The Tenth Chapter
Battle is good; whatever a person lacks reveals itself in the trials of combat. - Margravine Hema Crocotta.
When Fawn woke she was draped across several seats in the rear of a Aeolipile processing station. She sat up slowly, wincing as the heaviness in her head returned in a single nauseating wave. Her hot pink hair was covered in grime and her face was full of tiny bloody nicks, but she felt whole. Everywhere she looked, allied soldiers were shuffling in endless queues, the look of defeat beaten into their faces, weary eyes already missing home. She stood as a female soldier approached her, squinting to make sure it was not the woman she had previously fought, the faces of these enemy soldiers all had a familiar quality. The woman pointed to the mark left on Fawn’s forehead and then motioned for her to follow. She wondered what type of punishment she was going to receive, perhaps a few days in the hole? Even her own army had not been able to crack her under solitary confinement; extra duty, bread and water? Fawn was a rock. She grinned at the thought, cracking her dry, split lips and showing the blood between her teeth.
They walked between the columns of soldiers being processed by personnel that looked human, on further inspection Fawn could see that they actually were. She wondered what sort of deal the Fossas had cut with this alien superpower. The woman turned a corner into what Fawn thought was an elevator. She read the symbols on the wall as they cycled through a number of languages and before it could reach her own, she was grabbed by a disembodied hand and snatched through the warp in space.
“Please follow me more closely. You’re not registered into the system yet and you won’t be able to get help from the ship if you get lost,” the woman said in a strange accent. Earth maybe, somewhere in Asia, Fawn thought. It had been so long since she had any contact with an Earth human. She had heard that Indians had overtaken the world population wise, as well as becoming a leading world power, along with Brazilians.
“How big is this place?” Fawn said, looking through the transparent decks above.
“The numbers wouldn’t mean anything to you,” she said, scribbling with a stylus across a digital ready document.
“I’ll give it a shot,” Fawn said.
“Well, it’s far bigger than your galaxy,” she said. “That’s if you include the District platters.” Fawn threw her head back and thought on the statement. Her own planet, Arbaro, sat on a mere stem jutting out from an arm of the Milky Way galaxy, even using all areas colonized by humans as a reference, she could not fathom the size in her mind. She instantly regretted not finishing Spacecraft Propulsion School. She continued trailing the woman across beltways and even a short ride in a small hover cart until they arrived at their destination.
“Couldn’t you just select where you want to go in those weird elevators?” Fawn said.
“Waste of power,” she said.
“Energy problems on a galaxy sized ship? No,” Fawn said.
“No. It’s just not ours to squander,” she said.
“Can I ask who owns it?” Fawn said.
“Lord Deicide,” she said.
“Him again, this dude sounds like he walks around in a black cape,” Fawn said.
“It’s not a cape, actually,” she said, waving to a short haired woman up ahead. The woman introduced her as Rodela Adarga, a Grade Five Risk Eater. Fawn noted how crisp Rodela’s uniform looked, standing there with a statuesque posture and her professionally short, but cute, haircut; Fawn already knew what type of woman she would be, a career-minded lifer. In contrast to Fawn, who was only a lifer because she lacked the temperament for anything else. Their greeting was polite, but curt, and soon Fawn was following Rodela through the medical decks. Here she was run through a battery of physical exams, immunizations and numerous briefs on regulations and procedures. Rodela leaned in a corner, while a team of doctors asked Fawn a series of questions. Rodela sighed repeatedly, constantly checking her elaborate wristwatch.
“So you say you’ve had Strength Equalization Procedures?” one said.
“Yeah,” Fawn said.
“Would you pick this weight up for me?” another said. Fawn lifted the metal block easily, guessing it probably weighed about hundred pounds, and then she smirked and lifted the weight over her head to show off. The indifference of the medical staff told Fawn that perhaps this was something ordinary for all women here.
“Thank you. You’re free for the rest of the day. Your handler will show you around. INDOC starts tomorrow,” a doctor said, then they removed themselves from the room and Fawn dressed in the clothes that were provided for her. She could feel Rodela’s angry eyes radiating beams of hate into her skull, but she could only assume it was resentment for this assignment. She wondered why an AJ-squared-away would be pulling a babysitter billet. Fawn heaved a sigh as she finished dressing in the cobalt blue uniform of a Deathless Cadet. On top of it was a gray armband. She looked up and saw that Rodela had patch on her own armband, wolves sleep at the foot of a throne.
“What if I refuse to serve?” Fawn said.
“You’ll be sent with the rest of the general population. District T38S0075 is being filled now, trust me, this is the better deal,” Rodela said. They both began to walk towards O-Country. Fawn glanced around at the shining white surfaces, the straight-backed formality of the juniors, the barely within regulation haircuts of the flyboys, she was amongst the officers. Suddenly she missed her fireteam, the scrapes they had gotten themselves into, she hoped Flechette and Lechwe had made it out alright. Chital, she thought.
“I’m pretty much done with this shit. Tired of taking orders from some prick I never see,” Fawn said.
“Your brother will be disappointed,” Rodela said, watching Fawn’s reaction. Immediately the woman stopped.
“What?” Fawn said, curling her fists so tight, she thought she could hear them creak.
“Your brother’s a Risk Eater,” Rodela said.
“I want to see him,” Fawn said.
“You will. He’s on duty now, but he’ll be back soon. You hungry?” Rodela said. I could eat, Fawn thought, she had not eaten anything since the morning of their assault, and her body told her that it had been at least a day since then.
Rodela led Fawn into the dining hall, a space that seemed far too fancy for either of the women’s station, they were greeted by friendly staff and smiling faces of junior officers. She wondered what type of regime she had landed herself in; these people were nothing like the monsters she had come into contact with just a few days ago. She was approached by several people before she had sat down with her meal, asking about her war experience and how she kept her hair so pink, but when she brought up the topic of the ongoing Deathless campaign, details were scarce. She soon discovered that planetary battles were nearly a secret to everyone who was not involved in combat; not because of some massive cover up, but because they were so commonplace.
War happened to be on the menu daily for those onboard the Aeolipile, to the soldiers it was merely a job, the crew thought of it as any other routine stop, and the civilians onboard had no interest in it at all. Those who craved excitement and adventure requested billets inside of the Districts or the area surrounding the massive column that ran between them that housed the maintenance-less engineering plant, known as the Machine. She found out her brother Alpha supervised a watch shift in such a place, puzzling, as he had never convinced her or more importantly, any of his Arbaronian superiors, that he was a leader. Alpha had been a solid enlisted soldier, but seemed to lack the drive and skill to make Lieutenant in anybody’s police force, let alone the Risk Eaters. Stories of their exploits appeared far-fetched until Fawn saw actual footage on the large displays in the dining hall. To Fawn, these elite law-enforcement personnel seemed to be part evil-smiting, super cops and part fascist foot soldiers, she watched as the news covered a protest in one of the Districts, rioters were dealt with swiftly and easily.
“How can anything be more dangerous than war? And why would anybody sign up for it?” Fawn said, gnawing on some beef.
Rodela looked around at the dining hall’s finery. “The ship is nice. It’s a great place to relax and watch yourself grow old. But that sort of lifestyle is not for people like me, like you,” Rodela said.
Fawn kept talking with her mouth full. “I like a good rush myself but-" Fawn said.
“It’s not just a rush. It’s a desire, a lust, older than most of our senses, older than thought,” Rodela said, clenching her fork.
Fawn raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know if I’d call it that. Just a punch of adrenaline,” Fawn said.
“You haven’t been through the pipeline yet. When you see the Fractals, that’s when you’re in deep, it’s like the world is bleeding into YOU,” Rodela said. “But after you’re done with training you don’t get many of those thrills.” Fawn could only return a blank stare, her own death dodging experiences seemed animalistic, instinctive and most importantly, natural; Rodela seemed to be discussing some kind of drug-induced lucidity. Fawn looked up to see Baby Sister walking toward them, carrying the same cocky grin on her round Glebula face.
“Ladies,” Baby Sister said. Fawn looked at her and wondered how the woman could get so much force out of that little body. It was then that she noticed that Rodela and Baby Sister wore the same patch on their left arm. She wondered if the patch signified some sort of surname, since they wore nicknames on their nametapes.
“Hey, Baby Sis,” Rodela said, not looking directly at the woman. Without understanding the cordon rank and achievement system Fawn could see the hierarchy, Baby Sister a veteran and her INDOC handler Rodela was in a probation phase before she actually started her assignment. It was always within Baby Sister’s right to tell both of the women to eat somewhere else. Instead, she plopped down beside them. Though a high ranking officer could tell her to kick rocks as well, for she was an enlisted Deathless, only a Non-commissioned officer, but it would not be good to offend anyone that wore Deicide’s insignia and colors.
“How you doin?” Baby Sister said; shoveling food into her mouth, her freckled cheeks stretched as she chewed.
“I’m good,” Rodela said. “Still waiting for another Risky group to class-up.”
Baby Sis nodded to Rodela and then turned to Fawn. “Hey Pinky, sorry about earlier, I had to work you out a bit. Hellmouth likes to snatch the killers up early,” Baby Sister said.
“Fuck you,” Fawn said.
“Aww. Don’t pout. You’ll get plenty of chances to kick my ass in a few months,” Baby Sister said. Fawn said nothing; not even a grin would slip past her defenses. Fawn wanted to fight with her here, in front of everyone, but it would be best not to goad this woman. Baby Sister changed the subject.
“I been on duty, running booters on the ground, they found Pops yet?” Baby Sister.
Rodela looked glumly at her food. “No, no trace of him,” Rodela said.
Baby Sister rubbed Rodela’s back. “He’ll be alright; you know how the Granpops is. Besides we’ll just grow him a new body, good as new,” Baby Sister said.
Rodela scowled at the freckled woman. “It’s not that simple. Cloning Deicide is nothing like you or anybody else. They have to start from scratch, all of the husks have to be scrapped, everything recalibrated, he’ll be a different man,” Rodela said a little too loudly.
Fawn hesitated for moment before she spoke to Rodela. “Have, you been cloned?” Fawn said.
“How could I? I never get to leave the ship,” Rodela said.
Baby Sis chuckled. “That’s cause you’re his sweetie,” Baby Sister said.
“Aw shutup, why do you think you’re even allowed to eat in here?” Rodela said.
“Hey, you’re not a Risky yet. And let’s not forget I earned my spot,” Baby Sister said.
Rodela toned her voice down. “Only because Deicide likes being surrounded by his bastards,” Rodela said.
“I’m not the bastard here,” Baby Sister said.
“No, you’re just the daughter of one,” Rodela said. Fawn smiled at that.
Baby Sister stood up and glared at Rodela. “We both know you wouldn’t have the fucking heart to say that if you weren’t Daddy’s girl,” she said, before taking her tray and leaving.
After Fawn had witnessed the exchange, she considered Rodela an ally. Her own time in the military had been difficult with her famous parents and her aunt Cari, a respected general. She understood the weight that people placed on you, forcing you to become someone you were not, could not be. Through numerous chats with Rodela, Fawn learned about the Aeolipile’s dark business and Deicide’s true mission. Even after weeks onboard she still could not fathom how their society functioned on any level; the only thing that seemed as if it would work properly was the military, and she was unsure just where the military ended. Even so called civilians still walked around with cordon loops, an item she had reasoned were elaborate military ribbons, and everyone wore an armband of one color or another.
Later that day Fawn was taken to another medical deck. She loved the sleek and flawless design of the Aeolipile interior; she ran her fingers over the glossy walls as they turned left. The two women stopped just outside of a door that a group of female doctors were exiting. One of them was the gray skinned Nott, her yellow eyes met with Fawn’s. She could not help but think they were two raw egg yolks sitting on a gray platter. Fawn watched her as she reprimanded her much taller subordinates, the long hair like antenna on her head stood straight up. Then they scattered as she turned toward Fawn, everyone seemed to be feeling the aura of hate surrounding her. Rodela led her inside and the door closed behind them.
“That was Lady Nott, Deicide’s wife, the XO,” Rodela said.
“I’m guessing she’s the one everyone’s actually afraid of?” Fawn said, plopping down on the examination bench.
Rodela nodded sheepishly. “Lord Deicide is the strongest eater onboard,” Rodela said.
“But?” Fawn said.
“The only thing he can do is kill you,” Rodela said, just before the door slid open. It was Nott with several of her staff members
“This is her, Lady Nott,” a woman to Nott’s right said. Nott stepped forward, looking like a child in comparison to everyone else’s height in the room, she was dressed in a type of lab coat, though it was white, it looked nothing like any fabric Fawn had ever seen. Nott glanced briefly at Rodela leaning in the corner, and her tiny mouth curled into a faint smile.
“I was told you were a fighter,” Nott said. Fawn thought the accent sounded vaguely familiar, like some Eastern European, but sing-song.
“I handle myself,” Fawn said.
“Your brother is a fine specimen, tell me, have either of you thought of having children?” Nott said.
“Well not with each other,” Fawn said. Her remark produced a chuckle from everyone but Nott.
“One of my duties onboard the Aeolipile is to rebuild the numbers of my people,” Nott said. “So far we have been unsuccessful with a pure Abstrusian, but our Abstrusian hybrids have thrived, especially the Arbaronians.” Nott gestured to Rodela. Fawn looked back at the woman in the corner, noticing that her hair was such a dark shade of red to be an Arbaronian and that she had never seen an Arbaronian without a set of antlers. It was then that Fawn remembered the argument between Rodela and Baby Sister.
Fawn shook her head. “Look, I don’t want anything to do with this family you’re building,” Fawn said.
“That’s fine,” Nott said, putting her tiny hands together. “So you relinquish custody of any children your eggs will create?”
“What?” Fawn said.
“It’ll only be a few, not like us gals need them all anyway,” Nott said.