A Mind Without Purpose

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A Mind Without Purpose

Post by Mouse on Sat Mar 19, 2016 2:36 am

Jan 15 (Terra Prima Calendar),
1930 hours (BST)
Baited Breath Habitat A, Officer's Row


A nanoplague? Gods below, the nanoplague?


Myshka- Mouse- stared at the little datachip in her hand like it was a small, dead creature. She'd spent a large portion of the day putting her illicit computer skills to good use, learning as she always did about everything around her. Basic information had been a snap, personal information only a little harder. The ops officer, the black-leather clad mindwitch called "Starbringer," had been the only conundrum she'd faced so far, and there Mouse had run into a wall. The woman had some kind of lobotomized AI running her cybersecurity, and when Mouse had stuck her nose into Starbringer's personal files, that thing had nearly bitten it off.


So she'd looked elsewhere. As it turned out, her staff was less well-armored on the electronic front- still difficult to crack, but not impossible- and while she hadn't learned anything about Starbringer beyond that she was a psionic and a supernumerary to the regular crew, she had found an eyes only dispatch from some backwater called Charm. Curiosity had gotten the better of her, and she'd read it.


Now she felt sick.


She remembered the nanoplague, remember hundreds of thousands of dead, roving gangs of monsters, red in tooth and claw that had once been friends and family roaming the bowels of Aral station looking for fresh victims, remembered the stench when the virus ran its course and the infected began dying in droves. She'd been fifteen, and in the seven years since, she hadn't forgotten it for a second. Now it was here, just a grav lane away, and apparently Ms. “Starbringer” was supposed to steal it.


Mouse felt the first stirrings of fear as she considered. She didn't want to see that let loose on anyone, but worse, she didn't want Col to even hear that it was in the same system. Colibri would freak out in the biggest possible way, suddenly and violently and all over the place, and on this ship, that could get her killed.


Mouse had vowed a long time ago to protect Colibri at any cost, and while the idea of bearding the psionic in her den was...less than appealing, letting this go unremarked when she could have done something, anything, was an even less attractive prospect.


Sighing to herself, Mouse dressed herself, wearing tight black trousers only a couple shades lighter than her hair, a black turtleneck, and her heavy assault boots. She elected not to take the long rifle, the one with the hummingbird etched into the stock, but she buckled a Khaydin Elit, a 7.5mm automatic loaded with armor piercing hardcore ammunition, onto her right thigh, and slid a vibroknife into the top of her left boot. Letting her hair hang free, Mouse picked the chip up and tucked it into a pocket, then set out, leaving her small cabin and heading up to the luxury cabins on officer's row, where the map in her HUD told her she could find her quarry.


Starbringer was sitting front of her steel desk in her Spartan like quarters. Even though it was the size of a luxury hotel suit it was poorly decorated. The bare living necessities were present but nothing more, nothing less. There were no pictures on the walls or items of comfort strewn about. She had lived life as a slave and then in the military lent herself to a meager life style. She leaned back into the chair taking a deep breath and clearing her mind for the moment.


She was going over the plans of the space station trying to determine the best way to get access to her mission's goal and going over the security systems flaws to add access to her inquired target. A nanoplague, she thought to herself. She had done a lot of terrible things for her lady in her past. She never questioned her orders but this time something was nagging her in the back of her mind. It was one thing protecting her home, helping her lady build a better safe empire but she couldn’t understand what a nanoplague had to do with either of those things. She placed her trust in her unlikely savior when she was told the nanoplague would not be used but held for insurance.


The Riven was still dressed in her black leather pants, vest and white linen shirt. However, she had removed her black gloves; they were lying on the table next to the plans she had laid out. She had also unbuttoned her unnatural high mandarin collar on her vest which displayed an old burn scar that had pressed itself into the skin. The scar traveled down her skin under her clothes, continuing down her chest, shoulder, arm and showed again encompassing her left hand. Even though the scars was old and healed by time they had faded it very little in all the years she had them.


Her two matching body guards dressed in their own dark leather clothing were seated on the grey couch across the room from her. They sat rigid with their weapons at the ready like always. Having them at her back watching her ever movement unnerved her. She looked over her shoulder at them for a moment. "Why don't you guys do something useful or get something to eat? Sitting there staring at me is making it hard for me to work," she told them. She watched them stand up and get ready to leave the room. She pondered the idea of bodyguards when she was so used to being alone. She shook her head briefly and turned back to continued her work.


Pleasure and Pain were almost to the door when it chimed once and the both froze, their matching strides stopping at exactly the same moment. They glanced at one another, glanced at Starbringer, and one retreated back to her desk, taking up a position behind her left shoulder. It was hard to tell them apart sometimes, both being lithe, expressively feminine and graceful custom-built monsters, but this close her could smell the strange roses-and-apples scent of the Veles Federation-made perfume that Pleasure favored underneath the smell of oiled leathers.


Across the room, Pain raised her hand, looked at it pointedly for a moment, then nodded as a miniature spatial distortion took the form of a dark sphere limned in indigo strands, manifesting five centimeters above her gloved palm. Satisfied, she clenched her fist and the tiny black hole-like construct vanished. She took up a position to the right of the door, as Nova faced, her back to the wall and one hand on the electrolaser at her left hip.


From the speaker on her desk, Starbringer heard the soft voice of the silver-haired woman from the Gateway station dive bar...Mouse, was it? The redhead's friend and handler. The one who spent half the night crying after the wild sex with her crazy redheaded friend, or so Pleasure had informed her. The voice was even, measured, and still nonetheless noticeably nervous as she said, "Myshka Vetrova to see the Ops Officer." Across from the desk, Pain raised a hand toward the door panel to open it and stopped, her fingers hovering over the stud to admit Myshka as she looked back to Nova for permission.


Starbringer thought about waving this visitor off. She need a break from her planning and her nagging brain but the curiosity of what brought this Mouse to her door got the best of her. A small distraction for her planning would not be a large deal, she had time. She grabbed her leather gloves and swiftly pulled them over her delicate fingers hiding her scared hand. She causally moved the plans out sight not wanting her guest to see what she was working on before she waved her bodyguard to open the door. She gracefully stood up from her hard grey chair and leaned her thin frame on the edge of the desk with her hands laying on the flat surface. Her face was expressionless and did not betray her stirring curiosity.


Pain opened the door, then stood motionless as Mouse walked in. In her full-coverage but extremely tight clothing, Starbringer could see that she was a pretty thing, and that the lines on her body might have been biosculpted on originally, but they'd since been augmented by a lot of long, hard hours in gyms or in the field. She walked with the grace of a trained martial artist or dancer, and Starbringer could pick up a number of little details from the way she moved, the way she held her hand, the way her eyes flickered back and forth and her head cocked as Pain's leathers creaked with her breathing.


It all added up to a single assessment: Mouse was scared, but she was smart enough not to show it openly and strong-willed enough not to let it rule her. Her hands were steady, and while she kept her hand far enough away from her gun as to appear non-threatening, her easy, liquid motions made the speed with which she could probably draw and fire plainly obvious.


Mouse, for her part, was scared shitless as she walked into the room, but she'd be damned if she'd let it show on her face. She felt like a Mouse- ha, Col would love that- trying to watch too many cats. She could see the one bodyguard, who's total lack of weapons meant that she was probably a psionic and who's leathers hung too flat to be anything but armored. She heard a creak behind her and knew that a second one was against the wall half a meter to her left from the door, and this Starbringer woman was nothing to be taken lightly all by herself.


Mouse thought about turning and leaving as she considered her odds of success, but then an unbidden image of a terrified, weeping Colibri in the middle of a nervous breakdown swam into her mind and her spine stiffened. No. If she could do something, she would. If she couldn't, well, she'd burn that bridge when she got there.


Smiling pleasantly, a smile that lit up her pretty, strong-boned features beneath dark grey brows and crinkled the corners of her pale grey eyes, Mouse came forward and stopped a couple meters from the edge of the desk. She held the datachip in her left hand, keeping her gun hand free and breathing careful, measured breaths. "Ma'am." She said by way of greeting, with a small bow of her head and neck. "I was wondering if I might have a few moments of your time to discuss something of personal importance."


The Riven looked up and down the young woman. A small chuckle escaped her lips but her expression remained cold and empty as she looked at the weapons the little mouse was packing. She could tell the young woman was scared and wonder if all those items made her feel more secure. She feared the young woman no more then she would fear an actual mouse. She returned her gesture of courtesy and added another one motioning to the couch across the room. "Of course.” She said carefully, standing and walking out from behind her desk to lead Mouse over to a pair of comfortable chairs. “What brings you- so obviously well-armed- to my quarters?"


Mouse smiled slightly. "No, lady Starbringer." She said calmly, using the name in the dispatch on the chip, rather than the nickname she'd been given. "If I came armed enough to suit the situation, I'd have had to lug a nuke. Even my normal kit, lethal though it is, is hardly suited to attacking a psionically active individual like you or your guards." Mouse was quaking internally, and she actually shivered as she felt the first cobweb-light tendrils of a telepath knocking at the door to her mind. She pulled her mental shields in around herself and glanced around the room, wondering which of them had elected to test her admittedly-minimal defense, and she got a slight nod from the one who smelled like fruit, a fencer acknowledging a touch. It wouldn't stop the other woman, Mouse knew, but it was enough to let her know she'd been seen.


Mouse followed Starbringer across the room but remained standing, and wondered what necessitated the comment on her pistol. It wasn't like carrying a sidearm was uncommon, and while it was a rather overqualified piece on a starship, it was a pittance next to the arsenal Col usually lugged around. Idly, she wondered if it would have any effect on the guards. She doubted that she could hurt Starbringer with it; she could do simple math and had enough familiarity with genetic restoration and mental training to know that Starbringer was, at the very least, far older than she appeared.


Once Starbringer was seated, Mouse held up the datachip. "In the interests of full disclosure, I'd like to start by saying that your cybersecurity is really very good. Your duty officer's less so, however, and in my little information-mining escapade I came across this dispatch." She smiled again, a ghost of an expression with no real warmth. "Are you really planning on going after a nanoplague? Especially this nanoplague?"


Starbringer's face continued portraying calm and not betraying her concern that this scared creature had uncovered her current mission. She settled more comfortable in her chair and rested her leather covered hands on her lab. "Starbringer?” She asked, feigning idle curiosity. “Do you think me this Starbringer? My position on this ship is security. I take it seriously from all treats, this includes internal and external. My men are trained to intercept messages and send anything of concern my way. I've read the dispatch already and I am still debating if action is required." She showed no concern but casually monitored her guest for signs to see if her explanation had reached her.


Mouse's lips curled down into something between a sneer and a frown, as if she'd just bitten into the bitterness of a near-lemon. Did Starbringer really think she was that stupid? I mean, sure, this was Sol, not exactly known for its brain trusts, but come on. Still, her calm assurance had a certain ring of truth...Mouse shook her head, looking down at the data chip. No! Think about Colibri, and Aral station, and not about some honey-tongued tart in wannabe fetish gear.


There was a giggle from the woman at Starbringer's shoulder at that, and Mouse flushed as she realized that the masked bodyguard had read the thought from her mind.


"Right. Of course. Because tight-beam messages are so easy to intercept, and this one doesn't have a heading for somewhere else." Mouse snarked. "Please don't insult my intelligence, such as it is." Mouse sighed through her nose, unsure of how to put this. She wasn't trying to condemn, not exactly. But the Gloaming Plague had only been deployed a few times, and there weren't too many survivors for eyewitness accounts. Did this woman really understand what it did? She couldn't, right? No one sane would turn that sort of thing over for use as a weapon. It would be monstrous!


Mouse shook her head. "Assume for the sake of discussion, that neither of us are idiots." She sighed. "Please, ma'am, think about this. Do you even know what it does?"


Starbringer heard the soft laugh coming from her bodyguard behind her and raised her hand. Using her psionic abilities she spoke both of them in a manner that only they could hear. Pleasure, please don't make it so obvious you are reading this young child's thoughts. It’s beneath you. Be prepared to wipe her memories on my signal if necessary. Pain, please position yourself in a position to catch this scared little mouse should she attempt to flee but don't make it complete obvious.

Starbringer brought her attention back to Mouse. "Young woman, I assume nothing, that is why I am still alive and I could care less whether or not you believe." Starbringer said, no inflections in her voice. She was disturbed that this girl had seen beyond her lies. Maybe she was going soft, maybe she had played this role too long.


Or maybe she was truly torn with her decision to steal the plague.


Her anger inside began to flare at that thought. She was getting tired of playing nice and wished for the days when her mere presents caused fear and no one would dare to speak to her like this little mouse did. She leaned forward from her chair which caused her red hair to fall over her eyes. She softly brushed it back behind her ears so the young woman could see her piercing green eyes. "Why does any of this matter to you anyway?" she questioned.


Mouse froze, and the world seemed to slow down as, at the edges of her mental hearing, she heard and be prepared to wipe her memories. Her hand lightninged down to her gun, the hammer coming back, and it was only with a supreme effort of will that she kept from drawing it and taking her chances. She gritted her teeth and began to cry silently, fat, slow tears that rolled down her face like crystals, and she trembled all over. Only her gun hand remained steady, and blood leaked from between the fingers of her left hand from where she'd clenched the chip so hard she'd cut herself, so scared of having her mind invaded again was she.


Every instinct screamed to run, to cower, to draw and fire until there was nothing left in the magazine, to submit and grovel and beg! Mouse closed her eyes, the tears still falling from them as she thought back, remembering the nanoplague, the running and the hiding at the fearing, remembering two scared young women holding each other in the darkness of an Aral slum when the nightmares got too bad for the year afterward. She remembered making Colibri promise to kill her if she ever got infected by that awful weapon, Colibri screaming and crying out in her sleep, thrashing to get away from the monsters in her nightmares, the same ones that had driven her into Mouse's bed just last night.

The memories gave her strength, and when Mouse opened her eyes, she was still terrified and still weeping at the fear of having her mind violated, but she was able to function once more. "The plague destroyed my life. Colibri's too. Robbed us of our families, killed hundreds of thousands of people. It might only be a weapon for a wicked old monster like you, but it’s the stuff of nightmares for us." Mouse shook her head. "Better to die than let another girl end up chained to a bed for drunken spacers to play with after she lost everything to a pack of monsters that used to be her friends." She met Starbringer's gaze. "Do you even know what it does, ma'am?"


The Riven watched the young woman intently as her hand shot towards her gun. She silently prepared herself to use her telekine abilities to bind the girl’s body if her hand moved enough more than a hair more from that position. She continued to observe as the tears began to streak down her face and the blood started for flow from her hand. Her anger started to wain at the sight. Tears and blood, she thought to herself, reminders of her own long-passed youth, filled with fear and pain. She had moved passed those mere reactions a long time ago and she did what she had to serve her lady. A small chuck escaped her mouth followed by a slightly sorrowful look, "Wicked old monster, huh?" She shook her head and asked, "So you have me all figured out then?" She stood up with all the ease in the world and looked at the lovely woman.


Mouse shook her head slowly. "No, I don't have you figured out, but I've figured out enough." Mouse said, and her voice quavered, but her expression was stormy. "I know you're older than you appear." She began, tapping one finger along the slide of her gun. "I know that the scars on your chest must have hurt, and that you got them the same way I got mine." She turned her bloody hand palm out toward Starbringer, to show the inch-wide band of scar tissue that must have come from a metal cuff rubbing the same spot over and over again for a long time. "I know that you're planning on acquiring a terror weapon worse than any bomb or missile, and that you'd rape the mind of a woman who just wants to spare others her pain, and keep her...friend safe in order to get away with it." She shook her head again. "No, I don't know you, and I don't think I want to, not with what I know already. But you didn't answer my question. Do you even know what the Gloaming Plague does?"


Starbringer shuddered at the mention of her scar and her cold exterior cracked just enough for her face to full with complete dread. With flash like speed she reached up to her throat, even with her gloved fingers she could feel the marred skin under them. She turned away from Mouse with increasing haste and started buttoning her collar up again, but her shaking made it difficult. The touch of the scar started to bring back memories of the first time she had used her abilities. She started to remember feel the heat, hearing the screams in her ears and the scars started to throb with intense stinging pain.


Stupid, stupid, stupid! she thought to herself. How could I have forgotten to button my collar?! She screamed at herself to stop feeling the ghosts of pain and fear that had started to slowly build, she told herself she had moved beyond that, but still she trembled very slightly as she began to pull herself together. As quickly has her guard had slipped she was able to reestablish it. She slowly turned around to face the grey-haired woman with a look that was somewhere between shame and anger. "Of course I know what the virus does.” She snapped. “I wouldn't be stealing it if I didn't.” It was a lie, she would be stealing it no matter what it did or what it cost, such was her devotion to Credence, but Mouse didn't need to know that. “I have no choice in the matter," she stated with an eerie calm.


"Bullshit." Mouse said flatly, still in her quavering, oddly toneless voice. "You might not have the rocks to make it, since you've spent however long convincing yourself that you're as big and bad as you want me to think you are- and Fel, maybe you really are- but you have a choice." She shook her head. "You just won't make it."


Mouse paused for a moment, wondering silently at her bravado. This wasn't like her! She was quiet, reserved, a follower, not a...a firebrand! But she was also scared, and fear made her do some truly stupid things. Worse than scared, she was worried and she was angry. Everyone had a choice! The options might suck hard vacuum, like with her and Colibri, but they were there!


Blood dripped thickly from her hand to patter down to the carpet, and she looked slowly at the dark-clad telepath, judging range and distance and speed and angles. It was all bad, but Mouse knew that she wasn't going to get out of here with her mind unscathed unless she had a miracle, and she'd stopped believing in those when she was sixteen. Looking back at Starbringer, Mouse asked, "Does the captain know?”


Starbringer left out a heavy sigh. "I cannot defy my master's orders anymore then you can stop caring for your friend." She started to raise her hand, to freeze the meddlesome girl in place, and Mouse's combat reflexes surged to life, choking the clock with engine oil. Her hand was already at her gun, and she drew it in a flicker of motion to fast to even register as a proper blur. There was a staccato of shots, a rapid hammer of noise too close together to be distinguished and even with the built in suppressor the gun was frighteningly loud.


The first bullet was meant for Starbringer, a reflex action rather than a proper attempt on her life, but a warping shimmer in the air slowed the bullet perceptibly and Starbringer leaned out of the way of the projectile. The next two shots were much more successful, however, endless hours of Colibri's drilling turning the rapid double-tap into a purely muscle-memory action. Both slugs lanced true, catching the masked telepath right above both eyes with a sickening double-crunch and throwing her across Starbringer's desk.


Mouse spun on the ball of one foot, pirouetting to bring the gun into line with the other guard and again there was the thunderstorm of her shots. She was shooting for the center of mass, and the other bodyguard was just getting her gun out of its holster and into line when all three shots smashed into her chest, piercing the armor and slamming her back against the wall. She hissed in pain, but it didn't kill her, didn't even really stop her, and her gun came up in answer.


The electrolaser shot made a miniature thunderclap as the baby bolt of lightning crossed the room, slamming into Mouse, but it was too understrength to fell the scared, enraged, adrenaline-fueled woman. Mouse was panicked by the bodyguard's ability to remain standing, but she was operating on reflex alone, and she shot the gun-wielding guard four more times before spinning around, turning to bring her gun back into line, to shoot the miserable, black-hearted bitch that could so callously order her mind raped...


And then she was on fire.


Mouse screamed in agony, an awful, childlike sound of pure pain and terror as the flames enveloped her. She could feel her skin burning away; feel her lungs being scorched and her hair melting to her blistering skin. She fell to her knees, but some indomitable, awful part of her kept a hold of the gun. Starbringer would never know if she could have used it, because Pleasure second attack put Mouse on the ground, shrieking and arching as ecstasy joined agony in being forced onto Mouse's mind.


Starbringer watched her turn, then fall shrieking to her knees before collapsing, writhing and trying to arch and writhe and run and scream, but she'd emptied her lungs, and the pain and horror and conflicting sensation caused her to curl into a ball, still shrieking, and Starbringer heard the chip break on the bones of her hand as Mouse clenched her fists too hard.

Pleasure laughed breathily and showed Starbringer a glimpse of the torture Mouse was having visited on her mind, as if seen by an outside observer. Conversationally, she said, "I can keep this up for as long as you like, mistress."


"Stop it!" Starbringer cried, looking back at Pleasure. "I wanted her restrained, not screaming in agony on my floor! There is a time and place for torture, and this is not one of them." She watched the young victim of her decisions writhing in pain, screaming with no end in sight, on the floor of her quarters and grimaced at the thought of the pain Mouse was experiencing. She didn't have to imagine the nightmare, she already knew firsthand. She began to shudder at the memories of similar punishment she had endured at the hands others.


She turned back to watch the young woman, could not take her eyes off her. For the first time in a long time, she felt pity and remorse. The emotions took her by surprise. It took her a moment to recognize what they actually were. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to extinguish the rising tide of guilt. She began quiver, she could feel the sweat coming from her hand beneath her leather gloves and started to feel sick to her stomach at the sight of Mouse still griped in torment. For a split second she wanted to collapse onto the ground next to her, hold her in her arms and reassure it that everything would be okay. She shook that thought out of her head. "Pleasure," Starbringer howled, "I said stop!"


"As you wish," Pleasure whispered as she released the young woman from the mental torture. She still felt guilty that she had put that poor girl through something so horrible. She pushed the growing emotions back down; she didn't have the luxury of being kind. Behind her she heard Pleasure speaking softly to her. "Feelings of pity, remorse and guilt," she stated with unnerving coldness and in that instant she knew Pleasure had been looking in her head. She whipped her body around in time for Pleasure to continue "That is not like you my mistress. Are you starting to slip in your old age?" Her face showed signs of disdain and disappointment.


Starbringer's anger exploded. "You will not disrespect me in this way!" She spat out, her face twisted, her body shaking in rage. Starbringer's eyes flared an ugly, flamelike orange as she felt the psion bonds that held her in control starting to slip, the heat from the raging inferno starting to climb inside of her and she did not care. She didn't know what made her more furious, the fact this so called servant was poking in her head or the fact she had caught her in a moment of weakness. "Don't you ever take such liberties with me again!” Her voice shook the cabin, and Pleasure's head snapped back as if slapped. “If you do you will pay the price for your actions. Instead of the mental fire you inflicted on her," she said pointing at Mouse, "I will torment you with the real thing and there will be no coming back, not even for you! DO . . . YOU . . . . .UNDERSTAND?!"


Pleasure nodded, and then began to laugh. "There is the old Starbringer!" She crowed. "There is the one the stories speak of!" She shook her head, the wounds in her forehead closing over and leaving pale, pristine skin behind her ruined mask. She glanced neutrally at the woman on the floor, still crying and thrashing in the aftereffects of the awful mental violation. It took a little time to wear off, and until then, even without Pleasure's influence, she would be in terrible agony and ecstasy. She was mewling now, little sounds of pain coming from a throat torn asunder by the force of her scream, and a tiny spray of rubies decorated her coral lips as a steady stream of pleas spilled from her bloody mouth.


"Pleasedon'thurtherdon'tpleasesheneedsmedon'tkillmepleasedon'tleaveheraloneitsdarksodarkithurtsI'mscaredColpleaseColI'msorrysosorryAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGH!"


Mouse let out another heartbreaking wail as Pleasure reached into her head, pushing into her psyche and selectively altering and removing memories. She took away any trace of the dispatch to Starbringer, the chip, and the presence of the nanoplague, and started to replace and redirect other memories to build a more convincing facade.


As part of her was working on Mouse, the rest of Pleasure extended her mental senses about her, reaching out through the ship. She found the duty officer who had brought Starbringer the message and tore the memory from his mind, leaving a brief hole that she filled with mundane duties.


Then she froze as her mind brushed up first against Colibri's, who was only a few meters away and the squad of Felicias who were coming up from Marine Country. Quickly, she opened a direct link to Starbringer's mind, smashing aside Starbringer's defenses in her haste. Mind-to-mind was much faster, and they didn't have much time. Lady, we are found out. This one's little slut will be here in seconds, and the ship's company will be here soon after.


Starbringer mentally winced as she moved towards Mouse and removed the red-spattered chip from her hand. She was running out of time and this situation need to be cleaned up before the rest arrived. “Have you completed the mindwipe and altered any other memories of the plans?" She asked quickly.


Yes, Pleasure's mental avatar hissed. Drop the chip on the floor. I will deal with it. It would be suspicious for you to be holding it when the security force arrives. Pleasure turned an impassive gaze on Mouse, then smiled and twitched her head as she found an old, almost-forgotten memory inside that pretty, silver-crowned head. There was a flick of her mental fingers, and suddenly Mouse was thrashing again, clawing at the carpet, her eyes wide and terrified, but this time she was silent, unable to breathe.


Lady, I believe this is where I leave you for the time being. Your duty officer does not remember the message, nor does Ms. Vetrova. Pain is dead and she believes that Pain and I attacked her, having gone rogue from your services. When this conversation is over, you will not remember the truth either, for a short period. The actual events will reassert themselves in time.


She heard Pleasure words and removed the chip from the draw and dropped it on the floor next to Mouse as her guard requested. A small smirked crossed her face as she kneeled down next to the leather dressed woman. She knew that this was going to be a death sentence for her. "As body guards go, you were the most entertaining. Thank you for your service and save me a seat in hell. I have a feeling I will be seeing you soon," she exhaled loudly and looked at the woman who she knew was only there to spy on her and make sure she completed her lady's ordered, but she still left like she was losing a friend. She dropped all her mental defenses. "Go on, do it," she ordered her and with that everything went dark.


* * *


An alert. There, gone, there again, gone again. A third time, then nothing. Vanished. But to quote one of the many texts housed in the Baited Breath's archives, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence. But three times...

A scan, fast and quiet. No alarms yet. No need. Marsyas' electronic perceptions cycle through a thousand locations and a dozen spectrums in a heartbeat, impelled by the massive, powerful computer in which he is housed. A millisecond later, Joyeuse was there, then Curtana and Durendal, taking up the hunt, refining parameters and eliminating suspects and locales in an ever-tightening net.

It was a long, long time, a full 2.2 seconds before the search was concluded and Marsyas has an approximate location of the electrical discharge that triggered the warning. It is a luxury cabin in Habitat block A, Deck Two, just aft of frame fifty. It could actually be any of three, but only two of them are occupied, one by Colibri and one by "Starbringer," and of those two, only Starbringer's remained totally hidden from Marsyas' electronic sight.


It took another small eternity before Marsyas decided how to respond to the readings; nearly a full half second was given to the consideration of options, though a tiny sliver of that time also spent reviewing the sensor logs which show that Mouse went into Starbringer's quarters only a short time before. While a weapon's discharge was not unheard of aboard this ship, in all other cases Marsyas had the ability to quickly analyze the situation and determine if intervention is necessary: not so in Starbringer's quarters. Starbringer's quarters were the only blind spot in the internal sensor net, and without the ability to see what has happened, Marsyas had no choice but to assume a potential emergency is an actual emergency.


He forked his mind into his custom Felicia bioshell, and his awareness expanded. It was like seeing through two sets of eyes. His lightspeed digital existence continued, and sensation rose around it. A heartbeat. The rising and falling of her chest as she breathed in and out. The weight of her body. The sound of the cryo-tube spinning open.

Even as Marsyas's Felicia-self got dressed and equipped for what was to come, his digital-self opened two simultaneous channels to two different people aboard ship: one to the head of a marine squad currently on rotation for security detail, the other with the medical bay.

"Sergeant, I need you and your squad to meet me at Habitat block A, deck two. Code 1099."

And in the other comm-channel, the one to the medical bay, he transmitted the following: "Paramedic team to habitat block A, deck two. Code 1099."


* * *


Organization was not Colibri's strong suit. Anyone that had known her for any amount of time could tell you that. Pretty much everything she did was just about as impetuously thrown together as she usually was. However, there was one striking exception.

Her guns.

The luggage she used to carry her collection around in was immaculate. Each pistol had its place, strapped into panels of the luggage with bindings fitted perfectly to each one and organized so no two pistols touched yet all space of their holding case was used to its full potential.

Each one was kept clean, and how she cleaned the things was no less efficient than how she carried them.

The redhead hummed quietly, more for the feel of the vibrations in her head than for the sound itself, and she laid down another piece of the 10mm she was deconstructing onto the blanket before her. The other pistol had already been taken apart and had its own space on the blanket, each piece placed in the order she took them off and cleaned individually.

The barrel of her second 10mm was next, and she slid it from the frame, holding the tube in one hand and the cleaner brush in the other. The smell of gun cleaner and oil floated up to her senses as the brush twisted along the rifling of the barrel, and she took in a deep breath to be let out in a sigh of rare calm.

She was in a bubble, her mind encompassed entirely in the repetitive swish of brush, wipe of cloth and dabbing of oil or cleaner. Her slender frame somehow managed to drape languid in a sitting position on the hard floor, her skin bare with the exception of the lacy, grey underthings she wore. All was calm, all was in harmony.

Suddenly, a tortured scream shattered the thin, bubble membrane surrounding her. It took but a fraction of a second, but Colibri recognized the voice behind such a sound, and the barrel and brushes were dropped, forgotten.

Mouse!

She was up and to her bedpost in a flash, grabbing the old leather belt heavy with steel, brass and lead, and was out her door with no care to her appearance. The belt was strapped to her waist as she moved, dashing to the door of the room she knew the sound was coming from and put all her weight, fear, and burning rage into the bare metal that was the only barrier between her and the soon-to-be corpse that was hurting her only friend.

* * *

It was always a little weird to be in a body, and being in a modified Felicia model made it a little weirder. Not because said body is female -- sure, Marsyas identifies as male, but that meant something different to a posthuman intelligence than it did to someone who had spent their entire life in one biological body, and she was about as concerned about the particulars of her current body's biology as she was about the possibility of quantum-tunneling through the floor -- but because it comes with enhanced senses. Hearing, taste, and smell are all sharper, and given that her digital-self didn't experience sensation in the same way, it was easy to get distracted. She had to force herself to keep going. Dress. Equip. Take the lift to deck two.

She caught sight of her own reflection in the polished metal of the lift wall, and it took a split-second to remember that the young woman looking back was herself; Marsyas's Felicia-shell was a lithe catgirl built for superhuman grace, speed, and reflexes, and she had the body of a gymnast. She had a pretty face -- not unusual for a Felicia Bioroid -- with short, dusky copper hair, vertically slitted eyes, and cat ears atop her head instead of the normal human ones. She lacked fur save for what covered her ears and tail, which were both the same shade of copper as her hair, and she was clad all in a form-fitting suit of black and grey bioplast armor with the nearly invisible helmet set in transparent mode.

The lift door opened. Habitat block A, deck two. She drew her heavy laser pistol but did not raise it, did not point it at anyone, and kept the safety on and her finger clear of the trigger as she stepped out onto the deck and glanced back and forth despite having no need to do so -- she was still seeing the sensor feed of the entire deck as her digital self monitored the situation from his position inside the ship's computer systems.

* * *

Colibri was a slender thing, all long limbs and trim lines. But now, scared and angry, half out of her mind and possessed of the same singular determination of half a decade before, she struck with far more than just muscle. Her mind flexed at the same time as her body, her barely-understood control of the powers she despised sharpening to a razor's edge in this moment of crisis, and she hit the door with a single dainty foot, a long, perfectly-formed kick that blew the door in with the force of a bomb blast. There was the splintering of wood veneer, the tortured shriek of metal and the crackling of composite armor, and a deafening, shearing snap as the blow split the door in half and blew the two halves right off their housing tracks.

Pleasure turned to the door, wearing a look of horrified surprise behind her badly-damaged mask as the slim redhead came into the room with the flash and fury of an avenging angel. She twisted out of the way as one half of the door spun through the room like an axehead and buried itself in Starbringer's desk, while the other measured its length over the badly-mangled, bullet riddled corpse of Starbringer's other bodyguard.

Colibri's reflexes were operating at full speed now, slowing the world to a crawl, and she was into the room before the two halves of the metal-cored door had finished moving. The first thing to hit her was the smell. There was the sour-bile smell of vomit, fresh and awful, and it was mixed with sweat and blood. As she came through the cloud of splinters created by the shattering of the ex-door's wooden face, she saw Pleasure standing over Mouse. Half her mask was shot away and there was blood on her cheeks, along with two pink marks on her forehead like new scars. Beyond her lay Starbringer, one arm clearly broken and with blood leaking out of her nostril. Her head lolled and her eyes were closed, but she was in no mortal danger.

Mouse wore the tortured look of a soul in hell. She was on her back, clawing at her throat as if trying to dislodge invisible fingers and leaving gouges on her swan-like neck, and her eyes were wide and horrified, staring at something only she could see. Her back arched so sharply Colibri thought it might snap, only her heels and shoulders touching the carpet and she voiced an awful, gurgling scream somewhere between plea, release, and agony, a spray of red dotting her lips and cheeks from a throat torn open from overuse.

Colibri zeroed in on Mouse, eyes widening as she watched her friend writhe in agony and terror, and a tidal wave of memories crashed into her mind. A man's hands wrapped around Mouse's neck, tightening, unrelenting. The force and agony she herself felt when that damned psionic buried himself into her own mind, the horror she experienced from that even as she looked upon the tortured and mutilated bodies of her own family.

Her entire being trembled, her chest swelled and burned, her stomach a tight ball of ice-cold steel. Her usually pretty face twisted into harsh, feral lines of rage as she turned her burning gaze to the woman standing over her friend. Her lungs filled with air, only to be released in a scream that held all the fury of a megaton asteroid barreling toward the arid Earth's surface, and then she was flying toward Pleasure with all the speed she could muster in the small space, her shoulder aiming for the woman's chest and meaning to send her across the room.

A thick, satisfying Crunch! entered Colibri's ear as her shoulder hit its mark just between the psionic's breasts, the force lifting the woman slightly and sent her hurtling toward the opposite wall. In this time, Colibri straightened, her feet planting themselves on the steel below as hands went to the worn, leather holsters at her hips, fingers wrapping around sandalwood grips. Dark steel barrels cleared leather just as Pleasure's body reached the intended target, her back hitting the wall as metal sights were leveled at her torso. Long, expert thumbs worked in tandem with twitchy trigger fingers at a blinding speed, the sound of only two shots were heard, but three streamlined balls of lead flew from each barrel and buried themselves into the woman's chest and gut before stopping their deadly journey in the wall behind her.

Pleasure fell to the ground, landing on her feet and by some force or another managing to stay upright. Colibri was there in a flash, both barrels, burning hot from the combustion and force of the bullets sent through them, pressed up against the underside of Pleasure's chin. There was no way in the seven hells she was going to let this one live.

Pleasure gurgled, a sound that would have been a hiss of pain if she didn't have six holes in her torso and coughed once, blood pouring from her mouth, before her lips twisted in an awful, mocking smile. "You...lose..." She rasped in a wet voice, and then her eyes narrowed. Behind Colibri, Mouse howled as some new, fresh hell was visited upon her defenseless mind, her will already long since broken and her every sensation now controlled by the woman currently under Colibri's heavy guns. Smoke rose from her chin as her flesh sizzled at the barrels' hot touch, but she didn't seem to notice as she turned her gaze on Colibri.

There was an icy feeling of shock in Colibri's mind, and the world threatened to fall away as Pleasure hammered into her thoughts, her telepathic attack as sharp as a scalpel and fast as Colibri's bullets as she tore through her victim's mind, searching out and reaching for the worst, darkest, most awful memory she could find, grabbing it and hauling it to the fore, armoring it with her will and making it real and solid once more with her boundless malice.

* * *

Marsyas exited the lift into the hallway- his bioshell, anyway, his other self was everywhere, always- perahaps fifteen seconds after Colibri had heard her friend's scream and blurred into motion. As such, he was just in time for his lithe catgirl form's enhanced hearing to pick out in vivid detail the cracking-shattering-shearing-snapping sound of a quarter inch of battle steel, two inches of expensive and tastefully carved wood, and one frame of nanocomposite being reduced to so much beach filler and twisted wreckage by the force of a single, psi-driven, absolutely titanic kick from the slender young gunslinger. A heartbeat later, there was an inarticulate howl of rage and the staccato hammering of heavy gauge gunshots, something huge and subsonic fired very quickly.

* * *

Colibri's expression of burning fury snapped to one of near panic, the feel of the psionic probing bringing back more memories even without Pleasure's cherry-picking. However, instead of crumpling her body and mind as expected, Col's adrenaline and rage hauled her back to the surface, and panic became indignation. "Get out of my fucking head, you Psy-Bitch!!" She roared, fingers pulling and emptying what she could of the remaining 6 live rounds sitting eagerly in the twin revolver's cylinders up into Pleasure's skull.

* * *

Marsyas could't help but grin as the data-feed displayed a closeup of that kick and of the subsequent destruction it wrought upon the door. It was a funny sort of grin; there was a fierceness to it mixed with just the tiniest hint of bloodlust that took it out of the realm of the purely happy. 'Tell me we're recording this,' the iteration in the Bioroid body transmitted to his other self that was in the ship.

'You know we are,' came the reply from his digital self. “And don't talk to yourself. It's weird. It makes me uncomfortable.”

He had to force himself not to roll his bioroid eyes. Admittedly, it did feel a little weird to remember conversations you had with yourself once you'd merged your forked consciousnesses back together into one unified mind, but it didn't feel that weird when you were actually having the conversation. Whatever.

Marsyas and the other Felicias picked up their pace, hustling down the hall towards the disturbance. "All right, sergeant,"Marsyas said, and the voice of his Felicia-type bioroid body is a dark, husky alto. "Let's sort this out. I want minimal casualties, understand?"

The Sergeant-Major, "Gunny" Raadian Eis, or Bright Eyes to her friends, nodded. In the crisp voice common to infantry commanders, she snapped, "Mika, Tiana, you go in low. Cammy, you and I go high. Everyone else, wait out here. Weapons ready, people. Below knows what's in there, but if it comes rushing out and its not me, Marsyas, Starbringer, or Colibri, you ventilate it and let me deal with the fallout. The XO wants 'minimal casualties,' so," her expression can only barely be called a smile, "try to blow their legs off."

The sounds of combat grew louder, and Marsyas picked up the pace yet again. He thumbed off the safety of his laser pistol but still doesn't have his finger anywhere near the trigger. He reached the door, the squad of marines right behind him, just in time to hear another set of gunshots.

Marsyas stepped through the door and takes in the scene; his eyes are grey like the sea after a storm, and cold; there is power and authority in his gaze and bearing, and his smile was less a smile than a baring of teeth. And his words are completely at odds with his body language. "Oh, hi," he said with false cheerfulness. "I hope we're not interrupting anything. I assume this is one of those human traditions I'm not familiar with. The traditional 'let's all murder each other' festival, maybe." Some of the cheer left his voice, then: some, but not all. "You're familiar with that festival, aren't you sergeant?"

"Oh yes. Generally sapient terrestrials from traditional family units attempt to celebrate it at the holidays, usually with the aid of alcohol." Gunny's tone was flippant, but she looked concerned. She'd talked to Colibri and Mouse both before, and she liked them from her first impressions. To see the bloodsoaked killer and the tormented young woman before her clashed horribly with her perceptions of them, and she felt a gnawing dread at the back of her mind.

Marsyas nodded. "I figured it was something like that." Then he glanced over his shoulder, and though there was no need to raise his voice, he did so anyways, calling out in a louder voice, "Medical team, move in." He transmitted an image of the room interior to them as they approach with a clear view of each injured and deceased individual. "Prioritize the injured, but I want the deceased on ice as soon as possible." His lips quirked into another smile. "If they think that a little thing like being dead will prevent me from having them interrogated about their roles in this, they've got another think coming." Then he turned to Colibri and Mouse, and his expression softened slightly, and in a gentle voice he said, "Colibri, I'm going to have the doctors take a look at your friend. Is that all right?"

Colibri didn't hesitate in gathering Mouse up into her arms, allowing the silver-haired woman to cling to her as much as she wanted. She stroked her hair and back, ignoring the feel of vomit, sweat and blood. The only time she even bothered to appear to notice the newcomers was when her name was spoken. Her face sullen and her eyes dark, she was unusually silent when she looked up at them, especially considering how peppy and talkative she usually was. Once Marsyas had finished his question, Col turned her head to look at the woman behind her, almost seeming to make certain the psionic was truly dead before looking back to him with a single nod.

She stood, then, scooping Mouse up into her arms and carrying her wherever they needed to go. Colibri made her way over to the AI, waiting for either him or someone else to lead her to the med bay.

"Nnnngh..." Mouse slurred. She trembled fitfully in Colibri's arms, shaking like a frightened animal and her heart beat like a jackhammer. Bright-Eyes started forward alongside the two med-techs, fearing the worst, but a look from Colibri froze her in her tracks. She normally wouldn't back down in front of a civilian, much less a simple passenger, but one look at the door and another at Colibri's eyes was enough to convince her that she would rather go for a swim in hard vacuum wearing lingerie than try to take Mouse away.

There was a horrible, rasping cough from Mouse, and she convulsed once, then tried again. This time, the words came out in a dreadful rasp, but at least they were coherent. "No..." she said hollowly. The med-techs didn't look happy, but they were no more eager to try and cross Colibri than Bright Eyes. "I...got regen...be okay..." She shook her head violently, spattering Colibri with blood and vomit. "Don't wanna be poked...don' wanna...invaded..." She turned haunted eyes up at Colibri. "Don' let 'em...take me...'mingbird...please..."

Marsyas thought about that. After a moment, he shrugged. "I suppose we can refrain from invasive medical procedures," he said, not entirely able to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "And," he continued magnanimously, "I suppose I shouldn't make you go to the infirmary if you don't want to and are conscious to object." He promptly flagged Starbringer on the medical team's AR display for retrieval to the medical bay for treatment. "Can you at least tell me what happened here?"

"Later," she said shortly, eyes narrowing at the AI's interest in Mouse even as the woman shook her head against Colibri's neck and began weeping anew. "I can tell you that I came in to that thing,” she nodded at what was left of Pleasure, “attacking her. That's all I know." And with that, Colibri walked out the door, all interest and attention on the ones in Starbringer's room completely gone as she carried her traumatized friend away from the scene and made her way back to her own room.

Colibri's trek down the hall to her room was a fairly short one, being as close as they were, and she walked through the still-open door. Once inside, she shifted both of their weight, lifting one, muscular leg and pressing the button on the panel next to the door with a dainty toe to close it again. With that done, Col crouched, using her knees to support Mouse's body as one hand released her in order to remove the gunbelt from around her waist and the boots from Mouse's feet. Standing again, she moved them into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Once the water was to temperature, she stepped in under the stream, clothes and all. She took a short moment to grab shampoo and conditioner before sitting down with Mouse in her lap. She didn't speak, didn't hum or shush, simply set to washing Mouse's hair as the woman continued to cling to her and shudder.

It was several long moments under the warm spray before Mouse's shaking began to subside from the frightening to the merely concerning. The stench from her hair was vile: sour bile, clotted blood, and whatever she'd had for lunch mixing with her sweat to create a smell so thick it was nearly solid, but it was soon washed away by the steam and the scent of Colibri's shampoo.

Once Mouse could move, at least a little, and silver was showing through the blood and crud in the worst spots of her hair, Mouse turned her face up to the spray. Pink and dark grey streamers ran down her throat as blood and makeup were washed away, and she shuddered violently as she saw the pink-tinged floor of the tub before leaning forward and tugging ineffectually at her shirt, trying and failing to remove it.

"Help..." she implored Col in a voice just above a whisper, then stopped and started coughing violently, spraying blood in both semi-liquid and solid form along the wall, then spitting sharply into the drain with a sound of disgust.

Colibri held her breath for a moment as Mouse hacked and choked, letting it out only when the coughing finally stopped. She aided the Russian with removing her shirt, tossing it to the bathroom floor with a loud Splop! Col helped her remove any other pieces of clothing Mouse wanted gone, soon working on her own as well and tossing her bra onto the soaked pile just beyond the shower curtain.

The pants took some finagling, because Mouse's legs didn't really want to work right and they'd been skin-tight before. Once everything was discarded and her coughing had subsided, Mouse waited until Colibri was between washes of her hair and leaned back against the gunslinger. Colibri could feel her heartbeat, still too fast and hard, and she was still seemingly on the edge of vibrating apart. The shower hid the tears, but Col knew they were still there.

It was a painful thing to see the normally-assured, distantly sarcastic woman brought so low.

After a moment, Mouse reached out to grab Colibri's hands and wrap them around herself, shrinking back against Col's chest. "I'm sorry, Col." She whispered, glancing at the blood- and bone- and brain-spattered bra. "I'll get you a new set the next time we make port somewhere."

Colibri huffed amusedly, tightening her embrace around her friend. "Ok, but they'd better be a particularly sexy set," she said jokingly, though her voice was much softer than usual, and a different kind of soft than even Mouse had heard before. Col knew what she had gone through, knew the invasion, the betrayal and helplessness that was even worse than what was caused by the act's physical equivalent. She hadn't had anyone to care for her, hold her. Had to deal with everything completely alone, and then was tossed to the streets where she was slapped with a Stardust patch to make her functional again. She wasn't going to let that happen to her best and only friend. She wanted Mouse to be better than she was...hells, she needed Mouse to be better than she was.

Mouse leaned forward slightly, careful not to break Colibri's embrace and turned her face up to the water, opening her mouth to catch the spray on her tongue. She washed her mouth out several times before leaning back again, and she seemed to know what Colibri was thinking because she wordlessly half-turned to lay her head on Col's shoulder and wrap an arm around the redheaded woman's waist, clinging tightly to her.

"I'm so sorry, Col." She whispered. "I didn't want you to have to confront that again, didn't mean to bring up bad memories." She nuzzled into Colibri's neck, and Col felt her entire body jerk as she sobbed once against the wet skin. "I don't...she...made me...oh, gods..."

Mouse broke. Now that the danger was past, now that her body was slowly knitting itself back together and she had the luxury of letting go, Mouse broke.

Drawing her knees up, she clung to Colibri with both arms, keening as she shrank into a tiny ball under the steaming water, the pain and horror of a subjective hour and a half- even though it had only been a few moments to anyone not caught in that dire mental hellscape- coming down on her like a hammer. Her sobs were high and piteous, filled with an ugly combination of shock, horror, fear, and a deeply personal shame for how thoroughly her psyche had betrayed her. Her naked body seemed very small and fragile under the water, her gunmetal hair plastered to her back and her skin even more pale than usual as she cried.

Colibri held her tightly, placing her cheek against the side of Mouse's head. "It's not your fault," she whispered sternly, her own tears welling and falling to join with the streams of water coming from above. "It's not your fault." The words were repeated again and again, though it was as much for Col's own sake as it was for Mouse's, and it was hardly only for Mouse blaming herself for bringing Col's past back to her. Whatever that bitch had tortured Mouse with, it wasn't her fault. Whatever memory she had relived, it wasn't her fault. Whatever Col had ever been through...it wasn't her fault.

Mouse shook and shivered in Col's arms, her lips mouthing silent words against Colibri's neck. Her grip was almost painfully tight, and her toes had curled up into fists. She whimpered and stammered, but words wouldn't come at first, and all she could do was make little sounds of anguish as she clutched at Colibri like a drowning woman.

When Colibri began to cry, something in Mouse reacted, and for a second, she became almost normal. She tilted her head back to gaze up at Col, her bone-deep, omnipresent concern for Colibri overriding everything else, and she gently kissed Col's cheek and whispered, "Its not your fault, either." Then her eyes prickled again and she slammed them shut against a fresh wave of tears as she bit back another sob, before gasping out, "Th-thank y-y-you." She gripped Colibri tightly once more, stammering, "S-sav-v-ved my life again-n-n."
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