“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.”
Art: Adelso Corona & Juan Fernandez
The Dominion: Overseer (top), Orthus (left), Kathryn Moore (center), and Protium (left)
Sicarius’s voice was calm between the heavy breathing of exertion, his bare flesh gleaming brightly in the sudden illumination of the Ludus.
With her eyes watering as she recovered from the choke-out, Kathryn squinted at the towering figure of her commanding officer. The hand that had been wrapped around her neck was now extended down to her in assistance.
Her own breathing was heavy having just expended not only her own energy, but from channeling an immense amount of energy around her. It had been months since she had done anything remotely close to using her Apex Module and she had run her barely operating regulator to the governor.
As the blood rushed back through her so did the questions. She needed answers so she swallowed her anger and began the roleplay.
She accepted the hand, to the rejuvenated cheers of the Vanguard around the sparring couple, and got to her feet. With her legs stable beneath her, she looked up at Sicarius who was but a few inches in front of her. He wasn’t the tallest man she’d been around, Sutu took that title, but at her five feet and seven inches, his skirting above six feet forced her to strain her neck.
Sicarius smiled at her. It brightened and softened his normally dour and stern look to such a degree that she stared at him as though he had grown two heads. His smile was broad, his full lips stretched widely allowing the top row of his white teeth to dazzle her; deep set eyes juxtaposed the smiling brilliance bringing attention to the warm amber of his eyes. The corner of those eyes had several worn lines that crinkled with his expression - he seemed to spend a lot of time smiling though she had rarely seen it.
She narrowed her eyes, still unsure how to process his reaction to her. “A little…” her hand instinctively went to her neck, rubbing the area gently. It was already sore from his vicious grip earlier.
His grip on her hand lingered, “Come with me.” He squeezed her hand gently before letting go and motioning her to follow him.
The pair walked off the mats of the Ludus towards the room used by leadership as temporary offices during sessions. As they walked through the throngs of Vanguard, Kathryn was rewarded with vigorous cajoling and slaps on the back.
As the door closed behind her, she furrowed her brows and turned around to look at Sicarius, who was now seated comfortably in one of the utilitarian-type chairs in the room. The sweat on his body gleamed in the overhead lighting of the room, his bare chest rising and falling as he caught his breath. The tattoo on his chest breathing with him.
“I assumed you’d want to get away from the rest of them.” He explained without prompting, “submission doesn’t sit well with you.”
She shook her head, her hair, a little matted to her head from perspiration from the fight didn’t shift much with her motion. She tried to decipher his train of thought. After all, she was being congratulated for technically losing. “I don’t get it.”
He smirked at her, “Re-establishment of order is something that the Vanguard always welcomes. Plus, you put up a good fight, and a type of fight that they are unaccustomed to witnessing.”
Her expression stayed neutral, “None of this makes sense…” She said it towards him, but not to him. Her mind was still trying to piece together the little information she had available to her. Her head lowered, contemplative as her gaze stayed affixed to the floor.
Men like Sicarius were always more willing to open up after a fight, especially if they ‘win.’ A combination of an adrenaline high followed by an immediate release of oxytocin after the the fight or flight response tended to make these types more pliable.
“Speaking of it not making sense,” Sicarius started, relaxing back into his seat, “I shouldn’t have bested you.”
At his words, her head jerked up.
“Why would you say that?” she questioned with caution.
“The Medici clearly need another go, your powers have remained.”
She wanted to glare at him but held back and kept her face neutral and attentive.
“You should have won, so why’d you stop?”
Her pink tongue darted out of her mouth on instinct, moistening her lips as she was still catching her breath.
“You said something – about my being here…”
He motioned to her to sit down across from him. There was no desk or table. Just chairs in the bare room. It was more of a box than a room – no windows, no décor, matter of fact and simple. Much like Sicarius.
She seated herself gingerly in the cold metal chair, crossing her long, shapely legs. She always sat with her back a little arched, a trick she had learned from years before that squared her shoulders in a pose of authority while emphasizing her feminine form. It was an effective move. Especially on men.
Sicarius sat, somewhat relaxed, taking the moment to lean forward and rest his elbows on his splayed knees. “After the incursion on Sigma Thirteen, Orthus was out for blood…” He looked up at her, his honey colored eyes seemingly searching her face.
She gave him nothing.
He sighed, “I told him that you were someone who had no respect or fear of death.”
This time she narrowed her eyes at him letting him continue.
“I convinced him that for someone like you, humiliation was a better punishment than death.”
The idea that Orthus wanted her dead was not new to her, though the ease in which that man expressed it to others was somewhat bothersome. Still, she felt that Overseer would have never gone along with a death sentence. Although, he didn’t seem to care much about her at all since he banished her…
Sicarius went on, “Despite what you may think of me, Kathryn, I am good at what I am tasked to do. And that includes recognizing potential. You are someone who had already exceeded expectations in your work, but I knew you could do more.”
“More?” She listened, her eyes widened eagerly, letting him fill the role of mentor that he so clearly yearned. The more she kept him talking, the better.
He stopped, gazing at her for a long pause as he pieced his words together. “Did you mean it when you said that you believed the Vanguard are a waste?”
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, navigating the enigma that was Sicarius. For the weeks she had spent with him, his thought process seemed to defy most statistical knowledge of how people function. He was always a step away from her expectations.
Sicarius confronting Kathryn, after their sparring session,
"I shouldn't have bested you."
“I was angry,” she admitted.
“I understand that,” he responded without hesitation. “But you have to recognize that I asked for you to be here because I wanted to help you. This has all been to help you.”
She didn’t believe him. None of this helped her as far as she was concerned. Her number one objective, as it had been two months ago, was to get back to where she belonged - in the Vigil, at Overseer’s side. How getting the life nearly knocked out of her and humiliated was to her benefit, she couldn’t understand.
But her feelings had no place here. And she understood that.
“By teaching me…” she led him.
“Humility and responsibility.” He smiled at her, still unnerving her to a degree. She was so used to seeing the lines of his face in a stern, objective expression. But suddenly, he seemed eager for a connection.
She wanted to exploit that, “Because I caused the death of Vanguard wards.” The lie tasted as bitter as it was false, but she sold it with a pained look in her eyes as she met his sincere gaze.
One large hand, the hand that had just been wrapped around her slender neck minutes before, reached out and touched her knee. “Yes.” He said with emphasis. “And to save your life. I don’t believe that someone like you is worth giving up on.”
The sincerity in his voice was surprising and she didn’t flinch from his touch.
Sicarius’s affections were always a bit confusing for Kathryn. She had always had her guard up around most people, if not all people. But the taste of his betrayal regarding her assault was still fresh, punctuated by the taste of blood from the broken skin in her mouth. She regarded him before responding, looking him over, assessing him. He seemed completely unbothered by the fact that the two had just been attacking one another. He seemed completely relaxed and unguarded.
“Why do you want to save me?” She asked in a near whisper.
He pulled back, sitting in the nook of his chair. He rested his left foot on his right knee, his legs still spread authoritatively.
“I recognize that what you do, or did, at the D.I.A. was critical to that mission,” he started. “I truly believe in what the Dominion stands for,” he finished matter-of-factly.
He looked straight at her as he spoke, “The Dominion offer peace and equality to the people they govern to a degree I never thought was possible.”
She stayed silent, listening to his words. “I have seen suffering, Kathryn. Be it on other worlds, other dimensions, or my own world. I have seen it.”
He leaned forward again, “Starvation. Oppression. War. I’ve seen so much blood even before I ever came to them, begging for sanctuary.”
“Sanctuary?” She inquired, trying to sound as casual as possible.
His eyes seemed to glaze over as he spoke, feeling into a far-off memory as he explained, “My home world…when I was still a boy, was invaded. We didn’t know by who or what. All we heard for a long while was that the next province over was being ransacked by an unknown enemy.”
He took a deep breath, “We could see the smoke from the fires from hundreds of miles away. The fires consumed the provinces.” His normally alert eyes were distant, looking not at her, but beyond her, as he spoke. His words were both deliberate and unfiltered, “Then one day, there was no daylight. We became accustomed to darkness as the smoke blotted out the suns. It was years before I saw stars again…”
Her brows furrowed, she did her best to look sympathetic to his tale of woe.
“When the beast made it to my province, my family hid. For nearly a year. My father would go out and function as normally as he could, acquiescing to the demands of the new…overlords. I don’t even know what to call them, but eventually we were found.”
His thick brows furrowed, “These were men and women who we knew all our lives. Families we had eaten with, hunted with. They were our neighbors, our community. They turned their backs on their own people and aligned with the invaders, helped them destroy everything of what my planet once was. My father had lied about the fate of his family. But we were found.”
He shifted his weight, his feet planted themselves firmly back on the floor in front of him. The thud of his boots was hard and heavy against the metal of the floor.
“Once the powers that be found out that he had hidden a family, we fled.”
“To the Dominion?”
He looked at her for moment, “We had heard rumors of an off-world regime. We didn’t know if the rumors were true or just folk tales to keep the people going.”
“Where’s your family now?
He took a deep breath, “My sister, my mother and my father were all caught eventually. I barely made it to the planetary transport.”
She put her hand on his knee this time, rubbing with her thumb in feigned empathy. “I’m so sorry.”
He patted her hand, shrugging, “It’s been years.”
“Still…” she hesitated a moment before asking gently, “Did you see ever it? This…white-eyed monster?”
He shook his head, his eyes still unfocused, “Once, I think.”
“When my mother was…taken. My sister and I saw a procession of soldiers – some of them we knew growing up – but they were showing deference to a…figure.”
“A figure…” she echoed his words, urging him on.
“It was through a haze of smoke and fire, but it was large…demonic looking….” He hesitated, but kept on, “It’s humanoid, whatever it is, but I just remember the eyes…”
She didn’t say anything, the disconnected look returned to his face as he spoke, “They glowed…white, fiery, looking at us as we ran. It was like it was staring right through us.”
There was a pause before he started again, “I remember seeing those eyes, in nightmares for years afterwards. There was nothing in them. Just a void of light. It was as if it could see right through us.”
He shook his head, as if clearing away the memory, “When I came to the Dominion after fleeing my home world, I told the whole story to not much reaction.”
And of course, there wouldn’t be. An orphaned teenage boy recruited into the Dominion with tales of a monster ravaging his planet with no corroborating evidence seemed like nonsense. No one in the Dominion command, save for the Consuls, would make any kind of connection.
“I learned quickly to not talk about it. Since no one believed me.”
Sicarius shrugged, his bare shoulders having since dried off from the exertion of their match, the sheen of sweat, long gone. “I was a teenager. And it was so long ago, it doesn’t even seem real to me anymore. Like it happened in a completely different lifetime.”
She nodded, genuinely sympathetic, knowing her own disconnect form the life she led before coming to the Dominion. “I know that feeling,” her voice matched his in its far-off gentleness.
“I know what it’s like to suffer,” she offered to him. “When everything in your life seems out of your control and all you can do is survive.”
He tilted his head toward her, “Your records are pretty bare, Kathryn.”
Smirking at him she met his look, “Shocking, right? This pampered princess…”
He laughed, caught off guard, “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard the rumors.”
“Well I can assure you I’m not a princess. Or high born. Or a machine. But even if I were, the world I came from was riddled with injustice until the Dominion purged us. Dea, or rather, Theta-Seven, at least that’s what we call it now,” she added, rolling her eyes a bit at the formality of it, “was an unfair existence. I had to do things to endure in my younger years.”
Head still tilted, he leaned back further into his seat, “Younger? You don’t seem that old.”
“I was younger than I am now,” she grinned at him.
“I had someone, fortunately, who taught me everything that I know.” She kept herself vague, “She gave me the necessary tools to brave it, but I saw things…inhuman things.” While intentionally restrained, she shared the feeling of loss and pain. “And despite our best efforts, all we could do was survive.” Her eyes, normally a defiant calculated azure, watered slightly.
She could tell he wanted to press her for more information, but she cut him off at the pass, “The life of a woman on my planet was not something to be admired.”
His hand wrapped around hers. The warmth of his skin on hers was comforting, but she resisted.
“Kathryn,I’m glad the Dominion saved your world.”
She seemed to shake off her moment of vulnerability, smiling in resignation at him.
“But not yours?”
He sighed again, “In time, the Dominion will extend its righteous hand to Auxidian.”
And there it was.
The name of his planet.
The information she had been massaging out of him.
She stood up abruptly. Her expression rapidly moved from one of concern and understanding to a stoic neutrality, “Your desire to save your planet is....”
He looked up at her, a look of confusion on his face, “What?”
“Monsters don’t exist, Sicarius.”
He didn’t respond, just watching her.
Her shoes thudded against the metal flooring of the room as she walked to the door, “And you’re right. I should have won.”
She left him in a state of confusion, gently closing the door behind her as she made her exit.
Kathryn moved quickly, exiting the Ludus entirely. She looked around, her mind still racing and cataloging the information she had gleaned from her conversation with Sicarius. With no time to waste, she decided against taking the transport. She charged the particles around her and thrust herself into the air, navigating the winds - her hair whipping around behind her as she ascended higher into the atmosphere. The vantage point of the air had long since lost its shiny allure to someone who had been flying for as many years as she had. The grid-like layout of the city was benign for her, and Kathryn only saw it as a map – something mundane and simple.
She knew the intel she had was a gamble, but it was one she was willing to take. She just hoped that she was able to convince the two people she needed to help her.
The Vigil was by far the largest and tallest building in the capital of the Dominion and crossing through the maze of buildings and high-rises was second nature to her. It was the center of the Dominion’s power. While just a building, it ominously loomed across the metallic landscape, exuding its authority over all its domain.
Time was against her, as it always seemed to be, and she descended onto the very steps she had walked down from just two months ago in banishment and forced shame.
She knew walking into the building was a violation of the directive given to her by Overseer himself, and she had no idea if she was going to get away with it. But donning an air of purpose, she landed at the main entrances to the citadel-like structure.
She only hoped that he was there.
Maneuvering the hallways of the Vigil, passing archways and people, she realized how much of her sentence had been placed in faith. Everyone knew she wasn’t supposed to be there, but no one questioned her presence. She even nodded to a few of the guards as she made her way deeper into the core of the edifice.
She turned a familiar corner and stopped in front of Protium’s lab.
She had no passcode, no clearance to enter on her own.
But there he was – the olive color of his suit a jarring green against the stale whites and metals of his messy lab.
Lifting a hand, she curled her fingers into a fist and knocked on the glass.
Goggled eyes looked up at her, his head tilting to one side. But he didn’t hesitate. Protium walked to the double chambered doors of his lab and allowed her entrance.
“Little one! What a pleasure to see you again!”
She motioned to him to silence the room – his hand moving to the control board at the front door to initiate a dampening field from the normal surveillance. Raising his own hand in wait, he plugged in appropriate information to the panel, giving reason as to why the room was now private.
She couldn’t help but smile at him, and for the first time in weeks, it was a genuine one. Her face lit up with excitement and familiarity.
“Darling, I have news…”
“Have you made it back here already? We should celebrate!”
She put her hands on his metal plated chest, stopping his excitement, “Not yet. BUT...”
He stopped at her touch, looking down at her. The digitized sounds of the machinations of his suit filled the momentary silence.
“I think I have found my way in, if you’ll help me.”
Protium stepped back, the grace of his cape moving with him belying his naturally bulky movements.
“Oh?” He replied, dubiously, the blackness of his goggles aimed at her.
She slipped past him into the lab, the doors closing behind her, and she turned on her heel. The smile on her face was infectious, and even though she couldn’t see it, she was sure Protium was smiling with her.
“There’s another.” She blurted out, a child-like excitement in her voice.
“Another?” He sounded confused and curious.
“Well, yes, Little One…” he started, the tone of his voice one of slight worry. “You mean the puppet?” The curiosity in his voice was replaced with disappointment. Protrium began to assess her, reaching for devices on the counter to scan her with. A gentle green light emitted from the device as it ran over the ex-Consort.
She shook her head, her blonde locks moving with her, “No, no, no, another creature who has crossed over from the Fourth Dimension.”
Kathryn knew she had his full and unadulterated attention because he stopped his scanning. “But I need your help in proving it.” She moved closer to him, instinctually creating proximity with her target, even though she knew he was never susceptible to her natural feminine allure. He just looked down at her, unmoving.
“How did you come to this conclusion?” Ever the scientist, he needed to follow her train of thought.
“Sicarius. He came from a dimension -from a planet - that was overrun by a force that decimated his people.”
Protrium was silent as she continued, “He told me that it was a ‘white-eyed’ monster. The eyes glowed, it was large, and surrounded by what he claimed was fire.”
She brushed past his inquiry, “Yeah, I don’t know if he meant that literally or not, but you and I both know that Overseer is the only white-eyed glowing ANYTHING that we’ve come across.”
He nodded at her words, slow and purposefully, his hands down by his side in complete stillness.
“I need you to access a file for me…” She looked up at him through her lashes, like a child caught doing something she’s not meant to be doing.
“DONE!” He offered her. He clapped his hands triumphantly in front him, inches from her nose.
“And…” she continued cautiously, “I need you to reactivate my Jump clearance.”
He put one large, gloved hand on her shoulder, the drab olive bright against her even drabber greys, “To what end?”
She lifted the shoulder to her chin, coyly, “I want to go to where I know it’s been and track it down.”
“Ahh…” He lifted his head in acknowledgement, as if everything suddenly made sense.
“If I can find its anchor…that’ll be enough for me to go to Overseer with.”
Protium didn’t say anything.
“What do you think?”
The hand on her shoulder moved to his chin as the expressionless Protium weighed her proposal.
Her impatience was consuming her as he stood there in silence. Her face was filled with eagerness and pleading.
“Yes. This will work.”
Kathryn sighed, the smile returning to her face.
“I apologize, Little One. I was just trying to figure out if there was anything else you could retrieve to secure your claims. You know I will always help you.”
“Well good to know that I thought of it all, hmm?” She laughed.
“I’m going to install an ocular device. So long as a gate is open, it will send data back to me. I know that will only be upon your arrival and your departure, but it will guarantee us the information.”
Her mouth twisted to one side, the thought of him playing around with her sight less than thrilling, “Okay.”
“It’d be better if we re-activated your Apex Module …but it looks like you’ve already taken care of that.” He motioned to the scanning equipment.
“The Medici are pretty heavy handed, as you know.” She smirked at him, eliciting a grunt of disapproval.
“At least you’re not broken,” One large, oversized glove motioned to the back of the lab, “If you could?”
She shook her head, “Not yet. I need to handle one more thing. Can I come back in one hour? I have to tie up some loose ends.”
“The plain one?” She felt somewhat defensive over Sicarius. The tone of his voice was disapproving, until she remembered that ‘plain’ for Protium meant scientifically boring.
“Just so we have some breathing room from the dog,” she explained to him.
He laughed, his dislike of Orthus obvious.
“Understood. I’ll prep the table for you.”
Kathryn exited the Vigil with as much ease as she entered, thanks to Protium guaranteeing her passage back to the entrance.
He instructed her not to be late.
Time was always against her.
She ascended once more into the air, this time looking for the block of dormitories that she was housed in. She knew it was past midday, so she only hoped that Ellius would be back at their apartment.
Flying through the buildings and archways, she began to take stock of what she needed for her Jump.
She was going to be dropping in blind to a planet that none of the Dominion had been to since Sicarius left those many years ago. For all she knew, the place didn’t even exist anymore, or wasn’t inhabitable.
Nothing worse than Jumping into nothingness. She’d heard of it. Never actually seen it.
She realized she’d need everything that the Vanguard or Legion would normally need on any given Jump. All the more reason she’d need Ellius’s help.
Landing at the stoop of her dorm, she hustled up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, and hurried down the hallway to her flat.
She got into the apartment and realized her roommate wasn’t there.
She went to her room, rummaging around for anything she was issued for the Vanguard that she thought could be of use. Twenty minutes passed when she heard the front door.
“Ellius!” She called out, buried elbow deep in her closet, “Come here!”
She heard footsteps enter her room and she came up for air, shocked to see not just her roommate but Sicarius with her. Ellius, for what it was worth, looked uncomfortable, her hazel eyes wide.
“Kathryn,” Sicarius’s voice carried over to her, “We need to take you to the Medici.”
She gritted her teeth, looking at Ellius who looked just as annoyed as she did, her jaw clenching reflexively.
“Was it really necessary for you to come down here to tell me that?” Kathryn leaned back, squatting on the floor as she continued to go through her belongings, pieces of clothes and equipment being flung out onto her beg haphazardly.
“I’m meant to escort you.”
“But Ellius assures me that she can get you to the Medici.”
Ellius started to explain, “I ran into him on the way in.”
Kathryn stood up, walking to the pair standing in her doorway, filling the frame of it entirely with their bodies. She looked up at Sicarius, “Then I suppose we’re done here.”
Sicarius nodded. “I’ve already informed the Medici that you’ll need to be ready for the Jump. We only have a few days.”
Ellius stood next to Sicarius, stiffly not saying anything.
“I’ll get there.” Kathryn reassured him.
He nodded at her curtly and left the dorm, closing the heavy metal door behind him. As soon as they heard the click of the door, Ellius relaxed, “I’m sorry, Kathryn, I couldn’t stop him from following me. What are you doing home?”
Kathryn waved off her apology, giving her a hug, “It’s okay, but if you want to make it up to me. I have a favor to ask of you.”
Ellius’s face lit up, eager to help her friend and sometimes lover.
“More like…two favors.”
By the time that Kathryn was ready for her Jump, it was nighttime. The many stars and reflective planetary rings lit her flight from dormitory to Vigil. She had always loved flying at night – the privacy of the sky and the quietness of the great metropolis below her was calming. The purple and pink reflection from the planetary rings that encircled the Dominion Homeworld always seemed to sparkle to her – even though she knew it was nothing more than the light twinkling form the atmospheric disruption. The streets were no longer a map, but a dark blanket peppered with lights that seemed to mimic the expanse of night sky, but always paled in comparison.
She carried a rucksack with her that included all her supplies. Much of which was pilfered off Ellius with her blessing. She didn’t tell her roommate what she was doing but asked her to keep her clandestine behavior quiet.
“Be careful, Kat.” Ellius’s genuine concern for her wellbeing was heartwarming, albeit wasted on her.
She was meant to go to the Medici for further medical procedures to maintain her depowerment. Instead, she was headed to the Vigil, to Protium, to crank her abilities up further. This was either going to go very well or go very poorly. But she was used to the risks and all she could focus on was her objective.
Find the anchor.
She quietly landed once more on the metal grating in front of the Vigil.
Kathryn overlooking the Dominion Homeworld, en route to the Vigil.
She looked up at the spotlights shining on the massive architectural monstrosity, the Dominion insignia bold against the structure. Rustling past the methodically placed banners, she once again slinked around corners until she found herself in front of Protium’s lab.
She was early, and he wasn’t within eyeshot of her in the lab.
Standing a little nervously, she worried she’d be found when the next patrol came through the hallways. She could swear she could hear the steps of the men getting closer.
Suddenly the doors to the laboratory opened, and she was ushered in by her old comrade. She shouldered off the pack of supplies and immediately began undressing, peeling the Greys off her much as she had peeled off her Reds those few weeks before.
“After we’re done here. I’ll take you to the Vigil Gate room.”
“Thank you, Protium.”
“You’re welcome, Little One!” He extended a hand, playfully tapping her nose, his voice lilted in the way one speaks to a child. “You just come back with what we want, and all will be well!”
She beamed up at him, naked and unadorned, her bare flesh bruised in places from her new occupation and recent spat with Sicarius.
He tsked, looking her over, “I really hate sharing my toys. No respect!” He gently touched a large bruise on her right shoulder before motioning, once again, towards the back of the lab where they could start her procedures in privacy.
Kathryn walked, bared and exposed, her feet cold as she softly stepped to where he wanted her. The lab was dark save for the back room where he had prepped for her. The light of the procedure room reflecting distractingly off the metal walls and grates.
She was in his hands now.
All she could hope was that this was all going to work.