“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Art: Elias Chatzoudis
She woke up in pain, made worse by a massive hangover. Long lashes fluttered open - her blue eyes were dark, hazy, and searching her surroundings for something familiar.
But Dominion ceilings all looked nearly identical – sterile, metal, ventilated. It was the flash of red hair that caught her eyes and she tried to look towards the movement. Her neck was restrained and the attempt to move sent a fresh wave of sharp pain across her nerves.
“Ellius?” Her mouth barely moved as she spoke her roommate’s name, the crust of scabs tender as her tongue explored her dry lips.
She realized as she tried to gauge her surroundings that she wore nothing but a thin hospital sheath.
“Shhh,” she recognized her roommate’s lilt. “You’re going to be okay. It feels a lot worse than it is.”
Still foggy, Kathryn grunted, “Why?”
“Why what?” Ellius sounded unworried as she straightened Kathryn’s pillows. She dodged the ever-present and moving medical devices that were actively rebuilding bones, mending wounds, and repairing the extensive damage Kathryn was brought in with.
“Why does it feel like this?”
Kathryn wasn’t accustomed to post-battle pain. Dominion System Sciences had long since created medications and nerve numbing protocols in their implants, allowing for the near pain-free existence for members of the regime. Pain was something she vaguely remembered from her life prior to joining Overseer’s crusade to purify the universe of human woe. And even then, she had never been in a real fight.
Her blurry vision could still pick up the fact that Ellius wasn’t talking. It was another’s voice. Her brilliant deduction was helped by the fact that Ellius’s voice wasn’t a deep, guttural male one.
“What are you doing here?” she asked with confidence into the void despite not being one hundred percent certain who it was she was talking to.
“I’m checking in on you.”
Adrenaline began to flow through her body, a phenomenon she could track clearly as her mind gathered itself, and the pain dissipated to a barely-tolerable state. The last time she had heard that voice…
Her eyes narrowed, still staring at the metal ceiling, “Get out.” The memories of what had happened came back in highlighted visuals in her mind’s eye. She saw Samuel’s fist connecting with her face, Da-Xia’s knee ramming into her midsection, and Sutu’s great arms lifting her up only to slam her back down to the hard metal covered ground on an infinite loop.
Ellius’s hand pulled away from her face, as if to leave. “Stay, El.”
Lacerations and contusions freckled her body from head to toe. As she lay in the foreign hospital bed, she took a mental account of what hurt. A fractured jaw forcibly mended kept her speaking limited, and her head throbbed from either a cracked skull or the hangover, she wasn’t sure. Her nose was bandaged and orbital fractures on her sockets had both been surgically rebuilt. She tried shifting her weight, but broken, restrained ribs stopped her. She tried to move her legs, but a crushed femur was bound and constricted. Her forearm was nothing more than a shattered ulna that led to a dislocated shoulder that had been forced back into place.
She had clearly been in and out of surgery all night, but why was she still in pain?
Ellius leaned over, stroking Kathryn’s blonde hair with affection. Her hazel eyes, normally with the hardened gaze of a soldier, were soft and eager, “You told me to stop reminding you…” she cooed at Kathryn.
Kathryn groaned, her eyes rolling, “The Vanguard has no implants.”
“Can you get this stupid thing off my neck?” She looked down, pointing as best as she could to the neck brace encumbering her movements.
Kathryn on the mend with Ellius by her side, two Medici observing
She didn’t want to include her roommate in the interaction, per se, but she needed an ally. While Ellius was technically outranked by Sicarius, being a part of the Legion, she didn’t fall under his command. And while not the best of friends, Kathryn had successfully lured Ellius into feeling intimate with her. Intimacy bred loyalty, and in this case, even affection. Ellius’s hand squeezed Kathryn’s.
“She asked you to leave,” the redhead’s voice was confident, but quickly added a demure, “…Sir.”
Not being able to see what was transpiring between her roommate and Sicarius was frustrating for the infirmed Kathryn.
“I need to speak with her, alone, lieutenant.”
Ellius didn’t move.
Sicarius sighed from exacerbation, “If I had wanted her dead, I wouldn’t have stopped them from beating her.”
Kathryn smirked, the splits in her mouth creaking from the strain. “He has you there, El…” It came out in a near-laugh.
Directly above, her roommate’s freckled face looked down at her. “I’ll be right outside the door.” In the weeks she had spent roomed with her, she had secured herself as a confidant and friend to the years older redhead. Neither Kathryn’s previously held position, nor her fall from grace, had kept Ellius from forming a close attachment to the beautiful and welcoming blonde. And while Kathryn found Ellius appealing for a myriad of self-serving reasons, sexual attraction wasn’t one of them. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t use Ellius’s attraction to her own advantage.
If she could have nodded, she would. Instead, she blinked, acknowledging her roommate’s words, “Thank you,” Kathryn mustered the sincerest look she could as Ellius glared at Sicarius before walking out of the room.
Without warning, Sicarius walked to the side of her bed, lifting her up into a seated position. Her body ached at the movement, her eyes watering and involuntary groans escaped her lips. Her arm’s spasmed, the agony wretchedly coursing its way from nerve to mind.
When she managed to open her eyes again, he was looking directly at her from the foot of her bed.
“You know how to stop this, Kathryn.”
“Stop…” she gasped for air, swallowing her words as even the act of breathing caused excruciating pain. “…what?”
“I know the D.I.A. trained you in pain provisions.” His arms rested to his sides, he looked totally relaxed and in no way unnerved by her distress.
Her eyes widened as she looked at him.
But he wasn’t wrong.
Fighting through the haze of torment and hangover, she dug deep. In the catalog of her training with the Dominion, the one thing they had extensively prepared her for was torture. While the D.I.A. as a whole had a myriad of redundancies and safeguards in place, any high-ranking officer, especially the Castra, would have been targeted as a source of information. And as she rose ever higher in the ranks, her training had been focused on information protection. She had to run through a battery of scenarios giving her an ample rotation of methods to counteract any pain someone could inflict upon her.
Her eyes unfocused, her pupils fixated not on the ceiling but beyond, she reached into the mental crevices where she had disciplined herself to find refuge. She could still hear Protium’s voice as she searched, “Look with your mind, not with your eyes.” Unlocking the Dominion’s abilities fell under Protium’s jurisdiction, and it was with his insistence that the D.I.A. even be formed. It was with his guidance that he and Kathryn literally wrote the guidelines and protocols for that branch of the regime.
Voluntarily, she triggered a release of hormones, her lids half lowering as pleasure replaced pain.
She gasped, the air filling her lungs as the chemicals filled her mind.
Her hands, free of restraints, reached up and removed her neck brace. This allowed Kathryn to stretch her neck and shoulders, much to her relief. She waved off the ever-moving doctoring arms of her hospital bed, the burr of them powering down leaving the room in a deep silence.
She could see herself, somewhat fuzzy, in the metal door behind him. On the other side Ellius stood at attention, waiting for anything to trigger her reentry to her roommate’s side.
Kathryn looked like hell, even blurry.
Gritting her teeth, she heard, but didn’t feel, the grind of bone against bone.
“So what ARE you doing here, Sicarius?” While she could move now, relatively pain-free, she didn’t, knowing the effects of her training would eventually wear off.
“Like I said, I’m checking in on you.” His voice was completely neutral, not the semi-nurturing tone he had adopted since she had begun to behave well for his agenda.
“I’m fine. Sorry I won’t be into the office this morning.” She managed some sarcasm.
“You’ve not been in the office for a week, Kathryn.”
The lack of accountability in time unnerved her. To her, she had been attacked by her teammates just last night. Her headache couldn’t possibly be a hangover then, unless Ellius had been sneaking her nightcaps in her sleep.
“You were in a medically induced coma, by my insistence.” Sicarius said.
She didn’t want him to know how unnerved she was, “So why wake me up now?”
“Because you need to be seen. What the others did to you…” he trailed off. His hands reached up and began to remove her restraints and restrictions.
Her brows furrowed and she tilted her head just a hair as she tried to make sense of his words, but she complied nonetheless.
“Get dressed. Come to the Ludus. I’ll be addressing the Vanguard and I’ll need you with me.”
Involuntarily, her mouth upturned into a barely perceptible smile. Her trust in him had been shaky, but by the sound of it, she was going to get her justice. The wrong against her would be righted by the right man. She slowly swung her legs off the bed, the injuries making her movements deliberate.
“When we’re done, you’ll come back here and finish out your recuperation. The Medici have sought permission to temporarily reactivate your implants to assist in your healing process for a few more days. Either way…this is only a temporary setback.”
As Sicarius spoke to her, not leaving the room, she realized she wouldn’t be able to get back into her clothes or a set of Greys with all the bandages and binders. “What am I supposed to wear?”
“Ah…” he looked at her perplexed for a moment before opening the door, “Ellius, can you come in here please?”
Ellius obliged, shocked to see Kathryn out of bed. She all but rushed to her, “Are you okay? Shouldn’t you be lying down?”
Kathryn held her hand up, “I’ll be okay.”
Sicarius looked Ellius up and down. She was roughly Kathryn’s height, but broader and thicker. “Lieutenant, can Kathryn borrow your Greys?”
The redhead hesitated for a moment, before Kathryn joked with her, “Not exactly the way I was expecting to get in your pants, darling.”
Kathryn and Sicarius sat next to one another on the transport rail system, the fifteen-minute ride peppered with their usual friendly banter.
“Can I assume that during this last week you’ve been drinking hard and taking on a string of lovers?” Kathryn deadpanned.
His head jerked to the left to look at her, almost indignant, before he saw the look on her face.
“Obviously, Kathryn. In fact, my seeing you has left me derelict in my debaucherous duties.”
“Tsk. What a shame, and here we had such high hopes for you.”
“You’ll have to forgive me as my now lack-of-coddling-Kathryn’s-progress-evenings has left me somewhat overwhelmed with freedom.”
She laughed, and he smirked at her.
Her knee was touching his as the smooth ride pulled them along to their destination, “I don’t think I ever thanked you, Sicarius.”
He looked down at her, expressionless despite her glowing smile. Her split lip did nothing to take away from her natural beauty. Eager blue eyes looked at him expectantly.
“No need to thank me.”
“You saved my life.”
“They weren’t trying to kill you, Kathryn.” At that, her weight shifted enough so her knee was no longer touching his.
“Could have fooled me.” But she winked at him and laughed.
Fascinated, he brought his face close to hers, looking to her eyes, searching, “I had heard of the DIA pain protocol, but this is amazing, I didn’t know it actually worked. I half expected to drug you up to come with me.”
“Self-induced drugs are always the best,” she smiled up at him, “Less loopy, and more effective.”
“You’ll have to show me one day. We could really use that skillset.”
“You WANT me to torture you?” Her voice was playful but had a tinge of seriousness in it.
“I didn’t mean it quite like-“
“I’ll be happy to bring you an unquantifiable amount of pain…” she grinned at him, a bit menacingly. “And sure, I’ll teach you how to counter it.”
Her knee touched his again, “Although, it’s not so much countering it, as it is learning to enjoy it.”
A bit rattled, he looked forward, trying to keep it professional, “Sounds good. Our stop is next.”
He didn’t look back at her, but he could feel her grinning as their transport came to a stop and they walked in silence the rest of the way to the Ludus.
Once there, they saw the entire Vanguard standing at attention before them as they made their way to the front. Sicarius had helped Kathryn along, holding her up as they walked. Her physicians had told them not to use her implants until reactivation and only under their guidance, so flying was out of the question and gravity took its toll.
Despite being torn up from the assault a week ago, Kathryn stood with dignity and grace by his side, and he admired her ability to be so confident given her weakened circumstances. She carried herself with a natural air of authority, a demeanor that didn’t ask for respect, but demanded it by sheer force of her presence - infirmed or not.
His troops were silent, no hushed murmurs, no whispers.
“A week ago…” he started, his eyes scanning the tops of the heads of the Vanguard, “Some of you took it upon yourself to attack one of our own.” He punctuated his sentence by looking straight to Kathryn, her eyes filled with something close to satisfaction.
He hoped they stayed that way.
“We all know why Kathryn was sent to us, we’ve always known she is not here voluntarily,” he turned back to the masses, rattling on, “And yet she has strived to conform to our ways.”
“Without complaint,” he smirked, “She has been here day in and day out, learning from us, and sharing her gifts with us.”
The satisfied look on Kathryn’s expression was full of pride and anticipation, a glint of excitement and a self-indulgent smile. His brows came together as he continued, eyeing her from his periphery. The troops looked straight ahead, their eyes focused beyond either of the two at the front of the pack.
“These Vanguard took it upon themselves to exact their judgement on her.”
Kathryn turned to look directly at the three in question – her teammates: Sutu, Da-Xia, and Samuel.
“Kathryn.” Sicarius looked to her, still speaking loudly for everyone to hear, “No Vanguard hand will ever be raised to you again in aggression. Their justice has been served, and you are now, forever, a part of us.”
Her eyes widened, and he knew it wasn’t what she was expecting. He braced for the recoil.
Her teammates stepped forward and nodded to her, “Legion,” the three said to her in unison, and the crowd of hundreds responded, shaking her to her core, “Before life!”
Sicarius watched, ready, as her eyes searched his face for anything, but he remained still. He saw her jaw clench and unclench, just like it had months ago in the Vigil during her dressing down from Overseer. He had studied her then, seeing how she would handle her public humiliation.
Her nose flared, “I would like to be dismissed to the Medici now.” He watched as she steadied herself while her teammates approached to help. A quick, sharp look from Sicarius stopped them in their tracks.
He returned his gaze to her bewildered stare.
The masses disengaged and began filing in different directions – out, to the break room, to the weapons vault, or just general sparring in different designated areas on the cushioned mats of the Ludus. He saw Kathryn fixate on a pair sparring, hand-to-hand, her eyes somewhat unfocused.
Kathryn, despite her feelings being worn bare on her face, said nothing.
“I’ll escort you back,” his voice was a little gentler than he had wanted, still a little wary on how she was going to react to his handling of the situation. He knew that to her, it looked like a miscarriage of justice. But he also knew that this was the price she had to pay to be truly accepted. It wasn’t enough that she was good and had skills to offer them, she had to feel the reckoning of her decisions that brought her here. Their mission was about protecting the Legion and she had killed their wards without so much as an apology.
Kathryn rejected his assistance but didn’t stop him from accompanying her as she hobbled back towards the transportation station outside of the Ludus.
Not one for words of comfort, Sicarius followed her in silence, assuring her nothing more than her physical safety and return to her doctors.
Kathryn sat down, and this time, he sat across from her.
They rode back in pained silence, their previous exchange seemingly fictional in his own memory.
Sicarius had left without uttering another word since they left the Ludus.
Kathryn was still in a bit of shock over what had just happened, and her mind was desperate to make sense of it and failing miserably to do so.
Laying back down onto her hospital bed, having given the Greys back to Ellius, she felt exposed in her hospital sheath. The thin fabric wrapped around her neck and rotated freely to cover her front or backside depending on which needed procedures or operations. It wasn’t the lack of modesty that made her feel exposed, it was the vulnerability she had experienced an hour before.
And she hadn’t seen it coming.
Shaken, she tried to calm herself. The whirring of devices triggered her distraction, and allowed the pain to return as she stopped the voluntary pressure of her pituitary gland.
Medici entered, covered head to toe in sterile, utilitarian fabric, faceless in versatile, screen-up masks and goggles. They sported a number of implants that helped in their medicinal efforts – from controlling the beds to readily producing a myriad of hormones, antibodies, and medications from their own bodies. Many of the Dominion believed them to be more machine than alive.
“We have been granted permission to speed up your healing by temporarily reactivating your implants.”
“Understood.” She stared blankly at the ceiling.
The Medici nodded to one another as they fiddled with her hospital bed and devices, both on their person and otherwise.
The arms of the bed began their procedures at the guidance of her physicians, who stared through tinted goggles just as blankly at her.
Kathryn was absorbed in her own thoughts, as they put her under anesthesia.
…THEIR JUSTICE? I’ve already BEEN punished. My punishment is enduring the humiliation of even being associated with the Vanguard in the first place. Overseer knows how to punish me. Humiliation – not physical assault. Physical assault is so…petty…it’s so…mundane…pl…plebeian….
She was out and the Medici, with their machines, began working diligently with laser precision.
Two more days passed before Kathryn was woken up again, and according to her physicians, earlier than expected.
She felt as if she just woken up from a midday nap – refreshed and energetic – really energetic. Sitting up in the bed, sans pain, she was alone, looking around the room in confusion. It was daytime, and the brightness from outside was seeping through the semi-closed blinds of her room.
She called out for a doctor.
“Yes?” One of the Medici came to her bedside.
“Are all my procedures finished?” Her eyes were closed as she spoke, tilting her head side to side as she felt the stirring of air around her.
“Yes, Ma’am,” it answered.
“And I’ve been powered back down?” She looked at her hands, rotating them, opening and closing her fist, feeling strange.
She slumped back into her bed, her loose blonde hair bunching to the sides of her face as she sunk into the pillows, chuckling, “Must have just been the bedrest. Thank you, doctor.”
The Medici left her alone once more.
They screwed up.
Unsure how they screwed up, all Kathryn knew was that she could feel the energy around her, and she hadn’t felt that since before her depowering with Protium two months ago. Her hand began to move as it had previously when she would idly play with the invisible energy around her.
Am I just hallucinating?
Before being able to test anything, the door to her room opened and Ellius came barging in, carrying a bag and something that smelled delicious.
“Katie! They told me you were awake already, how are you feeling?”
Kathryn smiled, “Good. I think.”
Kathryn shrugged at her, “Well after you felt what I felt a few days ago, it’s hard to believe that it’s all fixed.”
“Already missing your implants, hm?” Ellius smiled at her, opening the bag to reveal a set of warmed up field rations. While they smelled great, and were packed with nutritional value, they were surprisingly bland. Kathryn didn’t care and reached for one enthusiastically having not had solid food for over a week.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” she lied to Ellius as she bit down on one of the warm bars, firm on the outside, a melted gravy-like substance in the center. “I guess I’m coming home today.”
“Yeah, when are you going back to work? Sicarius came to talk to me, he’s expecting you back pretty soon…sounds like we’ll be Jumping soon to Chi Four?”
Kathryn wasn’t sure if Ellius was supposed to know that, but she assumed most of the Legion officers would know the next Dominion excursion, at least by name if not by actual designation, “In a few days…”
“So, I’ll be chasing you soon…” Ellius looked a bit distressed and Kathryn instinctually leaned forward to comfort her, a hand resting on her shoulder.
“Darling, EX-Consort I may be, but there’s no way that Overseer would put me in actual harm’s way. I’m sure this Jump will be routine.” But even as she said the words she knew she was full of shit. Overseer, Protium, Orthus – none of her former colleagues, or her lover, had stopped the assault on her. She had always assumed they were keeping tabs on her, but if that night at the bar was any indication, they weren’t. She could have died if her teammates had kept up with it. She could very well Jump into the black void of space with Sicarius and her team by her side.
The thought made her bite down on her tongue, “OW! Damnit…”
“You alright?” Ellius leaned towards her.
“Yes. Can you stop asking that please? Let’s just go home.”
Back at home and settled, she sat in her chair, feeling comfortable and relaxed as she talked with Ellius as dusk washed over their dormitory. She had her legs curled up with Ellius sitting on the often-misplaced footstool, facing her, legs spread, elbows on knees. Comfortable, they had both changed when they got home from the Greys to loose fitted shorts and standard issued tank tops. They had opened their windows to let the pleasant warmth of the day creep into their apartment.
“Do you know anything about Chi Four?”
Kathryn shook her head, enjoying the coziness of her inadvertent extra hours off, “I don’t know a thing. We don’t even get briefed on the mission until right before the Jump.”
“That’s crazy. I knew that we, I mean the Legion, got sparse information but Jumping into a completely unknown situation is…well it’s crazy.”
“I think you said that already,” Kathryn flashed her a smile.
Ellius leaned back, her strong frame arching easily as she placed her hands behind her head emphatically looking up at the ceiling. “Well I guess, just in case…”
Kathryn looked at her confused for a split second before Ellius had leaned over and kissed her.
She smelled sweet, like a fresh field of grass with overtones of florals. Her lips were soft - unfettered by make up, they had a natural silkiness to them. She felt the gentle breathing of her roommate as she kept her lips pressed to hers, unmoving. Kathryn was accustomed to people forming feelings for her, it was one of the many reasons she had enjoyed her dominant role before her downfall – no one dared act upon them.
It wasn’t that she found Ellius particularly attractive, but the last two months had been terribly lonely for her. She had already seen her naked, so she felt less odd about reaching her hand up to place it on Ellius’s cheek as the kiss shifted from innocent peck into something deeper.
Breathing her in, their bodies pressed into one another, Kathryn moved aside in her lounge chair to accommodate Ellius’s frame. For a moment, Kathryn worried that Ellius might interpret this as more than just scratching an itch, but her thought was interrupted by a cough coming from the doorway.
Jumping off one another like two caught school children, Kathryn looked up to see Sicarius at their front door, the metal frame opened.
“How did you get in here?” Kathryn barked at him, standing up and straightening her shirt and shorts.
Ellius caught her breath, “I gave him the pass key after you were mugged.”
“Mugged?” She realized then that Ellius hadn’t any idea that it was her teammates who had attacked her…and that Sicarius had let them go unpunished.
Kathryn turned to Sicarius, “Oh yes. When I was MUGGED within an inch of my life.”
Sicarius eyed the two of them, “Fraternizing with-“
“Shut up, Sicarius.” Kathryn crossed her arms in front of her chest.
He looked at her, somewhat surprised at her reaction, “I only mean that it’s against Vanguard protocol to involve yourself with a member of the Legion.”
“I know what you meant. I’ve read the damn handbook. Shut. The fuck. Up.”
“There’s a reason-“
Ellius began to retreat to her bedroom.
“I don’t care what your reason is.” Kathryn lowered her jaw, glaring at Sicarius through narrowed eyes, she barely noticed Ellius’s door closing.
“Kathryn, why are you being so hostile?”
“Oh, I’m being hostile and you can’t possibly think of why? Are you actually that fucking stupid or do you just act that way?”
Sicarius furrowed his brows at her, a grimace on his face.
Feeling irrationally defensive over being caught kissing her roommate, the entire sequence of events triggered the rage she had tempered since the last time she had seen him.
“I was hoping you’d be in the mood to talk about it.” He looked at her, she thought maybe earnestly, but she didn’t care. All she saw was red.
“TALK about it? Have you talked to them about it?” she began to mock him. “Oh hey guys, listen I know Kathryn’s been such a pain in the ass being so amicable and all, but I was just curious,” she started walking slowly towards him, winding herself up as her hands moved emphatically to her words and sarcastic tone. “If you couldn’t be bothered to answer, I mean, after having made overtures of friendship and comradery…”
Her anger was just getting started, “Was it totally necessary to beat the shit out of her and send her to the Medici?”
Sicarius didn’t move, he just stared at her and let her rail on, “It WAS necessary? Okay well, I mean, obviously you had a good reason, right?”
Sicarius stood his ground, his lack of fear of her increasingly menacing stance or tone angering her further. “No? You just felt like being vigilantes and violating Dominion law? Oh, and you’re expecting me just play along? GOTCHA. ON BOARD.”
Fired up, she got closer to him, stalking him in the common area of her flat. “I have a better idea! Let’s DRAG her out of her medical bed as she clings to life so I can make some form of public acknowledgment that I, not only ALLOWED this to happen, but that I at least tacitly agree with it!”
Toe-to-toe with her commanding officer, she began to lift off the floor. She came face-to-face with Sicarius - the ends of her long blonde hair beginning to lift from the energy she was tapping into. “I mean it’s not like she hasn’t been publicly humiliated enough. No, I must establish my modicum of authority over her in my miniscule little power play. Just so everyone knows who’s boss.”
He gritted his teeth, she kept on.
“FUCK YOU, Sicarius.”
He reached out, grabbing her by her upper arms, gripping her hard. She seemed unphased. He looked straight into her eyes, “There’s a reason.”
“Fuck your reason! I ALMOST DIED.”
“We ALL almost die every day in the Vanguard, Kathryn!”
“FUCK THE VANGUARD THEN.”
She had spent weeks building up the illusion that she was one of them, that she believed in the Vanguard mission, and she could tell by the look on his face, and the fact that he suddenly let go of her, that it had been working.
Now was her time to strike, “You’ve spent so long acting like you gave a shit about anything that happens to me when all you give a shit about is your precious little suicidal maniacs and making yourself look good in front of that moron, Orthus.”
He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, but she was obviously getting to him. “You’re getting too angry about this, Kathryn. You need to control your emotions.”
“I don’t need to do shit.” She glared at him, shaking her head as she spoke, looking at him in disgust, “I’ll do whatever the fuck I please, on my time.”
He just stared at her, his mouth a straight line across his face.
And this time, he did. Turning abruptly, he walked through the still open front door. Kathryn didn’t care that the entire floor likely heard her yelling at her superior. She slammed the door shut as he walked off, and she hurriedly changed the passkey.
Still seething, with her blood roaring through her ears, she went to Ellius’s room to let off some steam.
The next day, Sicarius was still plagued by the verbal attacks from Kathryn. He decided to keep the training to simple sparring today.
He didn’t get much sleep, and as he walked into the Ludus center, earlier than most, he was shocked to see Kathryn there waiting for him.
Disconcerted, he walked over to her - his feet making almost no sound against the mats of the center. “Kathryn?”
She smiled at him, a sick, knowing smile, “Sir,” she responded. Her ability to go from sweet-eyed and gentle to menacing and threatening always alarmed him. Sometimes it happened quickly, other times she’d ease into it until you realized that you had walked right into her firestorm.
She had unnerved him, but he proceeded as planned, waiting for everyone to show up within the hour. He fulfilled some of his administrative duties as commanding officer and checked all the sparring mats and weapons. All the while he felt her eyes on him, observing him, watching him, tracking him.
As he split the Vanguard into smaller groups for the sparring sessions, he made sure to not include himself in any of the meets. This allowed him to float from group to group to observe, but it also kept him out of the line of fire from Kathryn.
Despite her misgivings, her colleagues, all of them, were treating her as one of their own for the first time since she started. And not a moment too soon with their pending Jump deadline. He worked his way backwards, eventually making it to Kathryn’s sparring group.
He watched in amazement as she took down each of her opponents, regardless of species or class, with shocking speed. Within twenty minutes of observing her, he witnessed her best three substantial challengers.
“Good job, Kathryn.” Sicarius attempted to maintain his professional role with her, but at his voice she turned to him, like an animal hearing a noise.
“Thank you.” She purred the words out, and he wasn’t quite sure if she was invoking her lack of thanks from days before.
Each of his subordinates had stripped down to an individually designated level of comfort in the sparring matches. Some kept only their lower Greys on, donning bare skin or tank tops. Some, removed only the armored sections of their uniforms and kept the ribbed form-fitted suit on. Others felt comfortable in head-to-toe Greys. Kathryn was the latter.
Her hair was down, the full length of it tickling the small of her back, the loose layers framing her face sweetly, belying her deadly and aggressive nature for combat and missions. He noticed golden strands standing on end and an almost crackling atmosphere around her, “Feeling better today?” He asked her, probing her temperament.
“Better than you, I’m sure.”
Forgetting himself, “How’s that?”
“Well, I don’t exist as a witless sheep, sir.”
She flashed him a smile that melted into a smirk, the azure of her eyes dark and tempting.
He knew it was risky, indulging her anger, not just because they had a mission pending, but because she had already gotten to him. But at this point, he felt he had no other choice.
A member of the Vanguard got to their feet, braying about Sicarius’s honor and aggressively approaching Kathryn. He tried to stop him before Kathryn did.
She didn’t know the extent of her reclamation of powers, but she knew she had something. Kathryn had been overpowering her opponents all morning - much more quickly than she should have been, given she had been on a liquid diet for a week and a half and bedridden. So when a random Sicarius groupie came to his defense and approached her, she held back enough to not show all her cards, but she flung the miscreant across the floor with ease.
She stayed silent, looking directly at Sicarius. She was taunting him, she wanted to fight him. And if anyone deserved to be the target of her anger, it was him.
More Vanguard members stood to his defense, but Sicarius waved them down.
“Your anger is expected, Kathryn. Better you dole it out on me than your teammates.”
She narrowed her eyes at the word teammates.
“Let’s get this over with.” He finished.
“Expected?” She eyed him like a hungry predator as he entered the sparring circle.
“As someone who is in the midst of resolving their anger issues, and me acquiescing to your rage-induced demands yesterday, you are seeking confrontation…” As he spoke, he began to remove parts of his uniform, “It’s expected you would seek it from me still.” He rolled the fabric from his shoulders, exposing his battle-worn skin. Scars that shone silver in the lighting of the Ludus, some more faded than others, crisscrossed freely, interrupted only by the light chest hair that reached down to his navel. A single tattoo nestled between his left shoulder and pectoral was darker still against his olive and sun-touched flesh.
They both went to their starting positions.
“Don’t try to turn this into a teaching moment, Sicarius, you won’t like the outcome of that…” Chin lowered, her head cocked to the side slightly, she appraised him. She had never fought Sicarius before, but she knew he was the assassin type – defensive start with cautious aggression. He’d likely be a better fighter than her, normally, but today was different.
She was different.
He nodded, signaling the match start.
Kathryn took a defensive point, bracing her form against attack as they circled each other like wild animals.
“You don’t have to do this, Kathryn.” His calm voice grated in her ears and she glared at him.
“Yes I do.” With her hands wrapped in tape, she tightened the adhesive around her fists.
Sicarius squared his stance, his feet spread apart and his arms were up defensively. He was a sizeable man and she knew he could take hits.
She took a deep breath in, centering herself.
Without warning, she charged him, head down as if to head-butt the man - her speed frighteningly fast even without her implants to enhance her skills. Stopping just short of running into him, her right leg came above her head in a graceful arc, her toes pointed.
He adeptly blocked with his forearm, knocking her off him – it was clear he wasn’t going to fight back. He was simply going to elude or take it.
Flipping off his counter with ease, she landed on her knee, her right hand clenched into a tight fist that was now aiming for an uppercut. She used the power of her pushing off the ground to put some force into it. But Kathryn was not dealing with an amateur; he leaned back just as quickly, dodging her blow.
She grunted, irritated that he was not falling for her antics as his predecessors had. Kathryn tended to downplay her skills to fight – only swooping in to assist under normal circumstances. But she had been training with this man, he knew what she could do, and he had already adapted.
As far as he knew.
Turning on a dime, she hooked around with her left elbow, connecting with his neck – a hit that would have choked out most, but not Sicarius. He reached one large, able hand to the offending joint, squeezing firmly, causing the woman to cry out.
“You need to calm down, Kathryn. I am not your enemy.”
Practically hissing at him, she backed off momentarily, shaking out her arm. She knew full well that she would be heavily bruised in the morning from his simple grasp on her tiny form.
“Be calm? Like you…all of you? Aimlessly take orders?”
She didn’t care what she was getting herself into, and watched in excitement and fear, as his emotionless, amber eyes remained fixed on her - as if the rest of the Ludus and its occupants didn’t exist.
“Enough is enough,” he raised a hand in her direction, beckoning her, mocking her. “Come at me.”
With her hands at her sides, muscles taut, a violent crackling of the air whipped around her, spheres of raw energy forming and shattering in a chaotic maelstrom around her gauntlets.
In a burst, she flew at him, her hands clenched and pulsating, glowing orbs of red and darkness twisting around her fists as they came above her head. Mid-air, with her knees bent, she descended on him.
Obviously taken by surprise, she could see Sicarius recalculate in real-time, as she put her powers on display.
Sicarius couldn’t track her flight-enhanced speed and erratic movements, only the energy radiating, but his reaction was exacting. Lifting his hands, he gauged her. Instead of blocking it outright, he simply grabbed both of her wrists and rendered her temporarily useless as she was held, in shock. “I do not simply take orders.”
He twisted her wrists, once again eliciting a yelp, accented by the energy flaring at him, knocking him away from her and flinging her back in kind. Protecting his head, he kneeled from the sudden energy shot, his arms taking the brunt of the force.
“And yet, here you are, day in and day out, on the brink of suicide because some assholes in a tower told you to do it.” She wanted her words to cut him like the night before.
She could tell Sicarius was more guarded now, knowing she had some semblance of her enhanced abilities reactivated. Her advantage now was that he wasn’t sure to what capacity she was reactivated, “WE do it because we believe in the cause,” he responded.
He stood slowly, his eyes opened.
She kept on with it, “The cause? You don’t even know what the cause is. You’re so low on the ladder of power that you can’t see the top.”
“Let’s make this more interesting…” He looked at her, still unsure what her end game was, “Ludus, lux off.” Suddenly, the entire Ludus was encased in darkness. In a game of cat and mouse, he could win – she had the power advantage, but he had the skillset.
The light of her powers gave her away and made her a sitting duck.
“Kathryn, you are like a child, controlled by your emotions. You have nothing to believe in, nothing to live for. You may think me a sheep to a cause I don’t understand, but you are a sheep to the lesser you.”
He blindsided her on her right as the severe hook cracked his knuckles against her newly healed jaw. The agile man retreated to the shadows as he continued his rebuttal, “You are a victim to yourself, you lack agency…”
Kathryn stretched her jaw, a loud pop of the cartilage the only sound save for her steady breathing.
“You lack restraint!” His voice whipped at her through the darkness, spoken through his teeth.
She barely had time to focus again before a solid boot came at her face. Kathryn deflected by turning her shoulder into the blow. Countering, her glowing, furious, red hands gripped his head and she wrapped her legs around his neck as she attempted to use her momentum to flip him onto the ground. “YIELD!” she barked at him.
She severely misjudged the physics.
Kathryn realized her error when two large hands reached for her torso, forcing the air out of her lungs, her sparring partner effortlessly plucking her off him and slamming her into the hardened ground. Her relatively fragile frame bowed under the force of the knock back. Her back arched as she yelled out in pain. What light in the room she could see through her eyelids was abruptly blocked out as Sicarius stood over her fallen form.
Not one to be bested so quickly, she charged the particles around her, manipulating the matter to push herself underneath his standing and straddling stance, his hands reaching down and grabbing nothing but air in her wake.
“Up until a few weeks ago, I had all the control.” Her words were like audible poison. “While you…you are a spineless pawn in the Dominion machine, plucked from obscurity and given an empty title, an empty role with empty power. True power comes from control and you control NOTHING.”
Catching her breath, it began to level out. Kathryn couldn’t help herself – she was enjoying this. No amount of externally provided chemical escape could rival the thrill she felt when she was battling, stalking, and tearing away at someone, “And your life will MEAN nothing. Your efforts will be included in an endless list of sacrifices for power and control that you will never reign.”
He came at her fast, gripping her in a headlock. Words hissed out of his clenched teeth, “You have no idea why I do what I do.”
She jerked out of his grasp, nearly dislocating her shoulder again, “Oh like it’s some noble quest to lead these idiots to their deaths?”
His fist ripped through the darkness and connected with her jaw, causing her to fall backwards, “I am trying to save my planet!”
Crashing onto the mats, the words of his last shout registered with her. “From what? Poor thing,” she laid the mocking tone on thick, speaking into the darkness, “Some little warlord on your backwater rock?”
This time it was his open hand gripped around her neck as he had clearly lost his patience, “From a white-eyed monster. You know not what you speak of!”
“A white-eyed monster? What are you, twelve?” The hand around her throat tightened.
In the darkness, she spoke through gasps of air as his grip continued to squeeze her slender neck, “It’s cute…you think…supplication will get…you anywhere…” Gripping his arms, she wrestled her boots onto his chest to fire off him, landing them both on their backs.
Practically hissing at her, Sicarius narrowed his eyes, glaring at her, “To save my people, I will do what the Dominion wants until they deem it time to purge my planet of the beast.”
While alien-species were common and plentiful, their looks ranging wildly across the board, she only knew of one white-eyed creature who could invoke that much fear into a population. But Overseer had never revealed himself to anyone but his Consuls.
Kathryn unleashed an energy blast jolting across the floor. The erratic pattern in which it traversed towards Sicarius misled his defenses. The attack was weak and his eyes instinctually followed its path - exactly what she wanted him to do. As he couldn’t help but focus on the brilliant brightness of her distraction, Kathryn got her lithe body up against his from behind, one of her tiny hands on the base of his skull – the heat of her energy laden fist causing him to sweat through his hair.
“YIELD!” She yelled at him. The entire Vanguard now circled around them, watching through the dark, her energy power the only thing lighting their conflict.
“It is my choice to be loyal to the Dominion. My loyalty is what led you here. It is my loyalty to the Dominion that saved you!”
Her nose flared as she digested his words, her mind beginning to try to knit the pieces of information together through the haze of her anger. Distracted, he was able to grab her midsection and slam her body into the mats, keeping his hand on her neck, and pinning her with his own body to the ground.
“Your anger cannot stop the Dominion, or me.”
The energy crackling around them dissipated with his command, “CONCEDE.”
Kathryn stared at him for a moment, the lack of oxygen not yet affecting her as her vision acclimated to the encroaching darkness. Her mind raced as she tried to process his words – The Dominion, his loyalty, the white-eyed monster.
Instead of fighting back, she tapped the mats, yielding. The crowd of Vanguard cheered.
She had questions.