Xenosaga Fic: Chapter 3, Part Two

Continuing from where we left off a couple weeks ago…

In the absolute emptiness of intergalactic space a green AMWS drifted impossibly. It was tall and narrow and insectile, with an angular head much like a mantis’ and long, jointed limbs. Spikes curved cruelly from its knees, elbows, and shoulders, and a pair of long blades extended from its wrists and along the backs of its hands. There was nothing to suggest that it was remarkable–except for its location, hundreds of thousands of light-years from the nearest IS Gate.

Even the Dammerung, Scientia’s vast flagship and capital, which could create temporary Gates of its own, would have taken years to reach this distant spot. Any other ship would have had to have set out when stone tools and fire represented the cutting edge of australopithecine science.

And yet, here it was. The entire cluster lay beneath its feet, two great whorls of multi-colored light surrounded by a scattering of smaller balls and knots of stars. The Virgo Cluster gleamed over its shoulder, a tiny gathering of yellow and blue lights, impossibly distant. And beyond that…

Beyond that, spread out in every direction, was the universe. Great filaments of red and yellow, like rivers of jewels, curved and arced across the sky, marking the borders of vast bubbles of void. It was at once vibrant and serene, cold and beautiful, wonderful and terrifying.

Aser was the only human being to have ever seen it. Oh, astronomers had reconstructed it millennia ago, painstakingly mapping distant objects detectable only in radio through the thick dust and gas that surrounded every star, but Aser had seen it. He knew what no other human knew, would never know. He knew where God lived.

He gazed out in silence, at the infinite majesty of the universe, and pitied the poor fools who believed God cared about them. They ruled a cluster of a dozen galaxies, a paltry few billion stars, and believed themselves masters of the Universe. Aser knew better. One day, he would go out there, to the place no one else could ever reach, and touch the face of God.

He, and he alone, could do it. Those idiots, Calvin and the Primus, believed they led a cadre of Chosen, but Aser knew the truth. He was the only one could reach God, the only one truly Chosen.
He just had one piece of business to attend to first.

Aser, came a familiar voice drifting into his mind.

“Dasra,” he said. “What does our fearless leader wish of me today? Shall I bring him rare fruits, perhaps, from the gardens of Magella Minora? Or perhaps something sweeter? A young virgin from the flesh-markets of Orleans 3, mayhap?” He giggled. “Ah, how silly of me to forget. Our fearless leader does not partake of the pleasures of the flesh. He –” Aser could hardly finish the sentence from laughing. “He believes they’d take him farther from God!”

Aser, you know you shouldn’t speak of Calvin like that. In her own AMWS, countless quintillions of kilometers away, she sighed. Touching Aser’s mind was never pleasant at the best of times, but when he was out in the deeps, it could be downright disturbing. Once, she had made the mistake of going deeper into his thoughts than the level of intentional words.

She had seen many terrible things in the minds of the Chosen. She had no illusions on that front. She had seen herself and her sister, performing lewd acts in van der Kaum’s imagination. She knew how Mia felt every time she used her power. She knew what secret Calvin hid so deeply even he did not know it.

None of that had prepared her for Aser’s mind. In Aser she found a whirlwind of crystal fragments, countless broken pieces of thoughts and memories caught up in an endless torrent of feeling, never quiet, never still. In Aser there were depths of joy and heights of despair beyond anything she had ever felt or imagined. There was nothing there she could follow or understand, just terrible, black, howling wind and the occasional flash of a half-formed idea or one tiny piece of a perception.

What little she did see was, however, enough. She knew who Aser was, better perhaps than he did. She knew what he thought of himself, and what he thought of others. She had sworn then two things: first, that she would never again go deeper into his mind than she absolutely had to, and second, that she would never allow him to be alone with herself or her sister.

He just asked me to show you something I picked up. He doesn’t have any orders. Dasra fed Aser her memories of the attack on their freighter off Bethel, and the intervention of the Isolde.

“It is him?” said Aser. “You know his name?”

The only survivor is now her captain. It is him. His name is Seth Mikra.
“YES!” crowed Aser, and Dasra flinched at the burning-hot acid of his emotion pouring through every crack in her defenses. “Finally, finally! Oh, yes, I’m coming for you, old friend. I’ll burn you, cut you, crush you…” He laughed.

He must not be killed. You know that, Aser.“Oh, no, no, no. I won’t kill him. Of course I won’t.” Aser paused. “Can I maybe kill him a little?”

Aser.

“Mia would have laughed.” He pouted, but could only maintain it a moment before he began laughing again. “I’m going now.”

Please, Aser, don’t kill him. We need him. I’ll be watching.
Aser’s laughter faded to wonderment as he felt Dasra withdraw. He truly was closer to God out here. How else to explain that the one task he had left before he could fulfill his destiny was simply handed to him as soon as he began thinking about it?

“My slate will be wiped clean,” he hissed, filling with rage at the memory of what that man had done to him. “Seth Mikra will pay, if I have to tear apart the entire cluster and all the Chosen to get to him.” He looked out one last time at the universe. “I’ll be back, God.”

And then empty space was empty once more.

***

Nadeshiko put the lab report away with a sigh and looked down at her patient, a small and sallow man, balding and bearded. “Patient Ortir Kormas, age… approximately thirty-five,” she said for the recorders. “Found unconscious behind the single men’s barracks. Bloodwork indicates extreme hypoglycemia typical of late-stage Horviss-Greln disease.” She sighed. “Intravenous feeding has proven inadequate to counter symptoms. Supplies of Isoprate are low, so I will commence treatment with Korana–“

“Stop!”

Nadeshiko looked up to see her boss, Dr. Viri, standing at the entrance to the medium-risk ward. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Viri’s pale, pudgy face was flushed, and his eyes, overlarge and the best of times, were bulging. “Koranafil! Do you want to kill him?”

“I– oh shit.”

Propanofil, Dr. Kodesh. Propanofil is the treatment of second choice for H-G. Koranafil is for renal failure.”

Nadeshiko hung her head. “I know that, doctor. You know I know that!”

“Yes, I do.” His flush was gone now; his face was stony as he walked over to the medication cooler and withdrew a bottle of Propanofil. “Normally. When did you last sleep, Nadeshiko?”

“I woke up half an hour ago,” she countered. “Are you trying to accuse me of something?”

“That depends. How long did you sleep?”

She looked away. “Three hours.”

“That’s what I thought. You need to sleep! Better no doctor at all than one who can’t keep her drugs straight.”

Nadeshiko winced. “Mizrahi–“

“Aren’t gods. You may need less sleep, but you still need sleep.”

“And I’m getting enough!” she insisted. “Now get out of my way and let me treat my patient.”

“No.” Viri attached the Propanofil to a nozzle on the patient’s IV, and watched a moment to make sure it was dripping properly into the stream. “There are two possibilities here, doctor. Either you’re entirely incompetent, which we both know isn’t true, or you’re slipping because of tiredness. Which do you prefer?”

“I made a mistake,” she said. “People make mistakes. Don’t tell me you’re not tired, too.”

“I am,” he said. “But I know I’ll save more lives on a good night’s sleep than I could by working myself into exhaustion. You seem to be having a hard time learning that.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll try to sleep more. Now I have to check up on patients.”

Viri shook his head. “No, Nadeshiko. You’re taking the week off, starting now. The supplies should be here today, so I won’t really need you for a few days. You can go back to town with the deliveryman, sleep in your own bed for a couple of nights, come back fresh when we start running low on nanomachines.”

“You can’t make me do that.”

Viri sighed. “Yes, I can. Go to the gate and see if the deliveryman’s here yet. If I hear of you touching a patient, you’re fired.”

For the second time that morning, Nadeshiko fought to deactivate her tear ducts. It was getting harder. Exhaustion pulled at every cell in her body, despite all her best efforts to fight it down. She wanted to scream at Viri, to tear him apart. Didn’t he understand that people were dying? What if somebody she could have saved died while she was gone?

“Fine,” she said, and slumped. “I’ll go. I’ll be back Saturday.”

“Good,” he said. “Get some sleep, and some exercise, and eat something fresh.”

“Yeah,” she said. She left the building, little more than a shack, and walked out into the harsh mid-morning sunlight. Finally alone, she shrieked her frustration at the sky.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She came to Bethel full of hope and pride. She’d seen herself, Scientia-trained, amazing the other doctors with her ability to heal these poor patients. She would save lives, heal the sick, and by the time her two-year stint was up, the refugee camp would be empty, everybody healed and home.

What a little idiot she’d been.

Fiction Friday: Xenosaga Fic: Chapter Three Begins

Sorry for the lateness on this. Been having computer issues. 

Dr. Nadeshiko Kodesh was not having a good morning. “Three people,” she muttered into her coffee. “Three more dead, doctor. So much for talent.”

She drained the cup, staring blankly at the wall of her small, bare quarters. She had an apartment in the city, paid for by the Bethel Fund, but she hadn’t slept there in a week. Hadn’t left the camp in six days. With Berrol sick, she had no choice; it was just her and Dr. Viri caring for nearly three hundred refugees.
Most of the refugees were sick most of the time. The doctors took great pains to isolate themselves from infection, but with hundreds of people crammed together, most of them with damaged immune systems, there was simply no way to be completely safe. In her two years here, even Nadeshiko had been too sick to work twice. Hardly a month went by that Viri or Berrol didn’t miss a day or two, and Berrol had now been throwing up virtually everything for six days. They had him in a hospital in the city now. Apparently, the city hospitals did have beds they weren’t using, as long as you weren’t from Midbar.
Nadeshiko slammed her cup down. Her eyes hurt, and frustrated, angry tears threatened to fall. Instinctively, she switched off her tear ducts until the feeling passed. She couldn’t really blame the city. They could easily have filled every hospital bed with refugees, at the cost of leaving nothing for their own citizens; they chose, instead, to admit all the refugees under the age of twenty, and supplied food to the remainder. It was more than a lot of other places did.
No, she had only herself to blame for losing three more patients. Death had beaten her again. Next time, she’d fight harder.
Time to work. Closing her eyes, she concentrated, dissolving the fatigue toxins in her system, slowing the absorption rate of the caffeine and enhancing its effects, so that one cup of coffee would keep her up for several hours without making her hyper. The slight shaking in her hands subsided as she forced her biochemistry to accede to her will.
Feeling fully refreshed, albeit frustrated and a little slow, she stepped out into the bright desert sun and got to work.
***
Seth made the last finishing touches to his ad and sat back. “What do you think?” he asked.
“It’s fine,” said Izzy. “Just like the last three versions.”
“I want it to be better than fine! I’ve got a good feeling about this find. Somebody out there’s going to pay through the nose for this thing.” Seth looked down at his ad. 

“Salvage for sale,” it read. “Sealed, armored container recovered from wreck of tramp freighter Ahura off Bethel. 1.4 tonnes, 18m x 8m x 2m. No identifying markings, content listing, or danger warnings. Sold as is, unopened. C25,000 OBO.”

His asking price was five times the worth of the container empty. Unfortunately, not even he and Izzy together had been able to crack its lock codes, and its armor was too heavy to be pierced by anything less than the Isolde’s bow cannon, which ran too much risk of damaging the contents. All they knew about its contents was that they weighed about half a tonne, based on their best estimate of the weight of the container, so Seth pretty much had to guess how much they’d have to be worth to warrant that level of protection.
“Okay,” he said finally. “As soon as we land, get us some time on the spaceport’s EPR and upload that to, uh,” he ticked off markets on his fingers, “let’s say the local market, Ur, the Federation, and Artaxerxes. Oh, and Scientia and the Church, of course.”
“Gotcha, boss,” said Izzy. Something about the way she said it made Seth feel she wanted to say more. “You ever think about how great it must have been in the old days, boss? Back when you could just upload this sort of thing to the UMN when you felt like it, with color and video, and talk to buyers in realtime?”
“Yes, in the wonderful golden age of our wise and benevolent ancestors,” Seth answered sarcastically. “I don’t know where you pick up these things. You know I don’t believe in that stuff.”
“You’re a salvager, boss. You of all people know how much technology we lost in the Dark Ages. You really think we’ve gotten it all back?”
“I think legend has exaggerated what the ancients could do. If there really had once been a giant super-fast network spanning the whole cluster, don’t you think Scientia would be at least working on recreating it now? Next you’re going to tell me you believe there really was a Saoshi who magically visited a thousand planets a hundred and fifty years before IS Gates.”
“Ah, boss, you don’t have to make fun of me.” There was a clear pout in Izzy’s voice. “Anyway, we’ve got clearance to land. We hit atmosphere in five minutes.”
“Gotcha,” said Seth. “Let the guys know. I’ll meet them at the bridge.”
***
“Well, hell,” said Wally. “Now what do we do?”
“First priority is to get out of here,” said Sardula. “Judging by those cages, there’s at least four more Divs in the building, and more to the point there’ll be soldiers coming to pacify them as soon as they’re confident everyone in the building is dead. After that, we watch their communications and try to figure out if the Original is still here, or if they’ve moved it offplanet.”
“How exactly do you plan on getting out?” asked Wally.
Sardula pointed to the far end of the room, where an open shaft led up. “That must be how they got the objective out without anyone noticing; it’s probably for bringing equipment and personnel in and out of the lab without having to pass through lower-security areas. The other end is no doubt concealed somewhere in the hills behind the facility.”
“Sure,” said Wally, “and it’s probably covered by a squad of AMWS and a couple of missile batteries, too. They obviously aren’t kidding around about securing the Original.”
“At least one squad,” Sardula agreed.
“So, what, you want to just crawl up the shaft and ask them politely to let us go through?”
“As much fun as that might be, I have a better plan.” Sardula looked up the shaft. “Yes, the other end must be about six hundred meters south-by-southwest of the facility.”
“That’s really great to know,” said Wally. “I don’t suppose you’ve been transmitting all this to a small army of friends who are now going to fight their way down the shaft and pick us up, have you?”
“Not exactly,” Sardula answered. For the first time, she gave a small, secretive smile. If Wally hadn’t just seen her go toe-to-toe with two Divs and win, he’d have said it made her look pixie-ish. “Ah, it should just about be here.”
“What?” asked Wally. “I don’t see anything.”
“Exactly,” said Sardula, as a small black AMWS materialized at the bottom of the shaft, hovering in near-total silence.
“Oh, wow,” said Wally. “Is that a Fuyutsuki & Ogilvy Stealth AMWS? I’ve heard of them, but this has a different profile. Is it a new model? I thought F&O cancelled the ZX series!”
“As far as anyone else is concerned, they did.” The cockpit opened, and Sardula climbed nimbly up into the pilot’s chair. “Coming?”
“Right, right!” said Wally, scrambling up into the copilot’s seat, underneath the pilot’s and slightly farther forward. The cockpit closed around them, and Wally felt the brief, quivering disorientation of an artificial gravity system kicking in. Then they were off, rocketing up the shaft at dizzying speed.
“Wait!” shouted Wally. “Shouldn’t you turn the stealth back on? We’ll be seen!”

“That’s the plan,” replied Sardula. “Hang on!”
Wally craned his neck, trying to look up the shaft to see what guards were waiting for them. As a result, he didn’t notice something small and red and shining drop from the AMWS. Then the first missiles came spiraling down the shaft, and he couldn’t bear to look any longer.
***
“So, how long are we stopping, Captain?” asked Vix. She shaded her eyes as she studied the town on the other side of the spaceport. She had to admit, from here it looked pretty — long, low buildings of white stone, mostly, their domes shining in the desert sun.
“Couple of days at least,” Seth answered. He’d discarded his jacket, and looked even younger than he was in his red t-shirt and black jeans. “Gotta give buyers time to notice us. I want our next stop to be delivering that box to its owner.”
“Ahh,” sighed Wehj, stretching as he stepped out onto the ramp. “Feel that sunlight!”
“All right,” said Seth, “I’m going to make our delivery. You two try not to get into too much trouble, all right? I’m not covering bail this time, Vix.”
“Hey, that guy had it coming! Just out of the blue, stops me on the street and starts yelling about something, tells me there’s gonna be a reckoning? He’s lucky I just decked ‘im!”
“He was a street preacher!” Wehj protested.
“Whatever,” said Vix. “I’m going to go find out what the locals drink. You coming?”
“Yeah, okay,” said Wehj. “But you’re paying for your own drinks this time!”
Seth shook his head as the two walked off across the landing pad, actually nothing more than a ring of lights on a flat stretch of packed-down red sand. “Any luck finding us a hopper, Izzy?” he asked.

“Sorry, boss,” she answered through his earpiece. “Looks like it’s going to have to be a truck. Hoppers are pricy around here.”
“Ah, hell, I hate riding things with wheels. How expensive are we talking?”
“You want to eat this week?”
“Ow.” Seth grimaced. “Fine, make it a truck. Where do I pick it up?”
Seth accepted the directions from Izzy, then went to get the truck, a battered old thing that didn’t even have autopilot. “At least it’s not internal combustion,” he muttered to himself as he drove it back to the Isolde. “I guess I should be grateful for that.”
Fifteen minutes later, he was bouncing and jolting his way across a badly-maintained desert road, practically crawling at 175 kph. The climate control was broken and the windows didn’t open, so he was pouring sweat, envying the medicines in their nice, heavy refrigeration units, and hating the universe. “Next time, I’m sending Vix.” A particularly skull-rattling bump spawned a stream of curses, giving Seth time to reconsider. “No, she’d murder me when she got back. I’ll send Wehj.”
A distance marker shot past. Forty kilometers still to go. “I hate planets,” said Seth. “I don’t know why anybody stays on them.”

Fiction Friday: Xenosaga Fic, End of Chapter 2

The woman from the Federation — a spy? A soldier? Special Forces? — moved swiftly and silently down the hall, a small moving patch of darkness in the murk. Wally followed, head reeling at the absurdity of it all. Here he was, a pudgy, balding scientist, clutching a rifle to his chest like a child’s doll, following a spectacularly lethal, beautiful woman half his age through a dark hallway in a building infested with murderous alien monsters, the closest thing he had to a close friend lying dead behind him, and all he could think of was that he didn’t know the name of any of the people protecting him.

The woman paused at a corner and gestured for Wally to get behind her. She peered carefully around the corner. “It looks clear to the emergency stairs,” she whispered. “We’ll take those down to the lowest level and grab the other objective. We’ll use the cargo lift to get back to the surface quickly.”

“It won’t work without power,” he whispered.

“Leave that to me,” she said. “Your job is to confirm the target and make sure it’s in good condition. Ready?”

“What’s your name?” he blurted.

She looked at him quickly, startled, then turned away to watch the corridor again. Her face returned to impassivity as he watched. “Diesieger,” she said. “Sardula Diesieger.”

“Ready,” Wally said.

Sardula ran for the stairway door while Wally covered her. One of her knives dropped from her sleeve into her hand, and almost immediately began to glow. Wally watched, fascinated. He’d heard of the Hilbert Atrophy before, but never seen it in action. Sardula’s knife sliced through the door like butter, and in a matter of moments it collapsed to the floor. She motioned to him, and he ran quickly to the stairs.

Even going down, twenty-two floors was a long way, and Wally was heaving and puffing when they finally reached bottom. “Rest a moment,” Sardula said, not even breathing hard.

Wally leaned against a wall and sucked in a few deep breaths. Sardula kept looking around, scanning for any sign of danger. Her eyes, Wally noticed suddenly, were amber, not the light brown he’d thought they were earlier. She was a Realian, of course. It made sense; almost all of the Federation’s frontline troops were, and it explained how such a tiny person could kick hard enough to make a Div stumble.

Sardula sliced through the door and rolled into the hall, springing to her feet with both blades drawn. “Clear,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Wally followed as quickly as he could. Sardula clearly knew exactly where she was going–she probably had a map of the facility in her brain. They were headed right for the high-security lab where the Original was kept. Unfortunately, he knew how the lowest level was laid out, a series of increasingly secure areas nested inside one another. “You realize we’re going to have to go through Div containment to get to the Original, right?”

“Divs are drawn to sentient prey,” Sardula answered. “I’m hoping they’ve run out of people to kill down here and all moved to the higher levels.”

Wally winced, not sure whether it was the concept or the matter-of-fact tone with which she stated it that bothered him more.

They reached the mangled remains of the reinforced double doors that led to Div containment without incident, but Sardula held up a hand as they approached it. “Careful,” she said. “Hope isn’t a battle plan. Keep your eyes peeled; this is a great place for an ambush.”

She dove through the wreckage in the doorway, blades drawn and glowing as she sprang to her feet on the far side. Wally followed, keeping his distance and sweeping the room with his gun as he’d seen soldiers do in movies. Sardula led the way slowly, primed to leap in any direction if needed.
The very large room was crisscrossed by the remnants of transparent cubicle walls, shattered and broken by hammer-blow Div fists. Most of the chambers had been filled with medical or biological research equipment, oversized operating tables, scanning devices, or computers for genetic sequencing and chemical analysis. They were in a disarray of smashed metal and stains Wally desperately hoped were the residue of chemicals or samples, not researchers. In the center of the room was a cluster of now-defunct forcefield cages, each large enough to hold a Div and give it limited room to move around.

“There’s the door to the top-security lab,” Wally said, pointing to an intact double door at the far end of the room. “Let’s hurry.”

There was a crash and a roar from above them and Sardula rolled to the side as a Div dropped down. Another tore in through the side wall near Wally; he fell back with a yelp of surprise, losing his grip on his gun.

Sardula leaped high as the Div swung at her, slashing its wrist as it passed. Its hand fell to the ground and the Div roared in pain, staggering back. The hand dissolved before it touched the ground, as did the fat, viscous drops of black blood oozing much too slowly from the stump of the Div’s arm. The Div screamed and backed toward the cages, Sardula pursuing it but keeping her distance warily, waiting for an opening.

Wally scrambled after his gun, but the Div stomped between him and it. He rolled aside, barely avoiding its kick, and scrambled hastily to his feet. He ran for the nearest cubicle. Slow, heavy footsteps resounded right behind him, but he didn’t dare look back.

The Div Sardula was chasing reached the cages. Its hand was now partially grown back, a lump of red flesh without fingers or skin. Without turning, it tore a half-ton forcefield generator free of the bolts holding it in place and flung it at Sardula. She dove underneath the attack and charged the Div. She leaped for the kill, but had forgotten to take its injured arm into account; a sweeping blow flung her with a crash into a torn-apart cubicle.

The Div stomped after her as the lump of flesh on the end of its wrist separated into fingers with a wet rip. Its healing was accelerating as the effects of the Hilbert Atrophy wore off; scabrous skin grew rapidly to cover it, then hair and claws began rapidly to grow.

Sardula lay amidst a pile of smashed computer equipment, momentarily stunned. As her senses returned, she realized the Div was approaching rapidly, and leaped to her feet. She shook her head to clear it, and realized her hands were empty. She scanned the room quickly, and spotted one of her knives lying on the floor, near where she had been struck by the Div. Its glow was already fading rapidly, and she had no time to search for the other, as the Div was upon her.

It grabbed for her, but she was able to duck out of the way and try to sweep its legs out from under it, to no avail. The Div’s other arm came ponderously about, but Sardula was too far inside its reach for it to have much effect. She slid between its legs, kicking it in the crotch, but there was nothing there to kick but leathery armor.

She rolled to her feet grabbed the nearest weapon she could improvise, a broken-off length of glass tubing, about an inch across and three feet long. As the Div turned to attack her again, she jumped and stabbed, burying the tube deep in its eye.

The Div screamed and clawed at the makeshift spear, trying to pull it out, but its large claws were too clumsy to get a good grip. Sardula took advantage of its distraction to sprint for her knife. She reactivated the Hilbert emitters in her wrist as she grabbed it off the floor, then spun, scanning the room swiftly.

Wally scrambled desperately from hiding place to hiding place as each one was destroyed by the Div relentlessly pursuing him. He rolled under an operating table only to have the Div rip it out of the floor. In the time it took the Div to do that, he fled over the smashed cubicle wall and behind a metal table, which the Div pounded flat with a single blow of its fist.

Wally’s chest was aching and his head swimming with exhaustion, but he was past noticing. All that mattered was making sure there was always one more obstacle between himself and the pursuing Div. He could barely see from the sweat pouring into his eyes, but he knew the red, moving blur was the Div, and all the other blurs were non-Divs. That was all he needed.

Indefatigable, the Div followed, destroying one obstacle after another, never hesitating. It was inevitable that it would eventually catch up to him. Wally dove behind a pile of several large pieces of equipment — protein extrapolators and gene sequencers, he vaguely noted) — through a gap too small for the Div to reach through. He wiped the sweat from his eyes and realized he’d backed himself into a corner. Through the transparent cubicle walls he could see the other Div snap off the glass tube buried in its eye. A moment later, the portion buried in its eye popped out as the eye reformed as if no damage had been done. Of Sardula there was no sign, and Wally realized that, in his mad scramble, he must have gotten between her and her Div.

A deafening roar echoed a few feet from him, and the Div chasing him swept the top half of the pile to the ground. Wally backed against the corner, but to no avail. The Div wrapped its enormous claw around his torso, pinning his arms to his sides, and lifted him. Wally screamed and kicked at the air as he rose into the air toward its hideous face. Its skin was hot, much hotter than a human’s if not actually painful, and its stinking breath poured over him in waves.

Its claw was tightening, and Wally knew that it could crush him like an egg. Would, in a second. He wanted to scream and rage, but his arms were completely pinned and there was no way to scream louder than he already was.

To Wally’s astonishment, the Div dropped him suddenly, screaming in rage and pain and clawing at the knife Sardula had thrown into its shoulder. It turned to face her as she charged, but she leaped lightly over the blow it swung at her with its good arm and vaulted over its shoulder, pulling out the knife and landing on its other side.

Sardula reached into the pile of equipment Wally had hidden behind and pulled her second knife from where it had embedded itself in the white plastic casing of a computer, then turned to face the two angry Divs converging on her and Wally.

She crouched low, knives held so that the blades pointed back along her arms. “Saoshi!” she screamed, and leapt for the farther of the two Divs. She landed on its shoulder and immediately backflipped off, slashing it with both her blades. She kicked off from the other Div, and attacked again, spinning and dodging tirelessly, never touching the ground, never touching a Div for more than a fraction of a second.

Wally stared a moment, flabbergasted, but then returned to his senses. “Gun,” he said to himself, peering around the room. He soon spotted it, and ran, crouching low, desperately hoping neither Div would notice him. He stumbled as he reached the gun, tumbling to the floor, but managed to keep his grip on it.

As he scrambled to his feet and turned toward the Divs, he saw one manage to clip Sardula as she spun past. Even the glancing blow was sufficient to throw off her aim, and she barely managed to get her feet under herself before she hit the ground. The nearer Div swung for her, and she dove too slow out of the way–

A hail of bullets brought it up short with a roar, and Sardula gasped in relief. Then she returned her attention to attacking the two Divs. Wally’s bullets, lacking the Hilbert Atrophy channeled along Sardula’s knives, could not injure the Divs, but they were highly successful at annoying them and keeping them off balance. Together, they made short work of the Divs.

After the last one collapsed with a guttural, mournful cry, Sardula sheathed her knives and began checking herself for injuries. “You all right?” she asked Wally.

He felt suddenly, intensely cold and sick, and noticed for the first time the dull ache in his chest and the cuts and bruises all over him. “Nothing serious,” he said. “You?”

“A little internal damage to my left arm,” she answered. “Nothing my autorepair can’t handle.” She walked over to the doors to the maximum-security lab.

“You’re a follower of Saoshi?” Wally asked.

Sardula darkened, barely perceptibly. It took Wally a moment to realize she was blushing. “There doesn’t seem to be any way to open the door without power,” she said. “I’m going to have to cut it open.”

“I’m sorry, I was just curious, since you saved me and all. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“I’m not offended,” Sardula said. “However, I’m here to accomplish a mission, not to make social engagements.”

It was Wally’s turn to blush. “You think I’m–no no no! I know what they say about cyberneticists, but I really honestly was just curious. I’ve never met one of Saoshi’s followers before.”
Sardula grunted noncommittally as she carved an opening in the doorway for them. “It was an exclamation under the stress of combat,” she said. “It’s not worth dwelling on.”

“All right,” Wally said. “It’s obviously a sore subject. I’m sorry.” Mentally, he cursed the popular conception of Realian designers and cyberneticists as clankers. Okay, so yes, pretty much all Realians were designed to be aesthetically pleasing–why not? So were most children. Parents weren’t under constant suspicion of being perverts, were they? Maybe they were. Wally didn’t actually know any parents.

Sardula finished cutting through the door and pulled herself through the opening. She helped Wally through, and then turned into the room. “So, where is it?” she asked.

“Huh? It should be right in–” Wally stared, then cursed and punched the wall.

The Original was already gone.

End of Chapter Two. Next weekend I’ll have some more original fic up, and then Chapter Three starts after that. What do people think so far? I really struggled with this chapter–there were a lot of problematic descriptions of Sardula in the original, and I really struggled with removing those while also making clear that the same kind of blend of cultural standards, objectification, and sexism that influences the design of (for example) female superheroes and video game characters in our culture was at work on her. I also struggled with Ritzi, because she, Jensen, and the security guard all exist solely to die. I tried to avoid most of the fridge clichés as best I could, and in particular tried to make it clear that throughout Wally is driven by his own fear, not some kind of macho revenge BS, but I don’t know how well I succeeded.

Soundtrack! Only a couple of tracks for this chapter, including the first from a non-Xenosaga source, ar Tonelico:

Div Attack

Sardula’s Theme

What do people think of this “chapter soundtrack” idea? Does it do anything for you?

Fiction Fridays: Xenosaga Fic, Chapter 2, Part 3

Super late, I know, but it looks like I’ll be caught up by the time of the pony post. 

Onwards with Chapter 2, where there be monsters.

The three scientists stood in shock, staring at the guard.

“Hide!” she shouted. “Now!”

Snapping to his senses, Wally shoved Jensen, who looked at him reproachfully for a moment, then shook his head and dove under his desk. Ritzi seemed to be falling rapidly into a world of her own, so Wally had to half-drag her behind the counter on which the giant mechanical arm he’d been working on was laid out in pieces.

“We’re going to die,” she whimpered. “They’re coming back.”

“No,” said Wally. “We’ll be fine. They won’t come here. It’ll be okay.”

“No, no,” she said. “I’ve been here before. Mitsuda Street.”

“Oh,” said Wally, and hugged her. Mitsuda Street was in the Overlook Square neighborhood. Thirty years ago, Overlook Square had been one of the nicest places for a lower-middle-class family to live in the Fifth Jerusalem capital, right up until a Div attack had appeared out of nowhere one evening. It was far and away the worst of the twenty or so attacks the Federation had seen in the centuries since the creatures first appeared, with thousands dead, many of them children.

“I was seven,” Ritzi whimpered. “It, it tore our wall off. It was big and horrible and I was so scared. Daddy was twisted all wrong, and Mommy told me to run. She had the knife she used for cake. I ran out the back door and kept running until I couldn’t breathe. I was sure it was behind me.”

“Shh,” said Wally. “It’ll be okay.” His brain didn’t seem to be working right. Ritzi was older than him after all, and that was hilarious, but he didn’t dare laugh.

“No!” she cried. “It won’t! It’s never going to stop following me!” She tore out of Wally’s grasp and ran out from behind the counter.

“Ritzi, no!” he called.

“What the hell?” shouted the security guard. “You idiot, get away from there!”

Ritzi scrabbled clumsily at the door, trying to force it open. “I have to get away from here!” she shrieked. “It’s coming for me, I have to run!”

Wally watched in horror as the door suddenly dimpled inward under a forceful blow. Ritzi stumbled back away from it, stunned. Something roared, Ritzi and tearing metal both shrieked, and then something enormous forced its way into the room. An enormous three-clawed, scaly hand shot out and wrapped itself around Ritzi’s head. It swung her sharply against the wall, and her screaming stopped.

The security guard was screaming in incoherent rage, firing continuously at the Div, but the bullets just bounced from its chest. Wally felt strangely calm, able to dispassionately observe everything as it happened. He was dimly aware that he, too, was screaming, but it was simply another fact to be noted.

The Div was enormous, half again as tall as a man and twice as wide. Its torso was bulbous, almost spherical, supported on thick, short legs, and its arms were long and muscular. It had three claws on its hands, one shorter and opposed to the others, like a thumb. Its feet had three claws as well, two in front and one behind, like a dinosaur from a holo. Its eyes were small and dark in a bat-like head, with large ears. A narrow crest of thick, course yellow-brown hair ran from between its eyes, over its scalp and down the back of its neck. Its skin was a deep, dark red and scaly, and its chest and back were covered in thick yellow calluses, almost like armor.

It was horrible, a nightmare creature, a childhood ogre, and Ritzi was dead and bullets couldn’t hurt it. From far outside himself, he saw death approaching from one direction and panic from another.
Slowly, the reality of it all was settling in. He was going to die.

The security guard shrieked in frustration and stood, still firing. Her arc of fire traced across its chest and struck it in the face, and the creature roared as bullets chewed its head apart. As fast as the wounds formed, however, they closed again, healing as if they had never been.

It threw Ritzi at the security guard. There was a sickening snap as she struck the floor. Bullets sprayed across the ceiling for a moment as she clenched the trigger in her death throes, but then the gun dropped beside her, quiet and still.

The creature roared again, and Wally shrieked and ran for the closet. He pulled the door shut behind him, piled everything he could find against it, and then cowered against the back wall, trembling and sick, his arms over his head. They couldn’t shut out the sound, however, of the thing roaring, of Jensen screaming, of the wet crunch that ended the screaming.

“Go away,” he whispered. “Go away go away go away.” But slow, inexorable, heavy footprints approached the closet.

Wally yelped as the Div struck the door, its claws penetrating clean through. He stared helplessly as it tore the door off and flung it aside, then brought its face down to look at him through the doorway. It screamed high and loud and reptilian, and Wally screamed back, his hands covering his ears.

The Div straightened. It reached for him. And a dark figure dropped from above, something bright and red slashing across the Div’s face. It howled and reared back. The dark figure landed in a crouch and immediately launched herself again, striking the Div in the face with a spinning kick and knocking it farther off balance.

Slowly, incredulously, Wally stood as the figure lightly and nimbly leaped back and forth, kicking and slashing with shining red blades, driving the Div away from him. The Div tried to strike back, but she jumped onto its arm with incredible speed and launched from there at its head. Unlike the security guard’s bullets, the figure’s attacks didn’t seem to heal, and soon the Div gave a last mournful cry and collapsed heavily, shaking the entire lab with the force of its impact.

She turned to face Wally, who could only stare. She was no more than half his age, and tiny; the straight black hair hanging to her waist probably weighed half as much as the rest of her. She wore a navy blue, formfitting jumpsuit covered in pockets, and carried a pair of long knives, fading now from their previous cherry-red glow.

“Um… thank you,” he said.

“Dr. Wallace Alexander Petrovich?” she asked.

“Y-yes,” he managed. “How–?”

“Your ID,” she said, pointing at the card dangling from his belt loop. “Also, I was given your description.”

“The Federation sent you.” He sagged against the wall. “Did — did you do this?”

“No,” she said. “I believe the Ur government has staged this incident to wipe out all facility staff not loyal to them. You were right to contact us.”

She walked over to the broken tangle of limbs from which the room’s only light shone. Wally followed hesitantly and knelt next to the bodies. They didn’t look like people. They looked like store dummy parts mixed at random. But there was too much blood for store dummies, an overwhelming smell of meat that made him retch, and an ID card protruding from the mass. The picture was obscured by blood, but the name clearly read “Adelaide Ritsuki”. He felt dry and hollow.

“We should find the other card,” Wally said as the woman from the Federation reached into the tangle. “I should at least know her name.”

The woman pulled the flashlight free, shook it to get rid of what blood she could, and held it out. She was saying something, but Wally couldn’t follow it. She shook the flashlight at him again.

“It’s hers,” Wally said. “I can’t.”

“Take it. She doesn’t need it. You do.” The woman allowed the briefest look of exasperation to cross her face, and clipped the flashlight to his jacket herself. “Can you fire a gun?”

“What?” Wally stared at her. “Sort of,” he said. “I mean, it’s been–“

“Here,” she said, and handed him the assault rifle. “Follow me.” She started to stand, but Wally didn’t move.

“We should say something,” he said. “For Ritzi, I mean. She- she was scared. It wasn’t her fault.” He looked up helplessly. “We should say something.”

The woman gazed back at him dispassionately. “Were you friends?”

“Lovers,” Wally said. It wasn’t precisely true, but he didn’t feel up to explaining.

“All right,” she said. “But then we have to move. There are other Divs where that came from, and we might have to tangle with security, too.” She knelt beside Ritzi and the security guard and bowed her head. “Almighty Lord, take your servants into your bosom. Guide them and guard them with your wisdom and your power. Though they fell in battle, may they find peace beyond reach of any weapon.” She opened her eyes and stood. “Ready?”

“No,” he said, and stood. “But I’ll come.”

Xenosaga Fic: Chapter 2, Part 2

Wally nodded to the guards as he entered the research center. “Stan not in today?” he asked as he presented his access card for inspection.

“Nah, he’s out sick,” said one of the guards, a woman unfamiliar to Wally.

“Something must be going around,” said the other guard, known to Wally as Yon, though he didn’t know if that was a nickname. “Place is quiet today.”

“Huh,” said Wally. “Well, good morning, anyway.”

Yon nodded. “Mornin’.”

Wally took the elevator down to the third floor. Most buildings on Ur had only one or two floors above ground, and the rest extending down. Building space was at a premium, and the early colonists had taken pains not to disrupt Ur’s complex and unique aerial ecology. The great floating gardens and sailfloats were now mostly restricted to the outlying islands, but the tradition remained.

He emerged into a quiet hallway, lined with thick carpet, faux-wood paneling, and holopaintings by both staff and famous Ur artists. Wally had grown up on Fifth Jerusalem, with its noise and bustle and crowds, its brushed steel and reinforced concrete, right angles and primary colors, order and propriety. Life on Ur was a matter of curves and quiet, warm lighting, browns and greens. It had taken some getting used to, but he found he rather liked it.

The main cybernetics lab was a different matter. No matter where you went in the universe, it seemed, all labs were pretty much the same: wires dangling from the ceiling, piles of equipment, nearly all of it jury-rigged or modified, blackboards covered in arcane scrawls, cartoons and joke printouts and toys marking each researcher’s personal territory.

“Morning, Wally,” said Ritzi, waving. “Have a good weekend?” She was another Federation researcher, an expert in sensor design and implementation, a couple of years younger than Wally’s thirty-four, though she refused to reveal her precise age.

“Morning. Not bad, you?” Wally returned Ritzi’s enigmatic smile, her usual response to inquiries about her life outside work. He rather liked Ritzi, in a relaxed, uninvolved sort of way. The two of them dated for a week or two every couple of years, whenever they both found themselves single and bored. They had fun, but knew nothing deeper could come of it. Such behavior would of course have been utterly scandalous on Fifth Jerusalem, but didn’t raise an eyebrow on Ur. “Jansen in?”

Ritzi pointed at a computer in the corner. A pair of legs in neatly pressed trousers were visible under the table.

“Ah,” said Wally and walked over to his supervisor. “Hello, sir. Had a chance to look at my proposal?”

“Eh?” asked Jansen. He pushed his glasses — something else one never saw in the Federation, but then biotech was still Ur’s weakest science — up on his nose and blinked at Wally. “Ah, Petrovich. No, I’m afraid not. I’ve run into rather a bit of bureaucratic nonsense with my own project; it seems our superiors have decided our work on the Original requires excessive resources that could be better spent elsewhere. They denied my request for access last week to run an activation attempt.”

“That’s too bad,” said Wally.

“I am not normally one for politics, but I’m afraid this new government seems somewhat unfriendly to our work here.”

Wally chuckled. Jansen started at least thirty sentences a day with “I’m not normally one for politics, but…” He was known throughout the office for bending the ear of anyone he could find with his complaints about the government in that very fake Scientian accent of his, and the volume and frequency of complaints had only increased since the Fleetists took over. “I’ve gotten that impression, yeah,” he said. “Well, I’m sure you guys will swing back the other way after a couple of years.”

“Indeed, one must hope such,” Jansen answered.

“Well, I guess I’ll get to work,” said Wally. He sat at his own computer and checked his mail.

Ritzi leaned over conspiratorially. “Everybody’s out today,” she said. “You notice? All the Ur people, none of the Federation or Scientia researchers.”

“What about Dr. Jensen? Or the security guards?”

“Okay, a couple of Ur people, but I think everybody from the Federation is here today. I stopped by Keely’s office — you know her, in Requisitions? — on the way in to ask if my neutrino detector’s come in, and she still had that awful cold. Said they told her she had to come in anyway for a meeting, then cancelled the meeting.”

“Huh,” said Wally. “Hang on, let me check something.” He opened his calendar and began setting up a meeting to last the entire day. In the attendees field, he entered “All”, then sorted by division.

“Weird,” said Ritzi. “Looks like practically all of security is here, but almost no one in admin or support. A lot of the researchers are out, too — here, let me try that. Remember when they sent out that mail about absentee ballots for the Federation elections? I think there’s a group address for that.”

On her own computer, she set up a similar meeting, with “All Federation Citizens” and “All Scientia Citizens” as attendees. “Yep,” she said, “and it looks like they’ve got one for Scientia, too.”

“Will you look at that?” said Wally. “Almost everybody from the Federation and Scientia is in today. The only ones who aren’t are marked as off-planet — everybody in town came in to work.”

“Wow, how often do you think that happens?” asked Ritzi.

“It’s pretty strange,” Wally agreed, but before he could say more, the room was plunged into darkness and the ever-present hum of computer fans and air vents ceased. Ritzi let out a long and extremely colorful series of curses regarding her computer’s parentage and the likelihood that its autosave had worked as advertised.

“A power outage?” Wally could barely make Jensen out in the darkness, but the puzzlement in his voice was evident. “That’s odd. The backup generators should preclude the possibility.”

A light gleamed, revealing Ritzi’s round face and curly hair. “I’ve got a light on my phone,” she said.

Wally drew his phone and flicked it to active. Its produced a surprisingly bright light in the dark, allowing him to see around fairly well. “I think there’s an emergency kit in the supply closet. There might be flashlights in there.”

“Good,” said Jensen. “See what you can find.”

Wally played the light from his phone over the floor, carefully picking his way across the room to the closet. “Big day for unlikely things to happen, isn’t it,” he heard Ritzi say behind him. He didn’t listen as she explained her meaning to Jensen. The back of his neck was prickling. This was all very wrong, much too much of a coincidence. Something was happening, and he hated not knowing what.

Jensen and Ritzi fell quiet. There was no sound beyond that of three people breathing and Wally’s scrabbles in the closet. He let his hands fall to his sides and listened. There was a sound in the distance, something he couldn’t quite place. A deep vibration as much felt as heard, and something else, higher-pitched.

“Gunfire?” asked Ritzi, alarmed. “Is somebody shooting?”

All three jumped as the door slid slightly in its frame. Pink-painted nails appeared around the edges, and then pulled the door open wide enough to admit the security guard Wally had seen at the entrance. An assault rifle was slung over her back and a flashlight clipped to her jacket.

“Come on,” she said. “We’re moving everybody to the ground floor cafeteria.”

“What’s going on?” demanded Jansen.

The guard licked her lips uneasily. “Power outage. We don’t know what caused it or why the backup generators aren’t running.”

“Power outages don’t involve guns,” said Wally.

“Yeah,” she said. “Listen, uh, you’re not really supposed to know about this, but–“

“The Divs!” Ritzi and Jensen jumped as Wally shouted in surprised realization. The fear came a moment behind. “Without power, there’s nothing holding the Divs in, is there?”

“Divs?” asked Ritzi, an edge of panic coming into her voice. “There are Divs here?”

“You’re not supposed to know about that,” said the guard. “Only security and the people working directly with them are supposed to know.”

“I was working late the night they brought them in,” said Wally. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Divs,” said Jensen, stunned. “We’ve been working a few floors from Divs–for how long?”

“Look, it doesn’t matter,” said the guard. “We need to move. We can’t protect you if you’re spread all over the facility. We’re trying to reach Norken’s Island now, but until troops from there arrive, we’re stuck here.”

“Stuck? What do you mean, stuck?” Ritzi was beginning to breathe fast and shallow. Wally walked up next to her and tried putting an arm around her, but she threw him off.

“Looks like a lockdown triggered just before the outage, ma’am. We don’t know what set it off, but all the security doors are closed. We can’t open them without power.”

“Let’s go,” said Jensen. Wally hardly recognized his voice; the Scientian accent was gone, and a rural Ur accent in its place. “We have to get out of here, now!”

“Please, try to stay calm,” the security guard said. “We–” There was a sound of metal tearing, shouts and gunfire, and then a rapidly approaching series of deep thuds. “Okay!” she said. “Change of plans. Everybody get in the room and under cover. Move it!” She pulled the door shut, then tipped over a table covered in prototyping equipment and shoved it against the door. Throwing over another table, she crouched behind it, her rifle trained on the door.

Back to Xenosaga fanfic: Chapter 2 begins

When last we left our heroes… well, actually, that’s irrelevant, because we’re starting this chapter somewhere else with some new characters. This is, for the record, probably the chapter that needs the most rewriting to get rid of sexist narrative elements. Younger me really sucked.

The Chair of the Subcommittee on Special Projects of the Federation Senate Committee on Science and Technology was tired. He had been up all night looking through agents’ dossiers with the apparently inexhaustible Minister of Intelligence, trying to guess which skillset would be most useful in the mission they had to assign. Minister Niklaus had picked his brain for every detail of the research facility, even though he doubtless knew more than the Chair did.

He rubbed his eyes and gazed blearily down at the dossier before him. He had no doubt that Niklaus was doing it on purpose, to punish him. Everyone knew that their two parties were going to break their coalition after the coming election. Prime Minister Norris was popular, and the Realian Voting Rights Act was going to create a massive new block of voters who would doubtless back the Manifest Destiny party all the way.

Any day now, the Prime Minister would call for elections, and the MDs simply wouldn’t need to put up with the embarrassing religiosity of their coalition partners any longer. The Unionists would get the shaft, and Niklaus would lose his cabinet post.

The Chair’s phone buzzed. “Your seven o’clock is here, sir.”

“Send her in,” he said, stifling a yawn, and stood as the door opened.

The young woman who entered looked to be in her late teens or early twenties, short and slim and dark, with a soft-featured, round face and very long, thick black hair. Only her amber eyes and crisp uniform revealed her true nature: a combat Realian, an artificial lifeform constructed for a specific purpose on the battlefield. Her features marked her age as closer to two or three years, the time since the Semito-Dravidian fad in Realian design–more recent models tended to vibrant pinks and greens for skin and hair, and tall, angular frames. “Lieutenant Sardula Diesieger, Special Forces, reporting as ordered, sirs!” she said, and saluted.

“At ease, lieutenant,” said Niklaus. “You know Chairman Koi?”

Sardula continued to stand ramrod-straight, but put her hands behind her back. “I have seen him on the news, sir.”

“Hm,” said Koi. “We have an assignment for you, lieutenant, as I imagine you’ve guessed. Shall we?” He gestured at a chair.

Sardula glanced briefly at Niklaus, much to Koi’s annoyance. All three were soon seated at a conference table, and Niklaus triggered the holodisplay in the center. A planet appeared, rotating — a mottled blue-and-white ball, as any habitable world must be.

“Ur,” said Koi. “What do you know about them?”

Sardula paused for a moment. Data streamed across her eyes, too fast to read. Koi often wondered why so many Realians were designed to do that when running a memory search; perhaps it was intended simply as a reminder, like the eye color itself, that they were not human. “An independent world with economic ties both to us and to Artaxerxes,” she finally said. “After the Collapse, they had no Realian repair or construction facilities intact, despite being a populous and industrialized world. They therefore developed cybernetics and robotics to an unusually high degree. There is a major Scientia research facility just outside the capital, originally devoted to cybernetics but since generalized.”

Koi nodded. “For the past three years, a joint project involving the Federation, Scientia, and the Ur government has been underway at that facility. Recently, however, a new faction has gained control of the Ur government.”

“Citizen dissatisfaction was high with the aggressive secularity of the previous government,” Niklaus explained. “The new party they have elected has strong ties to the Fleet Church and Artaxerxes, and is not as friendly to the Federation or Scientia. One of our researchers at the facility has contacted us. He has provided solid evidence that the government intends to seize sole control of the facility, and in particular our project.”

“The research subject is Federation property, and of vital national security importance,” said Koi. “It must be retrieved.”

“In addition, the extraction of the scientist is a primary objective,” Niklaus said, stroking his thin, neat mustache. “Secondarily, you are to misdirect any investigations as to your purpose, origins, and loyalties.”

Koi’s pudgy face pinked slightly, and he shifted uncomfortably. “We have created a cover identity for you as a member of an extremist religious group opposed to Scientia. You are to leave evidence that this was a random terrorist attack.” He took a sip of coffee from the mug at his elbow.

“If you accept the mission, further data will be provided to you. You would leave immediately.”

“If I accept?” asked Sardula.

Koi nodded. “This is a dangerous mission,” he said. “You have the option of refusing. No disciplinary action will be taken, and no record of this meeting exists.”

“I am a soldier, Senator Koi,” Sardula said. “I am prepared to die.”

“Admirable,” said Niklaus. “Understand, however, that if you are killed or captured it will be as a terrorist, not a Federation soldier. Sardula Diesieger will be erased from history.”

“Soldier or no, you are a free individual, lieutenant. You may choose to take this mission or not.”
No expression crossed Sardula’s face, but she found herself feeling vaguely sorry for the two humans before her. Unlike them, she knew the purpose for which she was created. Her body, abilities, and personality were crafted to excel at destroying the Federation’s enemies. Two years ago she emerged from a prototyping plant full-grown and educated, ready to begin service, and she had served since. The legal fictions with which they comforted themselves, filled the void of not knowing why they were made, had no meaning for her. “I will take the mission,” she said.

The two men glanced at each other. “Good,” said Niklaus. “We will transmit the full mission details to you within the hour.”

“Good luck,” said Koi. “I’ll try to find a cover story to give you a medal when you return.”

“Thank you, senator,” Sardula said. He didn’t understand. Few even among the Realians did, let alone humans.

Fiction Friday: Xenosaga Fanfic, end of Chapter One

Last time, in Der Wanderer und Sein Schatten:

“I don’t want to blow up any more than you — oops.” Seth hastily stood and pocketed his tools as the clamps opened. 

“What oops?” Wehj’s voice was panicky. “No oops. This is a no-oops zone!”

“It’s okay,” said Seth. “I accidentally triggered a backup self-destruct.”

And now, the conclusion (of chapter 1)…

“This is okay?” demanded Vix.

“Oh, we’ve got about ten minutes before it blows. Guess it was put in so that people would turn off the other self-destruct, then try to pull the box without noticing this one, and the ship would explode while they were trying to carry it out.” Seth grinned. “Plenty of time to run up to the bridge and turn the thing off.”

“We’re gonna die,” moaned Wehj.

“Probably,” said Seth, “but not in the next ten minutes, if I can help it. You stay here and watch our AMWS and the box. If we don’t call you in eight minutes, head for the Isolde. Vix, come on. I’ll need you to cover me. There’s still at least a couple of pirates running around the ship.”

“Gotcha, boss,” she answered, drawing an automatic pistol from her flight suit.

Seth unslung his own blaster rifle from his back and checked its power pack. “Let’s go!”

He and Vix leapfrogged up the hall, Vix covering him while he opened each bulkhead, then Seth covering her as she ran for what cover she could find in the next hall. They covered the three hundred meters to the bridge in about five minutes, encountering no one until they arrived at the final, armored door.

Seth worked quickly to open it, and was soon rewarded for his efforts by the hiss of the door opening. A moment later, a spray of bullets sent him diving behind the doorframe.

“Guess we found those couple of guys, huh?” Vix popped out from her own position on the other side of the doorframe, squeezed off a few wild shots just to keep the pirates honest, then ducked back behind cover.

“Shit!” said Seth. “They must have realized how hard removing the box was going to be, so they’re going to take the whole ship!” He unslung his blaster and returned fire.

Bullets flew in both directions, and Seth’s blaster spat death, but both sides were too well-covered to hit the other. Then Vix rolled in a grenade, and the guns inside fell silent.

“Cover the entrance while I turn off the self-destruct,” Seth said, and rolled in through the door, just in case one of the pirates was still alive. None were, however, so he got quickly to work while Vix watched the entrance from just inside the bridge.

After a few minutes, however, she was clearly getting nervous. “Um, cap’n, shouldn’t we get moving?”

“Huh?” asked Seth. “Oh, the explosion! Right. Call Wehj, tell him we’ll be there in a minute.”

“But, the self-destruct!”

“Oh, I took care of that ages ago.”

“You… then what are you doing?”

“Done!” Seth announced. “Now let’s move! Quickly!”

They ran quickly down the hall to the aft cargo bay and boarded their AMWS. The other two helped Seth get upright, and then he activated his engines and hovered while they hoisted the box.

“Okay, we’ve got about thirty seconds!” he said.

“Thirty seconds until what, captain?” asked Wehj.

“Until – crap!” Seth barely dodged out of the way in time as two metal ribbons shot past him. The Swordsman hovered in the entrance, its armor scratched and pitted but otherwise none the worse for the explosions Seth had subjected it to.

“Oh hell, a Swordsman?” said Vix. “Who the hell are these pirates?”

“That’s what I want to know!” shouted Seth. “Open fire, and don’t let those ribbons hit you. Keep moving!” He launched himself backwards, then off sideways and up, firing on the Swordsman all the while.

“That’s easy for you to say!” said Vix. “Your AMWS doesn’t steer like a cow!” She dove behind a crate for cover, then joined in with her own partacs.

“Yahhh!” screamed Wehj as the ribbons sliced the crate he was using for shreds. “Captain, do something!” He fled behind the box they were trying to move.

“Vix, get behind there with him! Keep the armored crate between you and the Swordsman! If that box is as valuable as we think, he won’t slice through it.”

Seth began backing toward the box, firing all the while. Vix was closer, and the Swordsman couldn’t really hit her without exposing himself to both Seth’s and Wehj’s shots. It had no choice but to go after Seth. It retracted the ribbons to do so — and Seth chased them straight up to the Swordsman.

“Don’t fire,” he whispered, hardly aware he was doing it. “Don’t fire, don’t fire, don’t fire.”

His luck held; the Swordsman’s pilot, startled by Seth’s charge, hesitated, giving Seth time to unload a salvo directly into its cockpit. He launched backwards as he did so, giving the other two a clear shot to lean around the sides of their box and open fire.

The cockpit of the Swordsman burst suddenly in flame, and it collapsed to the floor.

“Yes!” shouted Seth, punching the air with his AMWS’ fist. “Let’s move, fast!”

The ship lurched, and Wehj yelped.

“Quickly!” said Seth. “We have to go, now!”

“Is the pirate ship attacking again?” Wehj asked.

“No,” said Vix, “that was the drive! That was what you did — you hacked the navigation controls!”

“Nah, the pirates did most of the work. I just programmed it.” The ship shuddered several times in rapid succession. “That would be the pirates attacking. They know they can’t get out of the way in time, so they’re trying to drive the ship off course. Let’s move!”

A moment later, Seth’s AMWS emerged from the transport. His crew’s two heavy lifters were just behind him, carrying the mysterious cargo. The pirate ship and the transport were both moving, deceptively ponderous as their dance came to an end. The pirates’ engines flared to move them out of the way, ribbons of red and blue light connected the two ships, and flurries of missiles danced, but it was not enough to save the pirates. They managed the killing blow, and explosions began to ripple through the transport, but it was already moving at too high a relative speed. Even as it died, it slammed into their hull just behind the midpoint.

Seth turned to watch as explosions burst through both ships. There was a brilliant flare from the transport, then a second, and both ships were gone.

“Woo!” called Vix. “That’ll be a story to tell. The three of us against a pocket cruiser, and we won!”

“Sounds like somebody has some words to eat, huh?” Seth grinned as he signaled the Isolde to pick them up.

“Hey, I still think it was a crazy, stupid thing to try. I’m just glad it worked. I’d hate to have to kill you after we were both already dead. Too confusing.”

Seth laughed. “All right, guys, let’s pack ‘er in. I want to fix up my AMWS and then find out what’s in that box.”

***

Half a galaxy away, a young woman opened slightly protuberant, dark eyes to look at the controls of her gray and gold AMWS. The mech was tall and slender and somehow feminine in its construction, which in one sense belied the short, bulky young woman at its controls, but in another sense expressed perfectly her air of abstract grace.

“Our attempt to acquire the Original has failed,” she said.

A face appeared on her screen. It was likewise young, but severe and drawn, with sharp, pale features and narrow, ice-blue eyes. The hair was cut too short for its color to be readily apparent, but it might have been white or very light blonde. “They defeated our attack, Dasra? I thought Nasatya predicted they would not.”

“No,” Dasra answered. “My sister’s perfect record remains intact, Calvin. There was… interference.” She transmitted a summary of the attack to him.

“Is that..?”

“I believe it is, yes.”

“They have the Original?”

“Almost certainly,” answered Dasra.

“Can you watch them?”

A hint of strain appeared around Dasra’s eyes. “It is… difficult to follow those not of the Chosen, but I can continue to do so for some time yet before I require rest.”

Calvin permitted himself a tight smile. It did nothing to make his face less forbidding. “Find Aser. Show him what you’ve shown me, and tell him where to find them. He will do the rest. I will inform our master. He will wish to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for this opportunity. This is a miraculous event, Dasra. Truly, we are the Chosen of God to accomplish his work.”

Dasra refrained from pointing out that a better class of miracle would not have required the death of an entire ship’s crew. Calvin did not take kindly to such thoughts. “As you say,” she said. “May your feet find the hidden road.”

“And yours,” Calvin responded, then cut the connection.

Dasra closed her eyes and relaxed. As her awareness expanded to encompass all the universe, she gave thanks for her gift. The coincidences Calvin marveled at might or might not be God’s work, but she had no doubts where her own ability came from. She might doubt Calvin, might doubt their methods, but there could be no doubt about the rightness of their cause.

End Chapter One.

I plan to post something else, a bit of original fiction, next week. Chapter Two will resume the following week.

In addition, here’s something hopefully fun: I have never written a plot outline for this story. I made a soundtrack instead. It serves the same function as a plot outline would, anyway–reminding me of future events, keeping me on track with characters and themes, and so on. All are taken from video game soundtracks, mostly the games you’d think, but not entirely. Anyway, I plan to post the relevant bits of soundtrack at the end of each chapter.

This chapter has four associated tracks, all from Yuki Kajiura’s work on Xenosaga Episode II, which is odd because that’s my least favorite soundtrack in the series:

Seth’s Theme

Seth and Izzy (Code Inspection)

Scavengers vs. Pirates (Space Battle 1)

The Chosen Ones (Ominous Cryptic Observers Observe Ominously and Issue Cryptic Omens 1)