“Miss Chayyiel? I mean, um, Seraph, are you okay?”
Chayyiel heard the man’s voice, but for a moment, the girl who had been ten years old for millennia gave no response. She stood there in the rounded, tube-like corridor of the spaceship with her head down, her pixie-cut black hair too short to fall into her eyes the way she wished it would. That might allow her to hide the pain in her expression.
Manakel was dead. He was gone forever, wiped away, never to live again. Dead. Forever.
The news had only just come through, right when they had been in the middle of a very important operation. In mid-battle, even. She’d taken the information, walked three more steps along the same way she had already been going on what amounted to autopilot, then stopped. Right there in the middle of that corridor, Chayyiel had stopped, lowered her head, and let the actual truth of the news wash over her.
Her escorts all looked at one another. There were six of them, each powerful Seosten in their own right, they exchanged glances briefly before the one who had spoken before did so again. “Ma’am, do you need to call this off? If–um, if you need time…”
There were many people, both in and out of the Seosten species, who would have questioned why Chayyiel felt even a moment of remorse and mourning for a being like Manakel. And she even understood that. The things he had been responsible for, the people he had hurt and killed, she knew exactly why the general instinct for most was to add spit, rather than flowers, to his grave. But the truth was that the grief that she felt then was less for the man he had died as, and more for the man he had been before. Or rather, the man that she had seen him as when she was a child, growing up in the corridors and decks of the Olympus.
Manakel back then had given the young Chayyiel, a child with far too much power thrust upon her at such a tender age, comfort. He had taught her to enjoy tea and gardening, and had allowed her to enter his quarters at any point to play with his Dymenian rastfels. He’d even taught her to care for her own pets whenever she insisted on having them, drawn from the various worlds they visited. He had read her stories from his books to help her sleep, and had tutored her in several subjects. He was one of her guardians, one of her tutors, one of her friends. That was the man she grieved for in those few seconds. Those were the memories that played through her mind.
A Seosten’s memory was perfect. Which made it harder for someone’s current atrocities to entirely eclipse the thoughts of what he had once been. It was too easy to focus on the good parts.
Finally lifting her head, Chayyiel pushed those thoughts away. That was the other thing about having a perfect memory. It was easy to stop the thought process you were having and get right back to it later without missing a beat. “No,” she said quietly while already starting to walk again, “this is too important. We’re not abandoning the mission now.”
Her escort fell into formation around her, allowing Chayyiel to lead the way through the ship corridor. The ship was called the Alisper’s Craet, and it was a fast, heavily armored vessel without much in the way of weaponry. What it did have, however, were special clamps that allowed it to hook onto other vessels or stations, cut through the hatches or even the walls there, and attach their own boarding tubes. The Craet was a boarding and raiding ship.
The corridors of this ship were so different than that of the Olympus. There, the halls had been more square than rounded, and larger. There had been a less utilitarian look to them as well, as the ship was intended to be lived in comfortably away from regular civilization for many years. The Olympus had been meant for long excursions far away from regular Seosten space. And over time, the walls of the ship had been decorated by the people serving aboard it. Here and there had been pictures drawn or taken, or paintings, or any other bit of art and personality. The ship had been lived in. It had been a home, and for awhile, the people on it had been a family.
A few more steps, and the sound of laser-fire reached the group. Chayyiel and her escort picked up their pace, jogging down the corridor before reaching one of those boarding tubes. It had been extended to their target, and a group had already taken up position on either side of the opening. Like the group with her, there were six of them. In their case, however, none were Seosten. About half were very obviously different, two being rather massive ogres (their ten-foot tall bodies would barely fit into the boarding tube if they hunched over) while the third was a tiny pixie. The remaining three were roughly humanoid and wore the standard issue black armor and helmets.
All six carried guns of various sizes, and were already using them to send a continuous hail of laserfire down the boarding tube even as Chayyiel and the others approached. They spared glances to the new arrivals, but didn’t do anything stupid like waste time greeting them or saluting. Chayyiel had broken them of that habit as soon as possible.
Instead, they kept shooting, even as the Seosten with the girl spread out, each moving to one of the non-Seosten. One by one, in perfect coordination both amongst themselves and between each of the two groups, a non-Seosten would briefly stop firing, and then their Seosten partner would possess them, stepping into the body before resuming their attack.
Partner. That was the operative term, and it was the only way Chayyiel, as Seraph, allowed anyone under her command to work. If you were a Seosten, you were matched with a non-Seosten partner that would be drawn from a pool of volunteers. A team of both psychologists and combat trainers alike would match Seosten to the volunteer they saw as the most likely fit. The Seosten and their non-Seosten host would then both work and train together, learning how to function as partners. Once a week, both would be interviewed separately to ensure that the partnership was proceeding properly and that the Seosten was not abusing their host as was so common in most other parts of the Empire. The non-Seosten beings were treated as being just as important as the actual Seosten were, and were provided wages, rights, and benefits to suit that. Within the ships, stations, and planets that were under Chayyiel’s command as part of the Seraphim, abusive Seosten did not last very long. Chayyiel couldn’t keep track of everyone under her command. But she could keep track of those most loyal to her, and they in turn kept track of those under them, and so on down through the ranks.
And so the Seosten and Non-Seosten partners linked up there without any hesitation or awkwardness. Their shooting continued, while Chayyiel herself moved to the open docking tube, looking that way. Several bodies, random assortments of biological monstrosities that were the Fomorian footsoldiers (not actual Fomorians, but the creations they sent to do their dirty work) lay scattered along the tube, while a few more continued to try rushing forward. One ran on four legs and looked a bit like the animal known as a moose on Earth, save for its much sharper horns rather than the antlers of that creature, while the other two loped along like oversized apes with more reptilian features and scorpion-like tails. None seemed affected by the laser-fire.
They were, however, vulnerable to other things. And as Chayyiel looked at them, her power took over.
—Left-most reptilian-primate very slightly limps on his right side. Right primate brash and easily manipulated through temper. Does not limp like the other. Both are invulnerable to most forms of energy, meant to combat Seosten lasers specifically. Blunt and blades similarly ineffective. Fire negated. Cold a possibility. Not particularly weak, but not specifically protected against it. Poisons, many ineffective, few esoteric possibilities. Eyes only one-quarter as resistant to lasers as the rest of the body–protection comes mainly from scales. Scales vulnerable to sufficient pressure at one specific angle. Tails segmented, protected similar to body but vulnerable at the joining point between sections.–
Taking in the moose-like creature at the same time, her power continued. —Quick runner, fast-acting paralytic toxin on horns. Vulnerable at knees. Blindspot directly to either side of the shoulders when within two feet and lower than shoulder-height. Hearts located exactly six inches below the throat, five inches beyond the right-front leg, and directly above the tailbone.–
Everything her power told her, Chayyiel took in within an instant. In the time it took most people to recognize that the person they were looking at had blonde hair, she had already catalogued each of those facts that her ability had reported.
It was a power that would have been dangerous enough, if it had been all that she received after accidentally being left in the other-universe that her father had opened a portal to through his experiments. But it wasn’t. Her physical attributes, her strength, speed, and more had all been enhanced far beyond what a Seosten her size and age should have been capable of. Similarly, her ability to boost herself was greatly increased.
And then there was the fact that, any time she spent in what amounted to the same room as any person, she automatically learned every physical and mental skill they possessed. Combat, academic, magical, whatever they knew, she would know. She knew their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and she gained every bit of combat skill, magic knowledge, and everything else that could give them an edge.
Just like now, when she looked at these three creatures and instinctively, immediately, knew their every weakness. She knew how they would fight because she knew how they had been trained/programmed to fight. Through knowing all of their skills and all of their weaknesses, Chayyiel knew everything that they could do, everything they would do. Knowing everyone’s skills, strengths, and weaknesses was a blueprint to understanding what they would do in any situation, against any stimuli.
After that brief instant of taking in exactly what these creatures were and what they were capable of, she launched herself into a sprint while crisply ordering, “Eyes!”
Her people reacted just as quickly. As well trained and disciplined as they were, they instantly knew that her single word meant to shoot at the eyes of the two creatures in front. Their lasers filled the air around her, Chayyiel trusting them to miss her. Which was one thing that her being so small actually helped. They could fire over her head and still miss her by a solid foot.
The two reptilian primates staggered a bit under the combined laserfire. They had to close their eyes to protect from being shot, which blinded and slowed them further. Instinctively, their scorpion-tails snapped up and around, probing the ground in front of them with a few violent stabs.
Exactly as Chayyiel had expected them to. In that instant, she hit her boost, her speed suddenly multiplying exponentially to turn her entire body into a barely visible blur. As those bladed tails rebounded from the floor, the girl moved right between them. Her hands snapped out, catching hold of the tails before she smoothly drove each up under one of the scales of the opposite creature. It was the exact spot and exact angle that her power had drawn her attention to.
Instinctively, as they felt the unknown pressure, each of the blinded primates heaved up and back with their tails. In doing so, they managed to free themselves. But in the process, they also snapped that single scale off of each other’s bodies, leaving a tiny patch of unprotected skin.
Without missing a step, she continued on past the two even while they were still yanking their tails back. The quadruped was right behind them, and coming in fast with its head lowered, those horns ready to paralyze and skewer her.
But Chayyiel was ready too. A quick, last-second step to her left and a drop to her knees put her in the creature’s blindspot. She slid that way, hand yanking what looked like an empty knife handle from her belt. She thumbed the button on it, making the eight inch laser blade hum to life.
Sliding past the animal’s blindspot there, Chayyiel used the laser-knife to cut through its front right knee. Just as quickly, as the creature stumbled on past her, she stabbed up through each of the hearts she had noted earlier, saving the one in the tailbone for last as she swung herself up onto its already stumbling body. Her weight back there drove the creature toward the ground back-end first. As it fell, a second laser-knife appeared in her other hand, and she threw each end over end to sever either side of the animal’s horns, cutting them from its head.
She sprang forward then, up over the collapsing creature’s head while her hands moved to catch its falling horns. By that point, the primate creatures had only just started to realize that she was behind them, and began to turn, still under a hail of laserfire.
They didn’t get far, however, before Chayyiel hurled the horns she had severed from their partner, straight into the tiny exposed spots of skin that their tails had exposed by snapping off that single scale on each. The horns flew perfectly, driving into that small spot before pumping their paralytic poison directly into their bloodstream.
It worked incredibly quickly, dropping each of the creatures to the ground in full paralysis a second later. Which left Chayyiel standing there surrounded by the bodies of all three Fomorian creatures. One of them dead, the other two paralyzed.
“Finish them off,” she ordered her people, already pivoting to head onward through the boarding tube and into the Fomorian vessel. “The Beta will be close.”
Beta. In the Fomorian ranks, there were generally six types of creature (with some exceptions): alphas, betas, gammas, deltas, epsilons, and zetas. Only the first three were actual Fomorians. Zetas were mindless, easily killed creatures that functioned only as massive packs. Epsilons were stronger and capable of acting alone, similar to the creatures that she had just killed. Deltas were very strong and independent, as well as being intelligent enough to create their own plans. Basically, the Fomorians’ best creations, but not really actual Fomorians.
Gamma Fomorians were young, unproven. Betas had been around long enough to make a name for themselves and made up the bulk of the actual Fomorian population. And Alphas were their leadership, rare even for Fomorians, who already had an actual population much lower than the Seosten with their own shortage.
Sure enough, right on the other end of the tube stood a tall, gray-skinned Fomorian. Its angular face, too-large eyes, and bulbous head was instantly recognizable, though individuals tended to differ widely as far as their bodies went through their own genetic enhancements.
Her power kicked in the instant she saw him. —Immune to heat up to roughly half the temperature of the core of a yellow sun. Immune to cold. Absorbs most types of radiation and energy. Absorbs most magic. Armored against blunt force. Poisons are useless. Can see through every conceivable spectrum including magic. Eyes are only one of several ways he can see. All critical organs packed into an armored shell in the center of the body, impregnable to most attacks even if they do get through the outer body.
This was a strong Beta, probably close to being promoted to one of the Alphas. And from the look in those eyes, he knew that dealing with Chayyiel would be just the boost he needed for that promotion. He started forward, each of his six arms coming up to produce a variety of bladed weapons meant for cutting her open.
She kept walking, not breaking stride as she moved straight for the Fomorian. She saw his toothy smile as the creature watched her approach. His blades went up, one of his hands opening to reveal a paralytic powder that he filled the air with. One single molecule of that powder entering her system would leave Chayyiel as helpless and frozen as the creatures she had just left.
She kept walking. Her thumb brushed over a spell inscribed into one of her gloves, and a light forcefield popped up around the girl. It wasn’t enough to hold back much, but it did force the paralyzing dust away from her, clearing the air.
The Fomorian reached for her, each of those six hands trying to grab onto the girl. But Chayyiel was too quick, too small, too aware of his every move. She barely seemed to react, ducking once, sidestepping a few inches, and turning her body. Yet all six of his grasping limbs utterly missed, putting Chayyiel directly in front of him with his arms extended past her.
He started to pull back, grinning even wider as his limbs moved to envelop the girl. But again, Chayyiel was too quick. In one, single motion, her hand snapped up, balled into a fist. She struck the Fomorian precisely seven inches below his throat and four inches to the right at the exact angle and with the exact force her power had already informed her of.
That single blow made him freeze. His arms went limp, falling to his sides, and the Fomorian made a sound like a gasping fish, trying in vain to suck in air.
His legs gave out a second later, and he collapsed to the ground, twitching and spasming as his brain went through the horrific stroke that had been brought on by that single, incredibly precise blow. A quarter inch in any direction, a fist angled even slightly differently, a blow with any more or less force, and nothing would have happened. But the blow wasn’t any different. It was exactly what her power told her to make it. And a handful of seconds later, his body was still and silent. He was dead.
Her escort arrived momentarily, and Chayyiel ordered them to follow the path that had already been planned out. The rest of the Seosten attack force was keeping other parts of the Fomorian ship busy, and her people had their own job to do. Again, her people asked if she was okay, if she needed to pull back. But again, Chayyiel refused. Destroying the brain of the Fomorian Dierev (essentially a three-hundred-plus foot tall monstrosity capable of untold devastation) before it could be delivered to the rest of the assembled body was too important to withdraw now.
Her power was too useful to sit on the sidelines. It had always been that way. For the past three thousand years, Chayyiel had been too important to sit things out. Ever since she had been lost on the other side of that portal. The portal into a strange other-universe full of indecipherable energy storms which, upon proximity with a living being, fundamentally altered that being, granting them incredible powers and halting their aging completely.
That had been her father’s project, all those years ago: to use the vast amount of resources it took to open portals into this world of power-bestowing energy storms, and expose his test subjects to them. How much power each subject received was impossible to predict, since it had to do with how much direct exposure to the energy storms they had, and the location and strength of those were impossible to predict.
When he had secretly been working on his own daughter, however, Chayyiel’s father had been interrupted. She had fallen in and been cut off for much longer than the others. Longer than she should have been able to survive.
And she’d still be there, or her body would, had two lab technicians not noticed what was happening while her father was detained, and set out to rescue Chayyiel themselves. The two had ended up exposed to the energy storms as well, for as long as it took to open the portal once more and pull the girl out. Unfortunately, doing so the way that they did, without as much time and care spent before opening the portal (as they refused to wait longer to pull her out) resulted in the energy storm somehow shorting out the hole in space that was their only access point to that universe.
The project had been over, simply because there was no way to access that universe. Not until another similar ‘hole’ in the fabric of their reality was found. And in the past several thousand years, Chayyiel had yet to hear of one. It may have been the only one of its kind, ever.
In any case, the three of them had never been intended to be enhanced the way the ‘real’ test subjects were, those who had been specifically chosen by their Choirs and had resources devoted to the program so that they could be upgraded. But it had happened, and the Empire couldn’t afford to throw any resources away, particularly super-soldiers. So, despite all of their young ages (she was still a child, but they weren’t that much older either as far as Seosten went) Chayyiel and her saviors, Sariel and Lucifer, were added to the roster of the newly formed Olympus.
The Olympus. The family. They had been a family once. Or at least, Chayyiel had seen them that way. Yes, there were problems, disputes, grudges, even all-out fights. But Chayyiel had been a child growing up on that ship. She had been taught by them, raised by them. Manakel had his problems, but he had cared for her. He had helped her, comforted her.
So yes, she mourned for him. Even as she understood the man he had become, and that he had very much dug his own grave, she was still saddened by his death. It still left a hole in her that would not be filled.
After they had completed their mission, one of her men stood near her on board their own ship once more. The Fomorian vessel had been blown apart, its deadly cargo going with it. Her man watched her, concern written across his face. “Seraph, I’m sure the leadership would agree to a sabbatical, if you wish to make a brief trip to Earth to avenge Manakel’s death.”
“Avenge?” Echoing that word, Chayyiel glanced toward the man, giving a slight shake of her head. “Kalifiel, there’s something you need to understand. Sometimes we aren’t the good guys. And when people kill us, it’s not always because they’re monsters. It’s also because we are. Because we hurt them. Because we drove them to it.
“So no, I don’t want to kill the people who killed Manakel. His death makes me sad, not angry. I know why it happened. I know that he deserved it. I didn’t want it to happen. I would have stopped it if I could. But avenge? No. What I want is to end the situation that made that necessary. I want to fix the problem, not make it worse.”
“End the situation?” Kalifiel stared at her uncomprehendingly. “I know you’ve changed a lot under your command, that we’re… um, that we’re different from most of the Empire. And that’s really impressive. But fixing the entire problem? Is that even possible?”
For a moment, Chayyiel said nothing. She thought of what Jophiel and her lover were doing with the same girl who was apparently responsible for Manakel’s death. She thought of Sariel, and the way the woman had been pushed into the arms of the human that she had subsequently fallen in love with. She thought of every little nudge she had given to get things to this point. She thought of the way she had directed that shard of the broken banishment orb into Dries Akens’ prison in order to draw the Heretics there so that they would free him. She thought of all the small actions with much larger results. Some that had already happened, others that were yet to come.
“Oh, it’s possible,” she murmured softly then, barely loud enough for Kalifiel to hear the words. “It may take a lot of work, a lot of time, and… well, more than a few setbacks.
“But then, being patient is just another skill. And for now, I have something else to do.”
“Hah, I knew they’d send someone to pick me up.”
The human boy, Isaac, grinned as he watched Chayyiel calmly approach him. The unconscious bodies of the two men who had been his guards lay limp on the ground behind her.
“Ohh, it’s a perfectly secure prison in a base built and hidden by the mighty Athena, you’re never getting out of here.” Isaac’s words were mocking as he shook his head. “It’s like they’ve never read a comic book before. So you gonna hop out of the midget and find a more useful body for us to get out of here, or what?”
“Manakel chose to recruit you,” she informed him flatly, stopping just in front of the boy after deactivating the forcefield that contained him. “He decided that you had some use.”
“Oh yeah, and I’m even more useful now,” the boy replied with a grin, tapping the side of his head. “You wouldn’t believe the shit I’ve heard while sitting around in here. Plus I’ve got all those yummy powers.”
Chayyiel’s head shook once. “Manakel is dead.”
“Oh shit, really?” Isaac whistled then. “Right, no fucking wonder you finally came to get me. You’re shit out of options. So let’s go.”
“No.” Chayyiel’s denial was simple. “I didn’t come here to take you out of this prison.”
“What?” Annoyed now, Isaac spread his arms. “Then why the fuck are you here?”
“Because,” she replied easily, her eyes rising to meet his. “I have read comic books.”
There was a blur of motion then, accompanied by a hum of energy, And as it faded, Isaac stood there in complete disbelief, staring at the blood that had already drenched his open hands. Blood from the deep cut in his throat. His mouth opened and shut a couple times, as a weak, wheezing noise escaped him.
“And quite frankly,” Chayyiel continued while holding the laser-knife in one hand, “I’m sick and tired of villains who keep coming back.”
She turned away then, walking to the exit while the boy’s body collapsed behind her. As she moved, Chayyiel casually tossed a single, small silver object roughly the size of a pen behind herself. An instant later, it exploded and Isaac was utterly incinerated, his body reduced to little more than a dark smear on the ground.
Just in case.