United Terran Concord
Hyperion Prime Command Base
“What did you just say?”
Arykka bared her teeth. When she spoke, it wasn’t in her own voice. “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!” The Enemy officer interrogating her blinked in surprise and pulled back.
The rictus grin widened at the recognition in Agatha’s eyes. I know that voice… “You-you’re lying.”
“Your poisons,” the Lefu shot back, squirming in her bonds as she tried to straighten. If she could get just one hand loose… “You tell me.”
Bates narrowed her eyes, raising her gaze to the Marine guards. “Hold her here.” She stood up and strode outside the cell to the security panel, activating a comm to the monitor station. “Sir…”
“According to her schedule, Commodore Archer is aboard the Intolerance,” Singh replied almost immediately. “Continue with your questioning, lieutenant.”
No sooner had Bates turned back to the cell, when a priority communication from Medical One came through. “This is Captain Winters; I need an update on the prisoner’s status, right now.”
Asija eyed the panel for a moment. “She’s asleep, doctor.” With that, he disconnected the comm.
Singh was under no illusions about what was happening to Archer right now, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. The commodore was a loyal officer of the Concord. She would understand that sacrifices had to be made. If the price was one life ended in order to save thousands or millions of others, that was a trade-off he was sure she’d make. It might cost him some sleep, but Hunt had been right: this wasn’t a war of ideology. They didn’t have to be ‘better’ then the Lefu. They just had to survive.
“I… I think I can feel myself slipping away.”
<Yes; you’re growing dimmer. If I… ‘disconnected’ from you, that might slow your deterioration.>
“You won’t though.” Natalya raised her head; at least, she would have if she had a body. “Will you?”
The Enemy officer returned to her seat across from Arykka. There was something different about her posture – less certainty. A jerkiness to her movements that she didn’t even realize was there. Sacrificing oneself was easy. Sacrificing others, less so. She bared her teeth again. “Do you want to hear her scream?”
Bates hesitated; she wanted to threaten the Lefu, tell her that if she killed Archer, she’d be next. That was a hollow threat and both of them knew it. Instead, she simply nodded to Hayes again. As the Lefu gagged, sucking in a fresh lungful of air, the lieutenant laced her fingertips together. “Are you in communication with any of your people?” she asked again. “Or, if you prefer you can answer the other question: why are we your enemy?
There was no answer beyond the hate in those cold blue eyes. Do you have to ask?
“You are going to give me something,” Agatha informed the prisoner. “And you’re going to give it to me now.”
LeFay was standing in the observation booth, watching as a team of neurosurgeons and nurses fought to save Commodore Archer’s life. She’d been injected with muscle relaxants to keep her from seizing, but she was still bleeding inside her skull; the medics would no sooner repair one blood vessel when another would burst. He didn’t know what the monitors were showing, but it couldn’t be anything good. There was motion behind him, but the captain didn’t turn; it didn’t matter who was there. “She’s dying,” he said aloud, both a question and a statement.
“Yes,” Admiral Foraker replied, stepping up beside the captain, waving LeFay’s surprise down. There wasn’t any need for the younger man to stand on ceremony just now. “They say her brain tissue is shutting down; it can’t handle the sensory overload. They’ve tried one of Winters’ new procedures, but it’s only delaying the inevitable.” He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead with one hand. “They’re still trying. If this… incident stops soon, they might be able to save her. But that’s only a fifty-fifty chance at best.”
“It’s not stopping,” LeFay commented quietly. “That bitch in isolation is doing this to her. She needs to be stopped.” There was no question what he meant by that.
Foraker’s hand froze, the older man motionless for a long moment. “It’s already too late. They think the damage is too severe and much of her neural pathways are scrambled. If they can save her…” he shook his head. He’d made a choice. Not the best decision in his career, nor even the worst. But it had been a necessary one – Hunt had been right about that. He’d expected the consequences of that decision to be his and his alone.
Instead, he was watching one of his officers die in agony for the choice he’d made. But there was no going back, not now. He would let Singh carry out whatever he was doing, get what information he could from the Lefu and as that happened, Hawthorne would remain here. Watching until the end. It was almost nothing, but he at least owed Archer this much; his choice had done this to her and he would see it through.
He only hoped that Hunt’s man could get something useful out of the prisoner. “This has to play out,” he said quietly, staring down into the operating room. Hawthorne didn’t have to see LeFay to know what his reaction would be. The captain choppily nodded to Foraker and took his leave.
She didn’t have access to her suit or her fighter’s combat drug reservoirs, but her implants could temporarily boost hormone production. Finally recovering from the Enemy shrill’s damage, they kicked into action. Arykka shuddered as endorphins and adrenal secretions coursed through her system, her muscles twitching from the over-production of stimulants. She became light-headed, the Enemy’s words falling away, less then motes on the wind. I feel no pain, Arykka thought, her eyes rolling back in her head, the pounding in her temples receding as waves of pleasure washed through her.
“You want to know what I do?” Arykka taunted, blinking away the sweat that strung her eyes. “Let me tell you. Let me show you why you’re going to die.”
“Why is that?” Bates demanded.
The prisoner didn’t even seem to be looking at her, the Lefu’s pale blue eyes unfocused and staring. “I was there the day the gods fell,” was all she said.
“You said there was a way to tell me…”
<-everything, yes. But it will->
“Kill me.” Natalya wanted to throw her arms up in the air in frustration. She continued to clutch to her indignation, her anger keeping her focus away from what had to be happening to her in the real world. “I think we’re a little bit past that now, aren’t we?” she snapped, bitterly. “Ever since you and your people showed up my life has been Hell. I’ve lost friends to you, lost parts of myself. My nation has lost planets, millions of people have lost their lives. All to you and your damn race. And why? Why, because we’re ‘Enemy’? What does that mean? Before you came out of nowhere and started to kill us, we’d never heard of you before. How can you possible justify this kind of mass slaughter? Because we might attack you? The Concord has never started a war in its entire history! You would have known that if you’d bothered to look.”
The telepath’s ephemeral form was getting dimmer, her voice harder to hear. <As you wish.>
An instant of silence was all it took and Arykka was inside her, not in the darkness around her, but she could feel the Evea’shi’s mind moving through hers, liquid embers of cold flame. If hearing the girl’s thoughts had been bad, it was nothing like this. Memories, images, emotions and words all surged through her. [i]Get out get out get out get out of my mind, she wanted to scream but she no longer had a voice and the abyss was opening up beneath her and she was falling, God she was falling…
…fire all missiles damage to multiple decks coming around for another pass fucking Empties pirates still closing batteries at your command TF 12 is on-station fortress command report…
Running lights washed over the Pegasus as she lay in drydock…
…HAVOCs on intercept vector today’s top story riots on Epilson outbreak of Drenel Fever…
Centauri’s fleetyards sprawled further then the human eye could see….
…never seen ships like those where did they come from who are they…
And she kept falling.
Jesus Christ and every god there ever was, Winters thought as an orderly attached cortical electrodes to Archer’s temples. A wildfire reaction had just lit up her temporal and parietal lobes, triggering – he didn’t know what to call it, didn’t even know what was happening, only that those sections were operating in ways no normal human brain should have been able to. Her brain’s still trying to re-wire itself. If that was even was what was happening. The young officer was bleeding from multiple sites; hi-ox injections were keeping her brain cells from starving, but that was only a stopgap and one that was slowly failing. Like everything else he and his staff were trying to do for her.
In the wake of the battle for Hyperion Hive, he’d lost too many good men and women. Those who called war glorious had never had to deal with its aftermath, with radiation burns, amputations, perforated torsos and shattered bodies. He felt like Sisyphus, always trying to push a boulder up a hill. But like the cursed Greek, he wouldn’t stop trying, either. Not until-
Her EEG flat-lined.
Someone caught her.
She was falling and someone caught her; that was all that mattered. <You wanted to know,> a voice she didn’t recognize whispered. She had wanted to know something? What was it?
<Consider it mercy and duty, Echo,> the voice told her. <You’ll know… everything. If you live. Now… thiswillhurt.>
Despite the sedatives, Natalya bucked against the restraints holding her down, a scream belting from her lips that sounded as if her soul was being torn open.
In the observation booth, Foraker dug his fingernails into his palm.
Someone had her by the throat, something hard and cold jammed up into her chin, her head pulled back by the hair. They shouted. “Let her go!” over and over.
The manacles holding Arykka in place cut deep into her wrists, rivulets of blood running down her hands, dripping onto the floor. Her eyes rolled back in her head, pain and pleasure coursing through her body. She tilted her head back and in a shaking voice sang wordlessly to the Angel. Take this offering, she entreated. Of flesh and bone and mind. Bless or condemn as You will.
Natalya watched civilizations fall.
One died over centuries, clawing at every last thread, every fleeting, futile hope to stave off death as it rotted from the inside out. Another died in fire, swept away in moments. At the heart of both was a name. One tainted with fear and hatred.
She saw everything. Records from the past captured the stark terror on primitive faces. Gloating, wide-faced creatures stood in judgment over kneeling slaves, cowering in isolation as their society crumbled. Disease spread like shadow. The images became sharper, clearer, tinged with emotion. Dead worlds receded in the wake of an armada, a second, ugly fleet in pursuit.
The second world burned, at first a sanctuary denied in fear and then a crucible that forged a cold, bitter truth and shaped an infant race.
She finally understood.
Arykka hung limply in her restraints, her eyes staring at nothing as sweat and tears ran down her cheeks, pattering to the cell’s floor. “Done,” she whispered in her own tongue. It was done. She had damned her Enemy one way or the other, with death or understanding.
Only the strongest survived either.
Which are you, Echo?
Winters closed his eyes, listening to the rhythmic beeping of the monitors. There was still work for his neurosurgical team to do, not that it mattered. Archer’s hands twitched in their restraints, her lungs still drew in air, her heart still beat, but these were autonomic reactions. Her higher functions had completely shut down; overloaded from the strain. If there was still a Natalya Archer in there, she was imprisoned in her own body.
“Do what you can to repair the damage,” the physician ordered his staff. Medical science, while it had evolved to the point of ‘miraculous’, could still only do so much, especially with the human brain. “Once that’s done, move her to the long-term care facility. As soon as she’s stabilized, we’ll send her home.”
In the darkness, she heard someone singing to her.