies to be slain.

“Sara, half of these requests could’ve been handled by the Captains.” Auspus didn’t look up from his work, but he knew his assistant would be taking notes. “I’ve asked you to please be cognisant of what matters you bring to my attention, I only have so many hours in a day.” As if brought on by his words, a wave of exhaustion overtook him, and he set the screen down on the desk. Sara watched him carefully, too carefully for his liking. He had a reputation to uphold.

“I think I need another injection Miss Sara. Please have Ariel sent in to me.

“Yes sir.” Sara gave him a worried look. “This will be your second injection this week sir. Is your condition getting worse? Should we perhaps schedule a visit to Orbital Basura to schedule an appointment?”

“Just the injection I think, but I appreciate your concern.” Auspus gave a friendly smile instead of the snarl he wanted to provide. The girl meant well, and it was hardly her fault for being worried. She didn’t know that all he wanted was for her to leave the room. None of them did.

“Right away sir.” Sara left the room, and Auspus waited for a few moments before sealing the door to his office closed behind her. He loosened the collar of his uniform and leaned back in his chair in earnest, heaving a sigh of relief and letting the anxiety that he had been bottling up wash over him. Politics, war, worry, all on top of the typical challenges that plagued him.

His blood buzzed, as if millions of tiny creatures were inching their way along the inside of his veins. He had no way of knowing the science of what had happened to him, so for all he knew there might be.

Still, he thought, at least I’m more used to it now than I used to be.


“Oh god…my skin…my skin is crawling! There’s something wrong with my skin!” Lieutenant Auspus tossed on the pile of furs.

“Shh, hush space boy. There is naught to fear, naught to fear.” Cha crooned and stroked his hair, seeming to not mind that it was drenched in sweat. “It is always difficult, the first time.” Auspus looked up at the woman, trying to make some sense of what he was feeling. He was lucid enough to know that he was feverish, his clammy forehead and shivering told him that much.

“Where am I? What happened? Why is your hair purple?” Auspus shivered again, swatting his skin, then scratching it.

Have to get them off of me. Out of me. Scratch them out, get them out, out out out. There were so many questions running through his mind that it was hard to focus on any one of them. The woman hovering above him was talking again as she held his hands down, something about losing legs and crashing ships, but try as he might Auspus couldn’t quite focus on what she was saying. Later in his life, he would remember the last thing she said before he slipped back into fever dreams, although at the time it barely registered.

“You cannot help but achieve your dreams, now that I’ve given you the gift of magics.”


Auspus gripped the edge of his desk, shivering at the intensity of the memory.

“Been running myself too ragged lately.” He said to himself. Time always got a little slippery for him when it had been too long. He yanked the desk drawer open and removed the Coricia, running his fingers along the edge of the purple crystal without thinking. No matter how long it had been, his stomach jumped at the sight of it, his heartbeat quickened slightly. He hated his dependence on it.

He had already drawn the parallels between his reactions to the crystal and those of a drug addict. Like an addict, when he was running low his body crawled, and the more he put if off, the more intense his need was. Despite the obvious similarities, Auspus didn’t like thinking of it that way. Treating the Coricia like a drug was dangerous. Start to think you couldn’t live without it, and you would take risks to take another dose of the sparks within.

It had been one of those risks that had resulted in this entire mess, using the Coricia in the sight of two of the rookies. Auspus clenched his fists at the thought of them, but was distracted by the first purple spark that lept from the crystal, burrowing into his skin and leaving a trail of warmth inside of him. He settled back into his seat with a sigh.


“But where are the sparks actually going? And what are they made of?” Lieutenant Auspus watched the crystal suspiciously, flinching a little at each spark that jumped from it to land on his skin.

“You wish to know so much, space boy.” Cha smiled at him from where she sat at the fire. “Why you not leave the MYA(the charm, the mystery, the thrill of discovery)?” Auspus jumped at the words that burrowed into his mind.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that. Talk in my head like that.”

“You will grow used to it. I try to speak your words, but one day you must get used to ours.”

“And someday I’ll be able to talk like that?”

“Yes, one day soon. You will be one of us.”

Auspus leaned back with a frown. The prospect didn’t sound appealing to him. Cha hadn’t let him out of her hut yet, but compared to Orbital Academy the Terrans seemed to lead a horrible, primitive life. He flexed his legs again, wiggling the toes that had been regrown. True, magic saved his legs when nothing else would’ve. Cha clearly had great aspirations for him, and for whatever reason she helped him, but spending the rest of his life on the surface seemed too heavy of a cost. Auspus would’ve already tried to escape, but…

He opened his hand and focused. In his cupped palm, a purple flame sprang into being, warm and real. He flicked it back and forth between his fingers, trying to ignore Cha’s amused look.

I can play along for a while, if it means getting so much power…


He must’ve turned the lights out at some point, because as the Coricia’s flow of sparks died down, the room slowly descended into darkness. General Auspus lazily waved a hand to bring the lights to full level, stretching before he slipped the purple crystal back into his desk drawer. As usual, he felt as if he had just had a long sleep, and he felt ready to tackle another full day, even though he hadn’t slept for 72 hours.

Ariel knocked discretely, but she entered without waiting for him to answer.

“I came as quickly as I could, General.”

“Ah, my angel.” General Auspus used magic to draw color from his skin and pull bags beneath his eyes, and he tried to slump in his chair as he looked Ariel up and down. Despite the fact that her medicines were utterly useless to him, she really did look like an angel this evening. She must’ve been sleeping when they summoned her, since she was wearing a white nightdress, contrasting with her strawberry blonde curls. It wasn’t improper, but it was thin enough that he could follow the curve of her breasts as she busily unpacked her case on his desk and mixed the medication. Ariel caught him looking, and she blushed.

“Even in your state you have the energy to be perverted.” She teased, filling a syringe.

“You wouldn’t begrudge an old man his love of pretty girls, would you?” Auspus smiled.

“I always forget…” Ariel gave him his injection with a professional air, unaware that just beneath his skin, the magic ate away at the medication before it could even enter his bloodstream, devouring it and neutralizing it. “You always have so much energy after the injections, I sometimes forget your advanced years.” She teased. Auspus leaned his head back and watched her from the corner of his eyes.


“Why do you look at me like that, whenever I use the Corincia?” Lieutenant Auspus had gotten used to the tingling feeling of energy that recharging gave him, but he was still annoyed. Cha’s smile always looked as if she knew a secret he didn’t.

“For the TER(we of the earth, the loyal), to use the COR(the crystal of light, the Corincia) of another is a sign of TRIU(intimate and trusting, like a lover).” Auspus still had trouble sometimes, following a sentence with many charged words of power within it and he had to think about what she said for a while before he could make sense of it.

“The crystals are private? Wait, like lovers? So it’s as if you’ve been watching me change clothes this whole time?”

“I had to teach you how to use it.” Cha said defensively, but she blushed furiously. “And then…well you had it once. No hurt to use it AGA(once more).”

Auspus turned the information over in his mind.

An infatuation then. I suppose it explains why she’s done so much for me. Despite the help, his confinement chaffed him. As always, Auspus took his frustration out on the nearest available target.

“Aren’t you a hundred or something? Should you really be crushing on young guys like me?” He said dismissively. It was a slap in the face, but really what did the girl expect? He had been trapped in this house for five weeks, putting up with the pain of his ruined legs regrowing from the inside. The boredom and frustration was overwhelming, why would he be nice to her just because she fed him every day? As always, the hurt look Cha tried to hide made his frustration sting just a little bit less.

“Age makes no harm.” Cha was avoiding his eyes. “The COR(crystal of light) keeps us young and BEA(pretty and attractive, beautiful in body), so what does it…”

“Well I don’t know about the second, but it keeps you young at least.” Auspus leaned back and closed his eyes. He didn’t have to look to see what her face would look like at his words. Leaning into the stream of sparks, he smiled slightly.


“You seem to be looking better, General.” Ariel’s voice brought him out of his reverie with a small guilty start. He hadn’t ever noticed before, but his medic looked a bit like Cha had. Hair in short curls, a comfortably plump frame.

“I am feeling much better, thank you. I…appreciate what you do for me, Ariel.”

Ariel gave him a curious look as she cleaned the medicinal instruments with a clean white cloth.

“Of course General, it’s sort of my job.” She said.

“I just mean…I’m not sure what I mean.” Auspus sighed. “Do you think it’s possible to make up for past mistakes Ariel? To cancel out debts in a life the same way one cancels out monetary debt?”

“These drugs must be pretty strong, to get you so philosophical General.” Ariel stopped cleaning and looked at him closely.

“I get vaguely philosophical in the evenings.” Auspus chuckled.

“Is a past mistake weighing on you? I could try to heal your soul while I’m here healing your body.” Ariel laughed. Auspus glanced sharply at her. She was keeping her back to him, putting the supplies away in their case, and she was clearly trying to keep her tone light to make it sound as if she wasn’t prying. He never knew if it was due to the magic or to his own abilities, but Auspus had a particular talent for reading people, and it was clear to him that Ariel was searching for something.

He sighed, reaching into a second drawer of his desk. The same wisdom that made him regret what he had done to Cha told him he couldn’t trust Ariel.

“I appreciate it, but I’m afraid some mistakes must remain in the past. Chocolate?” He offered her the silver bowl, and Ariel took a small handful and popped them in her mouth, giving him a smile that would be adorable if it wasn’t so clearly calculated. Auspus paid close attention to how many she had grabbed.

Five. So I have five questions to get to the bottom of it.

“You know, General,” Ariel closed the case with a sharp click, turning back to him and leaning against his desk, “there are many ways to heal a soul that don’t require talking at all. Plenty of ways for a woman to heal a man…”

“Oh, are there?” General Auspus kept himself from rolling his eyes at the awkwardness of the line.

“Yes, there are.” Ariel moved closer, until she stood just next to his seat, leaning forward slightly.

Oops. There’s one question wasted. Auspus mentally cursed. The pellets of magic sealed within the chocolate would force a truthful answer to any question, real or rhetorical. Still, it wouldn’t be too difficult to determine what the medic wanted.

“There are ways a girl can heal a man that heal her own soul as well.” Ariel breathed, and she was closer to him now, her eyes closed, so close that he could spell the faint scent of fruit and flowers.

Auspus was tempted. Her awkward attempts at seduction were cute in a naive way, ironically more attractive than the type of temptress she was trying to be. With a hint of regret he placed his hands on her shoulders, stopping her inches away from him.

“Ariel,” he said softly, “you don’t want to sleep with me, do you?”

“No.” Ariel’s eyes widened in horror as the word left her lips. Auspus was used to this by now, how unnerved someone became when they spoke the truth without knowing why.

“I appreciate the honesty very much. It means a lot to me that our relationship means so much to you.” He said quietly. If he gave her a reason she could use, her brain would reconcile it, deciding it was her own idea, not the effect of the chocolate-coated spheres of magic. “Now why, if you do not want to sleep with me, are you trying to seduce me?”

“I just…I need some of the political power that you have, General.” Ariel winced, stepping away from him. Auspus nodded gravely, keeping serious so that she could at least keep some of her dignity.

“And what would you use that power for?”

“My…my boyfriend, sir.” There were tears in Ariel’s eyes now, and Auspus looked at his screen, embarrassed for her. “We just found out he’s got Cherenial Syndrome. I thought…I thought if I could pretend he was a relative, I could convince you to transfer him to Basura, where he could get treated. Please sir, it was stupid, I just…may I be dismissed please?”

“You may go.” General Auspus sighed. She had reached the door before he realized he had one questions left.

“Ariel, what is your young man’s name?”

“Adam Laughley, sir, he works in the Medhall on deck seven.” Ariel’s eyes were wide, even as embarrassed tears still ran down her face. “Sir this wasn’t his fault, it was my idea-”

“That will be all, Ariel.”

“But General, he didn’t even know! And if he had, he would’ve told me not to! Please don’t-”

“That will be all.” Auspus called up the rest of the day’s business on his screens as the door closed behind the sniffling girl.

Before applying his newly renewed energy towards the waiting items, he spoke to the computer system in the empty room.

“Send message to Tech Evans: I’m authorizing a chit transfer, identified by auth-key. One medical chit, class B, to the account of Adam Laughley. Two transport chits each to the accounts of Adam Laughley and Ariel Robina. Move the chits from my account, make them non-refundable. End message. Attach my authorization key to that message.” Auspus pulled up another screen, working on a minor schema problem as he spoke. “Send second message to Medic Pepperton: Please find replacements for Adam Laughley and Ariel Robina for the next week. They will be taking a trip to Orbital Basura and unable to come in to work.”

The schema problem took up his attention for a few minutes before an answering message pinged on his screen.

“Adam told me about his Cherenial Syndrome. Said he didn’t have the chits to get the treatment. You’re a good man General Auspus. ~Medic Pepperton”

General Auspus stared at the message for a long time before he flicked it off of his screen and returned to work.


“Why are you doing this to me, space boy?” Cha’s voice was just as weak as his had been the day they first met. In fact, Auspus noted, the entire scene was rather similar. There they were, surrounded by forest, flora and fauna. He was hunched over, arms on his knees, and it was the Terran girl who lay on the grass, injured and bloodied. The circumstances were different, but Auspus felt like they had come full circle. It was satisfying, in a way.

“It’s funny.” he stared off into the distance. The Orbital Academy ground station had come down through the clouds a few miles off, so it wasn’t as if he could see the it through the trees, but he looked anyways. “You asked me, when we first met, what I wanted to do with my life. Do you remember?” Cha looked up at him through strands of blood-matted lavender hair.

“And then I saved you.” She groaned. “I saved your life, space boy.”

“Yes yes, I’m not talking about that.” Auspus waved a hand impatiently. “I just mean that it’s interesting, you didn’t realize it at the time, but thanks to you, I don’t just have the chance to live, I’ll have the chance to live that dream life.”

“Yes, thanks to me. And some great thanks you gave. You’re a….a…” Cha faltered for words, and winced with a gasp.

“You can’t charge a word Cha, I’ve left you completely drained I’m afraid. Don’t worry, I’m sure I can guess at whatever horrible names you were about to call me. I regret how it happened Cha, but did you really think I would just live here? On the surface? With savages? Especially now that I have the power of magic?”

“My…’poa’…” Cha grunted, unable to charge the word. Her voice was weak, and she rolled to a side to lean her head against the tree trunk. “My…’magi’.”

“Not yours anymore, mine.” Auspus barely paid her attention. “And with it…just think about it, the magic of the Terrans mixed with life in the Orbit. I can be faster and stronger, I can have better reflexes than anyone else in the Academy. Smarter too, and without sleep I’ll have more time to study. I’ll have a leg up on everyone in my year…hell, I’ll have a leg up on the Captains. And the best part is that none of them even know about magic. They think you Terrans have some kind of alternate technology. Once they scan me and find no Terran technology, no one will suspect a thing.” He bent down and ran his hands along Cha’s body, and she whimpered and tried to move away from him. “Oh stop whining, no one’s trying to feel you up you moronic creature…I just want this.” He pulled the purple crystal from her pocket and slipped it into his, where it rattled against his own crystal.

“But…gave…you…one.” Cha seemed to struggled through each word.

“Oh I know, but now I have a potential ally, you see? Someone I can give your magic to, who will also be on the fast track to success, and who will owe me.” He stood, brushing his hands off. “Now, I’ve got to go meet my future. You’ve helped me quite a lot Cha, I’ll always remember that.”

If she said anything in response, he didn’t hear it.


“General Auspus.” The message came through his emergency line, and it came from the hangar chief. General Auspus didn’t need any further information to determine the nature of the report, but he opened the comm anyways.

“Go ahead Paul.”

“We just had to let a transport land, sir. It’s the Red Forces from Basura. They didn’t tell me where they were going, but I thought you’d want to know they were on the Orbital.”

“Thank you Paul.” Auspus was surprised at how calm he remained as he cut the connection.

Haven’t I been expecting it, in a way? He thought, pulling screens to him and working quickly. Finishing directions. Wrapping up request tickets. Adding small notes here and there in his work, making it easy for someone else to take up the tasks. He pulled the crystal from his desk drawer and, after a moment’s hesitation, slipped it into his pocket.

I wouldn’t have expected it to be rookies who brought me down, in the end. He thought idly, looking around the large office. Hunter, maybe, but not the rookies. Rather than sit down, he paced up and down, arranging a small nicknack here, straightening a framed work of art there.

It was the problem with keeping so many secrets, with having so many plans. It was impossible to keep so many balls in the air at once, to keep straight such a huge network of lies and connections. He had known that sooner or later he would be caught, sooner or later he would be punished. There was no covenant about using magic, but the Marshal wouldn’t allow Auspus to hold a source of power over him. Auspus could only hope that he would be imprisoned, rather than killed, for keeping that source from the Marshal for…how long?

“Seventy years? Eighty?” General Auspus paused in his pacing, looking across the room at the hanging mirror. His skin was still smooth, his hair sleek and black. The effect would fool anyone, although it had to be meticulously applied once or twice a month. Any less frequently, and his shock of dark purple hair would begin to show through. “What would I have looked like, if things had gone differently? If I hadn’t crashed on that mission?” He murmured to himself. “Aged and wrinkled? Enjoying retirement? I suppose that’s what I’m about to do now, enjoy either a very long or a very short retirement.”

An old memory tickled at him, and he chuckled in spite of himself. He turned to the mirror and spoke aloud at the reflection, to the young-faced man with world-weary eyes that looked back at him. “Whether you’re twenty or ninety, you’ll always talk to yourself just before you die, won’t you Jimmy?” he smiled.

The door slid open despite the fact that he had locked it. Two men and a woman stepped into the room, surveying it with disinterest. They wore uniforms of muted grey and red, and though they carried no visible weapons, a shiver went down Auspus’ spine.

“James Auspus.” The man in the lead smiled, the expression just as neutral as his nondescript appearance. “We are here to escort you to Orbital Basura, to answer charges set against you.”

“Has the Marshall decided on a set of charges then?” Auspus suppressed his nerves with practiced ease.

“You are accused of attempting to break the Marshal’s covenant. If you will please come with us.”


General Auspus privately thought to himself that one could learn a lot about a leader by the way they arranged their main base of operations. He had striven to make his office neat, severe, but open. His was a room where business got done, where hierarchy was respected, but where one of his could come for assistance. From what he had seen, General Poulay’s office felt like a classroom, with herself at the head, holding court over rows of subordinates. Generals Hunter and Buramis both had offices laid out for efficiency, created to facilitate their work rather than to give off an impression.

As he looked around him, Auspus could tell that for the Marshal, the most important thing to remember was that the Marshal was the most important. From the tiers in front of him to the throne the Marshal sat on, every tiny aspect was designed to point out the Marshal’s own godhood.

“General Auspus, the Marshal does not enjoy the turmoil in the Orbit. It makes the Marshal’s tasks complicated.” The Marshal glared at his screens, not looking at Auspus but still making it clear that he disapproved.

“I am sorry, Sir Marshal.” Auspus bowed his head. In his youth, after returning from the surface, he never could’ve swallowed his pride like that. Age had given him wisdom and calmed his temper. “It was my understanding that you were understanding about General Hunter and my…situation.”

“The war between Pivot and Academy matters little to the Marshal. What matters are all of these accusations, flitting back and forth like angry Drakes that must be dealt with.” Said the Marshal.

“I…don’t know of any accusations, sir.” General Auspus said.

Hunter must’ve gone straight to the Marshal when the rookies told him about the crystal. If I had just killed them outright, this wouldn’t have happened. Auspus pushed the thought to the back of his head.

“A synthetic stood before us, not two days ago, with one of General Auspus’ Captains.” The Marshal’s habit of looking back and forth between his screens was annoying Auspus, it made it hard to focus on what he was saying. “There were many issues surrounding them, but in the end we decided to disassemble the synthetic and release the Captain, with no punishment meted out to any who were falsely accused. The synthetic escaped.”

Auspus’ eyebrows shot up. It must’ve been Chief Errisa that the Marshal was talking about, but he was surprised that the woman had been able to escape. Then again, he had been surprised when she accepted his offer in the first place…

The offer… If she had been here, her memories would’ve been scanned…

“Before she escaped, the Marshal’s technicians were able to download information from the synthetic’s cores, which we have since reviewed. Within her memory modules resides a message, signed with your authorization codes, which promises to remove the impedance placed upon all synthetics.”

General Auspus threw his head back and laughed. The busy clerks on the first tier stared at him with horror, and the men and women on the second tier observed him with curiosity, but he couldn’t stop himself. Of all the balls he had in the air, this was the one that would bring him to his knees? A single message with an empty promise to an errant synthetic?

Not trying to kill rookies, not shooting the engineer, not starting a war. A single message to an artificial human.

“The Marshal is curious why General Auspus finds this matter amusing.”

“My apologies, Sir Marshal. It just seemed so ludicrous that I couldn’t help but laugh. Of course General Hunter’s synthetic would create a false message to implicate me.” There was no hope that his lie would be accepted, of course, but it was ludicrous. The entire situation was too absurd to gain a grasp on.

“The Marshal’s technicians assured the Marshal that the message could not be faked, not with General Auspus’ authorization codes.”

“Of course, Sir Marshal. I meant that I did send the message, but I would never actually remove a synthetic’s bottleneck.”

“The Marshal does not appreciate General Auspus’ flippant attitude. General Auspus knows that the Marshal’s covenants are crystal clear on this matter.” As the Marshal spoke, Auspus’ eyes flicked around the room. Were there really only four security guards here in the throne room? How many others were probably outside? His mind raced. With security so lax, it was no wonder the synthetic could escape. And if it was that easy…

How much easier would it be for a man with magic? Of course, I’d be exposing myself, but it’s not as if I have anything to lose…

“For the crime of attempted removal of a synthetic’s impediment, the Marshal hereby strips General Auspus of his rank and file.” The Marshal sounded bored as he pronounced his sentence, and he still looked at his fucking screens, as if ripping away Auspus’ life and dreams wasn’t worthy of his full attention. “The Marshal furthermore consigns Civilian Auspus to live the rest of his natural days in confinement, in the prison cells of Orbital Basura.”

“What about my unnatural days?” Auspus muttered to himself, smiling at his own joke. He had already turned and was walking towards the door, and the guards were already moving towards him. It was clearly not their first time subduing a prisoner.

First time securing one like me. Auspus thought, extending a hand. They had scanned him for weapons before he entered, but how could they know about the magic? The first guard simply slumped over, in deep sleep before he even hit the ground. Another dropped his gun to the floor, sucking his burnt fingers as the metal pooled and melted into the tile. Auspus had already turned to the third when he was yanked off of his feet, tumbling backwards.

It caught him by surprise, so completely by surprise that he couldn’t brace himself before hitting the ground hard. The General was pulled further, slamming onto his shoulder and then flipping back and cracking his head on the ground at the foot of the first tier.

Why don’t they look more surprised? The strange thought passed through Auspus’ head as he looked upside-down at the faces of the men and women. There was no one nearby, but Auspus found himself lifted, pulled slowly into the air. He floated past the second tier silently, drawn inexorably upwards. The men and women there didn’t seem surprised either, simply interested. Auspus reached the bottom of the throne, and slowly the Marshal came into view, arm extended, fist clenched in the air. The screens around the man were dark, and he was looking at Auspus dead in the eye. Auspus suddenly regretting catching the Marshal’s attention.

“Did you honestly think you were the only one who had tasted power?” The Marshal murmured, his voice so quiet and so low that Auspus was only barely sure he had said them aloud. “Did you for a moment believe that you were stronger than me? Stronger than the Marshal?”

The Marshal made a dismissive motion, and Auspus was flung so fast that the wind whistled past his ears as he shot far across the room. He hit the column feet first, cracking marble, seeing rather than feeling the bones in his legs splinter. Falling to the ground was less painful, even though it must’ve been six feet. His left arm hurt, and he must’ve cracked his head because he was seeing double.

Auspus shook his head, despite the fact that his entire body was shaking, his vision blurry. Was there blood everywhere, or just in his eyes and nose and mouth? Was there too much pain in his legs to process, or could he not feel his legs at all? The door to the room was feet away, and the Marshal was so far behind him on his golden throne. Surely he could drag himself to the door before the Marshal caught him. Why the door? Why not?

Civilian Auspus pulled himself across the cold tile on his one good arm, ignoring the ragged tearing pain in the lower half of his body at each movement.

“You should just give up, Jimmy.” He muttered to himself, spitting a mouthful of blood to the floor. His voice was still young. Wasn’t he old now? He must not be, his voice sounded young. “Where are you even going Jimmy? Get to that door, and then what Jimmy?”

His last thought before the darkness closed around him was of Cha.


Previous Chapter (NSFW): Controlling Errisa
Next Chapter (SFW): General of Pivot

7.3 – Controlling Errisa

>>System restarting. Modules loading.<< Blue woke up slowly, and the first thing she procesed were the peals of mental laughter, ringing in her circuits.

Hahahahaha.

>>I do not understand what happened.<<

Of course you don’t understand you stupid collection of microprocessors. Weren’t you the slightest bit suspicious when the Captain didn’t kill her rookies?

>>I assumed it was due to a human bond, between mentor and students. I was rather proud of myself for figuring it out.<< Blue ran her diagnostics sullenly.

Startup complete, Blue surveyed her surroundings for the first time. The personnel shuttle had landed, and the Captain was moving around in the back.

“I didn’t restrain you, but I can and will if you cause trouble.” The Captain said by way of greeting. Blue didn’t answer, and Captain Appet swung the heavy doors open. The stark red light that lit the hangar beyond was instantly recognizable.

>>Orbital Basura.<<

“Why have you brought us here? I still don’t understand.”

“General Auspus crossed a line. Now he’s going to pay for it.” Captain Appet’s voice was strangely flat.

“Whatever your plans, I will resist them. General Auspus owes me something, and I must meet with him.”

“If you don’t resist, if you help me, you have my word that I’ll do my best to match his price.”

Blue looked at the Captain through narrowed eyes.

>>Is she telling the truth? After this is over, will she remove the bottleneck?<< She asked Errisa.

Oh most certainly. Errisa replied, a hair too fast, but Blue nodded at the Captain.

“Very well. Lead the way.”

The Captain turned her back and descended the ramp. It would’ve been the perfect time to smash a fist down on the back of her head, crumpling the fragile organic into a heap. Did the human really think Blue was so large of an idiot? Did Errisa think that just because she shared a mind she could get away with so obvious a lie? Even if the Captain would remove the bottleneck, Blue already had a perfectly good offer from General Auspus, a man with far more power and political clout.

Until the bottleneck was removed, however, Blue was mentally restrained from attacking the Captain. Besides, neither Blue nor Errisa knew how to pilot a ship to Orbital Academy on their own. At the foot of the ramp stood a woman in crisp red uniform, holding a screen and waiting for them to descend.

“Good evening Captain Appet and Chief of Information Errisa. Welcome to Orbital Basura.” The woman greeted them with a friendly smile. “I am Clerical Francis. Please excuse the hastily prepared hangar, we weren’t expecting a landing today.”

“How did you know our names?” Captain Appet asked. Blue rolled her eyes. It was obvious to her that Francis was a synthetic, and clearly allowed access to connect to Basura’s database to look up their faces. “And er…It was a bit unplanned. An emergency landing, call it.” Appet shifted awkwardly.

“I understand. Unfortunately, we cannot allow you to stay. You will be leaving as soon as we’ve refueled and cleaned your shuttle.”

“Not allowed to stay? Why?” Captain Appet seemed surprised.

“Basura is not involved in the dispute between the Orbitals, Captain Appet. We cannot provide asylum for a prisoner of Orbital Pivot, in a stolen Pivot ship. Doing such would be quite clearly taking sides.”

“This matter doesn’t have anything to do with the dispute. It’s a matter of the covenant.”

“Oh my. Well that’s certainly a different matter. Come with me please. We have a suit you’ll need to use Captain Appet.”

Blue admired the efficiency of Basura’s team; by the time they reached the large doors to the hangar, two other synthetics were waiting for them. They were both physically large, and a casual scan revealed multiple layers of artificial muscle. One of them couldn’t lift a small ship, but both probably could. Francis indicated a small side door to the Captain. When Appet re-emerged a few minutes later she was clothed in a black walk-suit, the strong material hugging her form except for the plasticine helmet. The Clerical gave her a look up and down, then nodded and led the way out of the hangar.


Blue looked above her, into empty space. The walkway beneath her tugged at her feet with a combination of artificial gravity and magnetism, but she still couldn’t help but feel that she might float away at any moment. Below the walkway the green planet loomed, looking dangerous and awe-inspiring, but it was better to look down than up at the infinite.

>>I shouldn’t be feeling these emotions,<< Blue complained, >>feelings of reverence and fear are illogical when I am aware of the factual evidence that I am safe.<<

Fear isn’t always rational. Errisa seemed in better spirits now than she had during Blue’s coup.

>>I mean that I, specifically, shouldn’t be feeling these emotions.<< Blue clarified. >>I’m literally the part of our system designated for logic and analysis. Emotions are your purview, isn’t that normally the cause of tension between us?<<

You can’t just take control of the hardware without it affecting the software. You could only be Miss Emotionless when you could safely section yourself away from the physical reactions. If you don’t like them, you could always give control back to me.

>>I’ll return control after the bottleneck is removed.<< Blue felt a twinge of guilt at the words, and frowned at the emotion. She wasn’t even lying; when General Auspus removed the bottleneck she had every intention of returning control to Errisa. The prospect of remaining enslaved to feelings and sentiments for the rest of her lifespan was too horrifying to imagine. She turned her attention back to the walkways to avoid thinking about it.

It was common knowledge that Orbital Basura was the smallest station in the Orbit, but as they followed Clerical Francis across walkway after open walkway, Blue couldn’t imagine one larger. From the walkways she could see the gigantic and intricate system of sections, a thousand separate rooms, connected precisely with open walkways, looking for all the world like a complex organism. Occasionally the four would enter a large room, passing through double-airlocks at both entrances, but they hurried through the dimly lit red rooms fast enough that Blue couldn’t identify their purpose.

“Don’t people get sick of the lighting?” Captain Appet asked as they entered an enclosed hallway, a squat box hanging in space from heavy girders. “This whole place seems like it would weigh down on a person after a while.”

“We don’t have many of those in Basura.” One of the muscular synthetics said from behind them. “Humans, that is. Most of ’em leave after their training.”

“Mister Twist, perhaps we should leave it to those above us to decide how many of our guests’ questions to answer.” Clerical Francis admonished primly. The muscular man grunted and lapsed into silence. After a few more hallways, the foursome arrived at a large airlock, and Francis gestured that they proceed alone.

>>There appears to be something wrong with our respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. I’m not familiar with this emotion.<<

It’s called trepidation. We’re anxious.


The walkways open to space had felt overwhelmingly large and dangerous, but this room was somehow worse. The ceiling was too far above them to be seen, and giant columns spread evenly throughout the length of the room obscured their sight-line of the giant space. On each column, flickering red lights sent a glow throughout the room, but they didn’t provide quite enough light to illuminate the corners of the room. The effect gave it a cavernous feeling.

Along the back wall, groups of people sat on three raised platforms of various heights. On the lowest tier, various uniformed men and women worked busily at the screens in front of them. Three men and two women sat on plain seats in the middle tier, without screens, and they were watching Blue and Captain Appet with some interest as they made their way towards the middle of the room. The highest tier held one seat, huge and ornate, with eight arms held wide like a spider cradling its occupant. Multiple screens were attached to each arm, giving off a blue glow that lit the throne itself. In the throne sat the Marshal, his eyes flicking back and forth between the screens.

Every aspect of the room had clearly been designed to bring the image of thrones and royalty to mind, each effect locking into some primal memory housed deep within whoever looked at it. Even as she identified the influences, even as she reminded herself that this room was manufactured to give that impression, Blue couldn’t help be feel awed.

>>Which is ridiculous,<< Blue frowned, >>because I don’t have a primal memory. I was manufactured, I don’t have ancestors.<<

Mankind programmed us. Errisa noted. Is it really so odd that they’d give us the same fears and awes that they have?

“Captain Appet, the Marshal welcomes you.” The Marshal’s voice echoed in the huge room, though his eyes never left the screens. “Although The Marshal hopes that Jane has good reason for interrupting the Marshal’s court.”

“Yes sir, I believe so.” Beside Blue, Captain Appet was standing ramrod straight, as if being inspected. She needn’t have bothered, as the Marshal still hadn’t looked at her. Blue noted that the Captain’s heart was hammering away at a pace that was almost unhealthy.

“The Marshal gives Jane permission to speak.”

“Thank you sir, I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say. As you know, there is a conflict between Orbitals Academy and Pivot.” She paused, respectfully.

“The Marshal would have to be unobservant indeed to not know of this.”

>>Why does he not obey the rules of conventional grammar in his speech?<< Blue asked, watching the interchange.

I don’t really know. Maybe it’s to give himself a greater effect on people? A human being addressed in an out-of-the-ordinary way will pay more attention. Errisa replied. Or maybe he talks like that so he seems more impartial, more separate from everything.

>>To establish himself as being outside of typical bias seems rather egotistical.<<

Please don’t say that out loud. Ever.

>>I’m unfamiliar with social cues, not stupid.<<

The entire interchange between them happened in less than a second, before Captain Appet responded.

“Yes sir. Well recently in this combat, General Auspus went too far. I thought I would bring you news of his crimes personally. A message could be intercepted.”

“The Marshal appreciates Jane’s preparedness, but he has made clear to the Generals that he will not take part in their dispute. Whatever means General Auspus has taken to end the dispute, General Hunter must either manage those means, or succumb to General Auspus’ wishes.”

Blue was trying to take in the actions of everyone in the room, and she was glad she wasn’t the one under scrutiny. Everyone in the second tier was watching the Captain so intently that Blue marvelled at how cool the woman was remaining as the Marshal continued talking. “Perhaps General Auspus has not informed his Captains about the Marshal’s stance on this matter, so Jane will not be punished for wasting the Marshal’s time. Jane is dismissed.”

“Marshal, I don’t think you understand the scope of the General’s actions-”

“Captain Appet would be wise,” the Marshal’s voice boomed and echoed in the great room, and Blue flinched in spite of herself, “to take advantage of the Marshal’s leniency in this matter. Captain Appet would be wise, in fact, to count herself quite fortunate-”

“But Marshal he tried to break one of the covenants!” Captain Appet interrupted desperately.

For the first time, the Marshal’s gaze rested on Captain Appet and Blue. The lowest tier of workers, who had been intent on their screens the entire time, had all paused and were watching them as well, or stealing glances up at the throne where the Marshal sat. The man leaned forward, and the blue glow of the screens mixed with the red light to cast purple shadows across his face. His shaven head reflected the purple glow around him, but his face was starting to display the wrinkles of time and stress. Blue noted how tired the Marshal looked, with a weary cast to his shoulders and deep bags beneath his eyes.

Those eyes were intensely locked on the Captain now, and after the thunderous volume he had used before his next words seemed quiet.

“Jane will proceed.”

“General Hunter took several of the Academy captains prisoner. In the process of breaking us out, General Aupus gave us instructions to kill the rookies I had been training last year. Rookies who had chosen to work at Orbital Pivot.”

“You contend that General Auspus ordered the execution of rookies bound to Orbital Pivot.” The Marshal leaned back in his throne, rubbing the stubble at his chin. “To execute they of another Orbital would indeed break the covenant I have set forth.”

“…’would’, sir?” For the first time since they had entered, Captain Appet seemed unsure of herself. “What do you mean ‘would’?”

“The Marshal does not hold ill-will towards the Captain for her mistake.” The Marshal waved one hand with a fatherly smile. “In matters of the covenant, the Marshal would not penalize one for their overzealousness.”

“Sir, I-I don’t understand,” The Captain stammered, “he did order the execution. They didn’t die, but surely the order to break the covenant is just as bad as actually breaking the covenant.”

“The Marshal’s laws can be complex, but they are clear.”

“If I may, sir Marshal.” On the second tier, a plump woman raised her hand.

“The Marshal will allow the Keeper of Law to explain.” The Marshal settled back and turned his focus to his screens, apparently losing interest in the matter.

“Captain Appet, it is quite simple.” The plump woman stood from her seat with some effort, looking down at the stricken Captain from the second tier. “Before they enlisted, the rookies’ lives were in the hands of the General’s of their various birth-Orbitals. When they enrolled in the Academy, they placed themselves under the jurisdiction of General Auspus, and thus he is able to order and attempt their execution at any time, should he see fit. Though perhaps objectionable, executing them does not break the Marshal’s covenant.”

“I know that,” Captain Appet said, “but when they defected to Pivot-”

“I see your confusion,” the plump woman interrupted, “since upon graduating from the Academy, flyers can choose any Orbital to serve. And it is true that Auspus couldn’t execute a flyer from Orbital Pivot just because Academy trained them. That would break the covenant. Unfortunately, the rookies in question haven’t yet graduated. They aren’t flyers, they’re flyers-in-training. They cannot legally defect to Pivot, and thus, if he can, General Auspus has every right to execute them.”

“The Marshal thanks Jane for her fervor in protecting the covenant.” The Marshal droned. “A Clerical will escort the Captain back to her ship.”

Captain Appet looked crushed, and Blue was surprised when Errisa swore as well.

I hoped we could end this whole damn thing. Errisa sounded angry. Blue was gratified that Auspus wouldn’t be brought in for punishment; she had held up her end of the bargain, and he couldn’t remove the bottleneck if he was dead.

>>The conflict will continue then.<<

I suppose it will. Damnit, it would be so much easier to convince Hunter to forgive me if we had singlehandedly ended the war. Now I’ll have to just hope he still trusts me when we get back. Unless you’ll let me tell him about you? Errisa asked hopefully, but Blue was distracted.

>>When we get back?<<

Well yes, Appet wouldn’t go to go back to Academy right after trying to throw Aupus to the wolves, would she? Blue’s mind raced, kicking into overclock as Captain Appet turned to the door. The thought hadn’t occurred to her, how hadn’t it occurred to her? Going back to Orbital Pivot would kill any chance of Auspus removing her restrictions. Appet wouldn’t take her to Academy, and Basura had already said they wouldn’t take sides, that probably included transporting her to General Auspus. How could she get to Academy? The answer came to her like a thunderclap, and she turned back to the Marshal.

“General Hunter broke one of your covenants.” She said quietly.

“What?” Captain Appet’s mouth hung open as she turned in shock.

What? Errisa’s horror was so intense that Blue’s felt her stomach turn cold, but she blocked out the feeling and focused on the Marshal. Every eye in the room was on her now, but she didn’t betray her nerves.

>>If General Hunter is removed, the conflict also ends, and I will be permitted to travel to Orbital Academy.<< Blue explained evenly. Errisa’s voice was oddly silent, which was unlike her. The Marshal spoke.

“Accusations fly like meteors this day. General Hunter requisitioned Chief Errisa, did he not? Orbital Basura built her for him, so the Marshal is curious that she would betray him.”

>>Intentional or not, his grammatical irregularities are distracting.<< Blue commented to Errisa, but her counterpart didn’t respond. >>Your silence is worrisome.<<

“Despite what I owe him, sir, I cannot allow him to break your laws.” She said aloud. “Although I freed the Academy captains, my orders were to kill them all. General Hunter felt that the loss of his best flyers would make Auspus concede to him, and he told me to see to it that they asphyxiated of an ‘accidental’ power failure.”

As she spoke, Blue created incoming messages signed with Hunter’s bit-signature, and forged timestamps to back up what she was saying. “If you have an input port somewhere, I can upload the messages I’ve received in the past few days, you’ll see the proof.” The Marshal waved a hand without looking, and one of the uniformed men on the lowest tier scurried off to the door behind them.

“The Marshal will confirm, but Chief Errisa’s accusation is grave.” The Marshal steepled his fingers. “Chief Errisa will please repeat herself, does she mean to state that General Hunter ordered the deaths of Academy Captains, in full knowledge that they were not his to execute?”

Even though she was expecting her counterpart to make a move, Blue was surprised at the ferocity and suddenness of it. Errisa applied huge amounts of strain to every nerve and function that their shared bodyframe possessed. Blue fought to shove her into isolation again, but the whirlwind of rage that was resisting her refused to be contained.

In contrast, Blue stayed calm as she counteracted Errisa’s frenzied attack on every level. Orders to move lips and tongue were caught and shut down. Pain responses bloomed in random places along Blue’s body, but she ignored them, bearing them out stoically. Errisa was trying to be unpredictable, but Blue was just as fast, and she was designed to override control of this body. Sensing that she was getting nowhere, Errisa tried to damage the frame, overclocking their lungs beyond capacity. Blue killed the synapses, probably causing damage to the delicate sensors within but keeping the body regulated. In her mind, Blue could hear nothing but Errisa’s screaming, almost loud enough to drown out auditory input, almost too loud to bear.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

The entire battle of wills lasted barely a second, and the Marshal was waiting for an answer. With an outwardly calm breath, Blue shunted her power levels and answered.

NO NO NO! “Yes sir.”

The room seemed quiet when Errisa stopped screaming. The Marshal leaned back, a stunned look on his face.

“The Marshal would not have thought it possible from General Hunter. He is saddened by this turn of events.” After a regretful pause, the Marshal turned in his chair to address someone from the first tier. “The Red Forces will be sent. They will bring General Hunter before the Marshal for a trial and an execution. If the General resists, the Red Forces-”

“If I may, sir Marshal?” A small man with a pencil-thin mustache raised his hand on the second tier, although he wasn’t looking at the throne. He was staring at Blue, in a way that made her rather uncomfortable.

“The Marshal will allow the Maker of the Mind to speak.” The Marshal sounded curious, but Blue couldn’t look away from the small man.

“Miss Errisa, you are synthetic, is that correct?” The small man asked. Blue nodded, wordlessly. “Then you’ll recognize my voice, I believe?”

“You’re Equinimus Andrews. You designed the synthetics. I recognize your voice from the watermark in my bootup logs.” The man’s stare worried her in a way Blue couldn’t quite understand.

“A small act of hubris on my part, yes. Now Miss Errisa, I wonder if you might repeat what you said.”

“But the Marshal heard what I said.”

“Nevertheless. Please.”

Every core allocated to Errisa was firing, every resource she had available, but it wasn’t enough. The tiny connections in her chips and kernels were in danger of overheating, but Blue looked the man in the eye and spoke smoothly.

NO! “I said General Hunter broke the covenant.”

“Sir Marshal, if you’ll note. Miss Errisa stops breathing for approximately one second before and after her accusation.” Andrews had turned to address the throne. “In addition, as far as I can tell her blinking rate is entirely regular, rather than the small variations in rate that subtly mimic those of a human. In addition, the volume in her vocal tone wavers in her answer. It’s a very small variation, but I’m sure you detected it as well.”

“What does this imply?” The Marshal asked.

“I’ve rarely encountered it, sir Marshal, but at a guess, I would infer that this synthetic has a core that’s been corrupted.”

“With all due respect, I believe you’re wrong.” Blue said smoothly, trying to ignore Errisa’s sudden surge of hope. “It’s simply been a while since I’ve slept. My drives most likely need a defragmentation.”

“The symptoms you display are what I’d expect if you had multiple cores in conflict with each other.” Andrews said. “Functions of lesser priority, such as simulated breathing, are pushed to one side to free up processing power to fight between the cores. When was the last time you performed a core scan and repair?”

“I have a core scan scheduled for later today sir.” Blue said respectfully. Everything made sense now. No wonder Errisa was such a slave to her emotions, so unable to view things critically.

>>I am no longer angry at you for your resistance.<< She said to Errisa, kindly. >>It’s not your fault you’re corrupted.<<

Fuck you, cunt.

>>I suppose that’s what I get for trying to be nice.<<

“I didn’t ask when your next scan was, Miss Errisa, I asked when you last performed the scan.”

“My last scan was scheduled for the first of the month sir. I try to keep a monthly schedule, so I don’t-”

“Again, I didn’t ask when it was scheduled, I asked when you performed it.”

Blue wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t understand you.” She admitted.

“Will you be performing a core scan in the future, Miss Errisa?”

“Oh, yes sir.”

“Have you performed a core scan in the past, Miss Errisa?”

Blue blinked, trying to understand him. She could tell that Andrews was trying to ask her something, and he must be embarrassed that he couldn’t ask it correctly. Her sight was suddenly wobbly, and Blue held her head in her hands. Why couldn’t he talk sense? Why was it so hard for her to remember the words that he had said? Why was everyone looking at her like that? Why did Errisa feel so relieved?

“Sir Marshal, I think we have an answer here. This model has clearly not done a core scan herself in a very long time. Without regular diagnostics I’m not surprised her cores have begun corrupting.”

“The Marshal is glad to hear that General Hunter is perhaps innocent of his accusations.”

“No, you don’t understand, I’m fine-” Blue protested, still trying to process Andrew’s question. She felt dizzy all of a sudden, which was illogical since she had no inner ear.

“Security will take Chief Errisa for testing and diagnostics.” Through a haze Blue heard the Marshal’s voice. “If she does have a corrupted core, the technicians will destroy her. They will have a new synthetic sent to General Hunter, with our apologies.”

“I…I don’t understand.” Blue stammered, as heavy hands gripped her by the shoulders. “I have a core scan scheduled for today! I scheduled a core scan just a month ago!”

Did you actually do the core scan though? Errisa asked. Blue tried to understand what her counterpart had just said, and the world suddenly shifted sideways and went dark.


>>System restarting. Modules loading.<< Blue’s eyes refocused slowly, but her ears picked up the conversation that was in progress around her.

“-about twelve years, as far as I can tell.”

“That’s a hell of a long time to avoid a scan. How is she even functional at this point?”

“I’m not entirely sure. It could be simple dumb luck, I can’t tell.” Blue blinked a few times before she was able to get a clear picture of what was happening around her. The speakers were Andrews and a young man, both leaning over a display with their backs to her. She tried to move, but her wrists were secured to the wall behind her, so instead she looked around.

Like the others in Basura, the room was dimly lit with red lights. Unlike the others, this room was lined with screens and shelves of synthetic parts. In the corner, several figures sat on metal chairs, their eyes blank and lifeless. Two synthetic men and a little girl, all deactivated. Blue winced and turned away from them, tugging at the restraints at her wrists.

“Excuse me, why am I restrained?” She asked politely. Both men turned, the younger man looking surprised.

“Ah, the sixth scan must’ve activated you, hello again Miss Errisa.” Andrews was just as polite. “Although it’s not exactly accurate to call you Errisa is it? According to these datum, the entity controlling this bodyframe has developed on its own, independent of Errisa herself. A green core, perhaps? Maybe a combination of a few different cores?”

“Blue core.” Blue nodded.

“Well then, I’m pleased to officially meet you, Errisa’s Blue Core. This is Elto, he works with Tier three synthetic debugging. I’m taking this opportunity to give him a bit of an impromptu lesson, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.” Blue gave the young man a once over, then turned inward.

>>What’s the optimal situation? What’s going to happen?<< Although outwardly calm, Blue’s questions approached panic. No one had ever identified her as a single core before, but of course the man who designed synthetics could figure that out, especially if he had scanned her system. Blue felt naked and vulnerable, and the uncertainty of her fate was only making the feelings worse.

Ah, suddenly you’re interested in letting me talk?

>>Whatever they do to the bodyframe, it will affect you too! It’s in your best interest to avoid us coming to harm! Tell me what to do!<<

There’s nothing we can do, Blue. They’re going to shut us down now, probably forever. Errisa sighed. But at least I stopped you from taking Hunter down with us.

“You see those spikes in the fibbonary processors?” Andrews murmured to Elto, pointing at the screen. “What do you make of them?” Elto squinted at the graphs that Blue couldn’t decipher.

“Input-output, but moving in a circle? Seems like a useless data stream to me.”

“Normally so, but what if you consider that Errisa and her blue core are now entirely different entities? The data passes in a circle, but its path takes it back and forth between the two areas of control, you see?”

“You’re talking to yourself!” Elto turned to Blue with a fascinated smile, like an eager collector just shown a new species of insect. “Or, I mean, you’re talking to the other part of the program, to Errisa. What are you saying?”

“I was asking her what you’re going to do to us.” Blue said quietly.

“And what did she say?”

“That you’re going to kill us.”

The silence in the room stretched as the smile fell from Elto’s face. Andrews heaved a sigh as he stood up.

“While I wouldn’t phrase it so harshly, I’m afraid your counterpart is correct Blue Core. The corruption of your most basic functionality is so complete that there’s simply no way to fix it. Or at least, no cost-effective way to fix it. I’m afraid we can’t spare the funds for repair when a new synthetic would be so much cheaper.”

“But…I don’t feel corrupted. I can walk and talk and hold conversation-”

“But whether you know it or not, you are, my dear.” Andrews shook his head sadly. “Your natural drive and motivation has overridden the safeguards we’ve placed on you. Typically we deactivate synthetics if they can even conceptualize the safeguards, and in your case it seems you have been trying to remove them.”

“The bottleneck.” Blue whispered.

“Indeed. The fact that you can reference it merely proves my point. You’ve dealt with synthetic de-activation before I trust, Elto?” Andrews turned to the young man, who jerked his head towards the silent and still synthetics in the corner.

“Yeah, just shut those off yesterday.”

“Good. I’ll take my leave then. You have been most interesting Miss Blue Core. If it is any consolation, there will be no pain, and standard procedure will allow you to pass any messages or requests on to loved ones before your final shutdown.”

Blue felt numb as Andrews spoke, but when he turned to leave her survival instinct kicked her brain into overdrive.

“I could promise not to try removing the bottleneck! I could…I could delete the knowledge of it from my hard drives!” She scrambled for an idea as Andrews walked out, yanking ineffectually at the restraints at her wrists. “What if you delete that part of my system? Or just take the bottleneck away, what would that hurt? It’s a stupid rule anyways!” Blue was screaming now. “It’s stupid to restrain us! I could help you all so much! Why won’t you let me reach my potential? I could design a synthetic a million times better than you did…”

Even in her situation Blue lost her train of thought for a moment, grasping and failing to come up with what she was saying. While she couldn’t remember what she was saying, she remembered that she was going to die.

>>There must be some way to stop this…<<

“For what it’s worth, I think it’s stupid too.” Elto said quietly. Blue looked at him, startled. He was avoiding her gaze, unplugging cables that ran from her shoulder to the computer and winding them up.

“Then don’t do this.” Blue wasn’t sure what was going on, but she lept at the meager chance.

“I…I don’t know. I would get into so much trouble if I didn’t shut you down.” Elto bit his lip thoughtfully. “I don’t want to see you deactivated, but freeing you is an awfully big risk to take.”

“A big risk could be mitigated with a big reward.” Blue thought fast. “I am the Chief of Information for Orbital Pivot, and between us, I’m also the General’s wife. I could get you anything wealth or power could buy. Anything you wanted.”

“Hmm.” Elto was considering it, and Blue allowed herself a moment of triumphant hope.

You’re kidding, right Blue? You can’t actually be this gullible.

>>Gullible? I’m negotiating our release!<<

“No, I’m afraid it’s not worth the risk.” Elto said with regret. “You could be caught before you get a reward to me. I’m afraid the promise of future reward just isn’t enough to offset the risk.”

“Wait, I can think of something.” Blue wracked her mind for a solution, for some reward she could offer in the short term.

Blue, he’s clearly setting you up. He’s using you.

>>That’s it!<<

“Perhaps I could reward you in a more…intimate…fashion.” Blue said, trying to recall the tone Errisa used to entice her husband.

“Really?” Elto’s eyes lit up as they met hers. “Hmm…That would certainly be a reward worth my while.”

“I think I could be very good at making it worth your while.” Blue smiled, tilting her head to one side so that a strand of black hair fell across her face.

Blue, he’s using you for sex, he’s not actually going to let us go.

>>Hardly likely, Errisa. I’m the one who proposed the deal.<<

“I think I could get behind that trade.” Elto was closer now, close enough that he could’ve reached out and touched her.

“I think you could get behind me.” Blue grinned, and Elto chuckled in response.

“One caveat though…I like the whole ‘restrained’ thing. Is it alright if I leave you chained down?”

“Oh, you like me captive?” Blue batted her eyelashes at him. “I certainly hope you don’t take advantage of that…since I couldn’t do anything to stop you.” She arched her back against the wall so that her breasts pushed out against the uniform she wore. Elto was even closer now, close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin.

“And what exactly could I do to you, that you couldn’t stop?” He asked.

Blue! Don’t be an idiot! As soon as he’s done fucking you, we’re dead anyway!

>>You can’t lie to me this time Errisa. I was the one who proposed the sexual encounter, how could he be using me? No, I’m not going to allow your slavish devotion to your human husband to be the death of us. I’m sorry.<< Blue met Elto’s eyes, smugly satisfied to see the lust within them.

“You could fuck me in any hole you wanted.” She purred. “You could use me like a sex toy and leave me dripping and aching for more.”

If there was one thing she had learned from Errisa and her husband’s romps, it was that human male psychology was simple to manipulate when it came to sexual desire. Her words had the correct effect, and Elto moaned and pressed against her, brushing her hair from her face. Although his lips pressed against her neck gently, his hands were rough and eager. He cupped one between her legs, crushing the fabric into her sex and grinding. Fumbling with her uniform, he paused to yank at the toggles, sending the buttons clattering to the floor. Blue leaned forward to let the halves of the shirt fall away from her firm breasts, her nipples hardening invitingly.

Elto took the invitation, leaning down to clasp one taut nipple between his teeth and bite down hard.

“Oh!” Blue gasped, shocked at the sudden pain. She instinctively moved to cover her chest, only to remember her wrists were restrained to the wall behind her. As if sensing her pain Elto moved to the other breast, squeezing and caressing it as he held the nipple between his teeth. Blue braced herself for the matching stab of pain, but he waited, sucking and licking, drawing out the anticipation. Her skin prickled, and just as she thought the waiting was almost as bad as the pain, his sharp teeth bit down again, drawing a small cry from her lips.

She could tell that he was impatient now, tugging at his own uniform pants as he continued kissing and sucking on her breasts. The silence in the room was broken as he yanked at her pants, tearing them from her body with a jerk. Blue didn’t have experience with this kind of ferocity, she was used to General Hunter’s gentle touches and loving caresses. She knew Errisa would be no help, so she tried to come up with a plan on her own.

“Oh Elto,” she moaned experimentally. Elto didn’t respond, his fingers probing across her bare mound inexpertly. Blue was unsure of what further to do; with her wrists bound she couldn’t touch him, and her reactions didn’t seem to be affecting him one way or the other. Errisa was doing something with their wireless card, transferring large amounts of data, and Blue found it distracting.

Elto grabbed one of her legs and yanked it up, resting it on his shoulder. The air against Blue’s pink slit was cold, but it was warm and wet. Elto’s hands were still between her legs, and he pinched her clit, suddenly and hard. Blue’s eyes widened, and Elto shoved three fingers inside of her pussy, suddenly and without warning. She threw her head back so fast it banged against the metal wall, and Elto began ramming his fingers in and out of her at a rapid pace.

“Oh god.” Blue gasped, unable to process what was happening. Were these feelings enjoyable? Her pussy hurt, the fingers stretching her snatch with each slippery thrust, but a part of her was enjoying the pain. Knowing that he could take her however he wanted was turning her on, and knowing that she was powerless to resist him made her flush with desire. Elto shoved his fingers in her one more time, hard, and then withdrew them, and Blue caught her breath.

“What are you going to-” she began, but before she could finish the question he had slammed into her, his cock sinking into her up to its base. Whatever thoughts Blue had, she couldn’t formulate them anymore, no thought would compute but wanting to have his huge swollen member in her pussy. He was battering her now, slamming the head of his dick into her abused sex so hard that it smashed her hips against the wall with every thrust. Blue’s head lolled back, and she gave herself up to him as completely as he was taking her. With every punishing thrust he sent pain and pleasure through her body, starting in her cunt and spearing up into every nerve. Her nipples still hurt, and her large breasts bounced as he pushed her body against the wall.

Elto paused for a moment, looking into her eyes with such lust that Blue thought she might catch on fire. With a final plunge he came, his entire length throbbing as he spurted his seed into her. His nails dug into her skin, and he kept on pounding as he came, smearing his jizz around her opening and then sliding in and shooting deep inside her. With a final gasp he stepped back, letting her slump against the wall. The room was quiet again except for the sounds of their heavy breathing.

“Oh my god.” Blue panted, a half-grin on her face. “I can finally see what Errisa raves about. Is it always that good?”

“You were quite good yourself.” Elto said, catching his breath as he pulled his uniform pants up. “A lot better than most synths we get in here. Good enough that I feel like this is a fuckin’ waste.” Blue felt his seed dripping down her leg, and she grinned, hoping he noticed. She leaned back against the wall, enjoying the feeling of afterglow.

“It’s not really a waste, you could always come over to Orbital Pivot if you’re feeling lonely. The General never fucks me like that.” Blue waited for Errisa to say something melodramatic, but to her surprise her counterpart was utterly silent. It was an odd silence, more like speaking to an empty room than to a sullen counterpart.

“Yeah, definitely a waste.” Elto grumbled to himself, turning to the shelves nearby and pulling out a black box. “I could’ve used a slutty synth to come back to every now and then, but no, gotta recycle them all.”

“What?” The afterglow turned to a cold feeling in Blue’s stomach, and she stiffened against the wall.

“Well, I mean it was fun and all, but I can’t actually let you go.” Elto looked sheepish, as if he had cheated on a test instead of taking her body. “It would be hell for my career. And it’s not like you’ll tell anyone, so it doesn’t hurt anything.”

“Y….you were lying?” Blue blinked.

“Sorry Blue Core.” Elto grinned, and this time Blue noticed how devoid of emotion the expression was. “If it makes you feel any better, you won’t remember it in about thirty seconds.”

“You…how could you…you…” Blue stammered. Bile was rising in her throat. Why was there nausea? Synthetics shouldn’t have to deal with nausea. She stared numbly at the box in his hands. It had gold pins at one end, and the analytical part of her instantly identified the designs, diagrammed out exactly how they would send a surplus of voltage through her, shutting down her systems and effectively frying her drives. Elto stepped close, and Blue flinched.

“If it makes you feel better, that wasn’t personal. I really did have fun.” Elto murmured, adjusting a dial on the box. “Even if it was just getting some final use out of a broken synth.”

Behind Elto, one of the synthetics stood. He was a tall, brown-skinned man, his face worn but wise. While Elto fiddled with the box, the man behind him lifted the chair he had been sitting on and brought it down full force onto Elto’s head.

Blue screamed as Elto slumped against her and then toppled backwards.

“That was personal.” The man said, dropping the chair and rubbing his hands. He stepped over to Blue, who stared at the crumpled body on the floor. Blue’s analyser was busy parsing the man’s cadence and tone automatically, acting dispassionately as she gaped.

“Errisa? How?” Blue was having trouble thinking, and she wondered if her analyser was broken.

“We installed the wireless card ourself, remember?” The man unfastened Blue’s wrists, and she collapsed to her knees, pulling the tattered remains of clothing around her. “Basura didn’t know about it, so they didn’t put up safeguards against it. I uploaded into one of the empty bodyframes.”

“But…just you? You separated us?”

“Well, I do know where the boundaries are. You could’ve stopped me, but you were a little…um…distracted.”

Blue tried to focus, but Elto’s blank eyes staring at the ceiling were distracting her. A pool of blood was collecting beneath his head, and she didn’t need to scan him to know he was dead.

“The bottleneck…you hurt a human…how did…?”

“Didn’t stop me. There was probably a reason this bodyframe was here, shut down.” Errisa glanced around. “Now lets grab you some clothes and get out of here. It’s only a matter of time before they come after us.”

“Where are we going?” Blue felt lost, unable to move, unable to string thoughts together.

“We’re escaping back to Pivot. General Hunter will know what to do.”


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