This chapter contains graphic sexual contenT and references to suicide.
A horrific wail escaped the gurgling throat of a mangled man twitching on the steel floor.
Her ears barely heard it, no matter how loud he screamed, she simply did not receive something audible from it. Instead, the vibrations of the sound on the bio-sensors in her body let her know the direction in which the sounds came from. This was useless: everyone was screaming, and so there was sound everywhere.
It would be more useful in the water, where she wasn’t.
She was in the middle of a metallic hall. Her claws were caked in gore burned black.
Rendered fat helped her digits slide to retain some motion, no time to clean off the crud.
Two bodies cast aside in two brutal swings– in a snap she charged the remaining man–
Her jaws closed on the shooting arm of a guard devouring the limb gun and all.
Separated processing centers received six different views of his shock-stunned body — and past it!
Two of her eyes spotted a machine gun pod crawling across the ceiling over the corpse.
With a flick of her tail, she instantly sent a spike flying at the speed of cannon fire.
Piercing the gun pod and spearing it against the rail it was attached to, ending the threat immediately.
A second pod followed on the same rail, but it was stuck behind the first one and fell silent.
She charged out of the hall and onto the hangar, away from the possibility of their gunfire.
Heck! That was close! I coulda been churned up bad! How many more of these are there?
She dimly wondered why the automated defenses hadn’t been spun up sooner.
But the tactics of station-dwellers were not her forte. She was a Hunter; she simply hunted.
Hunter III of the Third Sphere.
This was the name given to her by a leader of their kind: Arbitrator II of the First Sphere.
She never questioned it. She simply was who she was. She was an Omenseer.
Omenseers were the guides to the eldritch heavens and alien hells of the Ocean.
To take into the light those station-dwellers who were useful and worthy and willing to part with treasure.
That was all she needed to know about herself; and all anyone needed to know about her.
Her role was not to strategize. Norn did that– or whoever she worked for. She had no idea what the enemy’s plan was: she assumed the defenders were just stupid. And that was why she was tearing through them so easily. Anything more complicated than that was not her business. Ship-dwellers, station-dwellers, fake humans, whatever whoever called them– Hunter III knew they could be tough. Norn was absolutely terrifying for example.
These Ajillo humans were not very tough. Maybe they just weren’t ready to fight.
Expecting to kill more in the arrival gate, Hunter III was surprised to find that the red carpet and chute that Norn had come through was already secured. There were a few bodies, cleanly killed with one bullet through the brain, and Norn’s security detail stood guard in front of the entry chute, equipped with full power rifles that had made some dents in the steel walls. Five men stood in attention and saluted when Hunter III appeared as if she was their boss but said nothing to her. These same men had watched her sneak around and said nothing then too.
Now though, they did make signs using electric torches, predetermined signs.
They signaled that Norn had taken the control center. Everything was suddenly over.
Hunter III stared at the lights, unmoving, for the first time not thinking about the next jump, charge, slice, bite, or shot; for the first time finding herself with no further hostile targets and no further violence to commit.
Her brains were flooded with intense emotions.
Her whole reptilian-insectoid body vibrated with the weight of adrenaline and anxiety.
She had been killing, non-stop, target to target; killing and eating and tearing skin from meat and meat from skin to the point she could barely taste what was going through her, could barely feel what was entering her body and melding into it and burning in it for energy to fight on. For the first time she settled on the feeling of her sticky hot claws coated in God knows how much filth, barely able to flex one digit from the next to the point she had been swinging the claws as one thick cutting edge. She felt the pain of dozens of bullet holes barely patched by her “biopower.” Her body felt suddenly like a rubbery sheathe that she was buried in, hyperventilating for free air.
When her six visual sensors closed her mind staggered; she saw the pink and brown rubbery meat around “her” “own” “body.” Such a thing could not be said to exist, not in the middle of a transformation and yet, she was seeing that disturbing sight as if entombed in this form rather than in control and in synchronicity with it.
It signaled her disassociation from the “leviform” body her “biopower” had built.
Even if she wanted to, at this point, she probably couldn’t fight any more for a while.
Hunter III sat down on her rump, tail curled around her, and let the shaking go through her.
She had not hunted in what was maybe closer to months but felt like even years before now.
And it was getting to her mind, her heart. She was not a machine or a monster.
In fact, if you asked Arbitrator II, she would say Hunter III was the only “real” human here.
I let myself get too soft. I gotta toughen up again. It’s only gonna get crazier from now on I think.
She looked up at the men guarding the deployment chute.
They paid her attention when she moved her head to face them but said nothing.
All of the drones communicated with her only with flashing lights.
Nothing they were saying was important anymore and Hunter III paid them no heed.
Norn taught them Hunter III couldn’t understand them without “brainpower” in this form. Leviforms had different physical senses, but all shared the ability to do omenseeing and use brainpower. Almost nobody at this station had any “brainpower” that Hunter III could tell, much less the ability to do any “omen-seeing.” Norn’s crew did not, that’s why she could manipulate them so easily. Anyone Norn did not control had an amount of brainpower or even omenseeing.
Like Adelheid. Adelheid was being manipulated in some other kind of way.
Love maybe? Hunter III did not really know this stuff too much, though she sort of felt it.
She, in some kind of way, had feelings toward Norn too. Norn was–
Norn was– strange. She was just– strange– Norn was a lot of things!
She could be scary, frustrating, generous– she gave Hunter III a lot of emotions.
Norn said she would free me from Arbitrator II. Why free me though? I’m not trapped…
It was tough to get a handle on her thoughts and feelings.
Her brains were flooding with all kinds of thoughts. Some even the Leviform’s own–
There was not much point in thinking about it further than that.
She had to prepare to leave behind the leviform. Her mind clearly couldn’t take it anymore.
Hunter III quickly ran up a mental inventory of everything that had gone into her body.
She did not understand fully what everything was. Norn could say words like lipase and glycol to her but she did not understand her own body that way. She knew there were hard things, soft things, chemicals in her stomach, fats stored in her tissues, bones sheathed in muscle, sinews and nerves connecting everything. She knew instinctively what to do with the resources of her body to make structures like bio-jets, biocannons, and other secrets locked away in her flesh.
Once she ate the fruit, everything became looser, more flexible, easier to grow and change.
That fruit was filled with the marrow of life, with the power of humanity. Or so the Omenseers said.
Her instinctive control over this power let her understand her body instinctively, like breathing and walking.
In her stomach the guard’s arm she ate sat like a big lump, undigested.
His gun was partially digested.
She had used some of the metal to make the spike she threw at the gun pod.
This was something she did so automatically that she only took stock of it now. There was a lot of yucky stuff that made up a gun, like lead and gunpowder. She would leave that behind in the leviform exuvia and not take it into her “person body,” for the sake of her health. Anything in the exuvia was wholly separate from herself.
She concentrated on establishing her body within the leviform and separating from it anything deleterious. For a moment this increased the feeling of drowning within a pile of meat, and at its height, it almost led her to panic. No amount of discipline could surmount that sudden and torturous feeling when her own body formed within the leviform and the monster she had once been started to slough off, like a relentless shower, heavy and hot droplets of flesh sliding off her face and shoulders, digging herself out of a rancid-smelling miasma of meat and blood–
Hunter III screamed as her head was fully released, dilated eyes darting frantically–
Screaming at the top of her lungs through the bubbling, sliding, shedding fat and meat–
Feeling dizzy as her body turned suddenly lighter, released from the weight, stumbling–
White long hair, skin pale enough to almost see through, a skinny and vulnerable girl staggered forward her feet leaving behind a flattened gelatinous body like a macabre costume, bleeding from the slit along the back that her body escaped through. She was scarred, pronounced spikes growing on her spine and shoulders, the stub of a tail, thick scar tissue on her wrists, all connectors into the machine of meat that lay discarded–
Her vision swam in and out as her feet slipped on the metal floor.
She saw the men move to collect her, but nevertheless she fell. The cold and stale-smelling air of the station and the slight pungency of the body she left behind all vanished along with the colors trapped dancing in its atmosphere. Everything was black, everything was numb, silent, odorless, as her mind darkened with the feeling of falling, the sound of rushing air, a final twist of motion, a sharp thud as she hit the floor– and kept falling.
Into the Ocean once again, into the ocean surrounding them all.
A black body glided through the water, briefly breaching the surface.
Blue sky flecked purple; something distant, massive, drove a thick metal spire into the water–
Pinpricks of violet from the air lashed at her, randomly, painfully–
Driven back into the water by the pain;
Through the currents and the endless blue where there was nothing to see but the dancing microscopic bodies of the tiniest chains of living matter, undisturbed by the events unfolding above the ocean, final stronghold of life in this tortured world. Time and space and place and identity meant nothing to the water that moved by the will of systems so complex as to appear alien, mythical, connecting the past, future and present in a chain of impossible causalities no one human life could have possibly linked and truly comprehended, not in their time, not in the times to come.
On this journey that body went not knowing where or when or why it was and simply eating, growing, mating, fighting, living, never the most massive being in its food chain but quick, clever, knowing when to charge and when to retreat. Rather than a hard shell it formed supple scales and gelatinous membranes; rather than a few thick jets it had many looping fins through which it could carefully guide out the water it sucked in through its gills.
On this journey, it went. Through times, places, unknown.
An enormous body, a truly gigantic, massive being that was like a mountain of meat with great roaring jets, numerous remoral pods that fired a brilliant fusillade of spikes, hundreds of sensing organs that never failed to track. A dozen upright beings with arms that expelled terrible projectiles. A great gaping maw opened that swallowed and brought an end to that life, time yet unknown, purpose never found, position remaining a mystery, somewhere, sometime, in the unnamed immensity of the water. To be eaten, digested, broken down, and part of another life.
Suspended in the bowels of a great being, situated firmly in a space, but unable to move, no current, sucking in but feeling no water to move through, no sound waves to see through. Hazy colors, a hazy picture forming in her once-useless eyes of a dark writhing black-and-red place. She (she?) was not yet eaten, not yet banished back to the carbon chain at the lowest rung of creation. She was still alive, but she was alive in a different way than before–
Her skin, her bones, they were no longer stiff, as if restraints had been torn off her–
“Awaken, become aware, and see the omens. Hunter III of the Third Sphere.”
Below her a group of upright beings with slender limbs, two eyes, hair, smiling mouths, watching her.
All of them smelled like the memories that were quickly fading from her shifting brain.
Red circles around their eyes and red circles around hers as she finally began to See.
When the feeling of weight returned to her Hunter III slowly awoke.
Laying in a soft bed, hazy eyes wandering, she was–
In the Antenora’s infirmary.
There were several beds, lockboxes full of medical goods, a variety of equipment. Hunter III had been fed things from here before. She spotted someone on the other end of the room, a woman, who was unaware she was being watched by the swimming, sleepy eyes of Hunter III. She pulled up her long, quite wavy blonde hair and unlatched a choker that was around her neck. A series of round red and purple bruises was joined by a new one as she injected herself with a large punch-needle full of a light blue fluid. She sighed with great satisfaction before fixing the choker.
Letting herself fall back on her chair with a placid smile for a moment.
Her eyes turned and saw Hunter III out of the corner of her thin-framed glasses.
“Sooner than I expected. Though, I suppose I can’t ever expect anything with you.”
The Antenora’s doctor, Livia Van Der Meer, turning a snake-like grin Hunter III’s way.
“How are you feeling? Anything irregular?” She cooed. Her eyes were a little red.
“Dunno.” Hunter III said. Her own head was still a little woozy.
“Norn forbid me from running any tests or taking blood, so all I could do was take your vitals and set you down somewhere comfy. All I know is that you turned into a monster and back; as you’re known to do.” Livia tittered. “But Norn’s off sulking right now so she can’t interfere if we wanted to have some fun. I’d love to study that interesting body of yours. What do you say? I’ve got plenty of drugs with interesting pharmacokinetics.”
“I dunno what that means.”
“Ah, forget it. I’ll draft something for you to read and sign; informed medical consent is important.”
“Are you ok? All ya keep sayin’ is nonsense to me.”
“I’m feeling splendid, little Hunter.”
Livia stood up from her chair and set down a hand on Hunter III’s head, ruffling her hair.
“Simply forget I said anything earlier. I don’t want to antagonize you.”
“I ain’t antagonized.”
“You won’t tell Norn?”
“Tell Norn what?”
“Good girl.” Livia ruffled her hair even more. “How was your sleep?”
Hunter III feebly defended herself from the petting.
“I dreamt I was a fish.” She mumbled.
“Hmm. That’s a very common dream. Moreso with children, but also adults too.”
“I don’t dream a lot.”
“Are you getting enough sleep? It takes at least 90 minutes to enter an REM cycle.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It’s the deepest form of sleep. It is regenerative, inspiring. Quite sought after.”
“Will I dream I’m a fish again?”
“Ah, forget it, cute little Hunter.”
Livia sat by the bedside, smiling as she turned half-shut eyes on Hunter III.
She sighed and adjusted the tie on her tight-chested button-down shirt. Her hands were covered in the black rubber sleeve of her bodysuit. Her coat, which was dragging down her shoulders, she also pulled back up, as if she needed to make herself look somewhat professional again before she could continue speaking. Pushing up her glasses and making a winking eye at Hunter III, she sat back, one leg over the other, arms crossed.
Tapping the side of the bedframe with the tip of one black pump.
“Norn says you’ll be resting and in reserve for now. You’ll be getting a reward, too.”
“Norn has half a steer in the freezer. Prime red meat. Cooked however you like.”
Hunter III’s eyes opened wide. Her mouth started to water.
“It don’t need to be cooked much! Just thaw it out and torch it a teeny bit!”
Her heart swelled, animated and excited once more, practically jumping in bed.
“Blue rare then? I do love a bloody steak myself. I’ll let Norn know.” Livia said jovially.
Hunter III was so excited she could have leaped on Livia.
For that moment and the hours to come, all she could think about was: meat!
When the Jagdkaiser was returned to the hangar it was in a relatively poor condition.
At least, the part of the Jagdkaiser that Potomac cared about the most was in poor condition.
Sure, the mecha part was fine, and could have operated perfectly well sans the advanced psionic equipment, but who would call that an engineering triumph? Potomac’s inspection after Selene unplugged turned up extensive desynchronization of the homunculus brought about by acute psychomechanical stress. And Norn concerned herself with stuff like the Options — this was the real problem! Without orders and without thanks, Potomac set about recalibrating the Homunculus, so it aligned properly with the mechanical systems again.
While the entire Ocean moved around her, Potomac focused singularly on her task.
Hers was a single-minded focus, and things which did not interest her, she did not notice.
She dug into the cockpit of the Jagdkaiser, and there she stayed while the ship was stocked and inspected and finally made ready to depart from Ajillo. All manner of things had happened in there which Potomac was not concerned with, people were moving about, crates of stuff brought in, bloody people and things— it didn’t matter. Norn killed people seemingly every other day and her reasons were her reasons. Science did not concern itself with the ideology of the donors. As far as Potomac was concerned the sea could have turned upside down, as long as she could continue to work uninterrupted she would not have noticed. And presently, the sea looked quite upright.
Those outside of her organization might have seen her as odd, but among her peers she was entirely ordinary. Save for a rare few like Euphrates, the Immortal Council of the Sunlight Foundation was made up of malcontents that the “normies” would never understand. Her peers were people like Hudson, obsessed with internal organ cybernetics and making herself a machine, and Nile, who was obsessed with tinkering up viruses, parasites, and bacteria.
Potomac thus felt downright dignified to be obsessed with advanced computing instead.
But they were all disconnected from the world because they were seeking a greater truth.
That was the way of the Sunlight Foundation.
After all, if ordinary people could have done it, humanity would already be under the sun.
Because the Homunculus acted as a middleman between the neural input of the pilot and the mechanical systems of the Jagdkaiser, it could get desynchronized both ways, either becoming too sensitive to psionic signals (neurophillic) or too sensitive to digital signals (mechanophillic), creating lag and feedback everywhere. Potomac worked using a sensor which received a psionic waveform from the Homunculus, along with an electrical signal, and she used an electromagnet and her own psionic power to recalibrate the machine back to the desired balance. To untrained eyes it must have looked like she was poking the machine or waving at it — it was more than that!
This was science so advanced that it was verging on magic! Still, it was only science!
It was only the flexible ethics of this generation’s Yangtze that could have led them to finally develop machines like this. They had come close before, but psionic machines were a slow and nearly verboten development for the previous generations of Immortals. A new Yangtze, and new blood like Hudson, and heck, even Norn herself– the past thirty-to-forty years had been fun. They had made progress like they hadn’t in hundreds of years before.
Potomac was excited. She could not wait to see what these Homunculi could do–
–In less barbaric settings as this droll military vessel full of grunting, violent fools.
From below, a voice sounded up at her. How long had it been since she started?
She did not recognize the voice because she rarely recognized anyone’s voice.
When she was completely engaged, there were no other humans around her.
“One moment.” She said dismissively.
“You don’t even have to turn around.”
“Just a minute.”
“I’m just gonna ask a question.”
“Sure thing, sure thing, I’ll be ready in a second.”
Her sixth sense piqued; she felt a psionic outburst behind her–
Potomac turned in time to catch piece of torn carbon fiber hurled her way.
Below her, glowing with a bright red and yellow aura was–
Slender girl, pilot suit, purple hair, long rainbow-colored rabbit antennae, bright yellow eyes–
“That’s not my fucking name you spacey bitch! It’s Selene!”
Selene balled up her hands into fists at her side, gritting her teeth, glaring up at Potomac.
Potomac sighed and shrugged.
“Your inventory codename was Merrimack. Forgive me for not keeping up.”
“Fuck you. Answer my question or I’ll split your head in half.”
Selene picked up another piece of carbon fiber, bits shorn off the Jagdkaiser’s legs.
Potomac looked around, briefly annoyed.
“Where’s Norn? Or Adelheid? Can someone please wrangle this lost child?”
None of the drones were paying attention. Such a thing was not their problem.
Another psionic spike–
Potomac pushed on the projectile and gently deflected it despite Selene’s furious intent.
“Alright! Alright!” Potomac shouted. “I’m sorry! Can we talk about this?”
She was unplugged, and wandered off by herself– why was she back now, and this belligerent?
“I want to know what’s inside that thing!”
Selene pointed past her at the homunculus system Potomac had been tinkering with.
Potomac stared speechlessly, unable to comprehend what was so upsetting.
“That’s all? You’re just curious about it? You didn’t have to throw things at me then!”
“It bled on me!” Selene shouted at the top of her lungs, her eyes tearing up. “I saw it, blood was dripping from between the plates on the dome! What the hell have you stuffed in there? What is it doing to me?”
“What? It doesn’t bleed– and it’s not possible for the organic matter to spill out of it.”
“Huh? It doesn’t– but it’s in there then? There’s something in there?”
Selene stood stunned; her violence suddenly halted.
Had the plates been able to drip at all, it would have compromised everything.
Potomac sighed and continued, matter-of-factly. “There is organic matter inside it, yes, but it could not have dripped on you. It’s a computer made from a neural organoid. It’s a bunch of tissue and I/O plugs in a contained environment. We made it out of pluripotent stem cells. Kind of like how we made you!” She tried to sweeten her tone as she watched Selene visibly stagger back a step, as if shocked dumb to hear this. “It’s completely normal! And it would not be able to bleed on you, the chassis is completely tight, and would need a major rupture before it spilled.”
Selene’s jaw shook. She stared up at Potomac and the Homunculus with drawn-wide eyes.
“It didn’t spill– but I saw– what did I–?”
Her body started to shake. Was this a fear response? Anxiety? She was mumbling too.
Feeling pressured to take some kind of responsibility, Potomac climbed down, out of the cockpit of the Jagdkaiser. Walking calmly, she stood closer to Selene, who made no move to respond or get away, transfixed on the interior of the Jagdkaiser’s cockpit and babbling something through her quivering lips only to herself.
Potomac begrudgingly spread her arms wide and drew Selene into a big hug.
“There, there. Clearly the current events are getting to you and your mental state isn’t 100%. You’re a sensitive girl. I forgive you. All that violence is unhealthy for you! I’ll ask Norn to give you a break from–”
At that moment, Selene screamed at the top of her lungs. She burst out crying.
Burying her head into Potomac’s chest and screaming right into the woman’s bosom.
Potomac hardly knew how to respond. She rubbed her head. She ruffled her hair.
With a sour look on her face, Potomac stood in the hangar holding the screaming girl.
Selene continued to scream, cry, to shove her head against Potomac. It went on; and on.
Hours after the incident that would be known as the “Ajillo Mutiny,” the Antenora departed from the station, having expunged all records relating to its visit save for small signs of the macabre violence which they had committed. It did not matter to Norn, who had gotten what she had wished for most of all: a chance to mete out the fullness of her violence on a suitably deserving fool. To test the freedom and dominance she attained, to flex the powers she had collected on her journey. A show of force not unlike those she performed under Konstantin.
After causing this scene, however, she quickly retreated back to her quarters.
Her physical appearance was causing her a thin mist of disgust and distress.
Dancing in the back of her head as if the tiniest insect had slipped beneath her skin.
Her skin which was no longer so fair, and in large part had become blueish-gray.
Her vibrant blond ponytail was returning to its natural silver-white coloration.
Norn shed her bloodstained and torn clothes and walked naked around her room, the wall surfaces mirroring her on every third panel. A warm yellow and wine-red radiance spread from the dim light sources sensually coloring the room. She could have banished the mirrors but she never did. Instead she stared at herself in them, as if equally fascinated and reviled, obsessed, and repelled. Her figure was no different, her stature, the sleekness of her limbs or the slenderness of her torso, none of it was any different. And yet she still felt like she was seeing herself as a monster.
She caught sight of her tail– a tiny little stub of a tail. It was growing. Again.
In an instant, almost automatically, she sliced it clean off with a telekinetic thrust.
A little bloody piece of blueish-gray katarran flesh landed on the floor.
Instantly, a tiny little round drone activated, picked it up, and took it out of sight.
Over the wound the blood curdled nearly instantly — Norn froze it shut.
When she cut her tail for the first time it had been agony.
Now, there was hardly feeling left.
Shutting her eyes, Norn walked over to the shower.
As much as Norn had wanted to keep her room spartan and miserable as possible, as much as she would have loved to hide herself in a literal can like a sardine, she did have a few necessities. Some particularly for the sake of certain others; the bed, for example, was a double-wide and plush, and there was a bedside table upon which there was a bottle of wine. For herself, she needed a personal shower and toilet. She could never allow anyone to see her so vulnerable. And there was a desk, too, with a dedicated terminal, which was the part of the room Norn used the most.
On the side of the room, the seemingly steel wall became clear glass and slid open, showing its true nature as the door to a spacious integrated shower with porcelain up to the knee, enabling it to serve as a bath also. There was an adjustable shower head with a variety of pressure settings, a set of fragrant bath and hair gels, scrubbing pads, and it even dispensed a black bath robe in a waterproof case for her use after the deed was done.
Norn slipped inside and shut the glass door and obscured it from no one’s eyes.
On a wall panel she set the water pressure and temperature digitally.
Pulling the shower head down, she stood directly under the gentle jets of warm water.
Hands up against the wall, head bowed, her soaked hair falling over her face, mist rising.
There was a sudden self-loathing thought that she could have frozen herself to death here.
Amid the prurient luxury of her pearlescent private shower, within the fog, a frozen statue.
Mehmed was never burned by his own flames; this was something the Sunlight Foundation once set down as a rule for the powers observed from the Apostles. Only Apostles had the ability to induce the extreme effects that characterized them. Accreting dust into boulders to fling, stirring gusts that hit with the force of a wrecking ball, hurling stalactites and searing flames drawn from seemingly nowhere. Apostles could not be hurt by their own powers–
–until Norn was observed.
Norn was unique among them.
She knew Majida could burn with impunity, just as Mehmed once did.
Had Norn not tampered with it, the little girl’s power would have also worked similarly.
It stood to reason to change the “rule” once there was an exception.
But Norn always believed she was totally unique, and unique in one specific way.
None of the Apostles hated themselves as much as she did.
So, of course, she could stop her own heart, freeze her own flesh off.
Psionics was the product of the human mind brought to its utmost extremes, living in a world that could kill humans at any moment with complete impunity, a world of such random and brutal cruelty. A mind subjected to the background stress of an existence which would never be truly comfortable, never be truly safe. A mind brought to an alien place and its alien pressures. The Sunlight Foundation believed the human mind was expanding somehow, underwater. The human mind was tapping into some kind of current which had existed unseen beneath the waves.
Mehmed once believed his power had a lineage to the surface — to the soul of the Shimii’s holy savior.
Majida doubtless believed the same, as the one now, essentially, carrying that exact “soul.”
Norn understood her psionics as the product of her own relationship to her ailing mind and the world around her. She had no special soul, no grand religious lineage. That she was an Apostle was a coincidence, an absurdity of life. She was born in a vat, tampered with using fossilized fish DNA. She was a Katarran, a twisted thing in the image of a human, made from tinkering with cells for the purpose of war. Normal Katarrans were sharks, jellyfish, crabs– she was a Panthalassian and so some of her DNA was drawn from mummified panderichthys tissue. She was a constructed thing, a walking falsehood. And she wasn’t even the constructed thing she wanted to have been.
She hid herself behind an Imbrian aesthetic, an Imbrian identity; and it gave her comfort.
Norn butted her head against the metal wall, shouting at the top of her lungs.
No one could have heard through the soundproofed walls, it was liberating, cathartic.
She hardly felt the pain. Only a tiny trickle of red trailed down the wall.
Water flowed through her hair, down her neck and over her shoulders and back.
Drops fell with rhythmic pops against the sleek porcelain floor of the shower.
Save for that, and the heavy panting of the woman inside it, the place was soundless.
Her own little world with as false a sense of peace and security as she herself was false.
Tears drew from her eyes that collected down the drain with the rest of the water.
Fangs bared; a ferocious grin appeared on her face as she began to weep.
“Konstantin, can you see me now, from where you are? Are you hurting too?”
Like the human brain screamed psionically for new powers with which to survive, a new world itself was screaming to be born within the Imbrium Ocean. A world that started with the abortive revolution of the Fueller Reformation and now reached its climax. Norn shed her tears in the shower and indulged her thoughts of self-destruction; because she had to walk outside of that glass cage where her fury and sorrow was bared and fertilize the ground of the new world with all of the vermin of the old. Their bodies, their minds, their ideas, their goals; compost for her garden.
Most of all, Konstantin’s body, mind, ideas, and goals.
His was the most potent fertilizer of all, and the one Norn most sought after.
She would hurt him, to his grave and beyond it. In a way that he finally truly felt.
“Fair’s fair, isn’t it? You never understood my pain.”
She started to laugh, clapping one of her hands over her eyes.
Eyes still copiously shedding tears.
“You took advantage of me. But I was always going to have the last laugh. I told you!”
Grinning with gritted teeth.
“All of your treasures would be mine, to enjoy, to discard, to break. No hard feelings!”
Thin red circles appeared around her eyes as she punched the wall.
Enough to deform the metal; while only lightly hurting her fist.
Katarrans were built pretty sturdy. That was the whole point of them as a people.
Her other hand reached for the gel dispenser.
Foaming suds spread across her hair, her body, as she rubbed herself down with it under the water. Switching the shower head to a special spray mode meant to blast dirt off her body — however effective it was at actually cleaning her, it had a soothing effect on her body, like the massage that Adelheid had promised and likely would not deliver. Having lounged around enough and achieving the end result of taking a shower at all, a cleaner, much less emotionally fraught Norn stepped out of the shower, wearing a black robe open down the middle.
Sighing deeply as the cool air of the room caressed her bare chest.
“For everyone’s sakes, I have to–” She started to speak but paused when she heard a titter.
When she took stock, she found someone sitting at her bed, legs crossed.
Smiling a vixen’s smile, giggling to herself, one hand lightly over her lips.
“Oh my~ what a lovely sight. I barged in just in time.”
Adelheid’s gaze disrespectfully traced Norn’s exposed body from her breasts to her dick.
There was really no other way to interpret that lascivious expression. Sitting there in her button-down shirt and tie, her open coat, her little skirt and leggings, her hair pinned up, and her bodysuit curiously missing.
Staring right at Norn’s groin.
“You’ve got some nerve lately.” Norn said.
“I’ve been curious actually, do all Katarran women have one?”
She pointed between Norn’s legs, causing Norn to follow her finger mindlessly.
Staring down at herself, she sighed, already exhausted with Adelheid’s manic play-acting.
“We’re all genetic freaks. It’s not something consistent. We are whatever comes out.”
“So it’s not something that’s really chosen, it just happened?”
“No Adelheid, as a fetus, I did not choose to be born with a dick.”
“So sarcastic! But you don’t dislike it, I know that much.”
“You’re right, there are things about myself I hate far more.”
Norn wandered to the other side of her room, pacing near her desk.
Adelheid smiled and tipped her head a little, making a cutesy shrug.
“I think you’re beautiful.” She said. “All of you is. In whatever form I see you in.”
Norn shot a glance at her.
“Trying to cheer me up?” Norn grunted.
“That or watch you sulk more in the nude, either works!” Adelheid teased.
Norn turned her back.
She reached for a plastic band from her desk and tied her hair up in a ponytail again. A seemingly innocuous action but she carried on with it methodically, in silence, for a minute or two. Waiting to see if she heard another peep out of Adelheid, her emotions simmering to a calm but constant bubbling. When she turned back around, she walked as if going past Adelheid on the bed. Her eyes stared past the beautiful redhead as if in disdain.
Then she stopped in front of Adelheid.
She turned toward the younger woman and raised a hand to her cheek.
Tracing the outline of her jaw, the softness of her chin, a grin growing on Norn’s face.
Adelheid looked up at her, sitting on the bed with a tiny halfway smile, lips barely parted.
Norn’s fingers lifted off that rosy cheek and gave it a few soft taps.
“Norn–? What’s with you–?”
Upon hearing her voice again, Norn’s fingers came down much faster, striking the same cheek.
Watching Adelheid cringe and grit her teeth in response to the slap– pure endorphins.
Grinning, Norn grabbed hold of Adelheid’s hair by the bun and pulled her head back.
Leaning forward and taking in Adelheid’s wide-eyed surprise, staring deep and close.
Norn stared directly into her eyes and Adelheid submitted instantly, her lip quivering, vocalizing nothing.
Internally she was satisfied with the reaction, but outwardly Norn scoffed.
“You called me Astra Palaiologos– don’t think I forgot. It’s been burning in my head. You’ve tested my patience before, acted out in all manner of stupid ways. I trusted you with that name, and you just spat it back at me. It is not my fault for trusting you: it’s your fault. You’ll behave– You’ll learn to behave because I’ll make you.” She pulled Adelheid’s red hair enough to loosen it from the bun, the silver hairclip fell clanging to the ground. Her dexterous fingers quickly seized upon the loose hair to retain firm command of Adelheid’s head, with a brusqueness that led the redhead to reach up to Norn’s hand reflexively. “And who said you could touch me? Hands off, now.”
Rather than strike Adelheid’s hand, she slapped her across that same reddening cheek.
Adelheid brought her hands down to the side of the bed, gripping the sheets.
Norn glanced at the door; eyes briefly glowing. All of the locking mechanisms engaged.
Then she turned her gaze, now bereft of psionic potency, back on her prey.
“Passphrase. Tell me now.” Norn demanded.
In a muttering little voice. “Cusp.” Their passphrase; something that couldn’t be misheard.
It was a weak, but instant reply. It almost prompted Norn to praise her– almost.
Not yet though. Nowhere near close.
“And if you can’t speak?”
A more animated voice came out of Adelheid, between a little gasp as Norn’s hand crawled down her neck and grabbed hold of her collar and tie as if to force an answer. “Clap my left hand, three times.” She said.
“Correct.” Not good, acceptable, satisfactory. Nothing for her to feel lifted by.
Without warning Norn pulled her tie up, suddenly forcing Adelheid to stand up straight.
“Norn, I can be–!”
Just taking her, pulling her, having control of her, sent blood rushing through Norn.
She felt herself coursing with vigor, every part of her standing alert.
Whenever she raised her voice, whenever she exerted physical force– pleasure swelled.
Feeling the tiny pulses of Adelheid’s life through the collar, through the grip on her hair.
“Can you be good?” Norn asked; but gave no time to answer.
In an instant Norn served herself the girl’s lips, stealing the lacquer taste of red lipstick and the bitter bite of the wine she had left out. Possessive tongue intruding past, longer, deeper than Adelheid’s own like she could taste the back of her throat, warm breaths captured from the girl squirming in her grip. Holding her tight by the neck and hair, asserting her control. Adelheid’s eyes shut from a brief but sharp scraping of teeth as Norn suddenly parted.
Adelheid’s jaw hung slightly open, a tiny pinprick of blood on the inside of her lip.
Tongue drawn back, labored shuddering breaths, a droplet of sweat down her red flecked cheek.
Her eyes were cloudy. As if she was staring past Norn.
Norn’s fingers crawled, between the tie, into the collar, running over that soft pink skin.
Adelheid shivered as if electrified by the touch. She locked eyes with Norn.
“Can you be good?” Norn asked her again.
“I can be good.” Adelheid said. Her voice drawling, distant.
Those words in that tone– they were a jolt of pure pleasure down all of Norn’s veins.
As if there was no weight to her, Norn suddenly threw Adelheid back down to the bed–
Holding the tie–
Adelheid vocalized something incoherent as she jerked forward on her leash.
Pulled to the end of the bed once more, her head coming to rest against Norn’s belly.
That hand which had been holding her hair from the back now held it from the top.
Palm resting over Adelheid’s crown and guiding her head farther below.
“Do I need to remind you what to do?”
Adelheid’s lips closed around Norn’s cock with no further prompting.
For a moment Norn almost lost her iron-like composure.
That touch, that feeling of pressure and tightness over her most sensitive skin– Warmth, the slickness of Adelheid’s lips and tongue as she took Norn in deep and drew back over the shaft– to see those soft lips stuffed full of her erection and incapable of backchat– it was intoxicating, it started to flood over Norn’s mind, to draw out the fullness of her senses, from below her belly to her hips and the tips of her breasts, like electricity and fire–
Above all else, the sense of control—
Looking down at the cascade of red hair parting for that pearl-pink face so focused on her.
She hardly needed to be told. She was so dutiful, so instantly bound.
Pulling back, sliding her tongue over the blueish-pink head–
Staring up with her cloudy eyes while kissing playfully on the very tip–
“Don’t get too full of yourself.” Norn mocked, briefly shutting her eyes.
In response, Adelheid took her into her mouth fully once again.
Norn drew in a breath, shutting her lips. Holding back any sound of satisfaction. Trying to appear composed despite the quaking in her gut and groin. Norn stroked Adelheid’s hair with increasing intensity as her lover eagerly tasted her. A fluttering feeling for her lover soared in her heart; as burning a passion as she felt below.
At that point, Norn felt, her own body was perfect. Paired with Adelheid, it was perfect.
“You’re trying so hard. I’m going to test you then.”
Her free hand crawled to Adelheid’s face.
Caressing fingers on one white cheek, briefly pulling the hair out of her lover’s eyes.
Drumming on the silk-soft flesh, one-two-three–
Drawing back from that cheek–
Adelheid groaned through a mouthful of cock.
As she recoiled from the slap there was the briefest brush of teeth on Norn’s shaft.
That fleeting sting sent a thrill rushing through to Norn’s hips, made her quiver.
Adelheid knew not to bite down. She struggled and succeeded in controlling herself.
Norn loved the threat of it. That ephemeral press of the hot vice on the skin of her dick.
Her fingers dug into Adelheid’s head, her feet shifted, she bent forward, beginning to shake her hips and thighs in rhythm to Adelheid’s mouth, to lose herself to the tight, rushing sensation suddenly reaching its peak. A smile, a wild mad smile on Norn’s face– she fought back laughter. It was all she could do to let off steam, in a way that would not give in and show too much leniency. All the while the tension continued to build inside her.
“Let’s see if you’re really a good girl.”
Stroking her hair with one hand while holding her head with the other–
Then seizing her by the back of her head, playfully going deeper in her mouth.
Pushing her closer, sliding every millimeter she could–
Her tip held tight in Adelheid’s throat–
“Nothing– nothing to say–?” She teased but in reality Norn could barely breathe.
Such emotion, such a swelling surge of pleasure, Norn could hardly remain upright, feeling Adelheid’s shaking body coming closer, enveloped in her flesh, savoring the wet gagging noises and closed-eyed focus from her partner who was so compliant, who made no protest as Norn thrust ever deeper into her mouth and into climax. Shuddering from her core, feeling all of the pent-up tension come washing over her, doused in that passion–
“Good girl. Good girl.” Norn gasped for breath.
A trickle of fluid spilled from Adelheid’s mouth as Norn pulled back, mixed spit and cum trailing from those obedient red lips. Adelheid’s deeply flushed face glistened in the light with beaded sweat. Red hair hanging messy, framing fog-lost eyes gone to a world of their own. Chest rising and falling, panting, plaintive in posture, arms holding weakly onto Norn for support. Legs shaking, toes curling, her heels discarded meters past the foot of the bed.
Norn watched her, drawing back, recovering her own breath and composure.
Watched her, as the smallest impression of a smile began to form on her face.
“Don’t get complacent. I’m nowhere near done with you.”
She bent down to fix Adelheid’s distant eyes with her own focused gaze.
When their eyes met, Adelheid quivered again.
Norn crawled into bed, imposing herself once more.
Adelheid folded as Norn advanced, lying back and letting her lover loom over.
Laying one forceful hand over Adelheid’s wrist for support, Norn let her free hand roam.
Tracing a line from navel to breast as she popped every button on the girl’s shirt.
Unveiling a fashionable black brassiere, sheer cups with a butterfly wing pattern.
Norn pulled it down gently.
Basking in the glow of those pert, pale breasts soon exposed.
Her eyes broke from Adelheid’s hazy gaze. It was her turn to lavish Adelheid’s body with attention, to worship at her altar as she had been worshipped. Of course, her worship had a different tone. She was slavish in her own way but Norn wanted to see red, wanted to leave a claiming mark. Slowly, methodically Norn brought her lips to the tip of one of Adelheid’s breasts, taking the dark-pink flesh into a kiss while stroking the other breast, squeezing it in her hands until the tips of her fingers dug. She felt Adelheid quake as her tongue flicked over the girl’s nipple.
Heard her whine and felt her shifting legs as sharp teeth grazed past the nipple–
And closed on the areola, leaving a circular impression on the pliable skin–
Adelheid made delightful little noises, whining and panting as Norn teased her breasts roughly.
Tongue tasting sweat, mismatched teeth marks and bright red spots of sucking kisses–
Relishing in the feeling of that perfect soft skin giving in so easily, turning so red–
Feeling every tiny vibration of the skin against her lips, the little moans and sharp intakes of breath–
By the same hand she had been squeezing against the bed, Norn helped Adelheid to shift position. Her prey dutifully showed her back, and Norn pulled her shirt all the way off to expose it. Another ocean of white to turn blissfully red. Adelheid was strong for a rich girl, but still soft all over, the slightest trace of Norn’s hands leaving red trails on the girl’s skin. She was sensitive, shuddering predictably at the claws awaiting the taste of skin.
Norn’s wandering hands crawled down that beautiful back to the waist, taking their time.
Short blunt fingernails tight enough to draw a scarlet path that caused her back to arch.
Over the gentle slope of the lower back to the curve of the buttocks, beneath black and silver fabric.
Skirt and tights went down below thin, silky panties designed to match the bra.
They slid down off her firm, round rear quite easily. Norn pushed her head down.
She couldn’t see Adelheid’s face anymore, only the waves of red hair.
Yet she had a vivid picture in her mind. Those entranced eyes half-shut, biting her lips, taking in sharp breaths. Her hands drawn together against the headboard as if bound despite being left quite free. The moment Norn finally cupped a greedy handful of her ass, Adelheid’s entire body visibly shuddered in anticipation. Fingers dug, released; a firm slap drew a surprised little cry from Adelheid’s lips and left a red imprint as bright as the bite marks.
Bent over, rear up and head down, with Norn’s face now buried in her hair.
Shaking from outstretched hands to curled toes, her back drawing in and out with the exertion of breath.
While Norn loved to see her expressions, she relished in having only body language to divine from.
“Good girl, good girl. You’re really improving. You’ve earned a reward.”
Once more Norn’s hands traveled skillfully where they wished, but so did her lips.
Sucking, biting kisses tracing down that slender white neck, those soft, round shoulders, and the supple impressions of the shoulderblades. She found a spot, silk-soft and firm, right behind the shoulder, to leave a bite, to sink her teeth and carve an impression of her hunger on Adelheid’s white flesh once more. Adelheid gasped, cried out in surprise, and her shuddering and shaking transferred to Norn who had fully climbed over her, skin to skin, breasts against back, pressing her soft dick against softer flesh and her fangs tasting a bead of sweat and iron–
And in response to that wavelength which formed between their flesh–
Norn slipped her hand between Adelheid’s thighs while biting down on her back.
“Ahh! Norn! Norn!”
Hearing her yell that name in passion was almost enough to get Norn hard again.
Her agile fingers split Adelheid open, massaging her needy clit–
“Ahh–! I love–! I love you–! –Norn!”
That was all she had wanted to hear.
Such a thing as she could not say with words, Norn said with her hands, with her lips.
Brought to her peak by the touch Adelheid bucked her hips, threw her back, squirmed, and moaned in Norn’s embrace while those fingers continued to work her clit in perfect sync drawing out every possible second of passion. Norn felt her stiffen, straightened, slacken, hands coming down from the headboard. Her whole body softened; tension released by the swelling rhythm of an orgasm that shook her hips and thighs with a final throes.
Adelheid fell silent and still, insensate in her own ocean of blood and pleasure.
Norn’s teeth released Adelheid’s shoulder and caught in her own passion Norn suddenly laid copious kisses wherever she could reach, on the neck, on the cheek. Not to paint over the reddening white of her lover’s skin but to satisfy her own irrepressible, flooding desire to love the girl whom fate had given her.
Coming to lie behind her, to take her a gentle embrace, holding her tight.
No need to speak, to say, “good girl,” and disturb the moment.
She knew she was a good girl. And she knew that Norn, certainly, loved her back.
Norn pressed her forehead to Adelheid’s face, feeling her peaceful breaths.
She treasured her so much. She wanted to grab hold of her and never let go.
For a moment, she felt perfect. All of her past disappeared, all of the souls tethered to her.
Born Astra Palaiologos; became Norn and then Norn von Fueller.
Created in Katarre in a bid to end the desperate struggle there.
Holding her beloved close, Norn felt like a person made in heaven instead of a vat.
Now she had a new Ocean to rule with a new purpose.
I’ll protect you. I’ll protect you and everyone else from all of this.
They couldn’t simply say these things to each other. But their bodies always knew.
Hours passed, with Adelheid sleeping soundly on Norn’s bed under wine-red sheets.
Norn herself rested, for a time.
However, she soon received a message, and then a call. Dressed in the Fueller family coat over her robe, closed and buttoned down, she took the call on her desk. A two-way video window appeared on the wall of the desk. With the way it was oriented, Adelheid was vaguely visible in the background. She was bundled up and decent, however.
“Is this a bad time–? Oh. I did not intend to force you to appear in that skin, Aunt Norn.”
“I could’ve declined. I’ll be looking the picture of Imbrian perfection again soon.”
“I see. Very well. I have a few things I wanted to discuss before I leave the capital.”
On the screen was a young man with golden blond hair, his beautiful features clashing with the drab rigidity of his pristine military uniform, grand epaulets, and red cape, his chest adorned with dozens of honors, all framing him as some mighty conquering force and not the boy she knew him as. To Norn, this was someone she always thought of as “a boy”: Erich von Fueller, first in line to the throne in the traditional order of things, oldest son of the late Emperor Konstantin von Fueller. A boy with the same emotionless face as he had in childhood.
“You’re leaving Heitzing? Is it time for the Bosporan campaign, this soon?”
“No, not yet.” Erich said. “The Volkisch Movement to the south is testing our patience.”
“That’s not all they are testing. They are goading you, but you also don’t have the freedom to rise to every provocation, little man. To conquer the west and south, is to leave the east and north without forces. You do not have the power to conquer both, and you will not ever have it if you choose your targets poorly.” Norn said.
“I am not going to conquer the Volkisch. At the moment, they are too useful.”
“Ah, so a show of force to bring them to heel.”
Norn felt terribly amused by all of this, wearing a broad grin as she listened to her newphew.
“It’s also foolish to call too many bluffs. Your father was too fond of ‘showing force’, to the point he ‘showed force’ everywhere at once and had no position from which he could mount an effective, transformative campaign. You would do well to know where you can afford to commit and for how long.” Norn said. She smiled casually.
Erich’s expression did not change in response to her.
“I understand. Thank you for the wisdom. I believe this skirmish will be punctual and short. Unlike father I am leading this show of force myself. I could fail; but if I do, I will do so personally.”
“Entertaining the possibility of defeat was so not like you, years ago. You’ve matured.”
“I’ve grown quite independent. But I also have something to lose now. I’ve fallen in love.”
Norn grinned. Such a funny thing to say! “Fallen in love? I can relate to that.”
Erich nodded. “Adelheid van Mueller is the girl on the bed?”
“Indeed. How are the Muellers doing lately?”
There was no shame between them. It was like an exchange between fond friends.
“Adelheid’s connection to you has irreparably tied them to the Fueller family. It prevented them from running away to be at the head of the Royal Alliance, despite being the number two family in influence. They are instead a functional but not spectacular part of my logistics network. Serviceable but not splendid. To think that girl’s love for you destroyed the second family of the Empire so thoroughly. It gives me hope for the future.”
“I’m glad you find it charming. I’ve been feeling like I’m twenty years old again.”
“I am happy for you. However, there is a reason I called beyond catching up.”
Erich’s expression had never turned smiling nor overtly serious. He was just not like that with anyone as far as Norn knew. He was always stone faced and neutral. However his tone of voice could indicate his mood. He had been animated, speaking out of a sense of love for the one family member whom he wanted to be cordial to.
However, now his voice had become graver.
“It’s about father. I tell you in the hope that our alliance will persevere despite–”
Norn smiled broadly and interrupted him quickly. “I know you killed Konstantin.”
There was no surprise in Erich’s face. He had anticipated that reaction. Of course he had.
“You grew to become chiefly responsible for his security. So of course you knew.”
“I knew. Knowledge of your plot was, in fact, what prevented me from killing him.”
“In a sense then, you raised me for the task. Or it was favorable to you how events played out.”
“This was the outcome that caused Konstantin the most pain. So of course I desired it.”
Erich nodded his acceptance. It did not faze him.
“I made sure he knew it was me, and that he was too crippled to say so until his end.”
“You’re wrong that he couldn’t say so, Erich. We talked plenty in his dying days. Nobody but me knows how long he had been truly ill nor the characteristics of his illness. He knew it was you. It killed him more than the injection.”
Erich blinked and kept his eyes shut for a moment. “I see. You talked, but he wouldn’t say it aloud.”
“He was so proud of you. He never knew he was so hated. By you and in general.”
“I despised him utterly. Him and everything he stood for. I wanted to avenge mother.”
“Well, now he is dead and everything he stands for is in pieces.” Norn said, grinning.
“Not everything.” Erich’s gaze drifted. “Aunt Norn I must know: did my father love you?”
Norn put on a bloody grin in front of her nephew’s deathly serious face.
“Do you think I’m one of his treasures that still needs breaking?” She said coyly.
“Not necessarily. Should we ever come to blows, I hope it would not be over something so petty and pointless as this. Furthermore, whatever the answer, you’ll always be my favorite family member.”
How amusing; playing the sweet boy still when he had grown into a schemer himself.
“So just out of curiosity? We had a complicated relationship. He loved me sometimes and hated me other times. I at best found him amusing and at worst disgusting. I am certainly thankful for all the power and authority he conferred unto me, even as I was abusing it to torment him. I– I never loved him.”
She hesitated only slightly.
If she ever loved Konstantin, it was more like an awful younger brother than anything else.
Erich seemed satisfied with the answer.
“I have been preoccupied with understanding father. Now that I have to exercise power in his absence. What drove him to take power? What led him to fail to enact his so-called Reformation? Did he struggle against the forces trying to restrict his revolution or did he embrace them? Was it hedonism, nihilism– why did he fall?”
Norn scoffed. “He has nothing valuable to teach you. Just forget about him.”
Erich nodded. “No one wishes to forget him more than I do, Aunt Norn.”
“Is that why you let me take over the Fueller family without objection?”
“Yes. I surrendered the stewardship because I despise the Fueller name and its people.”
Erich briefly paused. He was clearly surprised and collecting himself for a response.
Norn pressed him. “Enough to kill her, even?”
“When her mother was killed, I felt thrilled because it would hurt father. As for Elena herself, I have always contained myself to doing the bare minimum to support her, and I did the bare minimum. I treated her well, but I could never love her. It is good that she is gone; she was too helpless for this world and would have only been used her entire life. She is doubtless in a more merciful place now. But I did not kill her. I would never do that.” Erich said.
A carefully crafted response, but still a completely snake-like one.
“Your choice of action and inaction was tantamount to sanctioning murder.” Norn said.
“I miscalculated the degree of danger she and I were in. It was one of doubtless many errors I will make.”
That was the thinnest veneer of an excuse. As far as Norn cared, Erich did kill Elena.
He killed her as soon as he scheduled that party and he knew it.
However, it did not matter. Just as it did not matter that he killed Konstantin.
In Konstantin’s case, Norn was in the same place as Erich was for Elena.
Action and inaction tantamount to sanctioning murder.
Doubtless Norn had premeditated Konstantin’s death far more than Erich had for Elena’s.
Erich did not dwell on it. He seemed to finally say what he came here to say.
“I wanted to reaffirm our alliance. Not from my end, but from yours.”
“Oh? Surely you see that I am enjoying the lovely ship you have granted me.”
“Aunt Norn, your existence and power is a threat and moderating influence on the Sunlight Foundation and this is why I want to continue to equip and supply you. Working with them has shown me that they are the next terror that must be destroyed after the Imbrian Ocean is reunited. From Nile’s poisons to Hudson’s machines, to Yangtze’s foul intellect, they have broken their self-styled scientist’s creed and cannot be trusted to continue on in the shadows. They have wronged you in the past. I believe you can agree with me. And that it can continue to unify us for the moment.”
“I’m hurt. You act as if it’s inevitable I’ll betray you unless we have a common enemy.”
Norn pouted and feigned injury, making a face almost like what Adelheid would have.
“You have a track record of needing those common enemies, I’m afraid.” Erich said.
“Is that so?”
“As much as I esteem you, Aunt Norn, I know you will give me no choice but to fight you.”
Norn fixed his eyes with a suddenly proud, red-ringed stare. “You’d be a fool to even try, my sweet boy.”
His mind was as guarded as his father’s was. A vexing mental labyrinth.
But the sensation of her probing must have still bothered him. He did not let it show.
Instead, he nodded solemnly. “Will I see you at the Fueller family reunion soon?”
“I’ll try to make it, of course.” Norn said. Her eyes softened and she smiled again.
Bounding back from threats to casual family talk had become quite a Fueller pastime.
“Very well. It is always refreshing to speak to you. I hope that those defectors prove useful.”
“Best of luck to you on campaign, my precious nephew.”
She truly meant it. It would be a pity for him to exit the stage this early.
Especially if what he said was true, and he had learned to love another person.
As always, the Imbrium Ocean was simply replete with dramas and tragedies.
Erich’s face disappeared from the screen, but there was another call lined up.
Norn put it on one-way video. She could see who it was, but they would not see her.
A woman with copious, wavy blonde hair and a devilish smile appeared.
“I’m here.” Norn said.
“Good evening boss. I have prepared everything for the procedure.”
She gestured to a machine behind her, and a visible container of biomaterials.
“Splendid. Can’t wait to be in your care again, doctor.”
“I’ll even be a bit sober for it. I’ll await your arrival, then.”
Doctor Livia Van Der Meer disappeared from the screen.
Norn sighed. Her new Second Skin was ready to be applied.
Looking over her shoulder at Adelheid, she wished she could sleep so soundly.
Before she could leave the desk and return to bed, there was yet another message.
“As soon as they see my computer is on they just start flooding me.” Norn grumbled.
This one, however, piqued Norn’s attention.
It was a distress signal forwarded from the bridge to her room.
From the Iron Lady — flagship of the Inquisition and its flagship Inquisitor, Lichtenberg.
Norn flashed a sudden smile.
“Little Gertrude? My foolish little Gertrude is here? Oh, this I must see.”
Truly the drama of the abyss never ceased! What brought Gertrude out here?
Could it be–?