“Accept your betrayal and infidelity, your arrogance and your better knowledge, and you will reach the safe and secure route that leads you to your lowest; and what you do to your lowest, you will do to the anointed.”
Art: Ryan Kincaid, Juan Castro, & Sanju Nivangune
Mistress Karnal Sin
Kathryn’s boots clanged against the metallic floors of the Vigil in the silence of the late night. A few hours post-op, she only now felt she was coming out of the haze of being put under. Her eyes began to focus on where they were headed, the olive gloves of her compatriot, Protium, firmly on her elbow as they navigated the corridors of the massive, power-filled structure.
Doors opened, rooms shifted, guards were acknowledged. She was safe from reprimand so long as Protium was by her side in these hallowed halls.
Finally, they stopped at a door.
“Little one…” Protium whispered. His voice sounded synthetic coming through the face-covering mask, “We’re here.” A pair of unassuming metallic doors slid open at Protium’s gesture.
A loud thud shook her into awareness. The heavy rucksack she had brought from her dormitory landed squarely at her feet.
“Hm?” She managed to hum out.
The room was dark, but she thought she saw movement on the floor around them. She couldn’t quite make sense of her surroundings or what was happening.
She became unsteady, losing a bit of her balance, as her companion walked away from her, his hands moving swiftly across a wall-mounted console. A screen lit up the area around Protium’s hand, as he cycled through displays and menus. Several beeps later, the floors lit up in a brilliant blue hue revealing a massive, cavernous room with vaulted ceilings and a floor that was both solid and liquid, and yet also neither.
The floor was simultaneously dark and light. Coming from the ethereal flowing energy was the light source itself. Separated into mathematically precise hexagons, each pool of light and dark was spaced with walkways, allowing for easy navigation between each basin.
The energy pulsating through her was making her feel as if she were flying, despite her feet being firmly planted underneath her. A gentle warmth enveloped her as she heard the musical notes of the pools rippling at their intrusion, the honeycomb-like edifice singing to her. It was out-of-body, it was spiritual, it was religious.
Her mind was starting to clear, and she realized where she was – the Portal Natatorium.
“I reorganized your Screen-Up to accommodate your new Deltria sensor. You’ll have a headache for a while.”
She nodded, even though he wasn’t looking at her. And she wasn’t sure what exactly he was talking about, because in here, she could barely feel her body. But maybe that was the anesthesia.
“All your powers have been reset, meaning you’ll be able to signal me as soon as you’ve retrieved the Anchor. Don’t dawdle.”
She nodded again, but this time he was looking at her.
“I’ve plugged in Sicarius’s Homeworld into the Portal Network. Given that it’s out of the Dominion Fabric, you won’t have a gateway back here without contacting me first. Do you understand?”
He was next to her then, his hand gently assisting her as she grabbed the rucksack off the floor.
Looking down at her, the emotionless goggles and mask stared, “I do not like the idea of you going alone on this venture in such a state…” he trailed off, attaching a few pieces of equipment to her, she vaguely knew they were for accommodating a lack of atmosphere. It was a genuine worry, that she’d be jumping into nothingness, with no way home, drifting in space. She thought she could hear actual concern in his metallic voice. “But it’s better to go now. Jumping this far, alone, you will be bearing the brunt of the pain. Hopefully my anesthesia hasn’t worn off entirely.”
“I understand, darling,” she said, half asleep.
Despite her cognitive abilities’ slow reboot, she was aware of the gravity of her circumstances. Protium, without permission, was sending her, a – as far as she was concerned – temporarily demoted Consul and provisionally single – former Consort to Overseer, to her possible death via an authorized Jump. Breaking protocol, and putting himself in some exposure, he was sending her to an uncharted, trans-dimensional planet, on the off chance that she finds proof of another fourth dimensional being, based on not much more than the memories of a child. Nightmarish memories of white-eyed monsters plagued, Sicarius still, but it was all she had to latch onto to crawl out of the muck that was her current station. She may as well be chasing the monsters under toddlers’ beds. Proof of another like-mattered creature as Overseer was a goal that she theorized he would find alluring, but a risk she had since been stripped of making since her fall from grace. Vanguard went where they were told. They didn’t set the agenda. They were the sacrificial lemmings. Ironically, she realized, she was not much more than that now. She knew the plan was a stretch, and she knew that Protium was the one person who’d go for it – the gamble of scientific discovery.
“Find me that creature.” He ordered her.
And as if on cue, a low hum began to whir and the pool of light and dark in front of them began to vibrate and ripple in earnest, splashes of liquid light shimmered feverishly.
Kathryn turned, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear and taking a deep breath. She knew she could ‘breathe’ during a Jump, but her human instincts kicked in as she leapt into the air, allowing her body to fall into the pool knowing she would leave no splash in her wake.
Protium watched as his lithe blonde patient plunged into the portal, its sparkling light and dark energy absorbing her form quickly, before returning to a state of calm.
He knew most of the Dominion hated Jumping. It was a painful experience for any three-dimensional entity – to be ripped apart, atom by atom, scrambled and disoriented in an alien existence of non-existence. Even with the nodes of travel that he and Overseer had interconnected through the fourth dimensional fabric of space-time, it barely made the travel endurable. Kathryn was headed into unknown territory – no node, no guide, she could just as easily get lost in transit as she was to end up where she meant to.
His hefty boots were the only sound in the massive room as he made his way back to the console to shut the gate down.
He would have been caught completely unawares if not for his bio-mechanical suit notifying him that he wasn’t alone.
“Show yourself and state your purpose.” His voice echoed across the vast room.
Slipping out of the shadows, a blonde man appeared.
“Samuel Tetto, second lieutenant, Alpha, Vanguard.” The unremarkable specimen announced himself.
“And your purpose?” Protium tilted his head, already bored with this human.
“Sir, I have been given orders by Sicarius to follow Kathryn’s movements. She’s meant to report to the Medici for de-activation of her powers.” Samuel stood tall and alert. His Grey’s, like Kathryn’s, absorbing instead of reflecting the brilliant show of light and dark energy. Protium noticed Samuel was eyeing the active gate.
The Consul paused for a moment, weighing the information given before answering, “Very well, you may follow her at your own peril, Vanguard. Do take care of her, for your own sake, as you will need her to return.” He motioned towards the still active portal, finishing his thoughts, “Assuming you survive.” He genuinely didn’t want his greatest experiment and asset to negate herself in this venture, but the pros of finding another fourth dimensional being outweighed his protective instincts. Great scientific discoveries always came with great risk.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” And with only a moment of hesitation to affix the same modular tech onto his suit as Kathryn’s, Samuel dove into the portal without so much as a ripple following his entry into the miasma of energy.
As soon as Samuel was gone, Protium shut the gate off. The single hexagon of activity returning to a complete still of inactivity, the light it once shone reduced to complete darkness.
“Another Overseer…” Protium said to himself in an inappropriate giddy fashion, as he walked purposefully out of the hive-like room.
Instinct told her that jumping into a pool of anything would cause a wet, sinking sensation, but what she felt was the inverse.
Initially, she felt nothing, as the energy embraced her, it was a similar, albeit accentuated feeling that she had while she was standing in the Natatorium – warm, light, reverential. If she was a praying woman, she imagined this is what it must feel like for someone to be touched by God itself.
That feeling of wellbeing was soon replaced with a shattering pain as she felt herself being ripped apart as she transposed the space between the third and fourth dimensions. Shredded to nothingness, she felt only her consciousness remain as her body was disintegrated and rearranged into its most rudimentary of parts.
And then she felt those rudimentary parts vanishing further into the void.
Here, she was neither her, nor he, nor it, nor they. She was everything, as one, but also no one and nothing. Time was all knowing and meaningless here as awareness of her past, present, and future, assaulted her from her transition. She became a child, an old woman, a younger self, and naught. She felt the pain of her own birth and the relief of her demise and existed here entombed in a reality of non-death.
It was as if she was falling through zero gravity air, enveloped by liquid, while pure light fractured her body into a million hard pieces like broken glass. The agony of this movement, normally dispersed with the mass of the Legion or others traversing with her, was solely hers to suffer.
Kathryn traversing the space between the third and fourth dimension,
as she travels from the Dominion Homeworld to Sicarius's Homeworld.
If she could taste sound, or hear light, all of it screamed at her, passed through and inside of her. It was as if the silence of space had waited for this very moment to unleash billions of years of pent up cacophonies exclusively at her. The pressure of it shook her atoms and agitated her matter.
In the pure light now blasting forcefully through the nooks and crannies of her molecules, she saw herself and her un-self. Lurid, vivid starscapes and emptiness wretched at her from every direction, disorienting her. Blurred visages of memories she’d had and memories she had yet to make assaulted her through the bevy of atoms and nothingness as she converted from this plane to the next. None of it made sense, and she couldn’t even begin to try to make coherent thought of this space between.
Glimpses of figures of meaning passed through and around her.
Her mother – barely a shadow of a figure, nearly unrecognizable, a smile and bright blue eyes taunted her mind’s eye.
Her father – she saw him as both broken and vital, a perpetual pleading haunted look in his eyes.
Sicarius – a disapproving look mixed with a genuine smile bewitched her, he even unnerved her here.
The perceptions became more hurried and erratic.
Her Matron – a fortress of a woman, tender but firm, she saw her as she had always.
A stranger – deep reds poured over her, she thought it might be blood. He made her feel warm. Too warm.
Another stranger – this time, cooling, waves of blue and silver washed over her, comforting the damage from the warm stranger before, but…
Sicarius again – he was looking down at her, a wet cloth in his hand wiping over her forehead, a gentle and sweet smile on his face.
It made her happy.
The same stranger.
Was it the same? They looked the same, they had the same, intense, deep-set eyes, but she couldn’t quite make them out. Lights danced across the impressions, paradoxically blinding her with the shadows. Square jawed, and stern but full lips, it was all so vague and indistinct. Backlit, she strained to see them more clearly but the brilliance of the fourth dimensional energy and rushing nodes kept her in turbulence. In a realm where color means nothing, and yet it is the most vibrant, she didn’t know if it was the same person. One was red, almost the color of her comrade Sutu but deeper and tempting; the other blue, an azure that matched her eyes, soothing to her for wounds and mistakes she had yet to make. She saw herself embrace both before the vision escaped her.
She knew from experience to not to try to interpret anything she saw or felt in the Jump, as it had led many Jumpers to their psychological doom or destruction.
As she ‘fell’ further, the cosmos began to breathe, expanding around her traveling mass of entity, she saw both the birth and death of the universe as her consciousness duplicated. Her form deconstructing and rematerializing at the same time.
For a moment, or maybe an eternity, the two Kathryns held hands, their backs facing one another, together but not touching, never looking at each other – one with eyes to the past, the new one with eyes to the future. At the birth of this new Kathryn, the old Kathryn atomized into nothing behind her.
She began to descend in earnest as she re-entered the third plane, the metamorphizing of her existence coalescing into something that felt like a body. Through her mind’s eye she saw the planet below, coming closer, violently and quickly.
Incorporating into the third dimension, she landed hard on the planet surface, everything in her a newborn, weak, version of itself. Everything looked, smelled, and felt dull. Even the sounds around her were paltry. Everything always paled in comparison to the sensory overload of a Jump.
She had but a moment’s reprieve before she knew she had to get up, gather herself, and recuperate from her travels. It was hot, humid, and while the sun, maybe suns, was bright – comparatively to her Jump - it was only enough for her to keep her eyes closed.
She tried to bring herself to her feet only to collapse back down to the ground, face down, and against her will, her body passed out from exhaustion.
By the time Kathryn awoke from her solo Jump-induced blackout, she only felt marginally better and the once warm bright environment was now dark and cool - the amber of the day having slipped into night.
Her eyes fluttered as she rolled onto her back and stared up at the brilliant night sky. There were so many stars - rivaling what she could see from the Dominion Homeworld’s vantage. She wondered briefly if she was still in the fourth dimension. Wrestling her own body, she brought herself to her knees, crouching as she gathered the will to stand.
Two feet, two legs, one torso, two arms, and, two hands. You’re okay.
Her head whipped up, looking around for her rucksack of supplies.
She couldn’t see it, despite the blanket of stars above her. There was no moon to give her any significant assistance. Reaching with a still trembling hand, she brought the Screen-Up to her eyes, activating her night vision.
She cycled through several visual fields – different light wave lengths – hoping to spot a disturbance in the general foliage and wilderness around her.
She noticed the trees here were all young, no great sprawling giants with cathedral like branches. No canopy. Either she was in the plains of this region of this planet or…
Kathryn gradually began to remember what Sicarius had told her – how the whole of his planet had been destroyed, about the massive fires that had engulfed his entire Homeworld. About the monster.
She needed to find her supplies and cover. She had no idea what was out there…
Switching to thermal, her readings lit up – animals were everywhere, investigating her - an intruder in their domain. As she panned the area, she saw a creature fixated on something, tossing it around and nosing it in earnest.
Lifting her right hand straight up in the air, she opened her palm wide, feeling the energy of this plane gathering to her at her beckoning. Smooth, warm, and caressing her, she naturally shielded herself against the danger of her powers. The energy collected before her into a swirling sphere of hot, bright reds and deep, pools of black, cradled in her delicate upturned hand. Not wanting to overdo it, she quickly clenched her fist, bursting the mass with a loud eardrum-rattling crash as streams of energy fell around her, cooling and dissipating into nothing like the tail ends of a firework’s ash falling to the ground in celebration.
The animals scattered.
Smiling to herself, she walked gingerly in the dark towards her rucksack.
Leaves and grass rustled in her periphery. Turning, she saw a single brightly lit mass – rimmed in harsh reds that transitioned to oranges, yellows, then whites at its center. It was low to the ground with the stance of a predator.
Firing a quick shot of energy in the general direction of the creature, she intentionally missed, only wanting to scare it off. Not knowing the biosphere here, the last thing she needed was a pack of unknown animals descending on her in her weakened state.
She saw the thermal signature back away further into the tall grass and vegetation, though it barely flinched at her warning salvo.
Pushing off the ground, she flew forward, parallel to the terrain towards her rucksack and scooped up the heavy bag uneasily - soaring into the sky by a couple hundred meters. Cycling through her visual spectrum she fixed her Screen-up to night-vision and looked for anything that could serve as a potential shelter for the night.
In the distance she spotted a small range of mountains. Where there were mountains, there was a good chance of finding caves, or at least an overhang or nook she could crawl into. Using what remaining strength she had, she channeled it to propel herself forward, throwing the rucksack securely over her shoulder; the force of it nearly plunging her back down to surface of the planet.
Despite scanning the area around her and finally being able to rest, Kathryn’s small crevice-like cave did little to ease her mind. She felt like she was being watched. An feeing of uneasiness had replaced her exhaustion. After securing the area around her little haven, she had trouble falling asleep for any length – instead taking irregular power naps throughout the rest of the night that by the time the sun rose, she felt adequately rested.
She wondered if the heightened sense of environmental awareness due to feeling watched all the time was what made Sicarius such a good leader…and a good assassin. Being born here, maybe you grew up feeling watched, from the wilderness, the planet itself. Maybe a mindfulness of self is what allowed Sicarius to be the best at what he does?
Her mind wandered while she ate a small portion of her rations.
She’d never actually seen any of Sicarius’s handywork, had only ever read his file when she and Protium were doing some brief reconnaissance pre-Jump. In her Consul days, when she had the clearance to access his full jacket, she had no interest; she didn’t even know he existed. Sicarius was simply another faceless body that served under the antithetical brilliance of Orthus. She had no reason to know nor to care. He was one of many. He was disposable.
Like you are now?
She shook her head, as if that motion would clear her mind of the negative thoughts. Refocusing, she looked around her and determined it was time to get going.
Covering her tracks, she gathered her supplies back into her rucksack and removed all evidence she was even there, redistributing dirt, removing footprints, laying forest debris onto the ground at random. It wasn’t perfect, but it’d do.
Leaving her baggage on the ground, she shot herself straight into the air, as high as she could until her lungs felt the pressure of lack of oxygen and her head began to feel light. Knowing Cardinal directions could mean nothing here, she released her mind of any associations with previous planets. She had to create a mental map on only information she gathered here and no where else. She turned slowly on her X axis, looking for any sign of civilization.
For most of her rotation, she saw nothing. Just hundreds of miles of intermittent undergrowth much like she had seen on arrival – an ocean of grasses and young enthusiastic trees dotting the terrain that she could barely distinguish them from the general foliage. But as she turned nearly three hundred and sixty degrees, now facing the rolling hills and mountainside she had found refuge in, she saw a clearing, and geometric homogenous fields.
Kathryn released herself from her flight and plunged down back to the surface of the planet. As she neared the ground, she thrusted herself upwards enough to soften her landing. Grabbing her bag and swinging it around her shoulders, she launched herself back into the air, her blonde hair whipping around her face, clearing the low-lying trees just enough to fly against their canopy until the environment was sparser and she could skirt the tall waves of grassland and mountainside shrubbery till she neared her destination.
Edging ever closer to the settlement she saw from miles above the planet surface, Kathryn pulled back, landing amongst the tall grass, once more. She looked around with her Screen-Up and found nothing out of the now-accustomed ordinary. Navigating the land with due caution, she kept herself hidden as she rummaged through her supplies.
She needed to change her attire. There was no way she was going to go into potentially hostile territory looking like a soldier – an alien soldier at that.
Combing her slender fingers through her long blonde locks, she straightened what she could before she pulled back the bulk of it into a low-lying bun on the base of her skull. She stripped herself of the Greys she bore and changed into a simple getup of plain broad brown slacks that could convert into a skirt and a creamy white tunic that bunched at the waist. It was an unassuming and versatile costume, and one that she could adjust should she need to when seeing what the locals wore. She hid her rucksack at the hollow opening of a base of the tree, taking a mental note of its location.
Cutting through a barely manicured field, she found the main road – it was paved. But as she neared the town – correction, the settlement – it became apparent why this planet was on such a low priority for the Dominion agenda. Plaster walls and simple concrete buildings dominated the area, and people bore the look of farmers. Her get-up was, in fact, nicer than anything she saw anyone wearing – and cleaner too. It wasn’t that this was pre-industrial era here, but it did seem a hodgepodge of agrarian and industrial, with a smattering of semi-current tech. No one paid her any mind for wandering around, as they had their heads bent down in work or transit. It all looked rather pathetic to her save for the center of the hamlet which housed a foreboding, metallic monument. Shaped like an obelisk with fiery red, lit-from-within writing scrawled on it, she couldn’t make out the language. She stared up at it, her brows furrowed, when in her mind’s eye she heard a voice coming from that pillar.
“Through work, you find harmony. Through vigilance, you find friendship. Through obedience, you find love. Neros is love.”
What an odd inscription...she thought to herself.
Just then she caught someone approaching her.
She panicked for a moment when she realized she left her universal translator in her Greys.
“Do you need help, dear?” An old man spoke. His skin, deeply tanned from years working outside, was leathery and worn. He was a bit gaunt, but she wasn’t sure if it was because he was underfed, overworked, or simply old. He had warm brown eyes that looked at her with concern.
She recognized the language, thankfully, and quickly sought the memories of her language lessons.
Smiling, she nodded, playing up the maidenly innocent he took her for, “Oh yes, I seem to have gotten lost on my way to the main city.”
Damn…what was the translation of ‘capital’? Her mind scrambled looking for a word that she knew she didn’t know.
“Do you mean the capital?" The old man asked her, seeking clarification, "The Pyre?"
Kathryn examines the obelisk in the middle of the settlement's square
She chuckled at herself, lifting a delicate hand to her forehead, illustrating her mistake, “Yes, sorry, it’s been a really long journey.”
He put a weathered hand on her shoulder, “Well I can direct you, youngling, but why not let my wife and I give you a bit of rest and a meal in the meantime?” He motioned with his other hand to his wife standing a few feet away. She was also dangerously thin. It was at that moment she noticed that everyone milling around the town center were all leaning on the thinner side. Kathryn, while curvy, worked hard on her form and she always maintained a healthy physique. This was different.
“That sounds lovely, I could do with a proper sit down out of the heat,” she said while waving her hand gently in greeting to the wife.
“I’m Cora, but the way,” she said, addressing the old man.
“Rannic, my dear, and my wife here,” he outstretched his arm welcoming his lovely old bride, “Is Vita.”
“How do you do, Cora?” The wizened woman acknowledged her as Rannic ushered them away from the town center down a street that led to many exits of the hamlet. Kathryn took note that she’d have to go clear around or through the town center to get back to her supplies once she left.
Exchanging brief pleasantries, it wasn’t too far of a walk before the town disappeared behind the hilly horizon and the three of them seemed alone.
They passed by a small number of dwellings, each almost identical to the one before them. Kathryn wondered if this was how Sicarius’s planet had always been – or if the people here had been decimated to a simpler way of life. It was so unlike her own home, even before the Dominion, which was filled with towering cities, overpopulated from the mass unemployment and blight of a crumbling infrastructure. Looking around, she saw vistas of trees and sky and thought how lovely this place would look once the Dominion had a chance to revitalize it.
“So why is it that you seek the Pyre, Cora?” Rannic inquired.
Kathryn had already deduced that beyond her cover story, she’d need to be careful about what she shared with the couple. This society seemed totalitarian in nature, with an emphasis on the old command of watching your neighbor. Or in this case, she assumed, tattling on your neighbor.
“My brother is a guard in the area and I have need to see him,” she answered casually, without hesitation.
“A guard? So, he’s chosen then?” Vita’s eyes seemed to light up as she said the word ‘chosen’.
She deflected, “Well I don’t know about chosen, he’s always just been my little brother, changing his nappies really sullies your view of all that I think.”
Vita laughed, “I suppose the pride of your own child isn’t the same as the pride of a sibling.”
“But why do you have to go see him? It’s quite far.” Rannic persisted.
Kathryn stopped somewhat dramatically, looking off and down at the ground. The old couple turned around to stare at her.
“I…I just need to see him,” she said as she placed a hand on her stomach.
“Oh my…are you…” Vita shuffled her old body towards her, taking her elbow, “Are you in a family way?”
Kathryn’s eyes welled up and looked away from the old woman, her hand still defensively resting on her stomach.
“Dinna worry, youngling, we’ll get you some food and on your way. Hopefully, as a chosen, he can take care of the man that left you in such a state.”
And with that, the pair dropped their invasive inquiry, and Rannic let Vita coo and coddle Kathryn the remaining ten-minute hike to their cottage.
Rannic, Vita, and Kathryn sat at a humble table, in a yet still humbler farm house, which consisted of three rooms with dirty stone floors. She could tell that Vita tried to keep the place tidy, as every one of their belongings had a place, a hook, or shelf, but it did nothing to hide the dust and dirt that naturally accumulated with two people who worked the fields from dawn to dusk. The stench of animals was pungent, as the two clearly coveted a pair of chicken-like creatures that bore the eggs Vita was now cooking up.
She saw pots, pans, brooms, and even a rifle, hanging from one of the walls in this main room. The rifle was weirdly out of place in this setting, as it was angular in nature, with several screen control mechanisms and high-end material adorning its structure. Trimmed with metal and machinery made modules, the gun looked new, though dusty, much like the rest of the house.
The smell of freshly prepared food caused Kathryn’s stomach to grumble in hunger.
“Been a while since you ate, has it?” Rannic smiled at her, his teeth only slightly yellowed, but brilliantly bright against his dark features.
“I guess it has been!” Kathryn flashed him a smile, and they shared a chuckle.
Over the course of the meal – consisting of eggs and some type of vegetation that reminded her of peas – Kathryn gently steered the conversation to getting the directions to the Capital.
“So how much farther is the Pyre?” She said it, as if she knew what that meant.
Taking a small bite, clearly savoring the food, Rannic swallowed before responding, “Walking, maybe another week. But we may be able to help you get a transport to the city, if you’re looking to trade.
“Trade?” Kathryn asked after a nibble.
“While we aren’t infirmed, and you are not yet showing…well, if you’re willing to help us for the next couple of days, we could pay for your way, you’d be there in a day or so.”
Both Vita and Rannic looked at her eagerly, and Kathryn realized that this was clearly their motivation for helping her out. But she didn’t have the time for manual labor. She had a mission.
“Could you tell me where the…” she searched for the word, “…toilet facilities are?”
They both looked at her, heads tilted slightly, “Toilet facilities…you mean the…lavatory?” Rannic offered.
“Yes!” Kathryn answered.
“Aye, they’re outside this door, to the left.” The old man explained, still a little put off by her odd word choices.
“Thank you, I’ll be right back.”
Excusing herself from the table, she left the house to find what only could be described as an outhouse.
“Of course, there’s no plumbing…” she mumbled to herself as she trucked through the dusty back yard area to a standalone building. It was still mid-day and the light from the two suns in the sky made her sweat immediately upon walking outside.
Pausing for a moment to wipe her forehead, she saw movement from the corner of her eye. She lowered her hand and kept walking to the outhouse, now acutely aware of her surroundings. Opening the wooden door, she walked in, latched it, now acutely aware of the smell.
Breathing through her mouth, she looked around the small structure, trying to find any meaningful cracks in the paneling to have a peek outside.
She had no idea what kind of surveillance this society had.
Finding a single sliver of light pouring through one of the walls, she pressed her face to it, looking out through the blinding light of the outside and saw…nothing.
But she knew someone, or something, was there.
She waited a minute before reopening the door, and beelined it to the house. Closing the entrance behind her, she walked over to the fire that had served as their stove, rummaging through the flames with the fire iron.
“You two have been so kind to me…” she started.
She heard Vita and Rannic shift in their seats and could hear the smile in Rannic’s voice as he responded to her turned back, “Hospitality is something needed these days, dear.”
Putting the hot poker down, she traced the walls, passing the hanging pots and pans, her hand running along the plastered, dimpled surface of the couples’ home.
“In such a world, it is.” Kathryn said quietly.
“What other world is there?” Vita asked rhetorically, chuckling to herself.
“My world.” Kathryn answered her, reaching up and grabbing the rifle from its rack and pointing it at the pair, “And unfortunately, it looks like I’ve brought my world to you.”
The old couple looked at her in shock and fear, Rannic frozen in place while Vita threw herself at him defensively.
“Come out.” She commanded towards the back door, speaking in her own tongue, catching the old couple off guard in confusion.
It was then that Samuel revealed himself to them, dressed in Greys still, he looked completely out of place against the rustic setting.
“What are you doing here?” She kept the rifle locked onto her hosts.
“I’m meant to return you to the Dominion Homeworld, and then to the Medici.” The blonde man responded, pushing his Screen-Up out of his face.
“Did Protium send you?” She lifted the rifle to her sights now, not even looking at her teammate.
“Technically, but it was Sicarius who had me tail you. Kathryn, put the gun down, they didn’t do anything to warrant you threatening them.”
“I have a mission.” She stated.
“So do I. Now put the gun down,” Sam raised a hand towards her, urging her to calm herself.
“I can’t go back yet, I don’t have my proof.”
Sam tried to ease the tension further, and keep her talking, she knew this tactic, “Why are you even using a gun? Aren’t your powers back?”
“Powers?” The word was similar in both of their languages and Rannic looked at her, still wide-eyed and terrified, but curiosity got the better of him. Vita had begun sobbing in panic, her face buried in the filthy shirt her husband wore, her withered hands clinging to the rough material, like a child hiding under a blanket.
Kathryn ignored them both, barking demands at the old man, “Tell me how to get to the Capital. NOW.”
Sputtering noises, Rannic started to give directions, “G-go through the town, past the square, follow the paved road until you come to a fork…” Vita’s sobs became louder, causing him to stop and comfort his wife.
Kathryn pointed the gun directly at the woman, “Stop your whimpering now or I will shoot you.”
Rannic placed one of his tanned, age-spotted hands over Vita’s mouth, shushing her, speaking to her in whispers, “It’s going to be okay, shhhhh, don’t worry.”
“Past the town, to the fork, GO.” Kathryn yelled at the man, “Sam, if you come any closer, I will kill them both and their blood will be on your hands.”
She knew appealing to his sense of justice would stop him. She found it cute, his bourgeois fight to save the innocent – the disposable.
“They’re innocent, Kathryn, stop this!”
“I have a mission.” The ex-Consort hissed through her teeth.
“Not at this price!” Samuel pleaded with her, “I just need to make sure you get back to the Dominion.”
“I won’t go back. Not like this. Not as one of you. I don’t belong there…Rannic, SPEAK!” She growled when she switched attention back to her hostages.
“Uh…uh….” Rannic was quickly devolving into panic like his wife, she could tell, but she yelled at him to focus.
“Take the right fork out of the mountains, sixty miles down you’ll get to a bridge. Follow the river south…”
“LEFT OR RIGHT, I have no sense of direction on this planet.” Kathryn corrected him.
“I’m sorry, left! Keep following the river until you get to the mouth of the delta, that’s the Capital city.”
“You’re sure?” Kathryn looked him straight.
“Kathryn, STOP.” Sam kept pleading with her.
“Yes.” The old man answered.
She turned her sights onto Samuel, “I never liked you, Sam. And I don’t like shadows.” Narrowing her gaze, she pulled the trigger of the rifle and two energy tipped bullets shot out, dispersing in pellets and tearing through Samuel’s Greys.
Ripping through his body, the shots peppered the wall behind him with a mix of glowing blue embers and thick, red blood. He dropped with an unceremonious thud to the floor, dead.
At the sound of the shot, Vita screamed, inconsolable, despite Rannic’s best efforts.
Kathryn dropped the rifle and extended a tensed hand in the old couples’ direction.
No loose ends.
Gathering the energy around her she focused it entirely on their hearts, forcing the beating to accelerate to dangerous speeds at her urging. It didn’t take much, they were rather old, and they both slumped over in their chairs.
Wiping her forehead, Kathryn staged the scene at a minimum, placing the rifle in Rannic’s dead hand. Firing a shot of wild energy at the fire, she let the embers catch the table cloth, knowing the concentrated fire would eventually break through the Grey’s fibers, making it look like a simple intruder got in, and the excitement was just too much for the elderly couple.
Hiking up the hillside towards the trees, Kathryn didn’t look back to see the raging inferno she had set to the hovel. She walked out of sight, back towards the settlement, winding carefully between trees along the sloped embankment and going around the hamlet’s perimeter till she found her rucksack, undisturbed, right where she left it.