Iilena Lamaak had delivered on her promises. It had been only two days since our conversation and I could already see the preparations that the soldiers and engineers had set to, preparing the world-ending vessel for my use.
A Crimson City was the crowning achievement of Trillodan engineering. While it had been modified over the cycles, it had kept much of the old features and design choices. There were more efficient ways to demolish a planet, but few rendered it so completely uninhabitable and sent such a statement as enacting Protocol 37. Much of the vessel was dedicated to the power supply: a massive reactor containing annihilation reactions to provide the energy required for opening a Void Door or fuel the array that would torch the atmosphere of a planet.
The whole vessel itself was monstrous, a sphere of metal that was nearly a dozen kilometers in diameter. Half of that immense volume was dedicated to housing the reactor and a third dedicated to holding drones and the satellite array for engaging Protocol 37. The rest housed the engineers attending as well as a fully staffed medical bay and barracks for the soldiers who would deploy with me.
Such a ship had only one purpose: extermination. A Crimson City was designed to obliterate a planet and declare supremacy. While the Trillodan did have ships made for interstellar warfare, the Crimson City was built to ensure the enemy ships had nowhere to go home to.
“Commander Zellig,” a familiar voice called. I turned to see three figures, all clad in simple black garb like mine, kneeling just beyond the door to my quarters.
My three captains among the legion: Salah, Tol, and Omec. Three of the most renown killers in the Trillodan military.
Salah was first to rise, her purple coat brightening a few shades, a show of unadulterated excitement. She had been one of the first to join my legion, in large part because she didn’t think in the common way for a Trillodan soldier. Instead of charging headlong into conflict, she was someone who played the long con, set up traps and used demolitions to her advantage. While she was more than capable of holding her own in straight conflict, Salah was at her best when working just out of sight around the periphery. Many others of my legion could reliably beat her in a duel, but no one could play a battlefield quite like Salah.
Tol followed suit and rose, albeit with a little tremor running through his legs. His white skin was dotted with green spots, an indicator of a typically fatal condition that plagued many Trillodan children. Tol was my youngest captain, his parents a pair of old veterans who were lamenting that their child was bound to die before he had survived his first cycle. Tol made up for his lack of physical ability with his quick decision making and terrifying ability to learn; he had taken it upon himself to train his mind since his body warred against him. Vaneel cautioned mem, insisting that Tol had become a bit of a surrogate for me in the wake of losing my own child, and my friend was probably right. My captain, was a rebel, someone desperate to please, desperate to prove that he was able despite his parent’s assurances that he was not. Even though his bones were brittle and his body frail, I knew Vaneel could help shore up his weaknesses and that Tol’s razor sharp acumen could be utilized to the fullest. He had taken to combat shooting like a fish to water, mixing his prolific use of firearms with an incredible ability for standing toe-to-toe against anyone. In a cycle or two, he would be the most efficient killer in the entire military, maybe even including me.
Last was Omec, and by far the most controversial of my captains. If Salah was unorthodox, Omec was an alien. She had been raised by a family known for their insurgency, her family being one of those last who rebelled outright against the Matron. As such, she had been taught a number of methods for creating biological weapons and manufacturing parasites that could be used to cripple dozens or hundreds of people at once. Such biological warfare had never been in alignment with the Matron’s refined social order and it caused a stir when her family was brought to trial. There had been orders to execute her, but I had argued for a chance to refine her, to sculpt her into a powerful ally for the Immortal Matron’s military. Omec had been lost after her parents were captured by the Garrison; I gave her a new calling and made her one of the most dangerous people alive. The pale, yellow captain rose, standing nearly a head shorter than Tol but still holding herself with dignity and pride.
I walked forward, offering a soldier’s clasp to all of them, not bothering to hide my smile. “It has been far too long since we’ve all been in the same room,” I laughed, “Now, come, sit. We have much to discuss.”
As we took a seat at a square table, I couldn’t help but bask in the different atmosphere of the room; with most Trillodan officers, there was respect but also a healthy dose of fear. So many were terrified of what I represented and what I had been turned into. My legion though, they were grateful. I had taken the misfits, the oddities, and given them all an outlet. While a formal and uniform military had its purposes, I didn’t see a need to break the perfectly capable into that mold when they could do so much more when given a little creative nudge.
Because of the graces I extended them and the relationship cultivated, I knew these three, and the seven that served under each one of them, would die for me without question.
“How much do you know,” I asked.
Tol took a deep breath to steady the palsy in his hands, “We were briefed and showed some footage from various cameras. We know they are… supernatural for lack of a better explanation.”
Salah frowned, “We saw a living tree eating people and crushing transports.”
“One of these Adapted kicked a soldier’s head off,” Omec added. “But none of us have a complete idea what these kids are or what made them so… able.”
“I don’t suppose that Vaneel will have an answer for us on that front, will he?” Tol asked.
“Where is that madman anyways? I’d have figured that you’d bring him in for such a meeting of the minds,” Salah added. “I’m assuming if that Matron gave you all of us back, he’s still working alongside you.”
My legion and Vaneel had an interesting relationship. While my legion largely respected strength, they recognized exactly how vital he was even though Vaneel was no killer. Without him, their personalized suits of armor didn’t exist. Without Vaneel, we would be only half as efficient.
Tol was especially indebted to the Matron’s researcher since Vaneel had saved his life.
Even though my best friend couldn’t fight if his life depended on it, all of them would sacrifice themselves if it ensured his survival, not out of devotion, but out of pragmatism. They all recognized that my best friend and I were the linchpins that held this group together and they could be replaced should it be necessary. All of them knew there would be more Trillodan soldiers who didn’t quite fit in; keeping an outfit like mine functional was important for the future of our race.
“Vaneel wouldn’t work for another Commander,” I replied with a laugh, “They’d throw him out within the week. You know how harsh he can be to work with.”
Omec rolled her eyes, “the other Commanders also lack your vision, Zellig. They are shortsighted and cowardly unlike you.”
I shot her a sideways glance, “Careful, Omec. I think Vas’sah would be remiss to hear that his former underling was being spiteful. Even if they aren’t one of us, you will refrain from speaking about the other Commanders in such an unbecoming fashion.”
She nodded and bowed her head, “Apologies, Commander Zellig. I will mind my tongue.”
“Commander,” Salah said, clearly looking to move the conversation past her fellow captain’s blunder, “What do we need to know about these Adapted?”
I reached alongside the table and pressed a button, projecting a hologram crafted from the recording I took on Tso’got. For several minutes, my captains watched, enthralled in the combat as I weathered the storm against several of them.
And they were all stunned seeing me beaten by Clemency.
“Commander,” Tol whispered, solemn, “How is this possible?”
I straightened and they all did the same, all on their best behavior now that they had seen me lose. “While these Adapted are mere children, they are not to be taken lightly. Even those lesser ones wield deceptive amounts of power. What the video doesn’t do justice to is revealing exactly how much trauma I had to mend on the fly.”
“You want us to apprehend those things capable of fighting you?” Omec said, a bit suspect. I could hear all of their hearts accelerating, a nudge of adrenaline sharpening their senses. Fear wasn’t something these three were prone to, but they hadn’t seen anyone beat me either. Even though Vaneel had made all of them specific power armor with a daunting, personal arsenal, all my legionnaires knew that I had paid a larger price for my might. Every single one of them had taken a chance and fought me, and to date none had beaten me. The closest to succeed had actually been Tol, and the smug child occasionally liked to remind the other captains about it.
“I do,” I replied, blunt. “They are not immortal, they are not all powerful, and they are very fallible.”
“With all due respect, Commander Zellig,” Salah said, slowly, “But I’d just as soon avoid a suicide mission.”
I shook my head, “I didn’t finally get us all gathered in one place to send you to the afterlife. By my estimates, there are eighty-four Adapted who will be setting foot on Vuuldar, and of them there are eight who you must avoid outright conflict with.” I tapped another button and pulled up images of nine faces. “Titan, Shockwave, Beleth, Clemency, Psycho, Cataclysm, Forest, Zeal, and Sinister.”
Omec scrutinized the faces and information I had listed alongside them. “These are leaders among the Adapted. If we avoid them, we avoid conflict with half of the Adapted present. How do we apprehend them if we can’t pursue a majority of them for fear of conflict with this lot?”
“He said ‘outright conflict,’” Tol said thoughtfully. “We are to engage in guerilla warfare, weaken them and their cohorts before attacking directly.” My youngest captain turned his gaze towards me, “That is not my area of expertise. That is where Salah is best.”
She smiled in recognition, “Much obliged.”
I nodded, “You’re correct on both counts, Tol. Salah and Omec will be the ones working to undermine the major names. However,” I added as I noticed his face fall a little, “I have a few targets I want you to isolate.” The image projected changed to the monstrous form that Eldritch had assumed during Feast Day, “That one is named Eldrtich, and he is contestably the strongest among them if allowed to remain unchecked.”
Both Salah and Omec gave a worried glare to the other captain, “Will Tol be able-“
“You doubt my judgement, Salah,” I snapped. “You have your strengths, and so does he.”
She shook her head, “Apologies, Commander. I would hate to see Tol devoured by that…thing,” she replied, sincere.
“I have faith in your fellow captain, and I believe you should share it,” I replied, making it clear that wasn’t a suggestion. My attention turned back to the youngest captain, “Eldritch is in the company of five others, and two of them I want brought back alongside him: Dragoon and Parasite. Both of them are promising specimens, and both of them I want to give Vaneel for further study. The other three with him are of interest, but less of a priority. You will likely want to bring your underling with you.”
“Lail will be glad to stretch his legs,” Tol said with a grin, “He may end up killing one of them if push comes to shove.”
I shrugged, “One loss is insubstantial in the grand scheme of things. Just be sure it isn’t one of those three. For-” I paused as a hurried set of footfalls rang in the distance. “Ah, right on time,” I chuckled right before Vaneel barreled into the room, out of breath.
“I’m. Sorry,” he panted. “Haven’t been. On a Crimson City. Lately.” He took a moment to catch his breath before taking a seat at the table and continuing. “I have finally made a bit of a breakthrough that may help us track down the Adapted on the surface of Vuuldar.” He pulled a metal disk from a pocket of his coat and set it on the table. The screen changed as his device showed a report with a few visuals that seemed to be a kind of molecule or particle none of us recognized.
“Translate into layman’s terms,” I insisted as I read enough of his technical terms to know that it would save everyone time.
He scoffed, “You’ll never learn if I don’t-“
Vaneel quit being so coy when he noticed my glare.
“Right. Adapted tend to differentiate themselves into a few categories: Projector, Conjurer, Enhancer, Druid, and Peculiar. Enhancer’s specifically alter their own body in some capacity and don’t have any outward effect. Druid’s affect life around them but don’t typically create anything so much as adjust it. Neither of them leave any lasting impact on the world around them, at least not on a molecular level. The most druids do is tinker with biology but it doesn’t leave a trace I’ve been able to identify. So, in short, no way to track them or trail their powers use.”
“What’s your point?” Omec asked.
“The other three classifications,” Vaneel continued, not bothering to mask his annoyance at my officers impatience, “All rely on extraneous influence and manipulating their environment to some degree. Projectors fire things from their hands or control some kind of element or energy source. Conjurers literally pull items from outside of reality, and Peculiars often rely on something intangible to influence the world around them. My point is, that those three emit a specific and unique radioactive signature. Something about what they do is unique and leaves behind a trace, like a little line burned in the air.”
I smiled, “And you found a way to identify it.”
“I can reconfigure a satellite array onboard to be used as a means of monitoring the planet for spikes of this radioactive signature. The instant we have basic coordinates, the Adapted will be easy to follow.”
“And we can deploy troops to follow after them. As long as we know where to look, we can easily track them from the sky,” Salah said, grinning.
Vaneel frowned, “We won’t be able to rely on this to find them initially though,” he insisted. “Many of the Adapted won’t exhibit this signature, and it is only when they use their gift actively.”
“We can rely on it,” I insisted, taking a moment to try and think forward.
“Why?” my friend asked, dubious.
“Relay,” I replied. “Simply put, their ship isn’t built to survive a trip through the atmosphere of Vuuldar. It will fragment and crash on entry without substantial intervention. However, we know that Relay is able to teleport people, and they have someone onboard who could move the entire ship. Either one of them will be used to ferry Adapted to the ground.”
“It prevents us from intercepting anyone in transit,” Omec added, “As far as they can figure, it would be more clandestine to go down to the planet’s surface this way anyways. Using ships would be a dead giveaway since most of the denizens are ocean-dwelling.”
“Even if they have beaten us to the planet, they will need to pull themselves off world as well and we can track asses then. Titan had an exit strategy on Tso’got, and I know he’ll sure as hell want to have one again. Vaneel,” I commanded, “Begin the preparations for a Void Door, if you’d be so kind.”
My friend nodded and rose from the table, heading towards the bridge.
“Commander Zellig, assuming we beat the Adapted to Vuuldar, what will do with the ship?” Salah asked.
I rose from the table and they all followed suit. “I am going to see it dealt with personally. I’m thinking that Maak and Jor will be itching for a chance to prove themselves.”
“Is there a reason we don’t blast it out of the sky?”
“All Adapted have their own value and benefit for Vaneel to study. The more of them we can obtain, the more we information we can glean and use for ourselves. Besides,” I said with a chuckle, “Sometimes you just want to take matters into your own hands.” I noticed the little bit of rejection on my captain’s faces: all of them wanted to work side by side with their Commander. “I am not entirely sure what will be left on the Adapted ship, and frankly you are all too valuable for me to lose early in this campaign,” I insisted. “I need you three hunting down the Adapted leaders and being my hands on the surface until I can join.”
“Yes, Commander Zellig,” all three replied in unison.
I put a hand on the shoulders of my two female captains, “Salah, Omec, get your armor. I need a word with Tol.”
Both nodded and departed swiftly, both with bloodlust already starting to show in their eyes. The two of them were always eager to prove their value, and knowing them our campaign would likely turn into a competition for how many Adapted could be captured.
Tol straightened his posture, trying to stymie the shaking in his hands. He visibly strained with effort, his heart hammering in his chest. If I had to miss my guess, the boy had been without medication or steroid booster in a while. He had always been stubborn about taking medication, wanting to be dependent on himself for his own well being. “Yes, Commander Zellig?”
“Captain Tol, you are one of the most promising Trillodan who has ever entered the military. It would not surprise me if you would one day be right hand of the Matron in my stead,” I stated honestly.
He couldn’t help himself and showed a smile. The spots on his skin brightened in glee as he looked up at me, his youthful exuberance showing through his normally rigid military mask. “Thank you, sir.”
“However,” I replied slowly, “I have given you a daunting task to carry out. While none of the Rogue Sentries, were individually a threatening target, they are arguably the most dangerous group of people among the enemies’ ranks.”
Tol narrowed his gaze, trying to figure out what I meant, “If they lack much of the power that concerns you, how are they so dangerous?”
“They are young, clever, and most importantly, they have something to prove. None of their members are weak, and they are arguably the entire reason that we took interest in the Adapted on Tso’got. They are rebels, and they have battled against harsh odds time and time again. Be cautious,” I warned my captain, “And do not underestimate them.”
“Yes, Commander Zellig.”
“Now, get ready. We have a hunt ahead of us.”
My legion was restless as we waited for the arrival of the Adapted.
A few of my legion wanted to lay siege to the ship the instant it showed up, but I dismissed that idea. We had to let them disembark, we needed them confined to the planet’s surface. While we could outrun their limited special distortion, we couldn’t track them. Even though Trillodan technology was a marvel, it had limitations. Surveying the surface of a planet was child’s play compared to trying to scour billions of square kilometers of the void.
I didn’t bother mentioning to my legion that if we tried to fight them all at once it would be a bloodbath. We wanted to keep them alive for study and they had no such prerogative. My captains and I were aware that we were due for an uphill battle because we had to fetter our own destructive potential to make sure there were pieces left to study. Dealing with the heavy hitters would be challenging since outright confrontation was going to be problematic.
Especially Titan. He was going to likely be the most troublesome.
At last, our enemy made their entrance. The array we had established worked like a charm and displayed where their ship simply appeared. When Vaneel brought up a live feed there was nothing showing, just an empty space where the sensor said their ship was. Vaneel and I came to the conclusion that there was undoubtedly some Adapted trickery at play, but we weren’t sure who could manage to make a ship invisible. Lightshow was a decent candidate, but this seemed incredibly large scale for her given what we’d seen her demonstrate.
Either way, I’d know soon enough who was responsible.
In the dispatch bay, twenty four bloodthirsty Trillodan waited to board transports and start their expedition to the surface. All of them were eager for blood.
As I joined them, all turned and took a knee. The clamor and din of my excited legionnaires stilled immediately out of respect for their leader. All their excitement and bloodlust quelled for a moment, all of them waiting for my orders.
“Rise,” I said, letting my voice resound through the room. “Look at all these monsters the Matron was kind enough to give me!”
The bloodthirsty smiles returned and a few laughs as the stood.
“I will assume you were all good little boys and girls and read what Vaneel provided you. These Adapted are dangerous,” I cautioned my legion, “And even though they are young, they are no stranger to war. They will fight tooth and nail. They will give you no quarter. They will not go quietly.” I strode to the center of the room, turning slowly to survey my hand-picked elite, “But we are Trillodan. We do not fall. We do not kneel.”
All of them slammed a hand against their chest in salute. “We do not kneel!” they echoed.
“The Immortal Matron herself told me that we are not allowed to fail,” I said, solemn, letting the weight of that silence the room again. “She has trusted us to succeed in overcoming this threat.” I glanced to my left, and the only person in the room larger than me, “Kalr, what will we do?”
The massive teal woman bared her teeth, “We show them what Zellig’s legion is capable of.”
“Vawn,” I said, turning around to face a smaller male with golden skin, “What will we do?”
“Obey the Matron and crush them,” he answered.
I bared my fangs and made a wide sweep to the rest of my chosen, “We are her representatives and her diligent servants. We will see them broken and in chains!” I paused for effect, “What are we?”
“We. Are. Legion!” the entire host bellowed in response.
Another roar was let loose from everyone as I could practically feel the killer instinct pulsing through the room. It hadn’t taken much to whip them into a frenzy, but I wanted to be damn sure they were at their best; the last thing I wanted was to lose a few of the initial skirmishes.
On an upper level, a door slid open and Vaneel stepped in; I raised a hand and the clamor ceased, everyone giving him a respectful bow as he gave me a nod. “Zellig, they have started making landfall.”
“To your transports,” I shouted, “You’ll be given their location. If you need extracted, all of you have a displacement charge to bring you back here! Remember, we want them alive!” I emphasized as people split into groups of two or three. “Malak, Jor!” I called, “With me.”
Two middle sized soldiers approached, each already hidden behind their armor. Malak had one of the more unique sets of armor that Vaneel had to make. While most sought out strength or firepower, he opted for trickery and stealth. His suit’s based was akin to a regulars armor, but atop the metal were little silver arrays holding cameras and small thermal capsules. He could project illusions around a room, make himself functionally invisible, and trick heat sensors as well. While he lacked much of the punch through that many of my legionnaires had, his penchant for trickery could be invaluable.
Jor was one who had asked for a very particular arsenal to be made. She had what almost looked like a spool of thread along her arm. The tick that Vaneel had worked into it was a device to make it vibrate at an exceptionally high frequency; it was sharper than any blade once it was turned on. She had a few other firearms built into her armor, but she kept it fairly light otherwise. Jor opted to be light on her feet, relying on her agility and maneuverability to let her dance around a battlefield and position for where her razor thread could do the most damage.
Should there be something I couldn’t brute force my way through, she could carve through it. Should there be someone we couldn’t fight, Malak could deny them vision and facilitate an ambush or an escape. While I appreciated what my captain’s brought to the table, my legion was comprised of people with a variety of tools for just a situation like this. Titan was bound to leave someone onboard the ship as an insurance policy, a deterrent in case we boarded. If he was using Relay to facilitate another network of transportation again, it stood to reason that he was onboard as well. None of them were known in Vuuldar, and none of them had access to any kind of safe haven on the world below.
Their only bit of real estate was the ship. Relay was essential to their exit plan and it made sense that Titan would keep him removed from where he’d expect there to be any real combat. While Titan wasn’t a seasoned leader, he wasn’t no fool. He knew exactly how vital mobility was in combat.
That was why it was my first target. Only after we cut the hamstrings could we take our time hunting the rest of them down.
“Vaneel,” I called, “We need a spatial distortion triggered. I want to be put on board.”
“Do be careful, Zellig,” he called down at me while he fiddled with a console, “You will be awfully expensive if I have to replace you.”
I grinned as the energy began to distort around the edges of my vision, “I wouldn’t dream of damaging your handiwork.”
He laughed as he flipped the final switch and reality went dark for a split second. The next moment, my eyes drank in a surprisingly serene scene:
Six forms were lounging amidst what looked like a common room, furnished with a plethora of furniture that seemed at odds with the otherwise metal and rustic interior of the ship. The only non-uniform part of the room was a massive observation window, giving a magnificent view out to the stars.
The six Adapted present were almost all familiar to me, all of them having spent some time on camera or had at least been seen by the Adapted we’d captured: Organelle, Relay, Powerhouse, Guardian, Command, and one redhead I didn’t recognize. While she looked unassuming, timid even, my instincts screamed that she was dangerous. The rest of them were largely not combat oriented Adapted and Titan wasn’t about to leave his key healer and head of transportation unguarded.
“Malak, screen!” I barked as the Adapted hurriedly got to their feet, drawing away from us.
My legionnaire pressed a hand to his arm and a dozen copies of him shimmered into existence and he faded into the shadows. I could see the air move around him as he crept around to the side, looking for an option to cripple one from the flank while Jor and I took a more straightforward approach.
But, to my surprise, Jor wasn’t moving forward with me. Instead, she sat down.
“Can’t-move,” she hissed, “Don’t, understand.”
I could hear her heartbeat remaining steady, slowing even as she sat down. For someone riled up and hungry for blood, this was wrong. I bared my teeth in frustration as I glared at the group of Adapted, the one named Command staring intently at Jor. “Command’s name is rather literal,” I surmised, “Useful I suppose.”
He raised a hand and I felt his influence immediately.
I felt a compulsion to lay down, to quit fighting, to be content and restful. There was no need to proceed with this fight, there would be a time in the future to remedy my mistakes, to apologize and take another stab at this. The more I struggled against it, the more intent the message became, eclipsing my impulse to harm the Adapted.
Instead of stubbornly sticking to will power, I opted for another source of motivation, one literally hardwired into me.
Engage enemy – Non-Trillodan.
Outcome – Maim.
Duration of override– thirty seconds.
The nanites in my body took over, resting control away from mind, rejecting Command’s control of my faculties. When he had constructed me, Vaneel had made numerous systems to give me perfect control of my body and to limit any situation that would prevent me from fighting back. One of those was an automated defense response should I be rendered unconscious or brain damaged in combat. I had learned to access it and could turn it on through neural impulse. While nothing to date has ever been able to damage my brain, one could never be too prepared.
“I hope you have more tricks,” I laughed as my body raced forward; I was halted as a blue field appeared between us.
Guardian, the pasty white Adapted drowning in freckles held a hand up that had a faint blue tint to it. Another glance at the redhead showed her still no wanting to engage, as if she was holding back.
The question I had was why. It made sense she would be built for combat, but she was content with letting those less capable to contribute in a fight continue without her assistance. She had no reason to keep us alive, no reason to restrain herself. We were her enemy and she ours.
Why did she remain complacent?
I tested the shield a few times, annoyed that it refused to budge. Despite Command’s influence and refusal to fight against the Adapted, I seemed able to strike the shield without issue. My best guess was that he was able to give specific commands or alter specific patterns of thought; it meant there were loopholes I could exploit. Since he didn’t know about my internal network and code, he wasn’t going to keep me limited. While it seemed to waver when I hit it hard enough, I wouldn’t be able to reliably bash my way through it without exhausting my power supply. While Jor might have been able to cut through it, she wasn’t going to be up until Command’s influence was stymied. Tapping back into my circuitry, I cheated around Command’s control
Objective – destroy the ship.
“Plasma barrage, thirty second intervals, immediate engage,” I ordered, forcing myself to smile despite Command trying renewing his efforts to make me fall over. “Guardian, I hope that trick works for the whole ship.”
The youth took a deep breath, dispersing the shield in front of me before extending both his hands out to the side; through the massive observation window I saw that same blue shimmer grow and expand, protecting the whole ship. The bolt of plasma slammed against his shield and shook the ship, but the field held, although Guardian was already sweating with exertion.
Enemy or not, the boy had earned my respect. He’d made a shield able to withstand a hit from Trillodan artillery which would have leveled a city block.
My admiration wore off quickly though, and now there was nothing between me and Command.
“New power set,” he insisted to the redhead, “Keep him back!”
“It’s too soon! I allocated six for the illusion-”
“Infinite, NOW!” Command shouted as I rushed forward, raising a hand to her. I felt his hold on me relinquish; why would he give up on that to try and control her?
Energy filled the room as the redhead cried out, a wave of red energy expelling through her fingertips. And then, her eyes turned blue and hands glowed similar to Guardian’s. A shield appeared in front of me, but this one surged forward to meet me, pushing me back. I tried to move around, but the girl kept adjusting the frustrating wall of energy, pushing me back over and over again. While Guardian’s shields seemed to be fixed, she was doing something malleable, good both offensively and defensively.
And if she’d been responsible for the illusion that concealed their ship, I was at a loss for what her true power was. People who seemingly had multiple powers were either cleverly manipulating a gift or given two powers that worked in conjunction. Making shields and illusions weren’t necessarily related, especially if she’d experienced physical pain to change on the fly.
My enhanced vision revealed to me the tiniest bit of distortion as Malak crept within striking distance of Command; none of the Adapted even realized there was a killer in their midst until a blade jabbed into the man’s side.
Command paled as Malak let down the illusion, allowing fear to creep over the other Adapted. Command tried to raise a hand, but Malak drove a fist into his teeth, throwing bits of enamel and blood all over as he fell. Guardian paled as my saboteur turned to him, looking terrified as Malak snickered and flipped the blade around. The Projector couldn’t let down the shield for fear of the next blast, but the others present weren’t fighters. Command might have been able to stop him, but with him out of the way, there was no one who could really stop Malak from cutting through them.
Except for the woman Command had been influencing.
As soon as his hold over her faded, Infinite screamed and her face contorted. Her eyes did away with the blue glow instead opting to turn into a pair of black orbs as an almost imperceptible mist filled the air around her; Malak went down instantly, gasping and contorting like his life was being ripped from him.
Her timid and fearful expression was replaced with a mask of anger, rage, and malice. She ignored my legionnaires clawing and thrashing, turning her attention towards me, walking forward, taking her time. I hadn’t been sure why my instincts were warning me about this woman, but now I understood both why Command had her on a leash and why Titan had kept her up here:
This wasn’t an ordinary Adapted who was made to fight, this woman was made to be a natural disaster in the flesh. I was willing to bet there was no half measure with her, there was either obscene power or nothing at all. Without Command to control her, she was an unstoppable storm. And Malak had just done away with her leash.
“I’ve waited a long time to meet you, Zellig Ak’aan,” she whispered, “You’ve been all that he talks about lately.”
Very few things intimidated me, but this ‘Infinite’ had made the list. Titan had earned my respect for bothering to use someone so dangerous, and for managing to keep her so well hidden before now. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”
She smiled, a sinister grin that would have sent a lesser man running in fear. “You made a mistake coming here, Zellig,” she announced with a voice that reverberated through the room, a strange echo making it sound like multiple voices came from her mouth. “You believed that you could make us kneel, didn’t you? He said you would come for us. We just didn’t expect you here. I assumed I’d have a few more days until we found you.”
Jor hopped to her feet, whipping a cord through the air, only to be halted by a bright wall of blue energy. Infinite glared sideways and waved, almost dismissive; my soldier was slammed against the wall, her armor crumpling around her as if it was a shoddy piece of scrap metal.
A blue wall crashed down on my shoulders as she flicked her fingers towards the floor. “I think it’s your turn, Zellig. Kneel.”
This was such a massive departure from what she had been a moment ago, but I couldn’t figure out why. Earlier she had been timid and anxious, now there was nothing but malevolence. Whatever had caused her to snap, it was like the mist around he was a secondary power, something she was using unconsciously. The energy shield was the only active use she possessed.
But with her off the leash, it was so much stronger.
It was like being trapped under tons of rock, the floor began to bend under the pressure as I sank to a knee. As I strained, the mist slipped forward; I felt my biological processes start trying to shut down. This wasn’t like Command trying to exert influence over my neurology and convince me to rest, this was her trying to turn my body off entirely, like some kind of paralytic neurotoxin.
Battery output override – 500%
The nanites kept my body working, forcing me to draw breath and my heart to beat, which seemed to annoy Infinite as she took another step forward, perplexed that I wasn’t joining Malak in choking on the very essence of death. She continued to pressure down, and I could feel my body overheating as I stressed every system and safety feature that Vaneel had installed. This could require repair, but if I fell, she would paint the ship with me.
In my head, I kept counting the seconds. It had been twenty-six seconds since the last salvo, one was due to land in about 5 seconds.
I took a steadying breath, knowing that we needed to disengage and soon. No matter how arrogant this face she wore was, she would kill all of us with ease. The only reason she hadn’t turned me into a puddle was because she was enjoying playing with her food.
Power output spike – 3x
Duration – three seconds.
I could not tolerate what she’d said to me. It struck at the fundamental nature of who I was, of what and who I represented. There was more at stake than my own legacy. “My name,” I hissed, “Is Zellig Ak’aan.” My power sources whirred as they delivered the extra charge through my body, tripling my strength for a few short seconds. “And I, do not, KNEEL!”
I threw myself to the side and shoved to slide away from the crushing weight; it slammed against the floor and warped the metal before dispersing. With a growl, I slammed my hand against my thigh, triggering the kinetic gauntlet to build around my hand. Raising the appendage, I didn’t aim at her, I aimed at Organelle who was trying to see to Command’s injury. Infinite turned her wrist to blast me away but the salvo from my ship shook the Adapted’s vessel, forcing her to catch herself for a split second.
Guardian cried out and sank to his hands and knees, exhausted.
“Fire again!” I demanded as I let a blast loose at the group of defenseless Adapted.
Infinite threw a hand out, creating a new wall of power to intercept the blast. While her reflexive response had been to save her comrades, but that malicious guise that had taken hold did not view them in such a positive light once it remembered that there were people behind her.
If she was going to be unhinged, I might as well steer her away from me.
Command noticed too and quickly raised a hand towards her, concentrating despite the blood still seeping from his side and mouth. He waved Organelle off, knowing that his injuries were irrelevant if she did so much as walk too close. The black faded from Infinite’s vision as another blast slammed into the vessel, this time without Guardian able to stop it. A quick response from Infinite saw a shield erected at the edge of the room as the metal fell away, exposing the ship to the vacuum of space.
“Titan is playing a very dangerous game,” I laughed as my power supply reverted back to a normal output, “Using someone like you, it’s a very risky proposition.”
“Infinite, time to go,” Organelle said as I took a step forward. “Relay, get us down to the surface!”
The other Adapted shook his head, frantic, “I-I can’t! I’m the central hub. I’m a fixed point! I made it just to get people up here, not to move myself around!”
I tried to step forward, but a massive blue wall appeared in front of me. I slammed a fist against it to get their attention. “We will survive the void of space! Vaneel designed our armor to keep us alive until we can be rescued. Will you be so lucky?” I smiled, bearing my fangs, “Fire again in ten seconds. Vaneel, remove us in six.”
“Powerhouse, strip Relay,” Organelle insisted, “I can deal with the fallout. Give Infinite the power. Sweetie, get us down there. We need to find Titan.”
“I-” she stammered, looking at me, mortified and overwhelmed.
“Infinite,” Command said after spitting a mouthful of blood, “NoW!”
She shuddered as her veins lit up, a blue glow dragging itself seemingly through her veins all the way down to her hands before expelling through her fingertips again. As the color faded, so did the force field. At the edge of the room, a new field erected to prevent all the occupants from being ripped into the space; the fatigued Guardian was shaking, but it was enough. The olive skinned girl grabbed Relay and drained a white glow from him in much the same way, though clearly with incredibly painful consequence as he fell over, clutching at his chest and screaming. Powerhouse frantically grabbed Infinite who shuddered in agony as a white glow washed over her skin. I took two steps forward, but Infinite raised a hand and they vanished.
Right on cue, the edges of my vision distorted as the spatial displacement came in and Vaneel freed us from the mess.
I had been outside the medical wing for an hour now, watching them surgeon operating on Jor through a window. Infinite had driven parts of the armor into my soldier and reduced organs to ribbons. Malak had been fortunate that Command had come back to and reined in Infinite; once that mist abated, his organs started working again and he had managed to breathe before any real damage had been done. While he’d be weak for a few hours, he would be fine in the long run.
Trillodan medicine was an extraordinary thing to behold and the ship’s surgeons were optimistic they could have her back on her feet by tomorrow, though she might be not at her best for a week or two. Despite our biology being markedly adept at regenerating damaged tissues, there were still limitations on what it could mend.
I heard him approach long before Vaneel joined me beside the window. A few moments passed while we stood there silently, watching them operate. I knew that he was likely evaluating their surgical aptitude while I was concerning myself with the soldier on their table.
“You care too much about them,” my friend noted, finally breaking the silence. “They aren’t all going to come back from this.”
“It is a Commander’s role to feel loss, to appreciate pain they endure and blood they shed for me. I will not discard their lives easily. If they follow my orders unconditionally, I want them to know I appreciate their sacrifice.” I allowed myself to look away from the operation and face my friend, “Did you track them down?”
“I have eyes on them, yes,” he replied. “I watched the footage from your optical camera. This girl,” he said, cautiously, “She’s dangerous. Even more than he is.”
He being Titan. Vaneel and I had spent a few days talking over how we would eventually deal with the head of this crusade since he would be a fascinating specimen to study; to date we have had no successful way to capture him alive since he had that pesky danger sense.
“She answers the question of how they are moving around so quickly,” I replied with a sigh. “Her gift is raw power that she can define. And she’s different somehow, less hindered by her own ability. Adapted endure physical strain when they use a gift, but she was smacking us around without batting an eye. For her the only challenge for her was letting go of one power to utilize another.”
“And the woman who was giving her additional strength at the end?”
“Powerhouse is an Adapted who can loan power to people for set time intervals. I knew that someone trying to hold onto it too long was hazardous, I was unaware stripping it out early was detrimental to the other party as well. Infinite was given the power because she could reshape it to be a means of teleportation where Relay could not.”
My friend frowned, “Too many options at her disposal to deal with her. She has power, mobility, and presumably can she can make herself more durable as well. How do you fight someone who has no weakness?”
“We don’t fight her,” I replied plainly, showing the edges of a malicious grin.
Vaneel scowled, frustrated, “You noticed something that I missed, didn’t you?”
“Infinite is unparalleled in power, but she is also volatile. When she was busy asphyxiating me and my soldiers, she was only facing us. The second she turned around, she was glaring at the Adapted like they were another enemy. Command interrupted Organelle healing him to assert some control over her and limit her power. For every bit of power she seizes, she cedes control,” I concluded. “However, there is something to her I don’t understand, some emotional trigger that accompanies that black mist. We’ll have to rip that information from someone later.”
“Titan made a point to keep her hidden; I doubt anyone will know what that is,” Vaneel pointed out.
“Unfortunately, you might be right. Still, we won’t know until we try.”
There was a moment between us as we watched the doctors work before he spoke again. “That’s a dangerous person to rely on. Why would Titan leave anyone near her if she is so volatile?”
“Command is her handler. While his own gift is frustrating, he is more influential if he is enabling Infinite to use her power to the fullest.”
The Matron’s head researcher chuckled, “You don’t want to go after her, you want to take out Command.”
I grinned, turning back to the operation. “If she has no handler, no way to keep her in check, one of two things will happen with Infinite: she will lose control and level everything nearby or be scared and forced to inaction. Either way, if we can remove Command, we can nullify much of the threat she poses.” I pressed a hand against the glass, “Jor’s injuries won’t have been for nothing.”
“All due respect, Zellig, but you’ve spent a long time here. There are other engagements happening, and we need to see to your own injuries before you can be deployed again.” I didn’t need enhanced senses to catch the implied concern from my friend; he had designed me so that I wouldn’t be beaten in such a grizzly fashion. Seeing me battered so handily by two different people was worrying to him.
“You’re right.” I shot one last look to my loyal legionnaire and turned to follow my friend, the war now underway.
While one of my own was likely out of commission for the rest of this battle, we had succeeded in grounding them on Vuuldar. I had found a way to undermine Titan’s greatest weapon in the arsenal, and I still had many cards left to play. We were undoubtedly in for a long chase since the Adapted were easy to maneuver thanks to their small numbers and arcane abilities.
However, I could make their stay on the surface so much harder.
“Vaneel, make the preparation for Protocol 41. Let’s show these children we mean business.”
Previous Chapter – Next Chapter