tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 055

Three Square Meals Ch. 055


"There's two of you?!" Dana gasped in alarm, before Rachel elbowed her in the ribs.

Alyssa had reached Irillith by this point, and she knelt next to the Maliri girl, pulling her into a hug. She shot Dana a disapproving look, and the redhead was shamefaced at her outburst.

Reaching out through Irillith's grief stricken thoughts, Alyssa spoke to her in a comforting murmur, *I'm here for you now, you don't have to hold this pain in any more.*

John walked over to squat down on Irillith's other side, and stroked her back soothingly as she cried dejectedly into Alyssa's arms. They let her cry herself out, and when her tears had finally dried up, she turned to look at John with a haunted look in her eyes.

"I'm sorry. I had no idea you'd lost a sister," John said sympathetically. "What happened to her?"

He could see the self-recrimination in Irillith's expression as she looked away distantly for a long moment. After heaving a heavy sigh, she eventually said quietly, "Tashana wasn't like me. She was good and kind, just immersing herself in her love of ancient things, and throwing herself into her archaeology. We were close as children, but we grew apart as we went our separate ways, following different careers. She had no interest in Maliri politics, and while I was trying to curry favour with our mother by embracing hacking and intelligence gathering, she spent her time on research.

She tried to reach out to me lots of times, but I rebuffed all her attempts to rebuild our close childhood bond. I ignored her completely, considering her a witless fool with all her talk of the Mael'nerak fairytale being based on real events."

Irillith's voice faltered for a moment, and she said with sorrow, "It turns out she was right all along, and I was the fool."

John placed a comforting hand over hers, and squeezed gently. "How did you lose her?" he asked softly.

Guilt played across Irillith's face as she whispered, "I killed her."

"You murdered your own sister?!" Calara gasped in shock.

Irillith gave her a heartbroken glance, and with her face etched with guilt, she replied, "Basically, yes. Tashana's research led her to all sorts of ancient sites purported to belong to the Progenitors. She found all sorts of evidence of their abilities, amongst them, the power to supposedly heal their servants. When she told our mother and me, I just dismissed her stories as fanciful nonsense, a childlike obsession that Tashana had never grown out of. However, Edraele was suddenly very interested in Tashana's research into healing powers, and now we know why.

Anyway, I grew insanely jealous of this budding new relationship between my mother and sister. I saw myself as the next Matriarch of House Valaden, then from out of nowhere, someone I had discounted as irrelevant suddenly became my closest rival for Edraele's attention. I framed Tashana, setting her up to look like she had been selling House Valaden secrets to House Loraleth, our greatest rival, in exchange for access to dig sites in their territory. I did an outstanding job, and the evidence was damning.

The penalty for treason to your house is death, and Tashana should have been executed immediately, which is what I'd been hoping would happen. My mother decided to commute her sentence to banishment instead, and Tashana was thrown out of Maliri Space with nothing but the clothes on her back."

Alyssa looked hopeful, and exclaimed, "She might still be alive, then!"

Irillith shook her head, and said mournfully, "There's no chance of that. This happened thirteen years ago, and Tashana was kind, but weak. She wouldn't have lasted thirteen days out there in the Unclaimed Wastes, not with all the pirates and slavers around."

As John listened to Irillith's dark tale of sibling betrayal, Edraele's voice suddenly appeared in his mind. *Sorry for interrupting, my Lord,* she said to him apologetically. *I overheard your thoughts, and wished to inform you that Tashana is still alive.*

John blinked in surprise, having forgotten about the new telepathic connection with his second Matriarch. *If she's been banished, how can you be so sure?* he asked her curiously.

*As a blood relative, Tashana was far too valuable a resource to waste. Had I ever needed a test subject for an experimental medical procedure, she would have been a useful asset,* Edraele said, in a neutral voice. For her to speak about these events so dispassionately, made her treatment of her daughter all the more chilling. *I had her implanted with a tracking device, which had a built in bio-reader. When Tashana came up in conversation, I checked the tracker, and she's still alive.*

Reminding himself that the new personality he was building for Edraele couldn't be blamed for her predecessor's actions, John replied, *Thank you for the information, you were very helpful, Edraele.*

*It was my pleasure!* she replied, sounding delighted to hear his kind words.

Alyssa had listened in curiously, hearing John's thoughts, and his half of the conversation as he spoke to Edraele, but she had not been privy to the Maliri's thoughts as well. For someone used to listening to multiple sides of a conversation, especially where John was concerned, it was a disconcerting adjustment to make.

John focused on the girls in the room, and saw that they were all watching him attentively. He realised he'd been so distracted by the telepathic update from Edraele, that he'd lost track of the current conversation.

"Sorry girls. Edraele contacted me telepathically, and I got a bit distracted," he apologised sincerely, looking around at them. "She let me know that Tashana is still alive."

Irillith looked suspicious, and said, "I don't believe it, it's been far too long. How does she know for sure?"

"I'll spare you the details, but Edraele planted a tracking device with a bio-reader on your sister. It's active, and your mother confirmed Tashana is still alive," John said cautiously.

A bright light of hope flared in Irillith's eyes, and she gasped, "Then we can go and rescue her! I can beg for her forgiveness, and try to make amends."

John glanced at Calara, who was starting to look worried at the possibility of a delay in their return to the Terran Federation, and their mission to root out the Dragon March traitor. He let out a big sigh, and said, "We can't right now Irillith, I'm sorry. There are too many lives at stake in the Terran Federation, and we need to expose Admiral Norwood before he causes any more unnecessary deaths. Once we've settled that business, rescuing Tashana will be our next highest priority."

Irillith looked horribly conflicted, but she eventually nodded, saying with some reluctance, "Alright, I understand. You have your obligations to the Terran Federation, and Calara's family is at risk."

Calara got up from her chair, and walked over to Irillith to give her a hug. They embraced tightly, and the Latina said, "Thank you so much. I promise I'll do everything I can to help you rescue Tashana after this traitor is dealt with."

Irillith nodded in gratitude, and said wryly, "She's obviously much tougher than I gave her credit for. If Tashana survived on her own for thirteen years in the Wastes, then a week or two more won't make any difference."

Everyone settled down in their own chairs again, with Irillith looking positive and alert once more.

Alyssa's voice echoed in John's mind as she said excitedly, *Irillith has a twin. How fascinating!*

He shot her a cautionary glance, but she winked at him slyly as she continued, *I'm not going to judge you, remember. If you've fantasised about a pair of hot twins carrying your lusty babies kicking in their bellies, I'd like to help you make it happen.*

John coughed to cover his flush of arousal, and said to Dana, "I think it's over to you now, Sparks, whenever you're ready."

Dana was too excited to share her news to notice his embarrassment, and she leapt to her feet, gratefully accepting the holo-projector remote from Rachel as she did. She pressed a couple of buttons on the remote, and the multiple DNA strands disappeared, replaced by a sweeping periodic table of elements.

"That doesn't look like the normal periodic table!" Faye exclaimed in a shocked voice.

With a disapproving frown in her direction, Dana said, "Shh! Don't give away the surprise!"

The purple AI sprite looked chagrined, and she said, "I'm sorry Dana, I didn't mean to steal your thunder!"

Dana chuckled at her fondly, and said, "You can't help being smart and observant, there's no need to apologise."

Faye looked buoyant once again, and she sat down, staring up at the enhanced periodic table in fascination.

Looking out at her attentive audience, Dana said excitedly, "I've been spending weeks trying to build a new ultimate material, but not getting anywhere. I wanted to combine the strength of the Maliri clear crystal tech, with Etherite for psychic conductivity and reshaping potential, and finally Onyxium for the energy channelling lattice and reflective properties. Unfortunately Onyxium is a real stubborn son-of-a-bitch to work with, and I was pulling my hair out trying to get them all to bond."

John smiled at her and asked, "From the look of delight on your face, I'm guessing you had a breakthrough?"

She nodded animatedly, and glancing between John and Alyssa, she replied, "After you two made your love connection, we all felt this incredible surge through our bond with Alyssa. My mind felt like it was buzzing with new ideas, and I felt like I just needed to create things, so I dived straight in. Faye was right; this isn't the periodic table as we know it. I've made a new one with nineteen new elements in it!"

Faye gaped at her in amazement, her tiny purple face reflecting her shock as she gasped, "But you can't just make up new elements! How did you even know where to start?!"

Dana hesitated for a moment, and said, "I was up in the holo-suite, and the standard Terran periodic table just looked wrong. I rearranged all the elements, and it was weird, it felt like there were holes in the pattern, and that there were bits missing." She shrugged, and said, "So I just went with my gut, and I was right!"

"The 'Terran' periodic table looked wrong," Rachel quoted the redhead thoughtfully.

Glancing at her friend, Dana nodded, and said, "Yep, that's right. I was looking at the standard periodic table used by the Terran Federation. It hasn't changed that much in centuries, at least not after a load of new elements were discovered when humanity first went into space."

John watched Rachel's grey eyes dart to him, and with a surprising flash of intuition, he said, "I don't think that's what Rachel meant, was it?"

Slowly shaking her head, she replied, "If this isn't the Terran Periodic Table any longer, just what species does it belong to?"

All eyes turned to John, and they all looked equally shocked as they guessed the answer. He asked her in bewilderment, "So you think this is the Progenitors' knowledge of the elements? If so, how on Terra did Dana end up knowing it?"

Alyssa interrupted, and said, "Our minds are all linked. If we've opened up a stronger connection with you, perhaps you subconsciously shared this with her?"

Rachel nodded, adding, "There's vast amounts of information stored within your DNA's third helix. I've learnt a lot over the last several weeks, but I'm still only really scratching at the surface. Having said that, the Progenitors using this kind of built in pre-coding to store complex information doesn't surprise me in the slightest."

John pondered that for a moment, then asked, "Do you think Alyssa is right? Am I subconsciously sharing knowledge with you?"

Shrugging helplessly, Rachel replied, "It's certainly a possibility, but I can't prove it at the moment. It 'feels' right though, and I have very little doubt that's where it came from. If this was hidden within your DNA, then triggered, and activated by your instinctive mind, there could be all sorts of other secrets locked away in there."

He sat quietly, taking that in, before looking over at Dana. He smiled at her, and said, "We seem to be derailing your presentation, sorry Sparks."

She grinned at him, enjoying his use of her old nickname, and said, "It's no problem. It came out of the blue for me as well! Anyway, if that did come from you, thanks a million! I would never have been able to continue my work without it. Two of those new elements helped me stabilise Onyxium, and let me build this..."

She turned towards the hologram, whilst pressing a button on her remote. The elements in the Progenitors Periodic Table disappeared, and were replaced by a dazzlingly complex chemical formula that was zoomed out so much to fit it all in the hologram, that the writing became too small to read.

Faye sat crossed legged on the desk, staring up at the formula in amazement, awestruck by the genius of the design. She turned to look with wide eyes at the friendly, encouraging, and astoundingly brilliant Terran girl that had befriended her, and welcomed her into her home. Her core programming informed her that the Maliri were the supreme form of life in the galaxy. However, this exceptional woman was ample evidence that in this case, her core programming was quite wrong. It was a profoundly disturbing revelation for her neophyte mind to deal with, and so she sat there in silence, contemplating this conundrum.

Rachel grinned happily as she studied her best friend. She was overjoyed to see that the nervous tension Dana had carried for weeks, had finally been lifted off her shoulders. "So you finally finished it?" she asked, proud of her lover.

Dana nodded, and in an uncharacteristic moment of quiet reflection, stared in wonder at her own work, still struggling to believe she had managed to accomplish what had seemed to be utterly impossible. She finally said, "Yes, I merged them all, and the final ultimate material should share all their properties. I've started calling it 'Crystal Alyssium'."

John raised an eyebrow and asked, "Should?"

"I can't make a sample yet, as I'll need to fabricate the two elements I need," the redhead explained. She turned to look at Irillith, and said, "I'm going to need access to a Fusion Reactor, and it's going to have to be a real monster. Anything too small, and the reaction might turn unstable and go critical. Does Genthalas Shipyard having anything like that? A real fucking huge beast of a reactor?"

Irillith smiled at Dana's profanities, but looked thoughtful as she tried to recall what facilities the shipyard might have available. Eventually she nodded, saying, "Battleship class Maliri vessels are constructed here, and the power requirements for weapon tests are astronomical. My cousin might object to you using her equipment for an experiment, but I'm sure we'll have something powerful enough for your needs."

Dana grinned at her and said, "Fantastic! Thank you!"

She turned to look at John, who was still reeling from the latest in a long line of revelations, and he shook his head in amazement. "You're going to get bored of me telling you how wonderful you are," he said with a broad grin.

Dana shook her head with an impish grin on her face, and he laughed, got up and whisked her around in his arms. The redhead giggled with delight at his exuberant display, and when he eventually stopped, she clung to him tightly. He leaned down to kiss her, but stopped an inch from her lips.

"You're a very special girl, Dana," he told her earnestly. "Sometimes, I can hardly believe you belong to me."

She gasped with excitement, and pulled him down for a fierce kiss, moaning with arousal as he returned it with passion. They kissed for a couple of minutes, and when they eventually parted, she swooned in his arms, sighing ecstatically. He chuckled, and carefully placed her back in her chair as she gave him a dopey grin.

"That research was a total ball-ache, but you just made it all worthwhile," she said with a contented sigh.

The other girls laughed fondly at the expression of bliss on her face, but she was too happy to feel self-conscious. John walked back to his own chair, sitting down at the head of the table, then said, "That just leaves you, Irillith. Were you able to get all the weapon schematics you were after?"

The blue-skinned Maliri girl nodded, then darted an inquisitive look at Dana, and said, "I was going to transfer these to your tech repository. Where do you keep all the rest of your schematics?"

The redhead giggled mischievously, and staring into Irillith's violet eyes, she slowly tapped her temple. When she saw the Maliri girl's look of confusion, she grinned as she said, "After I saw how easily you were hacking enemy ships, like the Maliri cruiser that attempted to interdict us, I knew I'd never be able to keep you out of any systems on the Invictus. Progenitor-John didn't seem to give a shit what you got access to, and I guess that's because he planned to enslave you, and all the rest of the Maliri. I didn't know that at the time, so I wiped and shut down the tech repository that I had disconnected from the primary network earlier."

"You deleted all your tech schematics?!" Irillith asked her in shock.

Dana winked at her and replied, "It was only a temporary measure. I memorised them first, and I can reproduce them all in an hour or so."

Irillith laughed in disbelief, and blurted out, "I can't believe it! I spent days hunting around for that damn server!" She blinked then, suddenly realising the magnitude of what the redhead was describing so casually, and added, "Wait! You -memorised- all your tech schematics?!"

"Yep! I've got a photographic memory," Dana said with a shrug, as though it was the commonest thing in the galaxy.

The Maliri girl smiled, and said with a wry smile, "I can see I was seriously outclassed matching wits against you."

Pleased that Irillith was taking this news so well, the redhead admitted, "If you hadn't been so impressive with your hacking, I never would have bothered going to such lengths." She smiled brightly as she suddenly thought of something, and asked, "Now you're one of the good guys, maybe you could help me make the Invictus more secure against cyber attacks?"

Irillith glanced at Faye, and said ruefully, "Without my hacking deck, I'm afraid my hacking will be far less effective." She smiled wryly as she added, "But I guess this Poacher could turn Gamekeeper. Sure, I'll help you."

Faye gave them a winsome grin, and said, "I'd love to help you protect the Invictus too!"

Dana beamed a grateful smile at Irillith, and the eager AI construct, and said, "Wonderful! We're going to make a great team!"

John was pleased at how well Irillith seemed to be fitting in with his crew, but something she had just said made him look at her curiously, and he asked, "Irillith, now we're back in Maliri Space, can't you just get a new hacking deck to replace the one powering Faye?"

Shaking her head, Irillith replied with regret, "I'm afraid not. It was unique; a gift from Tashana, who found it during an excavation of an old Progenitor facility."

His interest piqued, John leaned forward, and asked, "Did she find anything else?"

Irillith shrugged helplessly as she answered, "I've no idea, sorry. I ignored the hacking deck to start with, and only realised how useful it was after Tashana had been banished."

Calara was doing her best to be patient, but unable to wait any longer, she asked eagerly, "What about the new weapons?"

Irillith smiled at her, and said to Dana, "I transferred the schematics from the Genthalas secure network to my station on the Bridge."

Dana brandished the remote, and her fingers were a blur on the controls, as she quickly linked the holo-projector in the room to the new schematics. With the final press of a button, the formula for Crystal Alyssium disappeared, and was replaced by an incredibly detailed schematic of some kind of laser weapon.

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