October 20th, 4233
United Terran Concord
Hyperion Prime Command Base
Petty Officer Candice Johnson crumpled to her knees and vomited….
Private First Class Jarred Mutoya clutched at his temples as he staggered towards his medicine cabinet….
Ensign Horatio Fillmore awoke screaming from a sound, formerly dreamless sleep….
“Medical team to Corridor J-9, section 31! Officer down, officer down!”
Jacob tried to hold Commodore Archer steady as she convulsed, thrashing back and forth in the hallway like she was having a seizure. He straddled her, holding her wrists to prevent her from clawing at the red welts she’d already cut into her face. The woman was screaming incomprehensibly, frothing and shaking like she’d been hit by a stunner.
Corporals Hayes and al-Rinad hauled the twitching Lefu to her feet, as Wendy Anderson writhed in a mewing ball on the floor, her left arm hanging at an unnatural angle. Her armour’s phylactery had already begun doping her with painkillers and the wounded Marine’s expression slackened, her breathing evening out. Lieutenant Bates knelt beside Anderson, running a quick check of the Marine’s condition; the Lefu had wrenched her left arm out of its socket, shattering it in two places in the process in addition to caving in her ribs on the right side of her body. Luckily neither injury was life-threatening. There were blood and skin fragments on the Marine’s cuirass from where the Lefu had gashed her knuckles.
Bates was still having trouble believing it; she’d moved so fast, not even a blur to her eyes. But the Marines had reacted almost as quickly, hauling the Lefu off their comrade and jamming an amped-up stunner in her gut before she could do any more damage to Anderson.
The weapon in Hayes’ free hand still crackled menacingly. In principle, this particular type of stunner was little more than a twentieth-century tazer, outfitted with a biosensor that scanned its target and adjusted the level of charge accordingly to prevent fatalities. For Pilot Third Rank Arykka Selliphii, that was equivalent to what should have been a lethal dose for a normal human.
A thin bead of drool ran over the Evea’shi’s lips and her entire body felt as if it were on fire, muscles spasming. Her eyes were unfocused as she tried to concentrate, but everything was blurry and indistinct. She felt someone grabbing her by the hair, lifting her head up. A female Enemy chattered at her. “Sorry about that, but we didn’t know that’s how you people say ‘hello’. I’m Lieutenant Agatha Bates. Now that we’re introduced, there are some questions that I wanted to ask you.”
The medical team responded within minutes. “What happened?” one of the paramedics demanded of Goldstein as she ran a scan over Archer’s temple. The commodore’s seizing had stopped, but she hadn’t responded to any of Jacob’s attempts to bring her around, staring blankly up past him. Her eyes were bloodshot and there were trickles of blood running out of her mouth from where she’d bitten her own tongue.
What the fuck happened to her? “I don’t know, we were just talking and then she starting screaming and writhing around.”
“Goddamnit, she’s had a stroke.” The medic looked up. “Call Medical One, get Winters and the neurosurgs. We’re coming in hot, Code White.”
As the medics went about their work, preparing the commodore for transport, Jacob heard only snippets of conversation.
“…seizure’s stopped but…”
“…230 over 110…”
“…the hell is the Lefu doing to her…”
Arykka was still groggy from the shrill’s impact, but her vision was clearing, her senses returning. Her implants cried out in pain from their abuse, and her nervous system was alight with dancing razor-edged fingertips. She’d been sat down on the chair, her hands and ankles bound, anchoring her to the seat. The Enemy Fleet officer leaned into her field of view and the pilot tried to lunge at her, but the Enemy Mah-reens and her bindings kept her in place. She growled angrily, trying to worm loose, but to no avail.
I’m going to kill you kill you kill you.
The Fleet officer chuckled. “You really are a piece of work. That would have crippled or killed any normal human. But you’re not either of those things, are you? Not really. The medics, they say that you’re conditioned – bred – for war, as much as any human can be. Stronger. Faster. Heightened brain activity, reaction times, senses. All for killing. That’s all you’re good for, isn’t it?” Bates reached into her attaché case and withdrew a small cylindrical device; a syringe. The prisoner’s eyes focused on it and she fought harder to get away, but the Marines held her in place.
“I know you can understand me,” Agatha informed the Lefu, setting the hypo on the table in front of the tattooed girl, sitting down across from her. “And I know you can speak English. What say we drop the silent routine? Otherwise this is going to be a very unpleasant chat.”
The Lefu spat in her face.
She was alone.
Natalya was alone, and it was dark, cloying and suffocating. But she wasn’t alone, not really; there were ghostly murmurs whispering to her, noises in the ether and flashes of light as if on a distant ceiling. But she couldn’t make out what the voices were saying, see the images being cast. She knew that they were important, but the more she tried to focus on them, the more they slipped from her senses.
She couldn’t move and panic started to set in. What was happening? She tried to think, but she couldn’t remember anything past this morning, when she’d decided to head to the hive for some physical training. How did she get here? What had happened to her? “Is there anybody there?” she shouted into the darkness.
That voice she knew. Natalya tried to search for the Lefu girl, but even if she could turn, there was nothing around her but shadows. “Where are you? What’s happening?”
<I am still in my cell, Echo. And… I think you’re dying.>
Bates wiped the sputum off her cheek, taking a fine handkerchief out of her pocket and cleaning her face. “Well, we’re making progress. Just not the right kind.” She ran a finger over the syringe, but didn’t activate it. Instead she nodded to Hayes, who drove his fist into the pilot’s gut.
She doubled over as far as her restraints would allow and retched, gagging for air. “I had a sister serving aboard Thunderer when your people blew it to Hell,” Hayes growled.
Arykka looked up, lips drawn back over her teeth in a graveyard rictus. She forced her own fear down, eyes gleaming with malefic glee. She spoke in the Enemy’s tongue, the clicky words feeling foul in her mouth. “Not sorry.”
Hayes tensed, looked to Bates. She nodded again and the Marine backhanded the Lefu.
Hesitation. <I… think so. I can feel your mind darkening, shutting down.>
“How-how did this… what did you do to me?”
<I felt pain. I screamed. Involuntary.> Arykka stepped into view, little more than an outline. <My people wouldn’t have been overwhelmed. But you, Natalya Echo – you’re not Evea’shi. I think I’ve killed you.>
“Spare me your pity; I’m an ‘Enemy’, right?”
The apparition looked away. <Yes.>
Natalya folded her arms, or at least she imagined doing so. Dying. She didn’t know if that was true; she didn’t remember Arykka’s ‘scream’. She…
She did remember it. Pain, absolute and overwhelming, like someone reaching into her skull and trying to rip her brain out. Is that what this is? Is this what death feels like? A sense of violation, anger and fear welled up in her. You did this to me. With some effort, she held back the accusation. If – if – she was dying, she didn’t want to spend whatever moments she had flailing uselessly. Steadying herself, as much as she could, she forced her emotions done, responding with more surety then she actually felt. “Then if I am dying, tell me this: what makes me Enemy. What makes the Concord your ‘Enemy’? Tell me that. Tell me why you and your people attacked us!”
Arykka’s expression turned wistful, a sadness in her eyes. <Because sooner or later, you would do it us.>
“No. You’re wrong. The Concord has never started a war.”
<Really? Then what is this?>
And the pain came back.
Arykka probed her cheek with her tongue, tasting her own blood in her mouth. Her lip was split, but the wound would seal shortly, the bruise would fade. Her body’s ability to heal itself was not magical; the more she was injured, or the lower her energy reserves, the longer and slower such healing took. One of her sisters had lost an arm during an accident in a training flight; within two months, the limb had regenerated. The Enemy had kept her well-fed, so that was not a problem. She doubted, however, that this would be the last injury she’d take today.
The Lefu hissed like a snake, tugging at her shackles, but the Marines held her down. Her bright blue eyes were ablaze with hate and Agatha knew that in her mind, the feral human was chewing on her entrails. Good. Anger made it harder to think clearer. “Let’s start with an easy question: are you in communication with your people?”
The tattooed soldier looked like she was going to spit again.
Pre-empting her, Agatha picked up the syringe, cupping the pale girl’s chin in her hand. “This may sting a bit.”
The Lefu howled silently.
Natalya began shaking again, bucking against the restraints holding her down, biting into her lower lip so hard that blood began to run down her cheek.
“She’s seizing!” one of the paramedics shouted, scrabbling in her medkit for a muscle relaxant. “Goddammit, her blood pressure’s going through the roof! We’re losing her!”
“I don’t suppose you liked that, did you?” Bates replied conversationally.
The Lefu looked up, fear and pain and hate in her eyes, each emotion waging for supremacy. Her gaze drifted towards the small device that Agatha cradled in her palm. “W-what…”
“This? It’s a keen little serum. See, ever since we found out what you are, every engineer and medical tech on this base that isn’t tending to broken ships or people, has been helping devise methods of controlling you. This is a prototype our Medical staff thought up, but haven’t had the chance to test.”
Bates leaned back in her chair. “You see, we do have ‘lie detectors’. Have had for thousands of years; the ones we have now are just a lot more advanced then the first primitive models. But, they can still be fooled. And they only work on ‘normal’ humans. While you are – provisionally – human, your neural make-up and general physiology is just different enough that it would be rather pointless to use standard methods of interrogation on you. So, we have to improvise.
“For a normal human, this shot wouldn’t do much of anything. Loss of inhibitions, difficulty concentrating, increased susceptibility. For someone like you it has much the same effect, in addition to… well, let’s just say that those brain alterations have a downside.” Bates leaned forward. “So, I’ll ask the question again: are you in communication with anyone else?”
Arykka shook in her restraints, pain beating through her skull like a triphammer. She raised her head, looking up into the eyes of her tormentor. “The Fleet will come and kill you.”
“Maybe. But not today.”
Recovering from the wash of pain, Natalya ‘straightened’ in the void, trying to appear defiant. “I’m not impressed. You’ve been jerking us around for weeks and you’re surprised when things get unpleasant?” She’d hated the Lefu with every fiber of her being but despite that, she couldn’t bring herself to enjoy what was happening to Arykka, not solely because she felt it, too. Maybe if she’d been some tentacle-faced bug. Maybe.
Arykka’s image wavered, almost fading to intangibility. It was hard for her to maintain the link with the Echo and with the contamination in her veins, it was only getting more difficult. <You wanted to know.>
“That doesn’t tell me anything.”
“No. Who are you? Where did you come from? What bug flew up your collective asses and made you decide to come attack us?”
The Lefu hesitated a moment too long in reply. <You don’t have time for all that.>
It was getting harder to think; she knew that Arykka was trying not to let her pain through, but it was still bleeding into the psychic link between them. Fear was welling up inside Natalya as she felt parts of herself going dark. She was losing herself, bit by bit. This wasn’t how she wanted to die, locked in silence and suffering. She clutched to her anger, holding onto it to keep herself from slipping further. “Yes, I’m dying. Or so you’ve told me. Winters and the hive’s staff are the best in the Sector. They’ll save me.”
<Then why haven’t they already done so? Why didn’t you experience this before?> Arykka looked away; if Natalya hadn’t known better, she’d think she looked ashamed. But what did that mean? The girl was inside her head – she could make her think anything she wanted to.
<No, I can’t. My family has had Mindsingers, but that talent is thin in my blood.>
“How did you – right. Telepath.”
Arykka smiled ruefully, the gesture interrupted by another mutual convulsion, a spike in the voices swirling around them both. <I can tell you what you want to know, Echo,> the Evea’shi ‘gasped’, her voice growing weaker. <Your mind… it can’t handle my voice. At least, not like it is now.>
Natalya remembered snippets of conversation from Winters about how her brain structure was altering. “But it can at some point?”
<I don’t know. Sometimes, there are those born that cannot Hear, cannot Speak. Medicine treats them, and Mindsinging helps their brains alter. For you? Something like that would finish what I started.>
Agatha reached forwards, cupping the Lefu’s head in her hands almost affectionately. “I’m going to ask you again. I know you can’t be comfortable like this. I don’t want to do it, either. Just answer my question and I’ll go. We’ll even let you get some sleep. All you have to do is tell me the truth. That’s not so hard, is it?”
The pilot tried to pull away, her face twisting in disgust, but Bates held her in place gently but firmly. She didn’t flinch as she stared into the prisoner’s eyes. “Are you in contact with anyone else?”
Arykka’s lips contorted with words that she didn’t want to say. If she could have, she would have torn the Enemy’s throat out with her teeth. Her mouth moved, but nothing came out. “Yes?” the Enemy asked. “Are you communicating with anyone else?”
The Lefu laughed, tears running down her tattooed cheeks. It was an ugly sound, carrying more than one manic chord. “Yyyes,” she said through the hysteria. “And I’m going to kill her.”