Hey, I addressed the man whose body I was… borrowing, I don’t want to go rooting around in your head. Could you tell me your name, just so I know what to call you? Please?
After passing through that doorway, we were in a narrow corridor that was clearly some kind of maintenance tunnel. There were various flashing lights here and there, along with signs in other languages. If I’d known anything about the ship and actually belonged on it, I was pretty sure the lights and signs together would tell me exactly where I should go and what I should be doing.
There were no audible alarms. Which made sense, as I doubted that having an alarm blaring constantly while the crew was trying to concentrate would be a good idea. They clearly knew the battle was happening.
Not… not killing, please. Not killing. Ylek not make you fight. Ylek not bad. Please. Not killing.
It was the voice of my current host. He sounded absolutely petrified, like he was afraid that I would kill him just for asking not to be killed. If nothing else, that told me a bit about what working under Kushiel’s authority was like. Not that I’d really needed the hint.
I grimaced inwardly then, while following Athena as she immediately turned left down the corridor. I’m not gonna kill you, I promised. That’s not what we’re–look, we’re just here to rescue Kushiel’s prisoners, okay? That’s it. We’re using this ship as a way of getting down to the prison. We don’t want to kill any more of you guys than we have to. You said your name was Ylek? It sounded like Eee-leck, but somehow the idea of the correct spelling filled my head. Clearly a byproduct of hearing the name directly from his thoughts.
That… that is… my person, he replied, still sounding just as terrified as he had before.
Yeah, I was pretty sure that just telling this guy I wasn’t going to kill him wasn’t gonna convince him of anything. Which was probably a result of being enslaved by a race like the Seosten. Something told me that most of them weren’t big on keeping their promises or playing nice. And, unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to spend talking him around, as much as I would’ve liked to. So, I was just going to have to show him that I meant what I said.
By that point, Athena had led us to another doorway. Stepping through that one led to a much more chaotic scene than the empty corridor we had just left. It was big enough to drive a truck through, and I saw people of every shape, size, and description (literally) rushing back and forth in every direction. People were shouting over each other, with code phrases about weapon systems, shields, maneuvers, and more were being thrown around. Everyone seemed to know exactly where they were going and exactly how to avoid everyone else that was going somewhere else. People were sprinting back and forth, leaping or ducking under each other and barking questions and replies to one another. It was like a delicate, intricately choreographed ballet mixed with being at the mall the night before Christmas.
More importantly, no one was paying any attention to us. No one cared what we were doing, because they had their own jobs to do and no one was going to take the time to check on someone else. As far as they were concerned, we were just more crew members off doing our duty. Another indication that the Seosten weren’t accustomed to someone using their own tricks against them.
I supposed it was kind of a Catch-22 for them. If they spent too much effort developing ways and teaching their subjects ways to detect and prevent possession, it could really easily backfire by taking away the main thing that they used to keep the much larger population of slaves in line.
Athena never even slowed down. She knew exactly where she was going, and I felt another flash of gratitude that she was with us. We never would’ve been able to pull any of this off without her and the Aelaestiam.
The corridors got less and less busy as Athena led us onward through a seemingly endless and confusing maze of them. We turned left, then straight, then left again, then right, then straight. Then we used an invisible elevator lift thing to go up a level. I could still hear voices or see people here and there, but we were definitely out of the area that was the main thoroughfare during a battle like this. Through it all, the Seosten woman never slowed down.
At least, she never slowed down until we reached what looked like a giant vault door. The thing had to be twenty feet tall and just as wide. It was made of some kind of metal that I was guessing was probably heavy enough to take anything we could possibly dish out to it, with obviously protective spell runes inscribed all along the surface.
Standing in front of the door were two guards in black armor, their weapons raised as we appeared. “Halt!” one of them barked. “State your orders.”
Apollo took that as his cue. His cat-like Rakshasa stepped, raising both hands in a show of camaraderie. “Sorry,” he started, “you know how Trierarch Alfens is about new maneuvers when he’s trying to impress the Praetor with his ingenuity. He gets an idea and the rest of us have to figure out how to make it work.”
The two men hesitated, glancing to one another before one of them asked, “You have orders from the Trierarch to be down here? What are you supposed to be doing? Aren’t you all stationed in maintenance bay Upsilon Zeta Three?”
“No, no, our orders are to be here,” Apollo corrected him.
“Your orders are to be here?” There was a certain dullness to the response, incredulity that was barely hanging on.
Nodding, Apollo added, “Yes. Actually, we’re supposed to be in the chamber right now.”
Once more, the two guards looked at each other. “In the chamber?” One of them hesitated before reaching for something on his belt. “I’ll call it in and double check.”
Smoothly, Apollo cut in. “You already did, remember?” As the two looked at him in confusion, he continued. “You called it in just a second ago. Trierarch Alfens applauded you for your responsibility and initiative, and told you to let us through. Do you really think he’ll appreciate being interrupted a second time? He might just change his mind about those commendations.”
“Right… yes, we called it in.” Moving his hand away from his belt, the figure on the left nodded before moving to a small camera on the wall. He leaned close, letting the thing scan his face. There was a single beep, followed by an inquisitive tone from the matching camera on the other side. That cued the second guard to do the same thing there. As he did so, the runes on the vault-like door stopped glowing, and there was a series of distinct clicking and thunking sounds of the various locks disengaging.
“Nice, thank you,” Apollo complimented them. “But now, what you guys really need to do is lay down and get some sleep.”
“Sleep?” The men were clearly beyond confused at that. “We’re on duty… and there’s a battle going on.”
Making his Rakshasa’s head shake, Apollo corrected them. “The battle’s over. We won. And you’re both in your quarters. See, those are your beds right there.” He pointed to the empty floor. “It’s been a really long day, you’re both exhausted, but proud of yourselves for repelling that invasion. You’re up for awards in the morning. Maybe you’ll even be promoted. But for now, you’re tired. You’re ready to sleep in your soft, comfortable beds.”
As he spoke, both of the guards slowly moved to where he had indicated, laying down while his voice droned on quietly. They just laid down like that, right on the floor. A moment later, both of them were still, faint snoring sounds coming from them.
That was Apollo’s Olympian power. The longer that someone let him talk to them, the more he could convince them of increasingly ridiculous things. It was like the Jedi Mind Trick except on steroids. Given enough time to talk, he could literally stand in front of an army and convince them that there was an even bigger army right behind him, even if they could clearly see an empty field. In a question between, ‘who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes’, the answer was always him. His words painted a picture that his power made their brain accept as truth, regardless of any other evidence or knowledge.
With that done, Athena strode forward. The big vault doors finished their long, complicated series of unlocking, and then whooshed open smoothly. On the other side, I saw a massive room with an enormous glowing red orb floating in the middle of some kind of forcefield. The orb was a solid hundred feet in diameter, with flashes of black lightning coursing through it here and there that kept appearing and disappearing.
We’d barely stepped into the large chamber before a figure appeared. It was a troll, a positively ginormous troll, standing a solid twelve feet tall and with a body built like the Hulk. The thing came right at us the second we appeared, letting out a warning bellow while one of those huge arms swung for us.
Athena didn’t even hesitate. She had already stepped out of her own host, who fell unconscious to the ground behind her while Excalibur appeared in her hand. Without missing a beat, she leapt past the troll’s swinging arm to cut straight through him.
And by through him, that was literally through him. The sword seemed to pass through the troll without harming him at all, like he was a ghost. There was no blood or anything. Yet, there was a scream that didn’t seem to come from the troll at all. It came from him, but his mouth wasn’t open.
The scream was cut off almost as soon as it had started, and a second figure fell out of the first. It appeared in a glowing energy form at first, before quickly solidifying into a female figure, slim to the point of near androgyny, with short red hair and incredibly expressive dark blue eyes. A second after emerging, she fell to the floor with an obvious sword wound in her side.
The troll that was left behind, meanwhile, jerked backward and flailed with a surprised cry until Larissa appeared in the air in front of him. Catching onto the troll’s shoulders and holding him tightly, she blew a cloud of smoke into his face. The giant figure twisted, coughed, and then fell unconscious to the floor, collapsing with a heavy thud while Larissa rode him all the way down.
As for the Seosten that had literally been cut out of him, she was bleeding profusely, but still tried to push herself up. At least, she tried to sit up until Athena put the blade of that sword near her throat.
“Stop,” the regal woman ordered flatly. Her voice was calm, yet firm, and brooked no disagreement. “Do you know who I am?”
There was a brief pause, and I saw anger at her own helplessness twist its way across the fallen Seosten’s features before she spat the word, “Yes.”
“Good,” Athena replied, “then you know what this sword is. And you know why you have not been able to contact any others you may be mind-melded to. Were you in mid-conversation with anyone else? Will they notice your absence immediately? Do understand that I will know if you lie.”
The other Seosten hesitated once more, before giving a slow sigh as her head shook. “No.”
Nodding in satisfaction to that, Athena informed her, “Do not cause more annoyance than you are worth, and you will survive this capture.”
“Um, sorry, what?” I couldn’t stop myself from cutting in then. “What the hell just– Did you really just cut a Seosten out of their host without hurting the host? And what was that about her not reaching anyone in her mind-meld?” That had to be referring to that thing where Seosten on a mission or in the same group/team were connected and could share information basically telepathically. Somehow, this Seosten had been blocked from doing that.
“Excalibur,” Athena announced in response to that, “is a very useful tool. Yes, among other abilities, it is able to harm and even kill the Seosten possessing a body, without causing any harm to the being that they are possessing. And, when needed, it may also project a field that interrupts certain magical effects. The Seosten mental meld is one of them, along with others. As far as anyone attempting to contact her now will be concerned, she is asleep.”
Holy shit. I had thought that the woman was effective before, but with Excalibur, she could kill Seosten without hurting their host bodies? And stop them from communicating with each other through their mind connections? That was… that was…
The Seosten must’ve really hated Arthur, Tabbris announced, her voice full of as much awe as I felt. Hell, as connected as we were, our awe was honestly probably feeding off each other. Actually, I was pretty sure that I could feel the awe coming from Ylek too.
He actually seemed to forget to be afraid of me for a moment then, as his mental voice whispered, The dragon-sword. She wields the dragon-sword.
You guys know about Excalibur? I quickly asked.
It is legend, he hesitantly responded, like he was still a bit nervous that I’d torture him for answering or something. Or maybe he was afraid I’d torture him for giving the wrong answer. The Author will write the end of the Empire.
Author! That was Tabbris, piping up. He must mean Arthur! It’s like a umm… umm, misunderstanding? They heard Arthur but it changed to Author.
“That,” Larissa managed finally, dragging my attention back to the outside world, “is a very important sword.”
“That it is,” Athena replied, “and it will eventually be returned to its rightful owner. In due time.”
“I’m on an alien ship, on the other side of the universe,” I started, in Ylek’s gravelly voice, “with Athena and Apollo, on our way to fight Hera, so we can rescue Artemis. Which is why I don’t have time to ask more about how the literal King Arthur is supposed to eventually get his sword back, because Athena is also Nimue. Also, Apollo is Satan.”
Raising an eyebrow, Larissa asked, “Are you okay over there?”
My head gave a quick nod, and I squeaked out, “Y-yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Sometimes it just really hits me how insane all this is. That’s all. I mean seriously, what even is my life?”
“Trust me, kid,” Apollo interjected then, “it’ll make a great story someday. Especially if we pull this off.”
“Pfft.” Shaking my head, I retorted, “I’m pretty sure no one would want to read this as a story. It’s entirely too confusing and hard to keep track of for me, and I’m the one that’s actually living it.”
“Well,” Larissa announced, “let’s add a little more subterfuge and action to your story, shall we?” She gestured toward the Seosten that Athena was still holding in place with Excalibur. “Looks like a worthy candidate to me.”
“Yes,” Athena agreed. “See what you can learn that she has not… volunteered.”
Swallowing, I thought to Ylek, Well, it’s been nice knowing you. Like I said, I’m sorry we had to… um, enslave you. Seriously, we just… have to save the people that your master’s been torturing and experimenting on. It’s nothing personal against you.
It is never personal, the reply came, because we are not persons to them.
Okay, that one hit home. Grimacing, I hesitated before stepping out of the man and back to my own body. Turning to face the squat, white-furred figure, I spoke up. “Athena?”
“Yes.” She knew what I was asking. The woman spoke to Ylek then without taking her sword away from the other Seosten woman’s neck. “You may stay here, or you may go to our brig. You will be questioned when the battle is over to ensure that you are not a danger to us, and then released to either do as you wish, or stay with the Aelaestiam. Do you wish to go as a temporary prisoner, or stay here?”
“We kind of need an answer quick,” I reminded him. “We’re in a bit of a rush right now.”
“I… Ylek… I will… go?” he offered, looking taken aback and confused by the choice.
Larissa moved immediately. She had one of those teleport badges in her hand that she had summoned from some pocket dimension. “Put this on,” she ordered. “It’s already set to take prisoners. You’ll go straight to the brig on one of the Aelaestiam ships. We’ll… find you when this is over.”
While she was taking care of that, my attention turned back to the kneeling Seosten woman. She was staring at me with a narrowed gaze as I moved closer, raising my hand. Ready, partner? This probably won’t be as easy as the last guy.
We can do it, Tabbris replied firmly. For Mama.
Smiling a little inwardly, I agreed. For Mama.
The Seosten woman looked confused for a moment as I approached with my hand out, before her eyes widened and she tried to push herself away from me despite the sword. “No!” she blurted, “I will not be enslaved by a human child! It is an abominat–” She choked as Athena caught her by the hair to hold her in place. “Abomination!”
“Wow,” I started flatly. “Gotta tell ya, I think I’m gonna take that one personally.”
With that, I reached down, catching one of the woman’s flailing arms as she struggled. Then my hand caught hold of hers, and I focused.
Then I was possessing her. And I had been right. This was harder than the last time. Even harder than it had been when I’d possessed the Seosten back in the slave camp. If Tabbris hadn’t been with me, using her own experience to help me use Charmeine’s power effectively, I probably wouldn’t have been able to seize control. Even as it was, we sat there for almost a full minute, the Seosten’s body twitching now and then as the two (really three) of us fought for control.
Finally, however, Tabbris and I managed it. I told the woman’s tightly closed eyes to open, and then I was seeing through them. I felt her panic and disgust, as well as her horror at the thought that a dirty, disgusting ape like me had taken control of her. I felt her anger, both at herself for losing and at the situation. And, beyond all that, I felt her… uh, feelings toward the woman holding her at swordpoint.
Okay, I had expected to feel a lot of emotions after possessing this woman, but lust was not one of them. She… uh, apparently had a crush on Athena. Which was understandable, but still. Wow.
“Uh.” Shaking that off, I looked up at the woman in question. “I’m okay. I mean, it’s me. It’s Flick. I’m in control.”
Athena watched me for another moment before nodding as she resheathed the sword and stepped back. “Is she thinking anything important for us to know about?”
Hesitating, I decided that the fact that my host had a crush on Athena was neither relevant, nor my place to say anything about. “Nope,” I replied, “just that she’s really mad about this whole situation. And she really doesn’t like me very much. Or humans in general.”
“Her opinion of us isn’t going to get much better any time soon,” Larissa pointed out while gesturing. “Come on, the console’s over here.”
Stop now, the Seosten in my head ordered, in a voice that was clearly accustomed to being obeyed. You will not take one step toward the slip-reactor.
The slip-reactor. That was what that big orb was. The way it had been explained to me, there were three main engine compartments. First, the one we were in right now, which housed the slip-reactor. That provided power for the slide-drive, the thing that allowed the ship to essentially go to warp speed or whatever.
Both this compartment and the one above were working on a skeleton crew during a battle. There was no point to having people manning the thing that let them jump from planet to planet when there was no intention of leaving the immediate area. Instead, the whole maintenance crew would be sent into the main engine room to keep the local/sublight engines running. Which was what we, or Athena rather, had been counting on.
Ignoring the threats and insults from the woman in my head, I walked her to the console in question, privately asking, Tabbris, any luck?
I got it! I could hear the pride in her voice. I got the codes from her head while she was distracted.
Good job, partner. We reached the console then, and I had Tabbris relay them to me while using the Seosten woman’s hands to input them. It was a long code, and the system scanned her face as well as pricking her fingers twice each through the process to make sure it was really her. But finally, a holographic display lit up in front of the console, and I stepped back. “There, it’s unlocked. You’re in.”
“Excellent work, Lady Felicity,” Athena announced while stepping past me. Her fingers flew over the console that I had just opened up for her. The console which happened to be connected directly into the reactor and could function as a set of emergency back-up controls for the ship itself. Controls that could override the main bridge.
They’d be working to kick her out of the system as soon as they realized she was there, of course. But Athena had high authority codes of her own that she could use now that she was actually in the system, and overriding those would take time. Time they wouldn’t have. Essentially, I had used my current Seosten host to open the door, and Athena was using every code she had collected over the years to prop that door open just long enough to do what she needed to do.
“Better get ready,” Apollo noted while looking to Larissa and me. “This is going to take a few minutes to go through, and they’ll be sending everything they have down through that hallway to stop us.”
He was right. We’d been able to sneak our way to the reactor. But that was over now. The Seosten wouldn’t just be trying to kick Athena out of the computer system remotely. They’d also be trying to do so physically. And since all of her attention was taken up with taking over the controls and setting the ship to do what we wanted it to, she wouldn’t be able to help with the physical part. The actual fighting would be up to the three of us.
It was about to get nasty around here.
Popping out of her own host and letting the body drop to the floor unconscious, Larissa nodded. “I’d rather do this in my own body. I know how it moves.”
Apollo gave a short nod. “Just make sure you’re in a host when we pass through the security field down there. Otherwise…” He left the rest unsaid, since we already knew the answer. Any living body that wasn’t attuned to the security field when the ship passed through it would be disintegrated. That was why we couldn’t just have the others teleport over here to join us now that we weren’t sneaking anymore. We would still need to be possessing bodies that were allowed through their security, until we managed to take it down.
What… the voice of my current host was clearly confused. What… is this? What are you doing? If you blow up this ship, it will not win the battle for you.
See, I started, that’s not exactly what we’re doing. I mean, I’ll tell you what we’re doing, but you’re not gonna like it. You know how that facility down there stops anyone from teleporting near it? Well, the short version of the plan is that this ship can bypass all the magic spells that are protecting the place. So we’re gonna use the slide-drive to make a tiny jump right down there, crash it… this ship that is, into the moon, and then use all the power in that reactor right there to overload that defense tower so that our friends can teleport down and join us.
So yeah, our plan is to crash this ship into the moon and then blow it up. You know, essentially.
For a moment, there was absolute silence inside my head. Then the ranting started.
See? I put in over the sound of it.
I told you that you weren’t gonna like it.