Chapter 4Mature

Norza dropped to her knees in the confined space of the tight cistern, vomiting as she did so. She wretched violently for some time, as her body shuddered.  The thing inside her would not let her lose consciousness. She had shut down on the rooftop because of the intensity of the blast. It had disrupted its control of her for a moment but she couldn’t maintain consciousness long enough to make use of the time.  She sobbed inwardly at her inability to act.

Grannox stumbled as he made his way through the damp sewers, paying little heed to her suffering. It had almost consumed him, but it preferred to leave her as close to undamaged as it could –to prolong her suffering. If she was mindless, then there could be no torment and it lived to torment her. It particularly liked to abuse Grannox for her to watch helplessly. It took such delight in the little torments over the centuries of her long imprisonment.  She was its puppet –forced to play a role to suit whatever game it had begun ages ago.

Rarely did it surface. She’d come to understand that it desired concealment more than it desired to express its power, and a powerful thing it was. She had been its prize now for over four hundred years, and it delighted in her humiliation at every turn.  Not even in her dreams could she escape it.

She pulled off the gloves of her suit and looked at her hands. She was allowed most times to move on her own because it had no fear of her being able to escape. Like some sick voyeur, it preferred to watch the endless entertainment of Norza the Mercenary, Norza the killer. 

How many had she killed at its bidding? A hundred? A thousand? She tried to pretend that it didn’t matter, but it did. For one such as her each death was etched indelibly in her mind –a silent testament to her utter defeat and shame at the hands of this… monster. She remembered how she resisted… for so long she resisted. Through agony and pain and sorrow she struggled and resisted –until it turned its hate on Grannox.

She wretched again, doubling over on her knees. This time she could feel it expelling itself from inside her. It rarely did this, but each time it felt as painful and humiliating as it had the first time it revealed itself to her. It didn’t allow itself to be violently expelled, but rather oozed out of her nose and mouth, forcing her to gasp and clutch for each breath until enough of its ooze had come out for it to form itself into a cohesive shape. She understood that it could have come out as a single particle, but again it preferred to torment her at every available opportunity. As the last of it oozed out, she fell forward onto her face into the muck. Grannox turned to her, but there was no hint of the person he had been before; before Ubrias had claimed them both.

It swirled in the muck before her. She lifted her head from the muck and wiped away what she could with her hands. She looked to Grannox. He oozed blood from the wound at his back. The creature that fired its archaic projectile weapon at him had been deadly accurate. This time, had it not been for her tormentor he would have surely died, and she might have found some release. Even now she could tell that it worked to keep him alive, repairing the damage in its own way. She was thankful that Grannox was little more that an automaton now. If there was anything left in him that could feel pain, she did not know. To its delight, the mere sight of him injured again and again broke her inside.

This was not the planet that Ithica should have landed on. From its intelligence, she knew that Ellah should have deposited her on Chula –the nearest world in the Vaelor. She’d had many men there waiting to assist in the capture of an Un-Mated Daughter of Ellah. She unhooked her suit and let it fall away, so that she could inspect for any damage to her skin that might have escaped its notice. She preferred the feel of air on her skin. On her native world, clothing was not conducive to survival.  A jungle world of lush vegetation, filled with predators made clothing impractical for movement through its environment.  G’narins only wore clothing off world.

The plan had gone well, for the most part, but the result was… dissatisfying. The creature that interrupted her chase was far superior to other fighters she’d encountered before. That was the first time she had actually been escaped in such a manner. Since she knew little of this planet, she had no idea of whether or not the rest of their species would be so agile and swift. She had not anticipated the creature using her Null Motion pulse like that. Either they were well aware of her capabilities, or phenomenally lucky.

She removed the communications array from her suit. She didn’t bother to switch on the holovid. The encoding would identify her to her people, and it didn’t want them seeing her in such circumstances. In this she realized that they would not follow her if she was openly humiliated, and that would work counter to its ends.  She did a check of the nearby stellar cartography to determine where she was.  Interstellar communication wasn’t the problem; distance from her forces in relation to ships of Vaelor, capture and certain execution were problems, though. After a few minutes processing the information her com system computer, showed her where she was.

They were thousands of light years away from any place in the Vaelor confederation! This was impossible—there had never been a foldspace event of this magnitude. It professed extensive knowledge of the Daughters and their abilities; their weaknesses and their strengths as well as the makeup of the system of Ellah.  Since they travelled within the Vaelor, they were under constant protection of member worlds. At the point at which her forces attacked and disabled her vessel and the convoy, she shouldn’t have been able to cross this distance. The amount of energy it took to cross this distance would have killed a hundred Daughters of Ellah.  They had literally crossed the galaxy in one jump!

The special suits its weaponers had given her crew allowed them to access the foldspace event, very much like prying open a door with a lever, but only within two to three seconds of the event. Her two lieutenants had crossed at the limit of their suit’s technology. The foldspace portal would not collapse until all matter within it had been expelled. It was though they all hitched a ride on the same event. Her foldspace jump made it possible for the two of them to make their foldspace jump. No one else was close enough to have reached the entry point before the event closed behind them.   It could have maintained the corridor –she knew that the thing inside her could manipulate foldspace just as easily as the Ellah, but it preferred to remain in concealment.

Contacting her people would take time at this distance.  Of the three of them, only she and Grannox survived the encounter. They disintegrated their comrade after removing his equipment. It had been displeased with how easily he had been outwitted, and so he suffered the ultimate punishment for his overconfidence. At least with only the two of them currently –it would not risk another open confrontation.

Daughters of Ellah had assisted in mapping the routes to these foldspace routes throughout the galaxy. Its weaponer’s technology allowed her to hide her fleet of ships within a foldspace passage and attack there. Under its orchestrations, it had forced her to create a sizable force of soldiers –all of which were expendable to this one end. In the end, the vessel’s crew was more than equal to the task of raiding a fleet of Vaelor ships. The raid went as planned but the crew it seems was as finely trained as their reputations and managed to hold her at bay until they exited foldspace.

It coalesced into a cloud in front of her. She no longer recoiled in front of it. Even though she had broken, she could control this much. It would punish her for allowing Ithica to escape. In this she took some small comfort as it floated towards her, with malevolent intent.

 

*****

 

Chief Warrant Officer Taylor John “T.J.” Brent checked his boots, then his gear, as the rest of his team did the same.  The Center’s director, Harlan Cole, had scrambled the team within moments of the alarm sound on their downtown facility. They were professionals, all with diverse backgrounds, ranging from law enforcement to a former accountant turned bounty hunter. Pursuit team Alpha was the very best at what they did.  As Cole contented himself with running the Center, he left the tactical arm of the Concern to Brent.  Brent and all of his team were Bions – prosthetically enhanced soldiers. Given the nature of most of the Center’s residents and the programs that spawned them, it was essential to be able to meet force with superior force. The Bion program was the only bio-enhancement program endorsed Earth Directorate. Though he operated nowhere near the levels that Cole could in combat, he was several times more effective on the battlefield than a platoon of regular soldiers.

He’d lost the use of his limbs while he’d served in the Marines during the Niger Action of 2037, when his transport was hit by a mortar shell. Bion limbs were utilized in civilian applications, so the use of bion limbs on a currently serving soldier –allowing him to return to full duty status was an accepted procedure. Military bion limbs were hardened to withstand the rigors of combat. The endoskeleton was a type of hardened lightweight alloy, but the muscles were artificially grown in a lab. The skin he possessed was also artificially created, was a direct genetic match to the rest of his body.

The systems design was hailed for simplicity and efficiency, being the first truly synthetic functioning prosthesis that could be attached without actual onboard computer systems. Unlike robotics, the bion limbs required no power source –external or otherwise. The enhancements were passive systems like increased blood flow to and from the limbs, significantly improved response time and of course strength. Brent could easily bench press nearly eight hundred pounds when fully rested. His speed and reflexes were about two to three times as fast –but not superhuman like Cole.  Harlan Cole had been a one of a kind.

 He’d actually happened upon the assignment at the center during his convalescence. It was a light duty assignment that allowed him to stay near Bethesda where he could be monitored while they waited for him to be certified to return to duty. After six months, he couldn’t think of going back to the front lines. It wasn’t that he was afraid of combat –but it seemed mundane in comparison.  Cole put in a word with the Marine Corps, and he was officially “Loaned” to the program.

 “Everyone suited up?” He barked. “Let’s move Alpha!”

Brent was a hard core Marine in every sense of the word. He was loud, and common as they come, but the men wouldn’t want anyone else with them in a tight spot –save perhaps Cole.

His commlink beeped. “Brent.” He responded.

“Cole here. Your mission is hunt and capture. I’m beaming you the intel that we have –you can punch up the image on the display. We have no idea of the capabilities of who we’re after so do it by the numbers. We want all parties alive –though deadly force is authorized if you feel you’re lives are in jeopardy. I want you guys back here alive.”

“Don’t go all pansy on me, Cole. We know the drill.” 

“Make contact, but do not engage. I want to know where they are –but we’re going in at strength when you find them.”

“Roger that.” He replied.

“I’m serious, Brent. We don’t know what we’re up against and I want calmer heads to prevail on this one…”

The End

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