Dusk led the naked Kyora through Domina’s headquarters blinded by a visor. They exited a lift in one of the cellblocks beneath the complex. Upon arriving at a cell, Dusk removed the visor, and Kyora found herself in a bright, Federation-style prison. The floors, walls, and ceilings were a clean metallic white. Every cell looked open, but it was an illusion created by the OPEL panels composing the doors. There were both males and females with the former outnumbering the latter three-to-one. None of the captives had clothing.
“Welcome to your cage.” Dusk shoved Kyora into the cell, knocking her to the floor. An OPEL panel shut behind her. Kyora looked back, but Dusk had vanished from her view, selectively hidden by the OPEL panel. After easing herself from the floor, she moved to the OPEL panel and gazed out at the other prisoners. The cell directly across from her’s held a man sitting on the cold ground and leaning on the back wall with his legs opened toward her, but where she expected to see his genitals, he had only scars. This was true of the man in the cell to the right as well. The cell on the left held a woman. Of course, it was difficult to tell if her genitals had been altered in any way, but she appeared normal.
Kyora put her hand on the OPEL and ran it across. After beating the OPEL a few times with her fist, she figured it was as solid as any other. She turned around, feeling neither in peril nor at peace, but viewed her situation as just another challenge. She took three slow steps toward the back of her cell and after closing her eyes said, “Virn,” over her Q-comms link.
Virn was sitting with Krystal in the quarters that Virn shared with Kyora. More than a few of Virn’s tears had run down her face. The Exan could not come to terms with her friend’s sudden disappearance. Her situation of not knowing what had happened would have begun to consume her if not for the voice in her head calling to her by name.
“Virn, can you hear me?”
“Yes, I can hear you!” Virn was overjoyed. Without saying anything aloud, her disposition changed. Krystal, who was comforting her, moved her body away, giving Virn some space. Virn, being cautious, asked, “You’re still alive?”
“I shouldn’t have doubted my instincts for a second,” Kyora thought. “It was a Domina trap and Souq was the bait. Where are you?”
“Myself and the others are on the Kelsor. We just left the system. I’m going to tell the captain you’re alive.”
“Don’t. The mission is more important than any one person. Besides, this is my battleground. I need to kill a couple of old friends.”
“You’re that important to me!” Virn exclaimed in her thought-stream. “I would stop the universe for you, so if there’s even a small chance of rescuing you, I’m taking it. Do you know where you are?”
“That’s the problem,” Kyora explained. “I don’t. All I know is that I’m locked in a cell and Deminesse is here somewhere.”
“I’m turning this ship around.”
Would she be fed? The man across from her looked a few kilograms away from emaciation while the woman appeared to be well-nourished. Had the man been in captivity for a longer period, or did Domina treat women better than men? Kyora was inclined to believe both if Deminesse retained the misandrist tendencies of her youth. Despite arriving at the conclusion that she might be fed at least adequately, the phantom decided that the best way for her to pass the time was to sit on the floor and do nothing for the chance that her captors might leave her to starve.
Kyora lied flat on the cold ground with only her thoughts as company—the cells were insulated from all noise. Many minutes passed. Maybe it was an hour, but as soon as she was finding some comfort on that hard surface, a figure dressed in full, black Domina Accellus 3 armor appeared at the OPEL door.
“Don’t look up at me,” said the female guard. “Hold that position just like that. A-a-and there. I’ll let that loop for a while so no one will notice you’re missing.”
“Who the hell are you?” Kyora asked. She stood up and approached the door.
“Just a shadow who’s amassed a lot of power by playing her cards right and being very, very patient, and you’re just the card I was waiting for.”
“How convenient,” Kyora sneered.
“Now, you’re the only one who can see me, so listen to what I tell you and do exactly what I say. Any deviation may result in either one of us being killed, or worse.”
“Go on,” Kyora said, crossing her arms.
“In sixty seconds,” the guard said, “I will open this door and guide you to the lifts. Surveillance won’t see you, but other guards will. I know where your armor is, and that’s where you’re heading first.”
“How can I trust you?”
“Seeing that you’re trapped in this cell with me as your only means of escape, you don’t have much of a choice. On the other hand, as the one burdening the risk here, I should be asking, ‘Can I trust you?’” Kyora continued to watch the guard without responding. After the allotted sixty seconds, the guard clapped her hands in front of her while saying, “Don’t worry—I’m your guardian angel.” The guard pulled her hands apart slowly and in sync with the parting of the OPEL door. Her image was sliced by the opening of the doorway, and when the door opened fully, the guard had vanished completely.
A white lumionic arrow flashed for a single second on the ground in the empty corridor before her. It was then that she realized she would no longer be receiving verbal instructions from her self-proclaimed guardian angel. The arrow had pointed toward the right, so Kyora, walking quietly with a lowered center of gravity, turned to the right. She passed a cell holding a Yeran man with his face nearly pressed to the OPEL door. As if to test her guardian’s implied promise of a stealthy escape, she stopped to wave right in his face. The man was unfazed and continued to stare blankly out of his cell.
Excellent, Kyora thought.
“Kyora just contacted me. She’s still alive, but Domina has her.”
“I’ll alert the captain,” Sesh said. “Meet us on the bridge.”
Virn and Krystal traveled to the bridge of the Kelsor where Atara, Xannissa, and Sesh were debating courses of action as the ship shot away from Mirida at over eight-thousand times the speed of light. When the triumvirate noticed the two approach, the debate stopped and silence fell on the bridge. The only sounds were the low hum of the hyperwarp drive and the pings and beeps from terminal interfaces.
“Conn, full stop,” Atara said. “Take us back to Mirida.” The captain turned to Virn as she and Krystal approached them and said, “Sesh told me that you heard from Kyora.”
“Yes ma’am,” Virn nodded. The noise from the hyperwarp drive slowly quieted.
“As long as she’s still alive, we’re going back for her.”
Virn, filled with more hope, said, “Thank you so much, captain.”
“As you’re the only one who can speak with Kyora,” said Atara, “we’ll need your help to find her. That is, until she can find a way to contact us on sub-comms. It will be difficult to locate her without her Accellus.”
When the naked phantom arrived at the gravilifts, one of the lift doors opened automatically—unusual even in civilian buildings. She assumed it was by the action of her guardian, so she walked inside and let the door close behind her. Before she could select a floor, the lift began moving on its own. She had no clue where she was going, anyway.
“We can talk in here for a bit,” said the guardian. “It’s a long ride from the depths up to the tower’s mid-section.”
“I’m amazed you haven’t been caught yet.”
“Well, I am holding the keys to the castle.”
“Fair enough, but I’m still impressed. And I’m not easily impressed.”
“Domina controls this entire building, and they’re so confident in their external security that they often overlook the internal. Now, when the lift stops, you will be on an armory level. I will guide you toward your Accellus Four. How good are you at unarmed combat?”
“The best,” Kyora said flatly.
“O-o-okay. There are a couple of guards I couldn’t get rid of, so you’ll need to deal with them. They are wearing third iteration Accellus suits.”
“Simple enough. Just keep watching my back.”
“Of course. I’ve done this much already. It’s suicide to stop now. Oh, one more thing: avoid the barracks. Way too many for you to deal with.”
The lift door opened to a long, dim hallway with opaque doors on either side. One of the guards that Kyora was warned against stood guard next to the left wall about ten meters down. Attempting to avoid detection, Kyora pushed herself against the left wall after tiptoeing off the lift. She then crept across the wall just out of the guard’s sight. By now, the guard’s Accellus would have detected Kyora’s mass and motion, but the fact that the guard had yet to react to her helped her place even more faith in her guardian’s skills.
Accellus is among the most flexible power armors in Civilized Space by virtue of its open joints; however, this flexibility can become a liability in close-quarters combat if facing a skilled and determined adversary. Once within striking distance, Kyora pounced on the guard, clenching the guard’s bodysuit-covered neck in a steel grip and wrapping her legs around the guard’s torso, clinging on like death itself. The way the guard panicked signaled to Kyora that she was merely a rookie. In that panic, the guard neglected the capabilities of her Accellus 3, such as weapon fabrication and gravitics. Instead, the guard grabbed Kyora’s arms and tried to throw her off. When that didn’t work, she slammed Kyora’s back against the opposite wall. As she began to lose consciousness, the guard fell backward, banging her helmet against the left wall as she fell and crumpled to the floor.
“Amateur,” Kyora muttered. She let go of the guard’s body and crept away. After another five meters, a new arrow flashed on the ground pointing to the left. Then, a door on the left wall opened next to her, and she peeked inside.
“Virn?” The phantom took a step back from the doorway.
“Atara is coming back for you. Do you know where they took your Accellus?”
“I have a pretty good idea. And Virn?”
“I want to leave this God-forsaken place and never come back.”
Kyora peered through the doorway again and noted that the room was long, had three aisles, and each aisle was separated from the others by clear lockers containing Accellus 3 boots, prefabricated weapons, and small boxes of miscellaneous supplies. Benches lined each of the aisles. At the far end, Kyora saw a woman in Accellus 3 seated on one of the benches in the center aisle and playing with lumigraphs without wearing a helmet. Kyora snuck into the room and crouched at the head of one of the rows of lockers. The phantom trusted that the contents of the lockers and her distance would mask her presence. The other woman closed the lumigraphs, stood up, and recalled her armor. After stepping out of her boots, she picked them up and placed them into a locker and walked through a doorway at the far end of the room, disappearing from sight.
A series of arrows now appeared on the floor. The Elestan stood and walked through the empty room until she arrived at her Accellus 4 boots. The locker door was unlocked. As she was retrieving her REMASS devices, the far door opened again allowing two new women to enter. They carried on their chatter until they noticed Kyora who was stretching her body toward the locker and grabbing her boots. The two naked women stopped in their tracks and one of them said, “My lady Eclipse, what brings you down here? May we be of assistance?”
Kyora’s face shot toward them. The two women were unarmed. Killing them would be easy. But they were convinced that she was their leader. This was Kyora’s chance to prove Deminesse wrong. She was not a relentless murderer.
After staring at them, she grabbed a pair of stasis tags from a box beside her boots and buried them in her fist. Stepping away from the locker, she said, “Come here for a moment.” The women approached her. She pointed to the door she entered through. “That door should remain closed at all times.” The women, now confused, strode around her, looking at the door and turning their backs to Kyora. The phantom used this moment to slap the prefabricated stasis tags on their backs, locking them in lumionic stasis for a few minutes. With the Domina soldiers frozen, Kyora returned to the locker, retrieved her boots, and sheathed herself in her regular armor configuration including a helmet and a pair of SIRAC daggers—weapons that she could employ in silence with minimal detectable energy discharge. Concealed within layers of electromagnetic, sonic, and gravitic shrouding, she walked out of the armory, leaving the two frozen females behind her. This time, she called for the lift herself. When she stepped inside, her guardian started speaking to her.
“Very sneaky. I can’t see you anymore.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“Have you contacted your ship?”
“Wouldn’t be as sneaky if I did.”
“I’m the eyes and ears of Domina right now. Go ahead and activate your subspace transponder.”
“If you say so.”
“There’s one more thing I need you to do for me.”
“I need to kill Eclipse.”
“Great! I don’t even have to ask.” Suddenly, the gravilift began its ascent.
“We’ve found Kyora’s transponder,” said a bridge officer.
“Location?” Sesh asked. Atara, Xannissa, Sesh, and Krystal were still aboard the bridge.
“Mirida’s southern hemisphere.”
“Open a channel with her on sub-comms,” Atara commanded.
“Affirmative,” said Ethis. After several seconds, she reported, “No response.”
Atara turned to Virn and asked, “Can you reach her?”
“I can try.”
“I’m still alive.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m uninjured,” Kyora told her.
“No. How are you feeling?”
“I can still feel, and that’s good enough for me.” That wasn’t the answer Virn wanted, but she accepted it nonetheless.
The lift stopped at the top floor.
“Before I open these doors,” said the guardian, “you’ll need to equip a little more firepower than tiny knives. Beyond here is the gauntlet of security that protects the head.”
“Understood,” Kyora said. She replaced the daggers she never had to use with dual heavy pistols. “Can I not walk past them?”
“They have omnimic resonators. They’ll detect any kind of omnium signature that tries to squeeze through.”
“That’s unfortunate. I was really challenging myself to see how many people I could spare.”
“You won’t be able to spare these people,” the guardian assured her. “I’m opening the door, so I hope you’re ready. Welcome to the penthouse suite.”
As the guardian said, the lift door opened. There was a circular desk at the end of a small lobby. Behind it sat a secretary working on lumigraphic screens. A white-haired Elestan in armor stood on the wall next to her striking up a conversation. When they noticed the lift was empty, the Elestan—who Kyora knew was Dusk—fabricated a helmet and driver. Without hesitation, Dusk pulled her driver’s trigger and riddled the lift car with a continuous stream of white-hot plasma bolts. The secretary stood up, activated an alarm, and sheathed herself in armor. A heavy security door closed on the opposite side of the desk from the lift. Kyora hugged the desk which she dashed toward when the lift had opened, safe from Dusk’s wild spraying. The clone approached the now-stricken gravilift. When she realized there had been no target, she turned around slowly, looking everywhere in the lobby until she stopped at the desk. She could barely detect it, but her Accellus showed her a possible omnium signature emanating from the base of the desk. Dusk pointed her driver, causing the secretary to shout in panic. As she fired, Kyora used her gravitics to leap toward the ceiling.
“What are you shooting at?” the secretary yelled.
“A most unwelcome ghost,” Dusk shouted. “You should have stayed in your cell, Kyora! I’m going to put you down.” The clone attempted to reacquire her target. Even though Dusk had a nearby omnimic resonance detector aiding her, the phantom was still difficult to see. Kyora launched herself toward Dusk. Torquing her body laterally using her gravitics, she spun herself into a kick, bashing Dusk’s helmet with the toe of her SIRAC boot. The force knocked Dusk to the ground. The phantom ripped Dusk’s gun out of her grip and threw it across the room.
“I don’t want to kill you, Dusk,” Kyora said.
Suddenly, the secretary opened fire with a REMASS weapon. Her bolts flew directly over Dusk’s body, driving Kyora away. When the secretary’s fire ceased, Dusk stood up, walked over to her weapon, and grabbed it off of the ground. Two Federation-style ceiling cannons fabricated above the lobby. Their ability to track Kyora was superior to Dusk’s and once they detected Kyora’s Accellus omnium signature, they unloaded constant streams of plasma bolts in her direction, tracking her wherever she went. While dodging their fire, Kyora cursed her guardian for seemingly abandoning her. Why couldn’t she have disabled the cannons?
Jumping to the ceiling again and giving herself one g of gravitational flux toward zenith, she fired her dual pistols at the ceiling cannons. Her Accellus assisted her aim, showing her the cannons’ weak points and allowing her to score critical strikes against the automated defenses. She was able to dispatch them both with only a single shot from each handgun. The cost was a considerable loss of lumionic field potential that would require up to a minute to fully recharge considering the majority of her suit power was being diverted to her shrouding systems.
“Show yourself, bitch!” Dusk yelled.
Kyora floated down from the ceiling, wrapped her arms around the secretary and shouted back, “Put your gun down or she dies!” Kyora’s right pistol rested against the secretary’s bare head.
“Her life is worthless to me,” Dusk said angrily. “I’ll kill you both.” Dusk pointed her weapon at them and opened fire. Kyora, skating away yet again, left the screaming secretary to die in Dusk’s ruthless plasma barrage.
“You made a point to paint me as a savage,” Kyora said as Dusk attempted to reacquire her, “and I might very well be, but you… you’re a maniac.” Before Dusk knew it, Kyora was behind her, and pointing both pistols at the back of her helmet, unloaded them into Dusk’s lumionic shielding, then SIRAC, then skin, bone, and brain matter until the bolts flowed through the front of the helmet. Dusk’s corpse collapsed to the floor.
Kyora moved to the other side of the desk, disabled the alarm, and opened the security doors. The duralithic walls and floor of the lobby were pockmarked everywhere with black craters of ablated material. Both ceiling cannons and the lift car were ablaze. Lumionics had formed around them to deprive them of oxygen. One of the ceiling cannons—melted mostly through—crashed to the floor.
The phantom moved into one of the two corridors and rapidly dispatched the guards she found in an effort to avoid anymore prolonged exchanges of fire and the potential for additional damage to her already strained lumionic shielding. At the end of the corridor was a door to Eclipse’s quarters. When she entered the doorway, she found herself in a garden. Giant trees hung over a lawn of soft grass bordered by shrubs and bushes. It was the middle of the night, and the full moon shined through a vast OPEL ceiling four stories up. The leaves of the trees flashed from the reflection of Mirida’s moon upon a reflecting pool’s mild ripples.
In the middle of the perfectly-manicured trees, shrubs, lawns, and illuminated walkways was a building resembling a mansion with no doors or windows. Due to the mansion’s design being like a giant three-story pavilion, Kyora walked by a rectangular swimming pool, across a few feet of grass, and between a line of columns into an open living room recessed into the penthouse floor. A dining room shared the space, and a set of stairs led to a balcony overlooking the living room. Staring down at Kyora was her childhood friend, but this time dressed in black Domina armor.
“I should have known,” Kyora said, dropping her shroud, recalling her helmet, and walking to the middle of the living room. She tilted her head up toward Eclipse who had her arms on the balcony railing. “Why did you do it? Why did you guide me around your headquarters, exposing your guards to danger, and lead me here to you?”
“You see,” Eclipse started, “it’s complicated.”
“Is it now?”
“Take a seat, Kyora.” Eclipse pointed toward one of the large couches near the phantom. Kyora recalled her handguns and did as Eclipse commanded. Eclipse vaulted over the railing and smashed her armor against the living room floor. She then stood up and replaced the armor with her officer uniform. Sitting down next to Kyora, she continued.
“Did you trust me?”
“Not for a moment,” Kyora lied. “Why did you let me kill Dusk?”
“Dusk is responsible for her own demise,” Eclipse retorted. “She confronted you with violence, so she was dealt violence. Such is she who lives by the sword.”
“But wasn’t she your closest associate?”
“She may have been, but that didn’t make her my friend. In actuality, you killed my closest rival. My grip on Domina is now stronger than ever.”
“Help me understand something,” Kyora demanded. “You use Souq as a trap for me, you imprison me, then try to win my trust by pretending to be an infiltrator and helping me kill your alleged rival. Did you honestly think that would make me change my opinion of you?”
“I knew it was a long-shot,” Eclipse admitted. “I realize you hate my guts, and there’s probably no way I can change that, and it hurts me. It hurts in a way you probably can’t imagine.
“There is a part you’re not seeing, though, and it’s that it wasn’t all about you. Remember when I told you to activate your transponder? I did that in order for you to draw in the bigger prize.”
“Is there someone else you’d rather kidnap?”
“More like something, and that something is your ship. The synergistic drive system aboard the Kelsor is state of the art. The first syndicate to get its hands on that propulsion system will rule all of Tribesson and beyond.”
“It’s been deployed for less than a day. How do you know about it?”
“Do you think I live under a rock?” Eclipse snapped. “I have people from the streets and habbies all the way to the central Federation government whispering in my ear. My reach is inescapable.”
“Manipulative bitch,” Kyora muttered.
“Manipulative,” Eclipse said, “just as our designers manipulated our genome. Just as Unit threw us to a den of lions that we might become the monsters they wanted. We were made in the image of our designers, and we have aspired to become as they were. Mirida is our clay, and we can mold it as we see fit. Isn’t that what we dreamed of, Kyora? I’ve won that dream for us.”
“I extinguished that dream long ago,” Kyora told her. “It was an ideal spawned from my foolish young mind. Neither of us are who we once were.”
“Speak for yourself. I haven’t changed at all.”
“You were morphing into a demon long before I left Mirida!” Kyora snapped. “You were the one who drove me away. When you first saw me, you said that Deminesse was dead. You’re absolutely right. She died the day we overthrew Unit’s leadership. Since then, you’ve been turning into this shell of a person you call Eclipse. You’re a soulless, narcissistic slime, and the worst part is—we share a face.” Kyora stood from the couch as Eclipse sat there, motionless. “And you continue to insult my intelligence—hiding behind lumigraphics.” Kyora pointed one of her handguns at the room’s lumigraphic projector, and before she could pull the trigger, Eclipse spoke again.
“You would throw away everything I’ve worked for?” Eclipse asked. Her voice was somber, but Kyora knew it was an act. “Everything I’ve done for us?” Eclipse’s voice deepened as she continued. “Consider yourself forewarned. If you pull that trigger, I will hunt you to the edge of the universe. Everyone aboard the Kelsor will die, including your precious Virn. Do you understand me?”
Kyora hesitated no longer. She squeezed the trigger of her handgun, and it released a single bolt of white plasma that burned through the room’s lumionic projector. The room went dark, and the image of Eclipse disappeared.