The Vega Treason

Sci-Fi Story written by Kazakin on Thursday 15, January %2

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Full version, approaching novella length; WARNING: VIOLENCE

Overall Rating: 81%

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Author's note: The prologue contains a lot of background information that explains what the main character is doing, providing much needed backdrop to the story. Since the story is lengthy as it is, feel free to skip it if you prefer to get right into the story.
The Vega Treason We will have justice when all of my foes lie dead at my feet. --Third Oath of the Litany of Contempt
Librarian Guard 3rd Legion Issuance of Orders TO: Librarian Agent Kaede Kazeki FROM: Librarian Captain Travis Downer, 2nd Phalanx Captain FORWARD: Scholar Aurora, Scholarship Liaison; Head Scholar Lee Sun, DCO 71622; Librarian Mistress Terrasen, 3rd Legion Mistress SUBJECT: Mission to Reality 71622 Librarian Kazeki, You are being ordered to Reality 71622 to locate three Traitors whose presence was reported on 21.10.4738 DL by Head Scholar Lee Sun, Director of Citadel Operations in Reality 71622. ENEMY FORCES The Traitors have been identified as: Traitor "Flin," a former Librarian Acolyte from the 8th Phalanx of the 2nd Legion. Flin is noted for his arrogance and brutality. For this reason, his assigned master (not his recruiter) repeatedly refused to recommend him for promotion to full Librarian. Flin is a white human male, 1.9 meters tall with a strong build, has black hair and brown eyes, and a scar on his chin from a training accident. He has been known to use an axe in combat. He is believed to be the ringleader. Traitor "Kark," a former Scholar of thirty-four years with the Scholarship, and before that sixty-eight years as a Librarian. Kark is extremely cautious by nature, believed to be the result of the event that ended his Librarian career. Kark is also a white human male, 1.7 meters tall with a thin build, has greying red hair and blue eyes, and a number of scars from his previous service in the Librarian Guard. As a Librarian he was particularly cunning and wielded a sword and a dirk simultaneously, though whether or not he continues to carry these weapons anymore is unknown. He may be being held by Flin as a captive, and as such may be willing to surrender if pressed. Traitor "Sorn," a former Librarian Acolyte from the 7th Phalanx of the 2nd Legion. Sorn was known to be cunning and smart as a Librarian, however she was also judged to be cold and heartless, and willingly turned Traitor after thirteen years of training. Sorn is a human female of Eurasian descent, 1.3 meters tall with an athletic build, has blond hair and slate grey eyes, and a tattoo of a skull-and-crossbones from before her time with the Librarian Guard on her left arm. Sorn uses a variety of weapons, favoring a pair of pistols and occasionally a pair of katana-style swords. She may have a relationship with Flin. LOCATION Reality 71622 boasts an advanced human civilization spanning several star systems, a federation of worlds known as the Solar Federation (a name which was taken during its formation as a federation of the planets within the Solar System; the name has since stuck). Technology is highly advanced; expect space vessels to be equipped with mass driver weapons and faster-than-light capability, and indigenous military and security personnel to carry advanced firearms. The Citadel is located on the Antarctic continent of Planet Earth, and maintains discrete relations with most of the reigning planetary nations. The Solar Federation is made up of thirty-seven star systems and is ruled by the Federal Council. Even with the leadership of the Federal Council, system governments are responsible for law and order. The Federation is defended by the Federal Navy - supported by the Federal Marine Corps - and the Federal Army, though so far only rogue human states have risen as a threat. There is no national religion, and only approximately 36% of the population claim to be particularly religious. Citizens tend to prefer loose and comfortable clothing and are generally very relaxed even among strangers due to a lack of any national police force. While the Library's presence is public, it is not widely known, but due to cultural tendencies towards acceptance this should not be a problem. It is unknown why the Traitors would go to this reality when the existence of the Citadel is well known and Scholars are commonly seen throughout the Federation, but it is possible that either they were simply unaware due to ignorance or they were confident they could slip under the radar, a possibility supported by Traitor Flin's profile. LATEST INTELLIGENCE All three Traitors were spotted traveling together on Earth's South American continent by Scholars Miles Tanner and Genevieve Stedari. The Scholars were not spotted in turn and were able to report to the Director of Citadel Operations without incident. Images taken from the security cameras on the scene confirmed their identities, and Scholar Lee Sun immediately requested a Librarian to eliminate them. The Traitors have not been sighted since. RESTRICTIONS ON ACTIONS None. SUPPORT Scholar Liaison Aurora will accompany you, and Scholar Lee Sun will provide whatever support his Citadel can offer. Unfortunately, the Song of Everlasting Twilight is being reassigned from your service to another Librarian unit; you will have to rely on indigenous methods of conveyance. EDIT: Your request for the Litany of Contempt to provide transport is denied. Librarian Champion Kazakin is on assignment with the ship. MISSION You are to report to the Director of Citadel Operations in Reality 71622 Scholar Lee Sun no later than 15.12.4738 DL; the gateway can be accessed through Defense District Seven. Upon receiving the latest information regarding the Traitors, immediately pursue them. It is possible that they have built up contacts and gathered allies. Exterminate them all.
My first impression of Head Scholar Sun Lee was one of grave disappointment. Aurora had insisted on telling me on my way here that the good Scholar was a strong-willed leader who took his job very seriously. I found that very hard to believe. The man lived in extravagance in the overly extravagant Citadel's extravagantly tall tower. The place was filled with clashing purples and reds and gold, and half of the floors and walls seemed to be made of cushions. As for Sun Lee himself, I was amazed he didn't generate his own gravity well. "You honor us by your presence, my Lady," he said. A flatterer as well as a cunning man, apparently. I hate flatterers. "I am not a noble, Scholar," I told to him in as neutral a voice as I could muster. "'Librarian' will do." I grudgingly shook his outstretched, squishy hand, and was surprised by the strong grip he gave me. When I had taken my hand back I pushed back my hood. "You have information for me?" Lee nodded. "The Traitors have left this planet." I nodded; flatterer he may be, and fat as hell, too, but he was straight to the point. Maybe there was something to Aurora's assessment, after all. But I doubted it. "Where are they?" I asked. He shrugged. "I'm not sure," he said. "We do know they took transport to the Vega star system, a month-long voyage from here, but we do not know what happened from there. They may still be there, but they may also have left for another world, or possibly found a gate to another reality." I nodded again and thought for a moment. I looked right into Lee's eyes to further assess him. Like his handshake, they surprised me, too: there was a glint of a powerful intellect behind those eyes, and I . "I require transport there, then." The Scholar nodded, a movement that was more of a shifting of fat that any actual change of the orientation of his head. "I thought you might." He reached into a drawer and pulled out something the same size and shape of a credit card. "This is a ticket for a flight to the Vega system. You'll leave from the Fenix Corporation's flight terminal in London tomorrow morning." You know that saying about first impressions? Utter nonsense. "Crowded" would be a bit of an understatement when describing the flight terminal. "Sardine can" may be more like it. Smelled like it, too. Oh sure, the building itself was very tidy and clean, but when you have that many warm bodies crammed together, there is going to be a very specific kind of odor. More irritating than the smell, however, were the looks. Aurora had mentioned that these people had never seen a Librarian before-the Explorer team that had found the place had shown up over a century ago in local year 2633-and apparently my Librarian coat was out of place to them. Maybe it's the hood. Thankfully, other than being assailed by smell and feeling like the eyes of half of Earth was on me, I was able to board the transport Ezekiel without incident (ignoring the interested look by the fool taking my ticket). Predictably, considering Scholar Lee's apparent taste of luxury, the thing was a sleek cruise liner, built to pretty and fast. It also meant it was unarmed and unarmored, or damn near, anyway. That made me uncomfortable; one thing I'd learned during my apprenticeship was that it was better to be armed than comfortable. As it turned out, "comfortable" didn't begin to describe it. Lee had managed to book me passage in the Ezekiel's stateroom, the place they generally reserve for government officials and CEOs. I shook my head in mild disbelief as the door automatically shut behind me. Sharp the man may be, but damn if he didn't have expensive tastes. I really had to wonder why he'd go to such lengths for this kind of comfort; at the speed this civilization could make its ships move, we'd be arriving in the Vega star system in seven hour (which, by the way, was the fastest I've ever seen anyone make a starship move before without using some kind of cheat like folding space, and that's saying something). I carefully sat down on one of the seats, and let out a surprised yelp as I sank down much farther than I expected. I was used to wooden stools and steel straight-backed chairs, and this cushion pool caught me by surprise (though in retrospect, I guess I should've seen it coming considering what the place looked like). With more than a little effort I managed to haul myself out of the seat, then shook my head with a wry chuckle. Might as well try to enjoy it, I thought to myself as I took my coat off. A nap would do me good. Shows you what I know. I've always been a light sleeper, occasionally to my great irritation. That night, however, I was more than a little grateful for it. I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of my door opening. Alarm bells started going off in my head; in my experience people who don't knock generally mean you seem kind of harm. Noting the hurried footsteps of two . . . no, three people, I didn't see much point in subtlety, so I reached for the nearest thing (which turned out to be a coffee table rather securely fastened to the floor) and pulled myself out of the way. An instant later, my attackers started firing, tearing up the spot I'd been occupying with bullets (unsurprisingly, the weapons were suppressed, so the only noise they made was a light cough instead of a big bang). Once my boots hit the ground (yes, I sleep with my boots on . . . and my shirt and pants), I spun around and saw my enemies (or rather their silhouettes). They were all men, and all very big, armed with appropriately large guns. I, however, didn't have a light source like an open door behind me, and they hadn't noticed I'd moved, judging from the amount of fire they were pouring on the bed. I reached for the man on the far left, and the next thing they knew, one of them had been cut in half. The man's screams cut off their fire, and they started turning confusedly. They started yelling and cursing in the way of scared and woefully inexperienced assassins everywhere. It apparently never even occurred to them to try and escape, because instead of running away like sensible murderers, they edged farther into the room, occasionally firing at shadows they thought were moving. I smirked as I reached for another one; as I grabbed him and lifted him off the floor, he let out a girlish scream that would've been hilarious under other circumstances. His buddy grabbed at him, but lost his grip on his shoelace when I threw him headfirst into the wall. He didn't move afterwards, other than a groan as his consciousness slipped into oblivion. The last assassin finally grew a brain and turned to run out. It didn't help, as I yanked him back and threw him against a wall hard enough to knock him out. The two would-be killers down and/or dead, I went to the door and checked outside. No one was outside and there were no signs of panic, thank God for small mercies, so I shut and locked the door and turned on the lights. I called for my AI companion. "Here, Ms. Kazeki," came Aurora's voice from the portable computer core in my coat's inner pocket. I went to the chair I'd left it draped over and pulled the core out. As I did so, I watched Aurora's image appear on the holographic projector attached to the top of the core. "What can I do for you today?" she asked. "Check to see if this attack has been reported," I told her. It would be somewhat inconvenient if security guards were to bust in right now. "And lock the door." "By your will, milady," she said. She closed her eyes and appeared to go slack, and I put her core on the secure coffee table on the other side of the bed as I pulled on my coat. She did so enjoy treating me like nobility, knowing it irritated me as much as it did our mutual former master (except in his case it was correct). As I heard the lock shut on the door, I grabbed one of the survivors and dragged him to a sitting position against the wall, then did the same for the other. I had to take care of the pool of blood; cutting people in half tends to result in a rather big mess, and the blood wasn't just on the floor (by some miracle my coat had emerged unscathed). I didn't bother cleaning it up, though, not yet. I had some questions for these two, and the sight of their dead buddy could very well motivate them to speak. Aurora's "eyes" snapped open. "No word on the security network, Ms. Kazeki," she said. "But I did find something interesting." "Yes?" I demanded. "All securities systems on this deck have been deactivated. I imagine that's why there are no alarms." I frowned as I zipped up the front of my coat. "So either they're better hackers than they are assassins . . ." Aurora nodded. "Or someone in the ship's security division is working with them." She shrugged. "I'll see what I can find out through the ship's network. It's possible someone may have been careless with their mail." "Fine," I said. "You do that. I've got some questions to ask these . . . fine gentlemen." As it was, Aurora didn't find anything in the electronic mail systems, but that didn't exclude hard copy mail. Unfortunately, checking all that would take much longer than simply hacking the system, so I left her to it. It took about three hours for the first of them to wake up. I was sitting on the edge of the bed (which, thanks to its damned overly cushioned nature, made me look far less intimidating than I should have) not more than a few feet away with a mug of coffee in my hand. I wasn't worried: if he tried anything, he may find himself missing some limbs. At first, the poor fellow seemed confused, first regarding his present location. The second thing he seemed to notice was that he didn't seem to understand why he wasn't tied up, considering the disastrous effect of their raid, the memory of which must be cropping up in his head again. Then his eyes went up and met mine, or at least tried to as they were completely shadowed by my hood, but he seemed to groggy to try anything. I smiled at him. "Hi!" I said as cheerfully as I could under the circumstances. That must have snapped something in the man's mind, because the next thing he did was roar and leap at me with his hands grasping for my neck. He even managed to get to a full standing position before I reached for him, but instead of slowly tearing him apart I just grabbed him by the arms and hoisted him up in the air. Rage became confusion, which quickly turned to fear. His desperate kicking and turning eventually caused his head to swivel in the direction of the now rather large pool of blood and the two halves of his buddy. That got his attention, and he froze, fear turning to sheer terror. He opened and closed mouth rapidly, unable to get a coherent word out. I let my smile fade. "Who sent you?" I demanded. Like my master, I never did have much patience for a really intimidating interrogation. He didn't answer, so I repeated the question until I got something other than his best salmon impression. At first it was nothing but a lot of incoherent muttering, so I eventually managed to get him to shut up by dropping him to the floor. "Who sent you?" I repeated. He shuddered. "They told us . . ." He faltered. His sleeping friend stirred, but he didn't notice. He'd also seriously calmed down; maybe the memories had given him some extra strength. Or greater fear of something other than me. That calm didn't last, long. In fact, it lasted about as long as his life did. Without any warning or preamble, he and his friend-who managed to remain comatose through the interrogation-and the top half of the dead guy started convulsing. I was struck with a sense of great foreboding, and I grabbed Aurora's core and dashed for the door. I reached for it and blasted it off its hinges as I ran. I made it just past the door and spun myself around to the shelter of the frame. It wasn't enough. The room exploded with the force of a small gas tanker going up, and despite my somewhat shielded position I found myself being thrown forward. I vaguely recall yelling in surprise at the force of the explosion, then slamming into a wall. I don't know how long I spent lying there in a semi-conscious state, but eventually the combination of the fire alarms and Aurora's voice dragged my mind to the point of full awareness. I vaguely registered the fact that there was no vacuum, and I thanked God for small mercies that Ezekie's VIP suite wasn't situated against the hull. There was no way an unarmored skin like Ezekie's could stand up to an internal blast like that. The next thing I noticed (other than the headache and the ringing in my ears) was the crowd of panicking tourists and ship crew trying to figure out what the hell had happened. I turned to look at the room I'd just run out of, and tried my best to continue to look completely stoic as I made sure my hood was over my eyes again. The room was gone, as was just about everything else in the hallway. The blast radius ended about three feet in front of me, and I wondered just how many innocents had been killed in this attempt to cover up someone's tracks. No, I thought as something clicked in my mind. The assassins weren't supposed to kill me, at least not directly. The bomb was the murder weapon. With that realization, all doubts as to who had been out to kill a Librarian evaporated (not that there'd been much to begin with). "Ms. Kazeki!" Aurora's voice came from her exceedingly durable core lying on the floor next to my left boot. "I'm here, Aurora," I reassured the AI as I picked her up. I then turned and started to walk away in the direction the crew was trying to funnel the fleeing passengers. "Did you find anything?" "I'm still sifting through the mail, ma'am. I should be able to finish-" "Don't bother," I cut her off. "Mark the crew down for later investigation, but stop doing any searches." "May I ask why?" I nodded, even though she, in all likelihood, wouldn't be able to tell. "They already know we're here."
I was able to mingle among the panicked passengers and remain as inconspicuous as was possible for someone wearing a hooded coat. I didn't bother lowering my hood: someone looking pissed off but otherwise calm in a crowd of terrified civilians stands out just as much as a hooded person does. At least this way I could move my head around in my constant search for something else trying to kill me and hope that they may mistake my head movement as fear. Of course, if I was right about my would-be killers, they weren't likely to fall for it. One bright spot, such as it was, was that the Ezekiel's captain had decided that we'd had an emergency (No wonder he's the captain.) and according to Aurora had called for a military escort to the Vega system, then he'd eked a bit more speed out of the engines and got us there faster without waiting for the escort ships or even a response. As it was, we ended up arriving at Vega a mere hour after the explosion, but instead of heading down to the planet's surface we ended up docking at the Vega III-B orbital station. Which suited me just fine. I managed to push my way through the crowd to a viewport when Aurora told me that we were about to dock there, so I got to get a look at the station. "It looks like a can of chili with onion rings spinning around it," I said to no one in particular. Ever the literal one, Aurora chose to respond anyway. "That 'can of chili' is the support structure. It houses the power plants and the supply storage facilities. Those rings are the primary living quarters, the vast majority of the station's crew live there. The station is controlled by a civilian tourist company, so anyone can come and go as they please. However, some sectors are owned by private firms for research and production purposes. The station also boasts an exceptional private security force of approximately two hundred guards." I nodded slightly. "I assume the computers tell you this?" "They do, ma'am." She paused for a moment. "They also tell me that two-thirds of the station is off-limits to all but law enforcement and military personnel." That got my attention. "Why?" Aurora paused again; not a good sign. "Apparently there have been a large number of murders there. I'm sorry, Ms. Kazeki, but the ship's computers don't have any more information than that. If we get on the station I should be able to find out more." I grunted, then turned from the window. "Alright, hack the station's systems as soon as we're aboard." "Will do, milady." As I started making my way towards the exit, I started thinking more about the sealed sectors of the station. Two-thirds of a civilian-owned public station off-limits, despite an "exceptional private security force?" Aurora had been with me for decades, now, and she had been with my master long before that; if she called something "exceptional," it was probably one of the best security forces in any reality. To pull off taking over two-thirds of a secure space station would require massive resources, a lot of manpower, corrupt officials . . . Or great power, I thought. It could be that this was just another criminal organization, and thus no concern of mine (yet), but that didn't seem right. I put forth the possibility to Aurora. "Unlikely, milady, but very possible. There are a several major crime syndicates and rogue organizations that could do something like this, one or two operating in the Vega system." She paused again; I had to wonder why she would bother, since she thought fast enough to avoid it, and she didn't need to breathe. "However, it would be very difficult for them to gain such a strong foothold on the station." "But it would be easy for three very powerful people to get there and wreak that kind of havok," I finished. It fit: if the intelligence was correct, the leader of this merry band of Traitors I was after was an egotistical freak with a taste for blood. I had no doubt Traitor Flin had ordered my assassination, and to do that he undoubtedly had friends aboard Ezekiel, possibly even in the Citadel itself. He was also rather careless, according to his record, so there was a fair chance he'd never bothered to consider the possibility of his grand scheme to kill me failing. Aurora didn't sound particularly incredulous, either. "You think the Traitors are responsible." I grunted. "It's possible. We'll see when we get there." Which, judging from the loud clang! of a docking collar attaching to the ship's hull, would be right about now. If the Fenix Corporation's flight lobby was stuffed to the gills, that made the Vega III-B orbital station-or rather the "Lecter star base" according to the locals-its polar opposite. The greeting message playing over the loudspeaker as I came aboard amidst the passengers-the stink of fear still clinging to them-insisted the place was one of the most populated space station in the entire Solar Federation, but considering the murder situation it apparently didn't hold that particular record any more. It may have been up for "most empty space station in the Solar Federation." Unlike my fellow new arrivals, I didn't make for one of the hotels (each of which, I'm quite sure, would've easily scored five stars on any scale). Instead, I headed for the closest of the closed-off sectors. It wasn't hard to find: labeled "SECTOR 3" it was the only one with a closed gate and armed guards standing outside of it. There were also more than a few guards patrolling the halls leading up to it, and Aurora indicated that there were dozens of patrols moving both within and without the secured areas. There were taking no chances. This could get interesting. "Ms. Kazeki, I have the surveillance results for you." Aurora's image appeared on top of the holographic projector built into the modest yet clearly expensive coffee table. She'd been running around the station's network for three days now, trying to find a pattern to the guards' patrol routes. Apparently the station did have good security; just not good enough. Not that it made me feel better about having to sit on my ass for three days doing a whole lot of nothing. As such, I practically jumped out of my seat to her image. "And?" The AI gestured, and an image of the Sector Three gate appeared. "Not unlike their network security, the security forces here are quite good at their job. The gate is guarded 24/7; there is no break in the guard rotation at all. The same applies for every other gate into the restricted sectors." As she said this an image of four other gates appeared, and other than the numbers-one, two, eight, and nine-and the faces of the guards, they were otherwise nearly identical images. "I'm afraid the only way into these sectors is through blunt force." I shook my head. "Let's try not to do any more damage than we have to. Don't you have anything else?" Aurora nodded. "Yes, ma'am." She waved a hand, and the images were replaced with a new one. "The Solar Federation uses teleporter technology to move heavy cargo to and from planet surfaces. It's somewhat primitive compared to other forms of the technology we've seen, but it works." I struck what my master called my "thinking pose" (I've never really noticed it, but apparently I put my chin in my hand, between my extended index finger and thumb, while my other fingers maintain a loose fist over my mouth.). "Will it work on a human?" I still occasionally had nightmares of what happened to an overeager Scholar seeking to test a "primitive teleporter" on something other than simply cargo. Unfortunately for him, he chose to test it on himself. The AI paused. "Well, yes and no," she said, then hurried to add, "Currently, the system is not up to the task, but it's mostly a matter of control software. With the proper upgrades, it should work for something as complex as a human body." "Should?" I asked. Aurora nodded. "That's the best I can do, ma'am, I'm sorry." I should mention that I don't like being teleported when the system is generally fully qualified to work with humans. Something about of having my body scrambled into molecules or data streams or energy or whatever the hell it is they do and having them put back together in (hopefully) the right order. All it would take is one little thing to go wrong, and my legs are coming out of my ears. "Couldn't you divert security? Simulate a pirate attack or something?" The AI shrugged. "I could," she said, and I began to feel hopeful about avoiding the whole teleporting thing; of course, she had to ruin it. "I'm afraid, however, that the number of guards protecting the restricted sectors are only a small portion of the station's over all security, and there is a Federal military orbital base not far from here; they'd be able to physically discover that there is no pirate attack or anything of the sort within an hour, and then the station will be crawling with Federal Marines." Great. I tried to think of something else we could do, but the situation didn't allow any other options. Fighting through was worse than the trick Aurora had just shot down, as it would get the Marines there sooner anyway and then there would be a bloodbath, and there was no chance at all that security would let me in there if I asked as nicely as I possibly could, even if I flaunted my position and authority. I sighed. "Start reprogramming, then." The apprehension was really setting in as I stood in the cargo teleporter room. Particularly disturbing images of mangled limbs and mutated craniums were starting to fill my head. "Aurora . . ." I started. "It's as ready as it can be, ma'am. Don't worry so much, you should come out alright." The AI managed to sound both consoling and amused at the same time. Probably just as well that she didn't interpret my queasiness as an affront to her skills both as a programmer or a hacker (though it was just as likely that she was ignoring that in favor of the entertainment of watching me squirm). I scratched the side of my head. "'Should' is what worries me." Nevertheless, there really wasn't any turning back, especially not after knocking out a private security guard to get in here. I took a deep breath and stepped onto the platform. "Alright," I said as I closed my eyes. "Do it." With my eyes screwed shut, I couldn't see what was happening, but it felt roughly the same as it usually did: a particularly unpleasant prickling, followed by the disturbing feeling of being in two places at once (if you've never felt it, you can't understand it). Then the sensation completely reversed, leaving me standing exactly how I was. That didn't last, and my relief that everything felt like it was in the right order was easily offset by the wave of nausea, and I found myself on my hands and knees just barely holding in my breakfast. Damn Aurora for talking me into this. When I managed to bring my retching under control, I took a look around. Aurora had found an area free of patrols, and had dropped me right in the middle of it. The place was a pretty generic hallway from what I could see, probably in a residential area or dormitory judging from the number of plain doors on both sides. I managed to stand up, but had to reach for a wall to steady myself. "Aurora," I croaked. "Told you, Ms. Kazeki. Perfectly harmless," Aurora's voice said in my earpiece. She sounded far too glib for my liking. I looked up and saw a camera looking at me on the wall and shook my head at it. "Shut up." I eventually managed to reorient myself to my surrounding sufficiently to make my way down the hallway; Aurora had confirmed with her technowizardry that there was nothing in that hallway, so I didn't bother checking every room (which would've been a bit of a strain with the way my stomach was complaining anyway). Sloppy, maybe, but I trust my AI companion, abominably annoying though she can be at times. The door at the end of the hallway was designed to slide open as I approached, but Aurora had seen to it that the doors would not open unless she said so. "Open it just a little," I whispered to her from my place behind the doorframe. The door slid open a few inches and I carefully glanced out into the area beyond. This was a much larger area, almost identical in form and function to the concourse I'd seen when I left the ship. The most noticeable difference, however, was the nearly complete lack of people milling about. It wasn't empty: at least a dozen security guards stood guard at various doors that held no particular significance to me, and another dozen were patrolling the place. No one seemed to have noticed- Oh damn. One particularly sharp-eyed guard across the wide hall was pointing and shouting in my direction. He and one of his compatriots had started moving towards me, and I saw a shadow of something much larger and far more imposing appearing at the field of my vision. "Aurora, shut the door!" I hissed as I turned away and started running back down the halls, all feelings of nausea gone. The door closed and locked behind me, but the thing had a manual override which no AI could manipulate. As it turned out, that point turned out to be completely moot. "They've sounded the alarm, ma'am!" Aurora said. I slowed down for a moment and turned to look at the door to the concourse; I just found it odd that there was no sign of anyone trying to force the door open. There was something else nagging at me, though, and the memory of those big shadows crossed into my mind. "Aurora," I said. "Does security use power armor?" If Aurora had been about to reply, I never heard the answer; two doors behind me slid open, and I spun at the sound, starting to move into a low stance to take on the guards who'd ambushed me. I didn't finish, though, as I have found it's a good idea to freeze when you find yourself staring down the barrels of a pair of very large guns. I let my eyes drift up to see two hulking figures encased in metal. They both stood at least eight feet tall and wore full-body plate armor painted in a mess of greys and dark blues. Their helmets completely covered their heads, though that didn't hide the faint sound of an efficient and well-maintained air filter working in them. They stood perfectly still, like statues, but I had no doubt that if they had twitched I would here the sound of powered servos, and their aims with their massive firearms didn't waver for a second. Most surprising of all, however, was the symbol of cross swords over a star etched into their shoulder pauldrons. These men were Federal Marines. While that was surprising and certainly raised a lot of questions, that's not what caused me to almost completely ignore the sound of the door at the end of the hall bursting open and the sound of more heavy footfalls behind me, no doubt belonging to more Marines. What really got my attention, was the symbol painted on left side of their breastplates: a pair of four-pointed stars laid on top of each other, one rotated forty-five degrees: the Mark of Treason. That made my course of action quite clear. The one on my right was the first to die. I reached for him and tore him in half, even as I reached for every gun I could sense-the ones in my sight and the ones behind me in my range of hearing-and cut the weapons apart. "Traitors!" I hissed as a leapt up and solidly kicked the man's head on the left with my full strength. I doubt he was expecting much, if in fact he was able to expect anything at all with how quickly things were going to hell around him; frankly I can't blame him. I wouldn't have expected a five-foot-five 120 pound girl to be able to cave in his skull through his helmet by kicking him even if she could jump high enough to reach him. I doubt he really had time to be surprised, though. The other two, however, did their service credit by opening fire immediately. I, however, haven't survived over a hundred years of nearly constant fighting by never getting into a gun fight, and I knocked every bullet they fired aside with a simple reach. Not that they got many shots off, since whoever had told them I was coming had neglected to inform them that I could easily get them at a mere five feet away. I stepped past the mangled bits of human and armor and put a finger to my earpiece. "They're Traitors, Aurora, all of them," I said. When the AI didn't answer with some snippy remark, however, I frowned. "Aurora?" Still no answer. I whispered a curse. These Traitors were good: they'd locked out even Aurora. It was only a matter of time until she hacked in anyway, of course, but who knew how long that would be? Still, I had a crucial piece of information for deciding on my next course of action: They were all in cahoots with the Traitors. More importantly, the Traitors were here. I honestly doubted that every man, woman, and child on the station were tainted by the mark of Treason-and even if they were I have a personal policy against genocide-but Flin, Kark, and Sorn were all here, and they would all be mine. This time I walked right through the door without any sneaking; four security guards were waiting on the other side, facing away. They turned, no doubt expecting the Marines to come out with me in a bodybag. As the case was, the looks on their faces were utterly priceless. Then, of course, they were dead, in a particularly large spray of blood, bone, and brain matter. I stepped over the mess and into the hallway. Right into a hail of bullets. The others in the hallway had reacted surprisingly quickly, as if it wasn't so surprising to watch their comrades vanish in a cloud of gore. I wasn't too concerned with thinking about it, though, not with the storm of bullets heading my way. I ducked back into the doorway, knocking aside a handful of shots before I could get under cover. I caught a glimpse of half a dozen troopers and a handful of Marines. Worst, they were all well out of range of my reach. Not that it was going to be much of a problem. I don't have to touch my enemy with my reach to kill them. I reached for one of the corpses of a Marine and picked up one of the fallen oversized weapons. Without revealing myself in the hallway and the continuing storm (wondering how much longer they could maintain that much fire), I maneuvered the weapon out into the hallway and gently reached for the trigger. Just as before, the rifle unleashed a torrent of bullets down in there direction. It was only one rifle to their one-per-man they had, but they didn't have more than a century of experience resulting in superhuman reflexes or some sort of "psionic capacity" (as Aurora is wont to put it) to fall back on. In a manner of seconds, the storm of metal and thunder was replaced by screams of both pain and confusion. A few voices tried to regain control, but were clearly failing miserably. I dropped the spent rifle and spun around the corner. At the same time I reached for the ceiling, punching a hole to grab onto, and yanked myself up and toward my enemies, now four, one of them a Marine. Everyone else was on the ground, a few of them still moving; the Marine rifle must have packed one hell of a punch to be able to pierce their own plate armor. Without having to deal with the ground, I moved much faster than they were able to react, so even though they were dozens of meters away, I was able to close the distance quickly enough that all they saw was a bewildering blur of grey. One of the security troops was closest and the first to die. He had been looking in the wrong direction, and was beginning to turn towards me when I detached all four of his limbs and his head from his body. The blood sprayed out in grand arcs, the horrifying nature giving me a second more to reach for a wall and pull myself towards another trooper. I didn't have time for nice, easy cuts with him: he was a grizzled old man with sergeant stripes on his sleeves, and he hadn't been slowed down appreciably by the view. I had to punch out as quickly as I could, and his entire midsection exploded in a shower of red blood and white bone. Behind him, the Marine froze a half second as the man in front of him blew apart into two halves. Before he could react, I reached for him, but instead of killing him I grabbed onto his shoulder plates and pulled myself towards him through the still falling gore. My fist met his breastplate and crushed it; barely audible were the cracking ribs. My foot smashed into a knee, shattering the bone and cartilage. He went down with a strangulated cry, and I spun in midair towards the last one. The last guard had dropped his weapon, and was now scooting on his backside towards the wall farthest from me as fast as he could. I dropped back to the floor and stared at him. The terror in his tear-filled eyes begged me for mercy. However, the Mark stood clear on his vest, and I walked towards him with terrible purpose. When I reached him, he whimpered something out that sounded vaguely like words, but I paid them no mind. I must have made quite a sight: I didn't have to be tall to tower over his cowering form, and my blood-splattered coat and face must've struck a nerve. I gazed down at him and gave him my best sneer as I raised my hand to him. "On charges of treason," I snarled, "you are sentenced to death." I never got the chance to execute him, though, as a tremendous impact hit me in the back of the head, and everything went black. The next thing I knew I was rather securely tied to a pillar with thick steel ropes, my boots dangling high the floor and my hood pushed back. As my eyes cleared I was able to see the sterile white room I was in. There wasn't much to it: other than myself and my pillar it was nearly empty, other than several black boxes strapped against one of the walls, but the walls, floor, and ceiling, were all out of range of my reach. I also noticed wires strung all over the room, including my pillar. I had no doubt the boxes were bombs against a wall that was up against the station's hull, powerful enough to blow a hole and suck me into space. The entire room was wired to detect any changes my reach might have caused. Someone had clearly done their homework. A sense of familiarity over the situation festered in my mind, and a burning rage began burning inside of me near the location of my heart. It was a familiar rage born of hate and vengeful thoughts, and dark memories crept up to torment me. I bared my teeth and snarled and kicked against my bonds before I could regain control. A voice boomed out and distracted me from my fight against the steel cables holding me; I felt my anger abate slightly. "Don't bother," the voice said. "That room is wired; you'll be blown into space before you can have a hope of escaping." It was a man's voice, with more than a hint of overweening pride in its owner's cleverness at the trap. I looked around for a microphone or speaker but saw nothing. The voice continued, "You are now our prisoner, Librarian Kazeki." I froze, all memory of a past life vanishing like smoke in a hurricane. "How the hell do you know who I am?" I demanded of the voice. A silky woman's voice came on. "We have friends in high places, Librarian." She said the last word with such disdain I half expected to hear her spit. I lowered my head but kept moving my eyes, searching for that microphone or speaker; the voices echoes too much to get an accurate fix on their source. "Traitors," I sneered quietly. Laughter burst from the hidden speaker, from three different voices, one of them the woman. "Who are these friends?" I demanded more loudly. A third, more weathered and elderly, voice-Kark, the former Scholar, no doubt-spoke up. "Why don't you ask master Sun?" he said. I frowned, and made a mental note to inform whoever was in charge of gathering intelligence that they needed to do a better job of finding information on the enemy: the ex-Scholar sounded like he was enjoying this far too much to be being "held by Flin as a captive." I repeated my lowered-head-glower. "So he's a Traitor, too," I whispered. "I'll look forward to killing him after I destroy you three." More cackling sounded. The first voice-Flin-managed to gasp out, "How do you intend to do that, little girl? You're trapped there!" The laughter continued. I gave them a cold smile, not caring if they had a hidden camera in the room or not. "Like this," I said, and I reached for the cords holding me down and cut them apart. Whatever sensors in the pillar immediately detected the sudden drop in pressure as the ropes stopped holding me down; a high-pitched whine sounded from the pillar alerted me to the sudden change in condition in case I had missed it. I had to move fast, much faster than any human should be able to. Good thing I am that fast. In the time it took for the electrical signals ordering the bombs to explode to run their course, I had reached for the boxes on the wall and torn them away, the metal brackets holding them there screeching in protest. The wires were still connected, however, and I flung the bombs at the opposite wall. Just before they hit it, they each exploded with the force of the explosion on the Ezekiel. I found myself flying through the air again, and smashed into the hull-side wall with more force than made me comfortable, and I wondered for a moment if my gambit would save me or not. My fears were alleviated a moment later when I realized that I was on my knees on the floor instead of floating in space. I glanced up; the bombs had blasted most of the wall away, leaving several decks plainly visible. Wreckage and a few bodies strewed my view, and alarms were blazing. I shakily stood up and noted that the blasted had also ruined my coat: my right sleeve, the closest to the explosion, was in tatters, and most of the tough fabric was burned, the fringes pockmarked with holes of various shapes and sizes. My shirt sleeve had suffered a similar fate, and I noted that my skin had taken on an interesting red color. That seemed to be the extent of the damage to me, however. I began to pull my hood over my head, then noticed that it had taken on a newfound floppiness; further inspection showed that it had been shredded by shrapnel, which had also shorn off a sizable portion of my already shoulder-length hair. I shook my head in irritation and left what was left of my hood hanging back. I raised a hand to my ear as I started walking towards the hole, meaning to contact Aurora. I didn't manage to get her name out, however, before I realized that my earpiece was gone. I didn't stop to look for it, there was no time to go sifting through rubble for a, likely broken, piece of ear-hole sized equipment. I felt my ire grow and leapt up to the third deck-a random selection on my part-brushed off my more-or-less undamaged left sleeve, and stalked into the blackened hallway, looking for something to kill.
I didn't have to go far before I ran into my quarry. The hall I had walked into was some kind of connection between a large auditorium, big enough to seat several hundred people, of some kind-the place looked like a cross between a large classroom and a court of law-and whatever had existed before it was blown up in the explosion. There was one other person in the audience hall. He was tall and wiry thin, with raven black hair tied up in a ponytail that hung down to his shoulder blades. His sharp face was all hard angles, and a criss-cross scar marred his left temple, yet his eyes also held a gleam, not of mischief but of incredible pride. I noticed an oversized axe slung over on shoulder, almost casually. I paid more attention to the coat he wore: it was black with a red trim, recognizable as the uniform of a Librarian Acolyte training under a Librarian Explorer despite the holes, half-hearted patching attempts, and the fact that he wore it open. This was Traitor Flin. Flin heard me open the door into the room and spun around with just the right amount of theatricality to make him look like a complete fop. I paid no attention to that, nor to the broad smile he favored me with, reminding me of a clown I once saw. What captured my attention was, despite his overtheatricality, the practiced fluidity he drew his axe and spun it in one hand. "Welcome!" he practically shouted with, again, way too much effort. "A pleasure to meet you at last, Ms. Kazeki!" I felt my brow furrow a bit more; he was starting to really grate on my nerves. "Librarian Kazeki, Traitor." He didn't seem fazed by being called Traitor; hardly surprising as most Traitors I've met seem to revel in their title. "The pleasure is all yours," I said started stalking forward. Flin didn't seem concerned at all by my most menacing walk, and started casually spinning the axe in his hand. "I'm sure," he said as he closed his eyes and spun the axe up into the air and caught it with his opposite hand. Skilled with both hands. A fool, but a skilled fool. I didn't give him an opening; he was in my range, so I reached for him. While my reach is normally utterly undetectable by most people, I discovered early in my training that anyone with enough psionic power (telepaths, empaths, wizards, sorcerers, etc.) could easily detect it. Most people, however, either are not psionic at all or have too little to actually use it properly. However, psionic potential is a common trait of Librarians, so they can detect it and are usually capable of reacting fast enough to either avoid or deflect the attack. Flin, however much I didn't like it, had been a Librarian Acolyte, so my first attack was a test. To my vague annoyance, he dodged to the side easily with a simple sidestep; my downward slash resulted in the spot he had occupied until recently exploding in a blast of dust. He hadn't even opened his eyes. Despite myself, I felt my lips curl upwards, and unleashed a flurry of attacks at Flin. The Traitor managed to dodge them all with the same stupid grin and his eyes closed. Good; it's been awhile since I had any fun. Flin opened his eyes when I stopped reaching for him. The idiot started laughing. "You think you could beat me?" he gasped. "I am invincible!" He doubled over and held his belly. I shook my head in disgust. What moron had ever accepted him into the Librarian Guard? I made a mental note to find him and slap him. This time I reached for the ground under my feet and launched myself at him. "And stupid," I said as I launched a brutal punch that slammed into his midriff. The cackling retard hadn't expected that, and he found himself flying backwards from the force of my attack. When he was able to catch his breath, the smile had vanished, replaced with a visage of pure rage. I favored him with my most evil grin. "Not so invincible now, are you?" I reached for him, but he dodged. Flin brandished his axe. "Fine then," he said, and finally attacked. The Traitor yelled and held his weapon over his head as he charged. It was a bit overblown, which cued me into the possibility of a feint. Decades of reading attacks, however, gave me my answer: the faint crinkling of his brown, the set of his jaw, the way he held the axe . . . it all added up to a full-out, serious attack. So I stood still like a good target, until he begun his swing. Then I sidestepped, giving the fool a little smile as I did. His axe smashed the ground, throwing up little splinters; I noticed a slight hum as the blade passed by. It was vibrating; it would sheer through Federal Marine armor without difficulty, let alone my bones. All the more reason to avoid it. To his credit, Flin recovered to my dodge quickly and spun the axe into another slash. A slight shifting of my position ensured my safety. Another swing, another shift. And another. And another. Eventually I grew tired of this game and jumped back, extending my backwards leap with a reach until I was well out of his range, then I reached for him, slashing him across the chest. The Traitor gasped in surprise and put a hand to his wound, the turned to glare at me. Gone was the smarmy smile, replaced by a look of pure hate and rage. I smiled just a bit more and stuffed my hands into my pockets. "You missed!" I mocked. Flin roared in outrage and attacked again. I jumped back, cutting him in the arm, the leg, his face, one for every missed slash. He was bleeding from a dozen wounds when I felt myself getting bored, and sent a solid strike into his stomach. The Traitor flew backwards, putting a new hole in the wall, his axe burying itself in one of the seats (slicing through it and deep into the floor). He got up again almost instantly, but I was already in front of him, kicking him back down to the ground. He tried to get up again, but a boot grinding his knee powder changed his priorities. "Just die," I told him, and reached. A faint flicker in my consciousness stopped my move to decapitate him. Instead, I reached behind me and caught the katana flying at my back. I turned my head. "Too slow," I said to Traitor Sorn, somewhere behind me, and flung the sword into Flin's chest. A particularly loud gasp later, and the Traitor Flin was executed. A scream of rage came from behind, and Traitor Sorn revealed herself. Sorn was a woman who, despite the fact that she had taken the Infinity injections upon her appointment as a Librarian Acolyte and so shouldn't appear any older than twenty-three, looked at least thirty. Unlike Flin, she didn't wear her old Acolyte coat, instead wearing a tight tank top and leather pants and boots in the fashion of action comic heroines everywhere. She held a katana, identical to the one buried in her boyfriend's chest-and there was no doubt that Flin was that considering the way she yelled. Seeing an opportunity for good sport, I only dodged and let her collect her second sword instead of killing her outright. The way she recovered, you never would have known she hadn't intended me to jump to the side, and I allowed another grin as I began dodging attacks. Sorn was much quicker than Flin, but she was blind with anger, which made evading her just as easy as it was with Flin. Unfortunately, not even Sorn could keep me from getting bored, and this time I stopped her cold by grabbing her swords, not with a reach, but with my hands. Rage became confusion as my hands flashed forward and grabbed her wrists. I planted a boot against her chest, pushed against her while I pulled back with my arms and gave her one more smile-one part confidence, one part sadism-before I ripped her arms out of their sockets. The shock was stamped clearly on her face as she fell backwards. I let go of the limbs and grabbed her shirt to keep her from falling down completely. "Where is Kark?" I hissed. I didn't really expect an answer, and didn't get one in words. At the sound of her fellow Traitor's name, however, her eyes darted to the left for just an instant. I let her go and, before she hit the floor, slashed open her neck. As she thrashed, a last panicked reaction to the sudden flow of blood and lack of flow of air, I bent down and whispered to her "That's for making me remember." When she was dead, I started off to find the last Traitor on this station. It was easy enough to find him. He was standing in the large hallway I entered as soon as I left the auditorium. The place was big and relatively ornate, clashing with the relative simplicity of the classroom, designed to impress with it relative pompousness. Traitor Kark wore a conservative robe, similar in appearance to something a monk might wear. His was a light tan color, his belt bright red; the uniform of a Scholar Experimenter of the 15th Research District. He wore a pair of sandals instead of the comfortable work shoes common among Scholars. He'd been selected as a Librarian as an old man, and it showed: Kark's hair may have been red before, but it was showing much more grey these days. His face was similarly lined, but his eyes sparkled a still-radiant blue, and I recognized a deep and powerful cunning behind them. I stood off twenty feet in front of him, putting my right hand on my hip as I studied him. I felt more than saw his own scrutiny. I met his stare, allowing a little contempt to show. We stood there for a full minute, not moving, no sound other than the alarms in the background. The silence was broken when a new element entered the mix: four Marines pounded into the hallway. They ground to a halt when they saw us and leveled their weapons. They probably would've fired if they hadn't entered on the far end of the hall, putting Kark between me and them. The Traitor glanced back and huffed in annoyance. He turned to face the Marines, then exploded into motion much quicker than I (or my ever-useless intelligence reports) had expected of an old man. From somewhere in his robes he drew an elegant longsword, thin and deadly, with his left hand, and a short but razor-sharp dagger for his right. The Marines reacted quickly, but the old man was faster. I raised an eyebrow as I watched him go to work. He didn't bother toying with them, instead going straight for killing strikes. The first Marine died instantly when his head was removed from the rest of his body, the sword effortlessly passing through his neck armor. The second died a half-second later as Kark twisted in the air with surprising agility and stabbed him in the eyepiece. The remaining Marines opened fire a moment later, but even that didn't stop him. The Traitor spun, evading bullets and batting aside the ones that he couldn't with his sword. He threw his dagger with amazing accuracy, burying it in the throat of the third Marine, then repeated the act with his sword on the fourth. The entire affair was over in eight seconds. Impressed, I gave him a little applause, with just the right amount of sarcasm to make it clear I was mocking him. "I didn't think you were Flin's 'captive'," I said. "You were leading this little band, weren't you?" Kark stooped to retrieve his weapons, not bothering to look at me as he answered. "They were easy to manipulate." "Why bother, though?" I asked as cordially as I could. Courtesy is never wasted, after all. "You don't seem like you really needed them, and I'll bet you're the one who turned the Federal Marines here to . . . your cause." I began slowly circling him, turning so my side faced him, giving him a smaller profile to throw his blade into. He yanked out the dagger, shook some of the blood off of it, then began walking to his sword. "Camouflage," he said. "Pity it didn't work." I chuckled. "Oh it worked," I said, remembering what intelligence told me about him and his relationship to the other Traitors. "Just not on me." Kark shrugged as he reached his sword, planting a sandaled foot against the corpse's helmet and pulling the sword out. "I didn't want to, you know," he said as he turned to face me in a classic fencer's stance, modified to include the dagger. "But the king said it would be better if I had someone between me and my hunters." I frowned. "King? What king?" I tensed my fingers into claws; his ease of movement as he matched my circle made me uneasy. The old man smiled. "You'll have to find that out the hard way," he grinned, then lunged at me. Despite the gap between us, all it took as a single twitch of his legs and he was flying at me. He caught me off guard with that; I had been expected him to run at me like he did the Marines. Still, I'd be damned if some old geezer was going to beat me, so when he came in range and stabbed at me, I jumped to the side. We were perfectly lined up for me to kick him, and I raised my leg to launch a powerful strike into his side. Unfortunately, his dagger stopped me. The flash of metal caught my eye at the last second, and I was able to leap back just in time to avoid having my neck opened up. It was close though, and when I landed I felt my coat sagging a bit more. A quick inspection showed that he'd slashed it open. At least he'd missed my shirt. The Traitor turned, continuing his assault with a series of slashes and stabs, feints within feints. Kark was a master fencer, apparently having lost none of the skills his record showed he had as a Librarian. I was completely on the defensive, twisting and dodging to avoid his impossibly sharp blades. I searched for an opening, but he had me on the ropes. I didn't have time to concentrate on reaching for anything farther than a few feet away; I could pull myself out of immediate danger but I couldn't completely disengage. There! Kark spun in a wide circle, slashing with his sword, but I read a feint: the sword was a distraction from the incoming stabbing dagger at the end of the spin. The dagger would come in low to intercept me as I ducked the sword, and the Traitor was fast enough to make it work. My solution was simple: I didn't duck. Instead, I moved into the attack and physically punched Kark in the stomach. He let out a startled oof! and fell back. Despite myself, I had to smile. There would be no toying with this Traitor. This was going to be fun. Kark didn't attack again, simply settling back into a ready stance, so I took a moment to check myself over. Some of those near-missed had been nearer than I had thought: my coat was slashed and torn everywhere; it was halfway to rags. A few attacks had put small cuts into my shirt, too, and I felt something wet on my face. I wiped my hand across my cheek and my fingers came away with a fair bit of blood. I looked up and wiped my hand on my now useless coat. The Traitor hadn't moved, waiting for me to make the first move no doubt. I reached up and tore my coat off; no point in wearing rags, now was there? He still didn't move. I made a mental note to bring this entire fight up with the Guard's intelligence division. I figured Kark was waiting for straight up physical attack, and being ready for it I'd never get the killing blow in as fast as I needed to. There was also no doubt in my mind that he could detect my reach, especially if Flin could do it. Unfortunately for him, I had the advantage now. I made four reaches, none at Kark. The first was a straight attack right at the Traitor, with as much power as I could muster for it. As I guessed, the Traitor saw it coming and dodged left easily; the ground exploded where he'd been standing from the sudden power I had thrown at him. With that, his legs twitched again and he charged forward, sword pointing at me. He then encountered the second thing I reached for: one of the corpses. I flung the body right in his path, then pulled on the wall with my third reach, yanking myself away from the old flying guy. The body was right in his path, but it didn't even slow him down: he slashed it in half then knocked the halves aside with the sword. I hadn't yanked myself backwards fast enough. He was too close. I twisted, trying to get out of the way, but it was too little too late. Kark's sword drove into right shoulder and ran me through. The Traitor's face turned into a triumphant smile. Then he encountered my fourth reach. A short-range reach, held in front of me and used like a blade. Kark hadn't noticed because I hadn't been actually reaching for anything but the air right in front of me. By wounding me, the Traitor had inadvertently doomed himself. Kark's smile vanished, replaced by incredulity. His jaw worked for a moment, but he couldn't get anything out but startled air. His grip on his dagger vanished, but he managed to hold onto the sword I grunted, but managed a grin. "On charges of treason," I whispered. "You are sentenced to death." Then I tore him apart from the inside. I managed to get back to the hotel room without running into anyone else; all the civilians had no doubt evacuated the moment of the explosion, if not earlier, and the security personnel was busy with other stuff. Without the Traitors around, I reasoned, they'd return to their day jobs. They'd have to be watched, of course, in case they had been permanently tainted, but I figured there was a good chance they'd go back to normal and ditch the Marks. Besides, I didn't feel like killing anyone else today. When I got to the room, the AI's image appeared over her core. "Do you need a doctor, ma'am?" I shook my head. I had put my coat back on, simply because I didn't feel like leaving it there, but I had also removed the right sleeve to act as a sling for my beleagured right arm; a strip of fabric from the coat's edges functioned as my bandage. The blood was stopping anyway; it had been an hour, and Kark had missed anything important other than my shoulder blade. I wasn't going to be doing any fencing myself for awhile, though. "It's time, Aurora." Time to take care of our real mission. The AI nodded. "Sending message, milady." She closed her eyes, and her image fuzzed out a bit for a second. Then she nodded and opened her eyes, her avatar sharpening again. "Message sent and received, ma'am. The Twilight's Gaze will be arriving in half an hour." "Good." Half an hour was impressive for a Scholarship research vessel being tasked with a mission from the Librarian Guard when they no doubt had pressing experiments to run and important information to collect. "Finish up here then." The AI smirked. "I already found the file you requested. We have our evidence." I didn't smirk back; turning my head toward her sent a stab of pain in my shoulder. I grimaced, then took her core without another word.
I stormed into the Citadel completely unannounced. I had been so busy sleeping on the Gaze that I had neglected to change or wash up (after a brief visit with the ship's doctor, who'd sewn up the hole through my shoulder and the scratch on my face). When we arrived back in Earth orbit, it would only be a matter of time for the Citadel to hear of our arrival, and then my quarry would escape. That was unacceptable; I had dealt with too much for him to escape. So I threw on what was left of my coat, put my arm back in its sling, and got on my way. Just as before, the place was full of people-Scholars mostly, but also a few Serfs and the occasional Administrator-going about their daily business. When they saw me, however, they all froze dead in their tracks. I doubt they'd ever seen a Librarian running around with half her coat missing, her arm in a sling, and more than a little dried blood on her side and her face. Nevermind the bit about me giving everyone I saw my best stay out of my way or I swear I will kill you expression. As I approached the door to the room where my target was sitting, likely now alerted to my presence for all the good it would do him, two guards moved to block my path. They were, however, just Scholars playing at being warriors. One started to give me a verbal warning. I reached for both of them and knocked them aside. If they had been Traitors, I would've killed them, but as far as I knew there was only one Traitor here. I opened the door to his room with my one good arm, closing and locking it behind me. Head Scholar Lee Sun shot up from his chair, an impressive feet for someone of his bulk. His face was one of pleasant greeting, but his eyes were full of sudden fear. "Librarian Kazeki!" he greeted. "What-" I stopped him before he could finish by reaching for him, pushing him back into his chair. "Head Scholar Lee Sun," I began. "You have been under suspicion of treason for some time." The fat bastard spluttered for a moment, but his cries of protest were cut off when I reached again and smashed his elaborate desk, breaking it into kindling. "But now you've finally fouled up," I continued. I reached into the remains of my coat and pulled out Aurora's core. Instead of the AI's avatar appearing, however, a text file came up: K, The Guard is coming. Look for Ezekiel and "Kaede Kazeki." This one is dangerous. LS "A message we traced eventually back to you and to Traitor Kark. Damning evidence . . . Traitor." My statement hung in the air for a moment. Then, to my mild surprise, Sun chuckled. "Idiot girl. Come to arrest me, then?" His fat smile broadened a bit. "I am a loyal servant to the King. He has sworn to ensure the freedom of all swear fealty to him." The fat clod leaned back, making his chair creak. "He will set me free, just as he will everyone else in your pathetic jails, when he comes. And we will serve him once more." The smile grew to take in his ears. I stared for a moment, frowning. Then I gave him my most sadistic grin. "Who said anything about arresting you?" Traitor Sun's smile faltered, and I reached for him, easily lifting him out of his seat. "Remember the memo you received with my orders? They were camouflage, but they are still orders." I gave him a more menacing look, widening my smile to a cruel, toothy smile. "Remember what they said about what I should do with the Traitors?" The Traitor was spluttering again, terror stamped cleanly on his face. I let out a low chuckle of my own. I shook him up and down for a moment. "Who is the king?" I asked sweetly. Sun just shook his head, so I launched him into a wall. I suspect that it didn't hurt nearly as much as he made it sound, thanks to his extra insulation, but he left an impressive dent. I let him fall to the floor. "Who is the king?" I repeated. The fat man looked up, tears in his eyes as he shouted "I don't know!" He got not pity from me. "Then tell me who does," I said, all sweetness gone, replaced once again by malice. Sun was looking desperate, but at least he was good enough to keep telling the truth with another "I don't know!" I became dimly aware of someone pounding on the door behind me. I shrugged. "No reason to keep you alive I guess," I said, reaching for him. "Wait!" Sun shouted, holding an arm up to ward me off as if it could stop me. Still, I paused my reach a foot away from him. It didn't seem likely, but maybe the man had something useful to say after all. "I don't know who! I can tell you where!" I raised an eyebrow. "Where the king is?" I doubted it, it was never that easy. He stood up somewhat shakily. "Someone who can tell you where to find him. Another of his servants." He took a wobbly step toward me. Now I was getting annoyed. "Where!?" I demanded. Sun stopped walking, then sighed. "Zero-One-Eight-Seven-Seven. Reality Zero-One-Eight-Seven-Seven." I looked at him for a moment, studying his eyes. Those eyes had seemed sharp before, but now they just seemed watery. I did see the truth in them, too, though; fear had brought it out of him. I nodded. "Thank you," I said, then reached inside him. He felt that and waved his hands. "Wait! I told you!" I had smoothed my face into complete seriousness by now. "You forgot to negotiate, idiot." Then I expanded his internal organs until his entire torso blew apart. His legs stood up for a moment before toppling over, hitting the ground roughly the same time his torso from his chest up fell just behind his desk. I walked over to him; he'd fallen looking up at the ceiling. His eyes were wide, streaming tears of pain and shock, his breathing terribly irregular. I looked right into those eyes and whispered one last damning accusation. "Traitor."

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  • Good story. You left an opening for a sequel, which would be going after the king. You also left an opening for a prequel, which is how the woman got to this point.
    - January 15 2009 10:49:40