tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 062

Three Square Meals Ch. 062

byTefler©

The entire crew was in the Medical Bay, except for Faye, who wanted to be there, but was dutifully monitoring the long-range scans as they approached the Dragon March. They had gathered around the cryostasis pod that contained the ninja who'd attacked them, and the girls' faces were bleak as they stared at the captive woman. Her face was a shattered ruin, the sallow skin bruised and battered from nearly being beaten to death by Alyssa.

"What happened to her?" Calara asked, wide-eyed at seeing the terrible beating the assassin had taken.

John glanced at her as he said, "She maimed you and killed Jade. Alyssa wasn't going to let that go unpunished."

"He made me stop," Alyssa said in a cold voice, not taking her piercing gaze off the assassin as she put her arm around Calara. "If I'd had more time, I'd have been a lot more creative."

They went silent at her chilling words, staring at the smashed face of their prisoner. Eventually Dana looked across the cryo-pod at Rachel, and asked quietly, "What's up with her skin? She looks awful."

The tawny-haired brunette was busy looking at a holographical panel projected from the cryostasis pod, which listed detailed biometrics of the person in stasis. "Hmm?" she hummed absent-mindedly, absorbed as she was in the data. Blinking, she looked up, and said, "Oh sorry! I got a bit distracted there, she's a fascinating subject."

"This 'fascinating subject' nearly killed us all, babes," Dana gently reminded the brunette. The redhead nodded towards the ninja, and repeating her question, she asked, "Why does her skin look so fucking hideous?"

Rachel gave them all an apologetic smile, then replied, "She's suffering from a severe vitamin D deficiency due to a total lack of sun exposure, compounded by what seems to be an extreme form of cryo-induced frostbite."

"Frostbite?" John asked in confusion. "I've been in cryostasis before, I thought it was perfectly safe?"

Rachel turned to look at the woman in the cryo-pod, and replied, "Normal use of a cryo-pod is safe, but for the first few seconds when cryostasis is induced, the temperature is lowered considerably to put a person into hibernation." She was lost in thought for a moment before she continued, "The only way you could inflict that kind of damage to someone's skin, is if they were put into cryostasis repeatedly, without allowing enough time for them to recover. When I say repeatedly, I'm talking about hundreds of times."

"I thought there were safety guidelines to prevent that?" John asked. "When I went into cryo, the medics insisted we wait a few days before going under again."

Rachel gazed at the immobilised assassin, and said, "She seems to have ignored that advice."

Turning back to the holographic panel, she pressed a button, causing a projected image of the assassin's body to appear in front of them. The three-dimensional representation was small at first, appearing as an image twelve inches across. Rachel swiped her finger across a sliding bar on the panel, and the magnification increased, until a lifesize image of the cyborg appeared before them. With the press of a button, the image revealed further results of the scan, depicting the woman without clothing. Her pallid skin looked extremely unhealthy and was crisscrossed by a patchwork of neat, raised lines.

"What are all those lines across her body?" Jade asked softly, staring at the deadly ninja who had killed her with a single sword thrust to the heart.

"Surgical scars," Rachel replied with a brief glance at the Nymph, "She's had dozens of cybernetic implants installed."

Turning to the panel again, she pressed another button, and the scan results went deeper, revealing the implants hidden inside the woman's flesh. Her whole body was interlaced with cybernetics, appearing as cold blue shapes in the orange hued image.

"Do you know what all that shit does?" Dana asked, staring at the cybernetics in fascination.

"Some of it," Rachel replied, nodding confidently. "I'd have to conduct a physical examination of her body to be able to ascertain the purpose of some of the other devices."

"She replaced her eyes," Calara blurted out, looking sickened.

Rachel glanced at the Latina, then nodded as she replied, "Yes, she's equipped with two bionic eyes, although I'm not sure what enhancements they possess without examining them. She also has subdermal armour plating, synthetic kidneys, data jacks in her wrists, filters in her nose, an adrenal booster which is linked to all her major muscle groups, an artifi-."

John interrupted her listing of the implants, and said, "When I fought her, she made a weird humming noise, then moved incredibly fast. I've never seen anyone move that quickly before."

"That sounds like the adrenal booster kicking in. It's linked to a reflex booster, which would enhance the effect," Rachel confirmed for him. When he simply nodded in return, she continued, "She also has an artificial lung, deactivatable pain receptors, and a synth-."

"What's that in her head?" Calara asked, interrupting Rachel again, and looking ill at the sight of the cold metal object inside the assassin's skull.

Rachel gazed at the holographic image, and replied, "I was just getting to that. Her brain is part-synthetic. The artificial part also seems to have some kind of data chip port installed."

The Latina looked appalled, and asked, "Why would anyone do that?"

Irillith had been listening attentively, and she spoke up, "If the data chip being inserted contains detailed enough information on say... mathematics for example, you would instantly become a genius mathematician. The level of expertise depends on the skill of the programmer who coded the chip, along with the content of the chip itself, but you could suddenly become an expert on whatever subject you liked."

"She used several completely different fighting styles against me, and was extremely adept with all them," John replied, recalling the one-sided fight. He turned to look at Irillith, and added perceptively, "It sounds like you've heard of this kind of tech before."

She nodded, and replied, "There was a brief flurry of interest in this kind of cybernetic enhancement amongst the Maliri, but it was too open to abuse. Matriarchs were sending crazed cyborgs after each other, so to stop it getting completely out of hand, the practice was outlawed a few centuries ago."

"So this might be some black-market Maliri tech?" he asked her curiously.

"I suspect so, yes," Irillith agreed.

John's eyes narrowed as he thought about the Master Assassin who had fled from the interrogation room, and he asked, "Could we trace the tech back to the sellers, and maybe find out more about the buyer?"

Irillith thought about it for a moment, and replied, "The Maliri black market is extremely secretive, but it's definitely a possibility." She gave him a meaningful look, and added, "Especially with the new abilities at my disposal."

"So we've got a backup option if we don't get anywhere with an interrogation," he said with grim satisfaction. Looking at Rachel, he asked, "Was that everything, Doctor?"

"Aside from ceramic compound fingernails which can be extended into claws, yes that's everything," she replied, glancing at the holographic display to double-check.

John turned to Alyssa next, and he was about to speak, when she just looked at him and nodded.

"Yeah, I'll break into her mind. It's bound to be much more effective than trying to convince her to talk," she said confidently.

He reached out to take her hand, and simply said, "Good luck."

Alyssa closed her eyes and focused her willpower inwards, embracing the tugging sensation in her chest. She stepped lightly out of her body, and her transition to her spirit-form seemed almost effortless, her ability to project herself getting stronger every time. Glancing around her, she saw her companions seemingly frozen solid, their eyes all fixed on her physical form. Turning to look at her own body, she saw the snaking astral cord that linked her to it, the silvery cable anchoring her securely to the material plane. Athena was nowhere to be seen, and Alyssa sighed with frustration at not being able to talk to her directly.

Facing the mysterious black clad assailant who was currently slumbering in the cryo-pod, she stalked over to her, leaning in so she could take a closer look through the clear window. The battered ninja was completely unaware of Alyssa's malevolent gaze, but she would have been deathly afraid if she could have seen her eyes, which were as hard as flint. Reaching out with her hands, those ghostly fingers passed through the cryo-pod and touched the assassin's head, probing for any kind of mental defences.

What Alyssa found there was quite disconcerting; the assassin's mind seemed to be shielded by a kind of wire mesh. It wasn't an active defence as such, but the unnatural state of the cyborg's mind made psychic intrusion difficult. Taking a big breath, Alyssa concentrated harder, driving her will into that unyielding barrier. It bent and twisted under that ferocious pressure until it seemed to abruptly rip away, letting her into her quarry's mind.

The assassins mind-space opened up before her, but Alyssa had no time to get her bearings, as a horrifying wail of anguish assaulted her senses. She grabbed at her ears, trying to block out the hideous tortured cry, but the sound was deafening, pounding into her from everywhere at once. Stumbling to her knees, she groaned in pain, desperately trying to dampen the drawn out scream of abject misery.

With a sudden start, Alyssa remembered hearing this sound before, moments before the bomb had been detonated in the Officers' Lounge. The memory enraged her, especially the thought of her beautiful Calara lying twisted and maimed on the floor. Holding tight to that fury, she used it to strengthen her resolve, and she staggered to her feet in an impressive display of willpower. She felt an instinctive urge to hold out her hands defensively, although to do so would have meant unclasping her hands from her ears.

Trusting her instincts, she yanked her hands away from her head, grimacing as the terrifying scream intensified. She thrust out her hands, fingers splayed wide open, and a white nimbus of light enveloped her fingertips. It spread out into a clear dome of pink-hued hexagons, individual tiles appearing one after the other to build the shield. The sound began to quieten as the wall rapidly formed around her, and the moment the final hexagon slotted into place, the terrible lament was silenced.

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Alyssa straightened and looked about her, but she was startled to see that her surroundings were nothing like the other minds she'd visited before. She recalled how she had probed Edraele's mind after Progenitor-John had wiped out her personality, finding that it had been made up of thousands of individual memories, but they were missing the emotional pathways that linked them all together. Lynette Devereux's mind had shown her what a person's memory-map should normally look like, with memories linked by colour coded pathways, showing the emotions a person had been feeling when experiencing that event.

The memories in both women's minds had been insubstantial clouds of thought, centred on a key, clearly defined memory, and surrounded by somewhat hazy recollections of peripheral events. At first glance, these memories seemed to be grouped haphazardly into random clusters, but the collections actually became meaningful upon closer study. Individual memories were arranged onto branches, like those of a tree, grouped together by locations, or sometimes by the participants involved. The pathways linking them all had been made up of various pastel shades, with red for anger, green for jealousy, yellow for fear; the spectrum of colours and corresponding emotions was subtle and extensive.

However, the assassin's mind was something entirely different. It was cold, ugly and unnatural, with row after row of neat, orderly rectangles stretching off into the distance, linked together by black, emotionless pathways. Each hard-edged memory showed a precise playback of events, as if watching a high resolution video clip. Every rectangle was neatly tagged with a datestamp and filename, but the datestamps must have been incorrect, as they listed dates going back over sixty years. The filenames sounded most unpleasant, with listings such as: Senator Gareth Richmond - torture and execution, Doctor Adam Marven - assassination, and Janet Collins - poisoning. The list of horrible crimes numbered in the hundreds.

Stopping in front of one of the memory monoliths, she saw that it was labelled '12 October 2732, Sergeant Alex Dearing - murder'. The video footage started to play back, and Alyssa watched enthralled as the events from forty-seven years ago began to unfold before her eyes.

***

The recording began with the assassin waking up, and climbing out of some kind of mist-shrouded sarcophagus. She received a briefing from an Asian man, who called her 'Shinatobe', which detailed the target and location of the strike. The assassin then exited a small shuttle and found herself on a rooftop landing pad overlooking a cityscape in the dead of night. She rappelled down the side of the thirty-storey building, then launched a grappling hook to swing onto the roof of a four-story building that formed part of the high street.

Moving swiftly and silently along the darkened rooftops, the assassin rapidly closed in on her target. According to the briefing details, Sergeant Dearing was on shore leave, and visiting a strip club with some friends from his unit. Crouching on the rooftop of the apartment building overlooking the pink neon entrance to 'Areola 51', Shinatobe waited patiently for an hour, scanning the clientele leaving the club until her facial recognition software suddenly identified her target. He was drunk, and staggered along the street, heading back to his hotel which her HUD informed her was three blocks away.

This was a secluded, seedy part of town, so the assassin dropped to the floor in an alleyway, then activated her adrenal booster in the shadows. She darted across the road in a blur, avoiding detection by moving so incredibly fast, then charged at her target, closing the distance just as he drew level with an alleyway. She drew her swords from their sheaths as she sprinted towards him, and stabbed him in the back with both blades, one plunging through his heart, while the other neatly severed his windpipe. As he began to topple over with a barely audible gurgle, Shinatobe sheathed her swords, then hauled his corpse into the alley, dragging him behind a dumpster.

The video of the killing ended just as quickly as it had begun. It finished with the assassin rolling over her victim, so that she could get a final snapshot of his shocked face. That grisly image froze in place, confirming the kill for her client.

***

Shaking her head with revulsion, Alyssa looked up the rows, and saw that all the memory monoliths were playing through the last moments of each of the assassin's victims. Alyssa began to wander through the neatly catalogued but dreadfully morbid showcase of Shinatobe's prey, until she suddenly caught a brief flash of movement out of the corner of her eye. Whirling in place, she narrowed her eyes as she searched for whoever or whatever had drawn her attention. Another dark flicker drew her focus again, but some way off in the distance this time, so she sprinted after it, weaving through the rectangular memories. The figure was smaller than her, and flitted tantalisingly out of her direct line of sight, offering only brief glimpses as she pursued it.

The fleeing shadow darted this way and that, leading her through the deep maze of gruesome memory monoliths. It was like running through a graveyard, but with every tombstone showing the terrible way the owner had met their fate. After what seemed like forever, Alyssa burst out of the macabre rows of ghastly trophies.

She was surprised to see that beyond the plain of rigidly arranged memory blocks, the assassin's mind seemed to be normal. At least inasmuch as the memories here were the same cloud shaped formations that she had observed in Edraele and Lynette Devereux's minds. She caught another glimpse of her elusive guide off to her right, and she whipped her head around to look at the dark figure before it could flit away once more.

To her surprise, the figure stopped for moment, revealing itself to be a young, pale, black-haired woman. They made eye-contact for a split second, and then the girl was off again, darting away through the memories. Alyssa ran after her, determined to find out what this mysterious spirit was up to. She was led on a merry dance through the memories, weaving in and out of nebulous memory clouds, as they plunged ever deeper into the assassin's subconscious. Running around a cluster of memories, Alyssa came to an abrupt halt, as she nearly ran into the black-haired girl standing next to a cloudy memory.

The girl was Asian, with long black hair, and a gaunt, grief-stricken face. She looked up at the shield surrounding Alyssa, and held out her hands, opening them as one would mime opening a book. It took a moment for Alyssa to realise what she was asking, and a shiver ran down her spine at the thought of being exposed to the haunting wail of torment once more. She stared at the tragic figure before her, and something within her felt like she could trust the apparition.

Holding her breath in anticipation, she glanced at her shield, and carefully pried out one of the Hexagons. There was no otherworldly cry of anguish this time, only the quiet of the grave. She dispelled the rest of the shield, and was met with nothing but deathly silence, which was even more eerie than the screams that had echoed through this mind beforehand.

Turning towards the memory, the shade gestured towards it with a hand, her thin fingers pointing insistently. The path to this collection of thoughts was a warm orange that indicated it was a happy memory. Alyssa stared at it curiously, and it began to expand, swirling around her, until the memory began to unfold.

***

The edges to the memory were vague and indistinct, but Alyssa could feel how happy the girl was as she rushed to get ready. The young woman grabbed her backpack from the bed in her well-furnished room, and rushed downstairs. After studying late into the night, she'd overslept that morning, and now she was going to be late.

"Goodbye, Sakura! Let me know if you meet any cute boys," the middle-aged woman standing in the homely kitchen teased her, as the girl ran past the kitchen door.

Sakura was in a hurry to get to University, but she stopped in the hallway, and backtracked so she could poke her head around the door. An attractive, raven-haired Asian woman with kind eyes and a warm smile, was looking up at her from where she sat at the kitchen table, drinking a steaming cup of coffee.

Sakura laughed as she said, "Don't let Dad hear you say that, Mom! I'll get a lecture about how much the fees are costing him, and that I'm not there to be 'chasing boys about'." The last she said in a gruff baritone that made her mother smile.

"You're far too beautiful to be doing the chasing, my little angel," her mother said lovingly. She stood up, and walked over to her daughter, wrapping her in her arms, as she said, "We're both very proud of you, Sakura. You show those professors how bright you are!"

"Love you, Mom, but I'm gonna be late!" Sakura protested, but she leaned in and kissed her mother on her cheek before she rushed out into the hallway.

She ran down the hall, turning right into the east wing of the house. There was a bowl on a tall table by the door to the garage, and she scooped up the keys for her hoverbike from the various sets that had been thrown in there. Flinging open the door to the garage exuberantly, she winced as it crashed into the wall.

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byTefler© 125 comments/ 34038 views/ 55 favorites

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