Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 76

Rilecca leaned forward when Captain asked what Freska meant. “That means I am more my father’s daughter than even he knows.” A wicked smile crossed her face. She looked… smug. “He has allowed his power to stagnate here at home, facing outward and looking to control the universe. His reach matters little when his base of power is so fragile that a few well-placed blows will remove all support for him.”

Anyas gaped at her. “He has the council at his side.”

“Bah.” She waved a hand. “A bunch of old fools. Ones who all have their own heirs they’ve keep dangling on scraps of power or have suppressed in fear of having it taken from them.”

“Enough cryptic talk. What exactly are you talking about? What’s the plan to save us and stop your father from using Kohen and Danie?” Captain echoed Rilecca’s posture. He tapped the table with one finger firmly. “I need to know, here and now, what measures you think you’ve put in place that will keep them safe.”

A small smile curled her lips up, and her eyes actually crinkled at the edges. “And, that, right there, is why I am helping you. I have seen vids of your rescues, seen my father’s surveillance of you. You care about those who depend on you before yourself. That is the hallmark of a great man—a true leader.”

“I don’t want to lead anyone anywhere after this.” Captain put his hand on my leg. “I just want to make us safe and find a little corner somewhere that we can be happy.”

“With sunshine. And fresh air,” I reminded him.

“Yeah. And maybe some friends who come by sometimes.” We had a moment, until Deke cleared his throat in what was suspiciously like a gagging noise.

“Oh shut it,” Freska hissed. “Weapons-brain.”

“And you’re one short-circuit from machine.”

Freska huffed. “I feel things. I’m just not an overly-dramatic, can’t use my brain idiot.”

“Guys!” Captain sighed, shaking his head. “We’re getting off mission, again.”

“But it’s very amusing,” Rilecca said.

“Try spending more than a few minutes with them.” Anyas just had to add his input.

“Unfortunately, the plan does not have us spending much time together. For the good of all, my father must be removed from his place of power. That is where you come in. Once his own creations have turned against him, his plan revealed to the Elites, his supporters will lose their seats. Their heirs, my supporters, will take over. And their campaign against the universe will end.”

“What about the experiments? The Brox? The planets?” Danie gestured toward the map. “You’ll just give up all that power?”

“I have no need to ally myself with the scum who made such things possible as what they’ve done to you. Those will be shut down.”

“And the people imprisoned there?” I asked.

“Relocated. Returned if possible. Given new lives if not, at our cost to repair the damage done.”

I knew then that as much as Rilecca claimed she understood, to know what I’d lived and to abhor the atrocities that her father had done, that she didn’t truly understand. You couldn’t repair that sort of thing. You could just cover over it, try to move past it and hope the cracks didn’t open wide enough to shatter you. But she was willing to do something.

“How can we be sure? We thought that we were rescuing people before, but they were just swept up again.”

“Elites are a myth to the universe, a storied people who are only rumored to be true. Not only do I plan to shut down my father’s plan to control the known worlds, I wish to bring us back to mingle with the other races as equals. Staying segregated and considering ourselves superior due to our advanced technology a few thousand years ago started this, but times have changed. Other races are nearly as advanced as we are—and some have diverged in startling new ways.” Rilecca glanced at Freska.

“But how?” Captain said. “You keep skipping that part.”

She sighed. “By triggering their programming,” she said.

I had no idea what she said next; the words made no sense to me, but as soon as they rolled over me, I stiffened. Danie snapped to attention as well.

“Orders?” we asked at the same time. Our voices were both flat, monotones, no emotion or inflection.

Inside I was screaming, raging, fighting.

But it was no good. My greatest fear had come to pass. I was locked inside my mind while my body was in control—and that was at the whim of another.

“We’ll be attending my father shortly. His men are almost here. If any of you disobey me, I can order either or both of them to die. Instantly. And they will.”

Captain, Deke, and Freska were frozen, but they looked furious and sick. Freska had tears in her eyes. I couldn’t do anything but watch.

“Danie, Kohen, keep the rest of your party together. Anyas, help them.”

“Yes, my lady.” Anyas stood and bowed. He pulled a hidden weapon, flicking it sideways.  

Her father’s men somehow broke in seconds later. She swept ahead of us all, regal and calm. I tried to stop myself, but I followed without hesitation when she ordered me to herd the others and ignore the guards behind me.

The next room we entered was bigger, but not much different other than the raised platform with the smaller table we came to a halt before when Rilecca stopped. Old men and women sat looking down their long, dark noses at us. Their narrow eyes went even narrower, and their nostrils pinched, as if they smelled something bad.

“Daughter, you are unharmed?”

“Of course, Father. And look what I was able to capture with a little effort. Really, your men need to make some better effort.” She tsked, one again moving languidly.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 75

“You would begrudge me some time to judge your intentions?” She straightened, her body poised but her face calm as she folded her hands in her lap. “I know my father and his intentions. I guessed at Anyas. I guessed at yours. What I knew and hoped for was enough to prompt me to action, but a wise person doesn’t recklessly move forward without the most intelligence possible.”

“Wise.” Deke snorted. “You’re practically a—”

“Shh! Watch your tongue,” Anyas snapped, cutting him off with a violent wave of his hand.

The girl’s melodic laugh broke the tension that was ramping up. “You have not told them?”

Captain stiffened against me. “Told us what?”

“I am not some innocent youngling, which is what your crew member was about to imply. Did Anyas not tell you how long-lived the Elites are?”

“I said your father had ruled for millennia. It’s not my fault if they weren’t paying attention or didn’t believe me.” Anyas made a face. “It wasn’t an exaggeration. That is how long he has been in power.”

“Yes. A while, for our people, and a very long time for those who live shorter lives. We do not age as your kind do, taking care to preserve our youth.” She swung eyes that suddenly seemed much harder than before on Deke. “So while I may look young, I am anything but. And when I say I have spent time considering my decision to support  my father’s actions regarding his aims for our kind to rule the universe or if the Elites need to learn their value comes from supporting and not controlling other species, I mean I have spent considerable time. Far more than you have spent on this mission.

“Probably even more than you have been serving in your military. Maybe even been alive.” She sniffed. “You are the child here. So perhaps you should sit down.”

I stared at her; she might be willing to help us, but she had a healthy dose of the same haughty condescension that set Anyas apart from his guards. “Why would you help us?” I asked.

“Now that is a smart question.” She pushed herself upright. “I believe I can answer it and even your skeptical friend there will believe.”

“Of course we would take you at your word,” Anyas said smoothly. He pulled out a chair at the head of the table. “My lady.”

“Rilecca is fine.”

“And speak for yourself,” Captain said. He took at the edge of the table by Rilecca. “I have a crew to protect, people who trusted me to avenge. Maybe even find them and set them free for real this time.”

“You speak of Brox’s experiments they are doing. To create beings like them.” She gestured toward me and Danie. “Prototypes for their army. Drones to control the masses. Secret controls. And once they figure it out, there’s no telling what species they’ll stop at. Humans are malleable; it’s why they chose their species to begin with.” Rilecca placed her hand on a screen on the table. A light came on and she licked her finger, then touched it into the light.

Holographic screens lit up in front of every chair around the table. “The planets in purple, we control. The ones in red are well on their way to being fully-integrated into my father’s web. The blues are independent.”

There were more than I expected, which Captain said aloud. “Taking over the universe takes more time than one man has. Even one as long-lived as my father. That is where I am supposed to take the reins, under his guidance, of course. He would remain an advisor, from the system of his choice.”

“Let me guess, one he’s got lots of comforts and lots of enslaved species?” Captain said bitterly.

She inclined her head. “My father was raised in another time. I have had a distressing habit of slipping my guard for some time. What he didn’t know was that I did not remain on this planet. See, my father desires power. I desire knowledge. I have learned so much from the many cultures, planets, and people I have witnessed.” Her expression darkened. “And I have no desire to stamp them out. I am not a clone of my father, no matter what he desires, and he cannot stamp out my free will either.”

“Ahh.” Captain nodded his head. “Now we see the heart of this. Rebellion. Will that see you through your plans and keep my crew safe from retribution from your father?”

Rilecca narrowed her eyes. “Do you imply I reject his fatherly plans for me and push back on a whim? To be difficult? Because my cage might have been bigger and my escapes might have been farther afield but based on what I learned of your Kohen’s life growing up, our pasts are not much different. We were conditioned to our roles. When we weren’t being used, we were locked away.

“No one deserves to have their choices taken from them.” Rilecca’s voice was soft but steel shone through the velvet.

But I knew how brittle the strongest person could feel inside. I leaned over the table past Captain and touched her hand, covering it with mine. “So you came to free me. To help us.”

She took a deep breath. “I did. But I understand why your captain is so skeptical.” She turned her gaze on Captain. “Your crew has been ill-used. Let’s put a stop to it.”

“Well, damn, Captain.” Freska suddenly spoke up from her place along the wall, her links disconnected. “You thought convincing the person in charge that changing their minds about their plans would be hard. Here she is offering to do it on her own.”

“Rilecca is not in charge,” Deke said.

“She is the heir, not the ruler,” Anyas agreed somewhat reluctantly.

Freska snorted. “I found some interesting things in the system, boss. She’s not done surprising us yet.”

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 74

Danie was close to Freska, his hands cradled to his chest. “Sit down, Danie. You need to keep resting.” I’d been too focused on my own situation to notice his, but I winced. I’d been shocked enough times, feeling the pain of the punishments, so I could push it aside. The scientists had worked to force me to avoid sensory input with pain as a punishment, but they’d trained me to ignore it to a large extent as well.

He was like a newborn baby; all brand new nerves and experiences. My breath hitched; I remembered those first few times. The pain had been intense, my confusion and fear just as strong.

“Kohen, are you okay?” Captain holstered his weapon. “Put her down over there. You need to rest.” He guided me over to a bank of chairs. I arranged the girl on them. Knocking her out had been necessary, but I was starting to worry. I tried to position her like I would like, curled protectively up with my back to one side of a chair and not sprawled out.

“You okay?” Captain rubbed my back while I bent over her, folding her hands on her stomach.

“Yeah.” I straightened, groaning. My body ached. “I am worried she isn’t waking up. I wish Aparoe was here. I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“I know. We’ll make her understand when she wakes up. You would never hurt anyone if you could avoid it.”

He always thought the best of me. I leaned into Captain, relishing the warmth of his body and the scent of his skin surrounding me. A pulse of contentment rushed through our bond, and I felt our synthgar shiver against my skin. “I missed you so much,” I said softly. “We risk a lot.”

“I’d risk everything to make sure you were safe. The Elites are behind your torture, and they made Danie for god knows what plans. I’ve been sent on mission after mission rescuing people who are being sent back into the same hell I thought I was saving them from. They backed us into a corner.”

“Any being who has no way out is at their most dangerous. It was why I was taught to use ruses. No one could know I was coming until it was too late.” Shame colored my words, but for once my skills were being put to good use. The Elites thought they’d beat us so quickly, but we used their own hubris against them.

“Of course, now we’re trapped in this room.” Deke paced in front of the doors, eyeing them.

“He wasn’t talking about us.” Captain scowled. “Or to you.”

“It’s fine. Deke knows anyway.” He’d read Kohen’s file when they were first rescuing him. “And he’s handicapped by an inability to function when he’s not trying to blow something or someone up.”

Danie had wheeled his chair by Freska. She was sitting at the console extending from one wall, her wires connected to the system. Her other hand rested on his neck, connecting him to her. “Danie and Freska are on their part of the plan. Anyas got us here. The ship will be waiting when we’re done.”

“I almost feel superfluous,” Captain said.

“You have to use all those fancy words and talk our way out of this later,” Deke said. He caressed the weapon I had brought with me and handed over to him. “And I’ll make sure anyone who needs some extra convincing is extra convinced.”

“You do not hurt anyone without cause,” Captain warned him. “We are not the bad guys here. These machinations need to stop. People are not things to be experimented on, and no one race should hold reign over all others. The Central Council needs to be purged and purified so that the races are really the ones in charge and not being manipulated by some shadowy figures.”

“I agree,” said a melodic voice.

Gasping, I jumped. Captain tightened his grip. We stared at the young woman who was looking up at us. She hadn’t moved other than opening her eyes.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello. Glad to see you’re awake.” Captain narrowed his eyes. “For a while, perhaps.”

“Not too long but long enough.” She gingerly touched her face.

“I’m sorry,” I blurted out. “I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“It’s fine, Kohen. You didn’t know I was coming to help you. Since I don’t see them, I take it you eluded my father’s guards?”

She really hadn’t been awake that long.

“Yes, we have.” Captain drew himself up. “You were helping Kohen?”

“I was going to try. For all that I should be taking over, when he can get away with it, my father keeps close tabs on me.” She sat up, crossing her ankles.

“Lady.” Anyas rushed over. He bowed formally, flourishing his hands. “I pray that you are well.”

“I’m fine.” Her voice was flatter. “Why am I not surprised you are part of this plot?” She was as light as he was dark. She raised one silvery brow.

“Speaking out against the plans to harness the powers of all the ruling councils and suppressing the free will of the lesser species is what got me exiled to begin with.” Anyas shrugged one elegant shoulder. “Their plan had little chance of succeeding, but what more can they do that is worse than moldering on that dreadful planet?”

“Well, with me by their side—as their captive, of course—they should have a much better chance of success.”

We all gaped at her. “You would do that?” I asked. “After I….” I gestured toward her face.

“As I said, you are not to blame. Besides, it gave me a chance to determine your real intentions. People don’t censor themselves around strangers when they don’t believe they can be heard.”

“So you were eavesdropping on purpose!”

She cocked her head, staring at me. “You are very na├»ve. Of course I was.” The look on her face… I had to wonder if her appearance was cultivated to make others underestimate her. I clearly had.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 73

The cool calm Anyas projected cracked for the very first time when I slung the girl over my shoulder and dropped her on the couch in the room he’d been given in the building. He gasped. “What have you done?”

“It was necessary.” The girl’s head lolled back, and I was reassured when her chest rose and fell slowly. I hadn’t killed her; she was just unconscious. I’d been too worried about being spotted to stop and check on her.

I carefully arranged her arms and legs, trying to make her a little more comfortable. No reason to leave her awkwardly splayed out. Besides, it looked indecent. Her face was unlined, her thick lashes settled on smooth cheeks. Her lips were light pink against the dark skin of her face. She had speckles across her forehead. If she’s bruised from my blow, I couldn’t see it.

As soon as I straightened, Captain was there. He pulled me into his arms, one hand capturing my face. “Are you okay?”

“Fine. They didn’t hurt me.” I decided not to mention my numb fingers; the sensation was starting to come back anyway. “You?” I studied him. He was in charge and the Elites would remove him to prevent the crew from rallying behind him.

“Anyas kept us safe,” he said.

“For a while, I wasn’t sure if he had turned on us.” I could admit that to Captain, the whisper of words spoken against the skin of his neck when he pulled me close, reliving the stomach-churning fear and loneliness. “I’m glad he didn’t.”

Captain narrowed his eyes. “He wouldn’t have survived the attempt.”

Anyas snorted, and we broke the embrace to turn and face him. “As if I’d perform at less than my best. These are Elites. I’m an arrogant fucker, but they are even more arrogant than me. They see what they want to see and only that. It has been longer than I thought since I was among them; inattention and sloth has crept in. They will be easy to overthrow.”

We hadn’t been talking quiet enough, apparently. A certain gleam entered his eyes, and I had to wonder if we were setting ourselves up to face a more devious enemy later… but I’d just make sure we kept Anyas as a friend.

Freska gasped. “We have incoming. Time to go.” I grabbed Captain’s hand.

“Should we leave her?” Deke asked, gesturing toward the woman. He had a weapon out and pointed at the doors.

“No, absolutely not. This may be the best thing for us, even better than our plan before.” Anyas glanced at me. “Well, if she doesn’t hold a grudge.”

“Why?” Danie was standing by Freska, one finger on her neck while she was patched into the system. “Freska controls their systems. What do we need an Elite for?”

“Because the guards can still fire weapons, and a battle will endanger your crew. A bloodless coup is always more desirable. With the A.I.s working with Freska and the city on lockdown, they will be forced to treat with us in person. And with her, they will go very, very carefully.”

“Why?” I asked. “Who is she?”

“She, my surprising friend, is the daughter of the High Councilor. His heir to his seat. And, as he is wasting away after a millenia or two, she is about to be acknowledged in the next year.”

Captain blinked, his hand tightening on mine. “Are you saying the most powerful of all the Elites is this slip of a girl, and she was wandering around all alone by herself in a prisoners wing, and Kohen knocked her out and kidnapped her?”

“That is exactly what I’m saying,” Anyas replied. He raised an eyebrow. “Was I unclear in some way?”

“Was I unclear saying we had to go? A whole troop of those damn guards are coming this way. We need to get to the interior conference room and lock it down. Now!” demanded Freska.

There was a flurry of activity. Unwilling to let others touch her for some reason, I grabbed the girl and, more carefully this time, put her over my shoulder and secured her with one arm around her thighs. That left my other arm free for a weapon. I was put in the middle—where Captain would have put me anyway, even with my strength and abilities—and we were off.

Freska had disengaged her leads from the system, but she kept a hand on the sides of the building whenever we neared an electronics panel, reading the data screens on the vids that lit at her touch.

“Shit!” Deke fired over his left shoulder, yanking his body to one side to avoid a stunner blast. His weapon was not set to stun, and the guard who had tried to intercept us was unlucky enough to find out. We left him on the side corridor, blood oozing from the blackened edges of the burn blazed into his armor.

“Almost there,” Freska panted. “Gotta work on my cardio.”

“Sitting behind those machines will do that to you. Why not have Danie carry you out?” Anyas was annoying cool and dry, unlike the rest of us.

“Not everyone can keep calm when armed guys are after them. And Danie was zapped cause he touched what he shouldn’t have.”

“Stop!” Freska made them all stop and backtrack. A nondescript gray door in the middle of the corridor. A blue band went around it. “This is it.”

“This?” Deke didn’t look convinced.

“Yep. Hiding in plain sight.” Freska touched the keypad, just one fingertip, and the door seal cracked. The door popped open with a hiss.

Deke went first, a guard following, Freska, Anyas, me, and Captain pulling up the rear with the other guards. They pulled the door shut, and Captain said, “Watch out.”

I hid my eyes just in time for the screen to go up in a shower of sparks from his shot.

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