Bandits Amid The Festival [11.5]

This chapter contains sexual content.

“Hey, Olga,”

Several hundred meters below the baseplate of Kreuzung’s core station, the subversive Katarran group known as the Rotfront made a little base of operations. It wasn’t in the initial plan; but now most of the group’s officers had taken up temporary residence in the twisting maintenance tunnels that once served the central construction shaft. After a short meeting to explain the purpose of their visit to Kreuzung and the expectations of the next day, their leader Erika bid farewell and walked out of the room Kalika, Dimmitra and Chloe were sharing prior to the visit from their superior officers.

Olga Athanasiou quietly followed behind Erika after her bombastic declarations.

And Kalika Loukia followed behind Olga, getting her attention.

While Erika walked cheerfully away and around an elbow in the deep pipes ahead.

“Oh, sorry–” Kalika interrupted herself and sighed. “Maybe you should catch up.”

“You underestimate her.” Olga said. “She’ll be fine. Talk to me.”

“I suppose you will say ‘you are underestimating her’ again.” Kalika said. “But is it really okay for her to be gallivanting all throughout the underground? She should have left this delegated to her officers. I or Dimmitra, one of us was going to handle the negotiating, weren’t we? Or even Chloe could– there was no need for her to come personally.”

“She really wants to.” Olga said gently. “It’s not my place to disabuse her of her desires.”

She and Kalika were a bit of a study in contrasts.

Kalika was a tall and colorful woman, somewhat like their commander. She was well-made up in the face, her hair was artfully cared for, her clothes, even in the underground, had a luster to them. Kalika oozed style and confidence. Olga, meanwhile, was a very neutral woman. She was dressed in long beige pants and a black hooded jacket hiding a nanomail shirt. Her pure white hair had a few wide streaks of black running through it, some in her bangs, some in her simple, mid-length ponytail. Olga was short, and not broad or curvy enough to make up the difference in mass to Kalika overall.

Despite this, Olga was second-in-command, and Erika’s personal bodyguard.

When she spoke, Kalika responded with respect and deference.

“You have a say also, and she would listen to you. She’d be safer waiting on the Rostock.”

Olga shook her head. “My duty and pride is in keeping her safe, not confined.”

“Sometimes, confinement is the safest option. Look– Erika has all the vision, you know?”

“I understand your concerns. But please trust me; and trust her.” Olga said, gentle but firm.

“Let me accompany you to the negotiation.” Kalika said. “Not out of disrespect to you as her security chief. You know I trust you in a fight. But just to assuage my fears of foul play.”

“We were already planning to take someone else. So that’s no problem.” Olga said calmly.

Kalika nodded her head, sighing with a bit of relief.

Her bright gaze then seemed to fall upon the pocket of Olga’s hoodie.

“Are you bringing a gun up there?” Kalika asked. “It’s not wise.”

She did indeed have a pistol in her pocket. Olga always carried a firearm.

“It’s very small and made of pure carbon, it won’t trigger anything.” Olga said. “I’ve got my fists too, but I’d rather not draw too much blood. It’s– It’s a problem for me if I get too crazy.”

Kalika nodded her head. She understood, without asking further questions about it.

Or– she thought she understood.

Katarrans had different biologies and psychologies, different modus operandi and creeds.

There were some for whom a prolonged fight might trigger a mental episode.

Others for whom chopping bodies might excite their physical senses too much.

Kalika assumed it was a case like that. She was a Katarran so she understood this implicitly.

Olga was not actually a Katarran, however.

So Kalika did not actually understand her ‘special case’. And it would remain that way.

“Olga, I believe in the future Erika wants to build. I just want you to know that. That’s why we all need her.” Kalika said. “It’s why we all worry about her. It’s why she needs to be careful. I know that she is personally strong. But assassins and plots can overcome great personal strength.”

Olga smiled. “I should like to see them try anything with her.”

She turned around and waved goodbye behind herself, leaving Kalika in the middle of the tunnel with a befuddled expression. She heard the door into the little room open and shut and made her way around the corner Erika had taken. As she suspected, she found their esteemed commander waiting just around that corner, with her arms crossed, and her back to the wall, smiling.

“Kalika cares a lot about you. Or, at least, about your vision.” Olga said casually.

Erika beamed innocently, looking almost girlish. “A testament to my grand charisma.”

“I wonder how they would react if they knew what you were really capable of.” Olga said.

“Someday, I’ll own up. But if Kalika’s sensed nothing, let’s leave it that way.” Erika said.

“Your Saint’s Skin is powerful. I doubt she can tell what’s going on with your aura.”

“Mine is parlor trick compared to how much you’ve bucked suspicion.” Erika said.

They resumed walking a few lengths of pipe farther down, to the next relatively intact side room. Kalika’s hall had a few other doors, but none of them had operable doors. Olga wanted Erika to sleep in a place where they could lock themselves in and have relative safety for the night.

Neither of them wanted the possibility of interruption tonight.

They had something intimate that they needed to take care of.

Once they found a suitable room, with a door they could lock and minimally intrusive equipment inside, Erika put down a long canvas bag they had retrieved from Dimmitra. Inside was an LED lamp, some blankets, a large canteen of water, individually packed ration bars, and other necessities. While the halls were dim, the room with its door closed was completely dark without their own LED lamp, so they set it in the middle of the room and switched it on. It was like their own tame digital pyre.

Olga sat with her back to a long and broad pipe on the wall.

“I could nod off right now.” Olga moaned. “You really had me up all day today.”

In the middle of the room, after rummaging through the bag, Erika took off her coat.

She looked partially over her shoulder, smiling. “I can’t help it! There was so much to do. Every corner I turned, I saw a new face crying out for help. I knew this place was bad but hearing about it and seeing it myself was completely different. I couldn’t just walk away from all of it.”

“You’ll help by overturning the system responsible for this.”

“Olga, people are still hungry and cold in the meantime. If I have supplies to spare, I can’t look the other way.”

Staring at those subtly red lips, Olga could not possibly have been upset with Erika.

“You’re always like this; I think the crew wants you to focus up.” She said.

“Kalika complained, of course.” Erika said.

“She told me you should remain on the Rostock and let the rest of us work.” Olga said.

Her voice had a subtle tone of mischief–

Erika’s response was expected.

“Hmph! If she’s so worried, she should patrol or gather more intelligence! Secure more allies among the townsfolk! Her job is supposed to be operational enablement isn’t it? She should enable me! My ambition is not so easily deterred nor contained.”

Olga smiled broadly. “You have to cool it a bit– she thinks I’m your worst enabler now.”

“Well– I would only consider limiting my involvement if you denied me your company.”

She followed her words with a haughty laugh. Olga continued smiling as she watched her.

“Yes, and I’d never do that. I’d hate to miss a second of your annoying, manic energy.”

“I’ll make sure to continue having a full schedule for the two of us then, darling.”

Despite her irrepressible attitude, as Kalika put it, Erika was Olga’s treasure.

Olga would not dare change her. That flame in Erika’s breast made the rest of her shine bright.

Like Kalika, Erika was a colorful woman. Her long hair had a complex, dark blue hue, and her pink face was done up almost professionally with makeup. Her horns were polished to an almost mirror sheen. Her red greatcoat and hat over her shirt and pencil skirt made her appear a cross between mafia boss and corpo chick. She dressed like the job she wanted– a leftist usurper.

Olga felt her face warm, her pale features flush, gazing upon Erika in the lamplight.

Erika’s coat fell gently to the ground, slipping from her arms.

She undid her tie and several buttons on her shirt, pulling it off one shoulder, then the other, and laying it down on her coat. Unclipping the lacy black bra supporting her breasts, rising and falling with gentle breaths. Visibly shivering as her skirt came off. All of it joined the pile of clothes. Erika peeled off all of her clothes except for a pair of lightly bulging panties.

Her disrobing was meticulous and efficient. She was not trying to be titillating.

But Olga could not help the effect it had on her, for several reasons, and watched with rapt attention.

Erika was beautiful, exciting– but she was also meat. She was tonight’s meat for Olga’s hunger.

“You’ve been needing this, haven’t you? I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance until now.”

“I’ve been keeping under control.” Olga said. Her chest tightened just a little bit. Her breathing agitated, and she licked her lips, which felt suddenly dry as her eyes followed the curves of Erika’s body. “But I won’t deny– I want it.”

“We don’t want to make a mess of our clothes.”

Erika pointed a slender index at Olga.

Without taking her eyes off the radiant figure of her Premier, glistening in the lamplight, Olga began to disrobe as well. She pulled her hoodie off her slender frame, along with the plain white t-shirt to which her nanomail padding was affixed. She did her belt and slid her pants and undershorts off. She threw the clothes into a pile and pushed them away.

Not once did she and Erika break eye contact.

Smiling, Erika strode a few long steps and sat skin to skin with Olga.

Leaning her bare shoulder and her lean back close to her bodyguard’s chest.

“I’m sorry.” Olga said preemptively, as her hands laid upon Erika, pressing tentatively as if judging the give of her supple skin.

An exploration that presaged the secret and shameful desire she harbored.

“Don’t be silly. Haven’t we done this more than enough?” Erika said.

“It’s never been fair to you. It’s never been okay.”

“We’ve been through this. Do what you need to do, Olga.”

Olga’s alien heart skipped a beat as she looked down at the gentle, vulnerable curve of Erika’s shoulder, at the lean, tempting collarbone, at the soft shoulderblade. Her mouth watered even as she spoke, and she could not get her eyes to fix on anything but the flesh, beneath which flowed bountiful blood. Erika was so close, she could smell her. For Olga’s nose only, it was the salty hit of sweat and hormones that dominated– she could not smell the floral shampoo almost at all.

Moving her arms, closing in on Erika, careful like a lover’s first time.

Deliberate efforts to remain gentle, to remain calm, to control her strength, to gauge Erika’s response.

Olga wrapped her arms around her commander, and lover–

One over her lower belly, one over her breasts, cradling her–

Her lips closed between shoulder and neck, feeling the palpitations of Erika’s heart through to her mouth. A kiss, first chaste, then a second, sucking on skin, longing, hungry. Leaving a red mark that laid the target for an incisive but tender bite. She felt Erika’s body shudder in her grip. Olga’s teeth breached skin, drawing surface blood in tiny trickles before splitting deeper vessels open. She feared as she fed, as she began to taste fluid iron-sweet. As blood flowed into her mouth, as skin further tore, as her tongue lapped whatever her lips had not claimed, she feared, but she could not speak. She feared losing control of herself.

Erika’s taste was divine. That redemptive manna which she gifted to the monster in Olga.

“Oh my. You were really pent up. I’m the one who should be sorry.” Erika cooed.

In this state her words were heard distant, muffled, and yet so beautiful and comforting.

Those words kept her human as she savored the flowing human flesh drawing from the wounds.

“Keep going. Take as much as you need.” Erika said.

Olga’s fingers closed tightly around one of Erika’s breasts, squeezing supple flesh.

Her other hand massaged Erika’s lower abdomen, kneading there to relieve her own stress.

Behind Erika, Olga’s hips bucked, the tips of her breasts felt hot and astir with an electric feeling. Her soft penis twitched as it closed against Erika’s rear, Olga too involved in feeding to muster an erection yet consumed in an erotic sensation. Desires intertwined, the taste of blood and the urge to mate, primal feelings she held toward Erika that were excited at once in the middle of this act. Olga’s vision was a haze, her senses dulled, but she felt through her skin. She was skin, was touch, was the warmth and friction of claws on flesh, teeth into sinew, the throb of another’s heart racing across her self like a shockwave.

While her dripping fangs depressed then returned to the wound, precise, carefully inching deeper.

Threatening to tear out the shoulder and chew–

and never once doing so, only drawing just a little more to feed–

Olga still had control. She had control over Erika’s body, but also over her own.

Quivering hands settled over Olga’s own. She felt Erika shaking slightly in her grip.

That feeling of reciprocity slowly began to bring Olga from the animal stupor she was in.

“I’m sorry.” Olga mumbled, licking her lips and lapping miserably at Erika’s back.

Blood streaked down from the wound. Olga’s tongue glided slick over Erika’s shoulderblade.

Erika spoke calmly, comfortingly, holding the hands by which Olga seized her.

“There, there. Have as much as you need. I’m the only one strong enough for this.”

“Erika.” Olga’s lips hung open, holding back another bite. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Olga.”

Olga. She felt so reassured when Erika spoke that name.

Olga.

Olga Athanasiou.

“You are Olga Athanasiou. My dearest friend. My greatest protector. My passionate love.”

Erika knew exactly what to say to lift her spirits, even as pathetic as she felt.

She was a human, a person, Olga Athanasiou of the Rotfront. She had made herself human.

No longer the ‘the Hunter of Pactea’. And not ‘Hunter One’ in a maniac leviathan cult.

She alone made herself human, and she alone decided she would be among the hominin.

“I wish I didn’t have to hurt you.” Olga said. Her mouth streaked red-brown.

“My word; we always go through this. Just relax. I trust you. I’m doing this for you.”

Olga’s face sank against Erika’s bloody shoulder and back. Hugging Erika tightly.

“Your pulse is slowing down, darling. Are you done? Can you bandage me up?”

“Y-Yes, ma’am.”

“Good girl.”

Calm washed over Olga.

Her jittering, the heat in her sinews, the spring-load of instinct to kill and fuck like a beast–

it was gone as Erika’s blood flowed through her.

“Goodness. That was exciting.” Erika leaned back against Olga, her voice slightly trembling. “If I wasn’t so tired I’d try to get you hard and do something more. Next time we’re on the Rostock, though– I’m absolutely in the mood.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” Olga said. Her ordinary, confident tone of voice returned.

Erika sated her hunger for human flesh. For now; for as long as her willpower held out.

Eating meat, avoiding vicious bloodletting in combat, and meditating, all helped to keep her centered.

Eventually, however, she needed human flesh to remain sane. Erika’s blood sufficed.

For Olga, who had sworn not to eat humans again, it was shameful– but it was the only way to retain her self.

Erika understood. Erika was an angel. Olga would have been a monster without her.

“Goodness.” Erika mumbled, her heart clearly still racing from the act.

They shifted positions, with Erika now seated in front and Olga kneeling behind her.

Olga produced a roll of plastic gauze wrap from their bag, and carefully, beginning from the wound, she began to tie the blue bandage around Erika’s shoulder, under her arm, around her back, making sure everything was fully supported and covered. This was how she wished it could always be with Erika. Olga’s touch was tender, careful and caring, brushing on silk-soft skin, and she relished the peace, the gentle breathing from an Erika who was not sustaining an attack. That feeling of a soft and steady pulse transferred through skin, through the bandage, to Olga’s fingertips. Olga relished caring for Erika.

She would do anything Erika wished. All she wanted was for Erika to feel good.

“Olga,”

“Yeah?”

“You’ve never been a monster to me. Not even when you bite.”

“Erika–”

She reached backward and patted Olga’s head, stroking her hair where she could reach.

“Ssh– I’ll only accept praise for my Olga here. No denigration. Premier’s orders.”

Olga smiled. She held back a few tears. “Acknowledged.”

She continued to wrap up Erika’s wound slowly and gently. Savoring that little moment.

Erika opened a wrapper from the bag, unveiling a bar of pemmican, crumbled meat mixed with its own fat as well as nuts. It was high in protein and iron, especially this specific Volwitz brand, which was for the gym and not survivalists, and so was made with molasses inside. Erika always ate a few bars right after Olga drank from her. She handed a bar to Olga as well, who took a bite every so often while she worked and while they talked. With her hunger stated, hominin food regained its flavor to her.

Sitting around, eating, conversing like this– it was nice.

“I’ve never met communists from the Union. I’m excited to talk to them.” Erika said.

“I’m sure they’ll love you. You’re their biggest fan.” Olga teased.

“It’s more than being a ‘fan’! We share the correct ideological line.” Erika said.

In her mind Olga could already see the stars in Erika’s heterochromatic eyes.

“Of course, of course.” Olga said. She wanted to encourage Erika to speak.

“I have so many things I want to say to them. I’m running them over in my head.”

“Maybe you can practice with me.”

“Oh Olga, you’ve heard my rants hundreds of times.”

“I’m always happy to hear Erika Kairos’ hundredth-and-one rant.”

Erika laughed, which caused Olga to allow herself a chuckle as well.

“Fine then; you asked.” Erika said. “So, in the Imbrium, the key contradiction is–”

And so they spent the night together before the fateful meeting.

Olga bandaged Erika; they curled up together in warm blankets, eating their pemmican; and Erika speechified all throughout.


“Um. Hey. Yo. You’re with this ship, right?”

“Huh? What do you mean ‘yo’? Who are you that you’re acting so casually here?”

“Orlan. Orlan Aries. Sorry to bother you. There’s a bit of a situation.”

Murati Nakara narrowed her eyes at the man who had approached out of nowhere.

Unremarkable with his messy hair, anonymously-plain face, ordinary suit. Who did he think he was?

It was the middle of the day, and with the Captain and Commissar gone, Murati had been recalled to the Brigand from her meeting with Tigris and Euphrates in order to have an officer in charge of the work site. Murati gladly accepted the responsibility, hurried back with a determined smile and parked herself on the blacktop floor of the space Alcor had leased them. Nobody asked her to remain outside, and she was not necessarily supervising, since she did not really know the work that needed to be done nor who to delegate it to– that had all been decided in prior planning. Still, she took this task deadly serious.

This was a chance to prove she had the mettle and discernment of a Captain.

So she stood guard, on the hunt for threats to operational security, with keen-eyed justice.

This, she believed, was the ultimate duty of the officer in charge.

“I’m not expecting anybody. You better explain yourself quickly, or I’ll call security.”

“Whoa! Hey! Isn’t that a bit harsh to leap to so instantly?”

Orlan made a pathetic expression and Murati delivered words swift and sharp as knives.

“Not another word out of you that isn’t an explanation, you swindler.”

“Now I’m a swindler?!”

Murati stepped forward into Orlan’s space. Menacingly. With authority and security.

They were similar in size, but Murati still seemed like she had all the power in the exchange.

Orlan quickly shrank back a step in the face of her imperious approach.

“Call your Captain.” Orlan said slowly. “Please call your Captain. She can explain.”

“How do you know I’m not the captain, hmm?” Murati said.

“She’s a blond– with– killer shoulders and legs. She– she was with a Shimii–” Orlan stammered.

Murati stepped forward again and Orlan bolted back a step, holding up his hands.

“Killer shoulders and legs? Hmph! Maybe you’re a stalker?” She said dangerously.

“Can you PLEASE call her?” Orlan begged.

It was clear that he was describing Captain Korabiskaya and Commissar Bashara.

Since he saw them together, and could’ve only seen them together outside, today–

That narrowed his possible roles in the mystery of why he and Murati were speaking at all.

Prompted by Orlan’s begging, Murati finally contacted Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya and Commissar Aaliyah Bashara over the Brigand’s encrypted line, routed to the portable in her hands. They were waiting for their next meeting, having long since completed their chat with Gloria Luxembourg and her aide– who just happened to now be standing right in front of Murati.

She quickly learned that Orlan Aries was a social democrat, which she thought was a hopeless line–

But also that he was an erstwhile ally and that she should treat him respectfully.

Despite his weird attitude and demonstrable lack of ideological rigor.

Learning these things did not especially endear Murati toward him any further.

However, an officer also had to be a good representative of their crew to military allies.

Therefore, Murati cooled off and reached out a hand to shake with Orlan.

“Murati Nakara. Lieutenant and First Officer.” She said, by way of introduction.

She was not going to apologize nor admit she might have been a bit of a hair trigger.

“Nakara?” Orlan asked, tentatively reaching out his own hand and returning the shake.

“Hmm? Something wrong?”

She felt a sudden spike of anxiety. He had reacted to her surname. Did he know–?

“Oh, it’s an uncommon one. An uncommon surname.” Orlan said. “Around these parts.”

She sighed. “Well, as you must know already, I’m not from around these parts.”

“Right. True. I just motormouth sometimes when things get dicey.”

Murati held back the comments she had brewing about that particular behavior.

“So, Orlan, you concluded your meeting with my superiors. What are you here for?”

Orlan sighed. He was clutching a fancy-looking portable against his chest with one arm, while every so often absentmindedly running the fingers of his free hand across his hair. He had a glum expression. He was clearly stressed out. When he spoke again, Murati thought he was just barely keeping it together, sounding both at the end of his rope and perhaps embarrassed about it.

“You might have to call your Captain again. I’m looking for a ride out of Kreuzung. I had plans with a group of Katarrans to smuggle me out to Aachen to avoid personally checking in or out at the ports. But all mercenaries I’d been dealing with got bought out of their jobs for twice my offer. So now I’m in a bit of a jam, and I can’t even contact Gloria for more money.”

He looked like he was ready to be turned down, averting his gaze from Murati as he spoke.

Murati meanwhile tried to smile a bit. “I don’t think I’ll need to call that in with the Captain. We’re heading for the same place, and we’re not enemies. I don’t think the captain would turn you down if she was in my shoes now. As long as you keep quiet and out of the way, we can find a place for you aboard our ship.”

“Oh! Thank you! Wow, that’s– finally, all my worries are gone!” Orlan smiled brightly.

He looked like a changed man almost instantly, a boyish beaming face having eclipsed the bedraggled shell he had been broadcasting to the world previously. He reached out his hands suddenly and shook Murati’s again, staring her right in the eyes. She was so confused by the gesture she actually shook his hands for a solid thirty seconds before snapping them away.

“Ah, sorry. It’s been nothing but lows and lower lows lately.” Orlan said.

“Well, I’m glad I can help.” Murati said with a cautious tone.

“Now I can even kick back and relax for a few days. God, I’ve needed this kind of break.”

She didn’t know how to deal with how cheerful he had become.

“The days go by, lives get spent like lighter fluid, but there’s still good people in the world.”

From his pocket, he withdrew a cigarette and a lighter, lit a fire, and took a care-free drag.

He looked over to the Brigand. He whistled, as if for the first time noticing its size.

Smoke escaped from his lips in a clumsy cloud blowing Murati’s way.

She grimaced.

“She’s not a looker, but she seems solid as all hell.” He said of the ship, blissfully unaware.

Murati waited for him to raise the cigarette up again before she took it from him.

“No smoking.” She said. She dropped it on the ground and stepped on it.

Even this could not put down his indefatigable good mood.

“Of course, of course. Your house, your rules, ma’am Murati.”

Orlan handed her the pack of cigarettes. Murati would have to dispose it later.

“Say, are you by any chance related to Karthik Nakara?” He asked casually.

Murati’s eyes fixed him with a sudden glare, burning with immediate power.

In a sudden panic, she triggered her psionic power and looked at his aura.

Calm blue and green, nothing out of the ordinary. A slick texture, pliable, like a gel, with a smokey scent. She could not sense any evil intentions from him, no violence, no skepticism. He seemed entirely benign and casual in intention.

“Ah, sorry for the sudden personal question, but I’m only curious because my parents were oceanographers too. That’s why I recognized the surname before, actually. All of your parent’s work is officially discredited, but my parents always cared more about the right theories than the correct ones. So I heard your surname a bunch– they wanted me to go into oceanography too. I just ended up being too much of a meathead for it, I suppose. Are we perhaps alike in that regard?”

He shot Murati another cheerful smile after his long explanation. Murati sighed deeply in return, visibly unsettled.

“Karthik Nakara was my father. But I don’t know anything about oceanography.” She replied.

Orlan nodded. “I knew it. We’re alike then! You were kinda scary at first, but I felt like we could hit it off!”

Murati tensed up. This chipper mood of his was really going to be a problem, wasn’t it?


Kremina Qote had communicated to Erika and Olga that they should arrive in the afternoon since the Pandora’s Box was meeting with Gloria Luxembourg first, earlier in the morning. Erika was a little fatigued in the morning, and Olga welcomed being able to cuddle up with her for a few more hours in the blankets. Erika’s back was turned to Olga, the latter holding her tightly, lightly nuzzling Erika’s good shoulder. She still felt ashamed of what she did, even as Erika’s warm, human (hominin) blood flowed inside her. She wanted to coddle Erika for the wound that she inflicted, to make her feel good any way she could.

“I’m fine, Olga. You’re underestimating me just like Kalika and the rest.” Erika said.

“I don’t underestimate you– but this is different–” Olga said, searching for words.

“It’s not. I trust you, I know you won’t get out of hand with me. You haven’t yet.”

“But I don’t trust myself. I can’t– not when it comes to the hunger– I’ll never be–”

“Jeez! Then at least trust me to be able to protect myself, even if you lost your senses!”

“You would have to kill me.”

“That’s enough, Olga. Please. Just take the advice you give the others– and trust me.”

Olga bit down on the blankets over them, her arms still curled around Erika’s bare body.

She knew Erika was right, in principle. She knew she had to and could only trust her.

But this wasn’t just ‘trusting her to protect herself from mercs or cops’.

This was tied up in Olga’s most vicious trauma and shame– her hunger for human flesh.

That hunger which was the curse laid upon the Omenseers since the dawn of their species.

While Olga brooded, Erika suddenly turned around in their makeshift bed, releasing herself from Olga’s grip. Instead Erika wrapped her arms around Olga rather than the other way around. Olga was a head shorter, and when Erika shifted, she held her against her breasts and stroked her hair almost like she was holding a pet. Olga could feel Erika’s cheek against her own.

She was smiling. And as soon as she had tightly caught Olga in her vice, she started to giggle.

“No more worrying about me today! Worry about securing alliance with the Union folk!”

“It’s not like I can do anything to influence that!”

Olga sighed, but then nestled herself back against Erika’s chest. She found herself smiling too.

Erika never thought of her as a monster– so maybe she needed to stop doing so as well.

“I promise, Olga. When I take power, you’ll never have to fear again, for anything.”

Her voice was not so giggly when she said things like that.

She was serious– she was the commander of the Rotfront when she spoke in that voice.

Olga held her own hands over Erika’s, and against her own chest. “I believe in you.”

Soon, they were both upright, dressed, cleaned up, and out the door once again.

Erika in her button-down and coat, the uniform of the woman who sought power.

And rather than a hoodie, Olga now wore a suit and pants, playing the bodyguard properly.

Her old clothes she stashed away in the bag. Dimmitra would take them. So it was important they were clean.

Kalika and Dimmitra would have absolutely made a fuss about the blood if they didn’t take care.

“How’s my tail, by the way?” Erika whispered before they left.

“Hasn’t grown back since the last time I ate it.” Olga said. “It’s scarred over.”

Erika smiled. “Good. We don’t want any inappropriate questions.”

Olga nodded. Both of them had origins that were best kept under wraps.

Once they returned to the room where their subordinates had been resting, they found Kalika standing out in the hall, arms crossed, back to the wall. Impeccably dressed as always in her fancy coat, button-down skirt, tights. Olga wondered how she did her makeup and hair so perfectly in this damp old tunnel. Alongside her was a smaller woman, shorter than Olga, though not by much, but also somewhat thinner. She had silver-grey hair streaked with black, grey skin, and golden eyes. She had a hooded cape with holes for her horns, and wore the hood partially up, but not entirely covering her face and hair. She had on a cut-off top, short pants and a long sheer bodystocking that was cut off just over her breasts.

“Oh! Premier!”

She had a soft, almost childish voice for an adult woman.

Before Erika and Olga could reach Kalika and the door to the room, Chloe had already dashed to them and met them halfway. She had her eyes drawn wide open and mouth half as wide, like she had words right on the tip of her tongue. This was Chloe Kouri, the smallest, youngest and most eager member of the Rotfront, but up to the par of everyone else in terms of capabilities.

“Premier, ma’am! I got some really interesting intelligence!” Chloe said.

“Let’s hear it. We’ve still got some time before we need to go up.” Erika said, smiling.

As soon as Chloe started speaking, Olga could see the big shadow of Dimmitra at the door behind Kalika, who was still standing there brooding. Everyone else found the way those two were attached at the hip very cute and endearing, but Olga was sometimes irritated at Dimmitra’s sense of protectiveness over the little gurnard. But– everyone but Kalika was guilty of fraternization and none more than Olga, who was regularly involved with the boss– so she wouldn’t say anything.

“Apparently, someone suddenly rode up this morning and bought up a ton of the named mercs currently in Kreuzung! They knew all the places to hit up in the lower levels and picked up a bunch of crews. It happened real early too. By breakfast time every rando Katarran was trying to get in on it!” Chloe said. “There were rumors that they got bought out at twice the going rate! Screwed over a bunch of other jobs that were going on in Eisental! It was so shocking that the gossip has been going around at light speed down here! There’s probably something real big about to go down somewhere!”

Olga and Erika exchanged worried glances and looked back at Chloe.

There was an ecosystem of Katarran mercs in every station that was large enough to have a criminal underworld– and even in those with small criminal underworlds. It was loose and chaotic but it had observable patterns.

Most Katarrans in the Imbrian ocean were nomads, running from place to place. Very few Katarrans ever got a chance at steady and stable work and therefore living situations. Almost every Katarran who thought they could settle down would eventually have a run-in with the law or the underworld and have to skip town; jumping on whatever transport they could get, accepting hard and poorly paying temporary labor on whatever ship or place would have them, but dreaming big. There were always Katarran bodies in circulation, almost by design, and driven largely by racist neglect and statelessness.

Then there were named Katarrans, what the average Imbrian would think of as a real mercenary.

Named mercs were people you could know if you were savvy or had an ear for gossip. Every station had names. Names had their own gear, they had experience, they had decided what their body was for, and it was never anything wholesome. Names were not desperate– they had been around and knew how to survive. Most of all, names were made by their reputation. They often attracted lower tier mercs, either by their social power, clout or even through threats, into forming crews.

These were folks that could get in trouble with the Imbrians and maybe get away with it.

It was possible for any unscrupulous idiot to buy the labor of random desperate Katarrans anywhere.

There were always the bodies of their people around to be used. Olga and Erika knew this all too well.

For someone to gather up named mercs, though, it meant something bad was in the works.

For the Rotfront, it was tantamount to someone waving money in Erika’s face that she could not possibly resist. It would bring Olga, Dimmitra, Kalika and Chloe into service with her, along with the Rostock (and Erika was someone with a few ships and hundreds of soldiers). Names built crews. Buying up a named merc usually got the financier at least five or six other tag-alongs at least, always a nice and tidy squad. Enough elites working together could bring out an army.

“Chloe, was it the Mycenae Military Commission?” Erika asked. Her tone was serious.

Chloe shook her head. “I don’t know. There’s more fact than fiction about the financier.”

Olga shifted uneasily in her shoes, hands in her blazer pockets. She grunted.

“It’ll be really bad if Labrys Agamemnon has finally made her move. We aren’t ready.”

“It can’t be Agamemnon.” Kalika said from the door. She had been listening to Chloe’s boisterous conversation from a few meters away. “All of the named mercs here were resisting the Mycenae’s summons just a few days ago. Nobody wants to die for their ‘Golden age’ rhetoric. I doubt that situation could change so quickly and dramatically.”

“If anyone can buy out contracts at twice the rate, it’d be Mycenae, though.” Olga said.

“Labrys is too proud. In her head she’s still dealing with disposable larva from embryo farms.” Kalika said.

“It’s possible a few named mercs got desperate enough to take Labrys’ offers. Anything can happen.”

Erika spoke. That chipper mood her crew constantly saw had been considerably dampened.

Kalika shook her head. “Erika, the Tagmata’s money wasn’t good enough before. We shouldn’t panic.”

“No one’s panicking.” Erika said. She smiled. “But we need to be careful, and we seriously need this connection to the Union to work out now. We’ll need them if the Mycenae Military Commission starts throwing their weight around.”

They all knew a confrontation with Mycenae was likely. It was a bitter history engraved on their flesh.

Over a hundred years ago, Katarre had been torn apart in a civil war still raging unabated.

Everything preceding the war was called “the Golden Age” of the House of Palaiologos.

Now competing warlords divided this vast and incredibly rich country among themselves.

Every Warlord had their own ideas about the collapse. Doubtless, Labrys Agamemnon did too. How it happened was merely academic. In the present, it simply was what happened. Since the collapse, Katarre had been ruled by warlord states each with a potentially massive amount of military power and resources, but fractious in nature, kept in flux by the systems and circumstance, by outside intrusion and internal intrigue, all of it grinding replaceable Katarran bodies for the land’s bounty.

Mycenae was the first name for the old kingdom, and the most resonant.

“The Golden Age” was the legendary name of the era where Katarre was united.

Tagmata, Numeroi, Cataphracts and Hoplites– these were all terms harkening back to that ancient time.

By adopting them, the Mycenae Military Commission wore their ambition on their sleeve.

In name, rhetoric, aesthetics and iconography– it was obvious to any Katarran who they intended to succeed.

Worst of all, they had accrued the professional and brutal military power to match those aspirations.

It was hard for Katarrans to be nationalist, but they could be nationalists like no one else.

Someone like Erika Kairos, peddling the hopes of a revolutionary future–

There was no greater enemy to the new Mycenae, who clung to the despair of the past.

“We should be cautious, but not paranoid.” Kalika said. “Erika, you can’t just focus on the Mycenean fleet’s status alone. Liberal Rhinea liked Mycenae’s money enough to invite them here on behalf of Rhineametalle, but the Volkisch has none of those relationships built. They might not be so keen to have a bunch of foreign dreadnoughts around. It’s unlucky they have ended up stuck on our turf when we started poking our heads out of our holes, but it can also be an opportunity.”

“I’m not unaware. But if we’re not ready, they’ll send us back to our holes.” Erika said.

“As long as we’re still alive after we retreat, there’s always hope.” Kalika said.

Erika shook her head. She smiled. “Yes, but Kalika, I’m here to stake it all on this.”

She kept saying that– not even Olga truly knew what the limits of that ambition were.

One thing was readable, in Erika’s grin and the firmness of her voice.

She was determined not to turn back now, no matter what.

Kalika sighed. “Well, sure. You’re the boss.” She said.

“Yeah, she’s the boss. So you shut the fuck up, Loukia, and just fucking follow orders.”

From the door, Dimmitra seemed to have finally had enough and walked out.

She was a tall and burly woman, dressed only enough to accentuate her personality and muscle.

Chloe left Erika’s side and rushed back to Dimmitra, looking up at her with big eyes.

“Don’t be mean, Itra! Kalika is a comrade too.” Chloe said gently.

Faced with Chloe’s soft gaze, the larger woman’s incisiveness immediately diminished.

“She’s a comrade who talks back too much.” Dimmitra mumbled.

Kalika seemed unthreatened by Dimmitra’s approach.

Erika spoke up suddenly, raising her voice above all of them.

Olga saw her aura briefly flare up.

“That’s enough.” Said their Premier. “I appreciate Kalika’s outspokenness, and I appreciate your loyalty as well, Dimmitra. At the end of the day, I need no protection from someone’s ideas. I know without a shadow of a doubt that Kalika trusts me enough to follow me to the bitter end. She wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know that– it would only be then that I’d want to shut her up.”

Kalika shrugged. Olga saw red rings around her eyes very briefly.

She caught sight of Erika’s aura. Kalika knew Erika had power– but not how much.

“I’d just prefer our ends to not be so bitter, even for someone as blunt as you, Dimmitra.”

“Hmph. Whatever.”

Dimmitra went back into the room and Chloe followed, trying to cheer her up.

Olga grumbled. “Thanks, Kalika. What a mood to set for our big meeting.”

Kalika shrugged again and started walking out ahead of the rest of them.

Erika and Olga said their farewell-for-nows to Chloe and Dimmitra then followed along.

“She cares about us a lot.” Erika said to Olga. “Even if she keeps it to herself.”

“I know. Dimmitra has her read all wrong. But Kalika can be annoying in her own way.”

“That’s the case with every living person, I’m afraid. Present company excluded.”

Olga got along well with Erika and had something to say about everyone else.

In her mind, that was part of being someone’s bodyguard– and her closest confidante.

But she wasn’t unrealistic in her criticism. She thought Erika must have appreciated that.

So with that said, and with the thought of the Mycenae Military Commission having gone in and out of their heads, the Rotfront’s delegation ascended Kreuzung’s underworld, and made their way as instructed to the fifth tower, and the beautiful campus belonging to Solarflare LLC. There was a sky, a few trees, even a professionally-kept litter of birds trained to fly over the main street, and chirp. People on the street gave them looks, but mainly kept to themselves. It was a busy technology sector.

Kalika whistled upon exiting the tram and seeing the open sky in Solarflare’s tier.

And that distant central spire belonging to their eventual destination.

“Ritzy as hell.” Kalika said. “Are these really communists we’re meeting?”

“The Union made allies with an industrial scientific company, Solarflare LLC.” Erika said. “We are being hosted in their main building to allay suspicion, since many characters come in and out of Solarflare LLC, on sleepy days and on busy days. We won’t look out of place there because it’s such a cosmopolitan company. And they have rabid lawyers and lobbyists.”

“That’s all it takes for the Volkisch to get off them?” Kalika asked.

“I think the Volkisch haven’t begun looking. Or don’t even think to look there.” Erika said. “After all, it’s a for-profit technology company. The Volkisch have to make such people happy in order to secure their existence in the long term, so they must tread lightly. To capitalism, the Volkisch are replaceable with any other enabler and protector of private accumulation.”

Kalika looked skeptical but turned her eyes from the campus’ grand spire back to the road.

“Well, I suppose this says good things about the Pandora’s Box’s ability to make friends.” She said.

“Let’s hope they want to be friends with us.” Olga replied, speaking up.

They made their way into the main building and spoke with the receptionist.

As Kremina Qote had said, the receptionists pointed them to the right meeting room.

It was not so long a walk later, that they finally met face to face with the communists.

Erika’s lips curled into an enormous, girlishly giddy smile upon seeing them.

There were two– a fair blond who was made up almost as glamorously and fastidiously as their Kalika, along with a slightly more rustic but still comely Shimii with darker features and hair. Both were dressed in button-down sleeveless shirts, skirts, and teal half-jackets, which the blond wore off the shoulder like she was showing off, and the Shimii wore buttoned-up in a fussy way. They were seated behind a table in a small meeting room with some monitors and portable computers.

“What do we think of Levi Mordecai in this room?” Erika asked, grinning happily.

That made the blond chuckle. “You’re in the right place. Erika Kairos, correct?”

Erika put her hands behind her back and leaned forward with a mischievous face.

“Indeed. Erika Kairos, political Premier and military Commander-In-Chief of the Nationale Volksarmee.”

Oh right, Olga thought, that’s our new name. We’re not just the Rotfront now.

This wasn’t the first name change either– she would have to get used to it.

“These are my associates, Olga Athanasiou and Kalika Loukia. Here to provide security.”

“Understandable.” Said the Shimii woman. “I’m Aaliyah Bashara, adjutant and second-in-command; this is Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya of the Pandora’s Box. We’re all communists here, and we can speak openly.”

Erika smiled, stepped forward and sat in the chair in front of Ulyana and Aaliyah.

Kalika remained outside, at the door.

Olga stood inside, her back to the wall just behind Erika.

“It’s good to meet you, comrade.” Ulyana said. “We are talking with everyone involved in the United Front in Aachen, in the hopes of becoming involved in the action ourselves. We are hoping to caucus at the United Front with one of the main factions. We have heard from Kremina Qote that you espoused similar politics to the Union’s system, is that true?”

“I have a strong affinity for the politics of the Union. I believe it is the correct line.” Erika said. “The Union system overthrew industrial slavery and safeguards their revolution from the Empire to this day. They are the successful model.”

“Certainly, I can only agree with that. Now, materially speaking. We have combat equipment and training that we want to distribute to the United Front.” Aaliyah said, taking her turn after Ulyana. “But we have heard also that your group is pretty well equipped. Can you tell us more about your organization, in terms of its current resources?”

“Of course.” Erika said. She spoke calmly, proudly, professionally. There was still a bit of girlish tittering to her voice, but she was all business. “I command three ships, two Frigates and a Cruiser, and have connections to three willing mercenary Frigates who will take my money if I need them. In total I have about 500 loyal and professional personnel, who are fully provisioned with rations and munitions. I have six Divers, and my flagship, the Rostock, has missile capability.”

“That’s pretty impressive. Do you have former combat experience?” Ulyana asked.

“All of my crew members are Katarrans with mercenary pasts. Some short, some long.”

“Are your crew members ideologically aligned?” Aaliyah asked.

Erika smiled. “I know that communist Katarrans are rare, but I’ve made political education a priority for those working with me. In the ships under my personal command, I only take aboard people who are fed up with the system to a degree that mark bills can’t distract them from. It would be endangering myself to entrust my operation to dilettantes.”

Aaliyah smiled a little herself. “I believe you may have read me wrong, Erika Kairos. Communist Katarrans are not that rare– there are actually many of them in the Union. No disrespect was intended from me, comrade.”

“Ah, but it is a question that must be asked and answered nevertheless.” Erika said.

“In that case, I am curious about your own ideological development.” Ulyana asked.

Olga sat back and watched. Erika was in her element.

She was entirely genuine in her excitement. Olga could see it in her.

Erika loved to talk about communism. She really, truly, believed in all of it.

And maybe some of her crew did not– but all of them believed in her and thus her vision.

Dimmitra was not really a communist. But she followed her warlord, to the absolute end.

Chloe did not really know the theories well at all. But she wanted a kinder and more peaceful world.

Kalika was pretty booksmart, but she was also quite jaded. But she cared about the group’s safety.

None of them worked strictly for money.

They had a Katarran-from-Katarre level of belief in Erika, through thick and thin.

Having been asked to talk about communism, Erika now had the brightest face in the room.

“When I was very young, I first heard of revolution, from news about the Empire losing its colonies. At the time I was destined to become a tool in a Warlord’s arsenal. In Katarre, people are treated as tools, and rarely taught anything outside of the core of knowledge they will use repeatedly, forever, until death. But everyone hears some words they were not meant to. Concepts like change, hope, a future, and the ability to make oneself, are inescapable. They are a core of humanity that nothing can stamp out. For me, since I heard the word revolution, one thing led me to another– I escaped my country, I fought as a mercenary, but all throughout, I was fascinated by the slaves who shook off their shackles and killed their masters. Much of the world holds a grudge against you to this day. In that sense, you are very Katarran, and it is part of why I admire you.”

“How did you come to read Mordecai?” Ulyana said. “I’m ignorant of mercenary culture.”

Olga felt that Ulyana was genuinely curious about Erika. She seemed interested in what Erika had to say and looked more openly engaged. Aaliyah, meanwhile, resembled Kalika or Olga herself. She was watching, scrutinizing, maybe thinking about the direction of the conversation a few steps ahead of the two speakers clearly charmed with each other.

They all had their roles to play in this friendly little war of words.

Erika continued to answer the questions with the same restrained joviality.

“Mercenary culture is illegality in itself. Anything that the Empire singles out with hate and fear and criminalization, you hear about and can get your hands on. You’d be surprised the number of mercenaries who read banned books and have taboo ideas, but at the end of the day, most only do it to pass the time or act quirky. It’s easy to read Mordecai; harder to believe in it.”

Olga spoke up for the first time.

“Mercenaries who work for long enough start getting ideas about changing things.” She said.

“Thank you, Olga.” Erika said. “She’s correct. I got around enough, with all those ideas in my head, that I started noticing patterns about the world I could not let go. Fundamentally, I felt that not only did Mordecai understand how the world worked; he showed me that it could change. And not only had I worked for long enough; I’d seen too much tragedy to keep going as I was.”

“It was the same in the Union. Hard to go any lower than being enslaved.” Ulyana said.

“All too true.” Erika replied. “Radical ideas grow in urgency as things fall apart.”

“Erika Kairos,” Aaliyah spoke up, “what is your goal in Rhinea? What would you have the United Front do?”

Erika did not have to think twice about it. Olga grinned, knowing what she would say.

“Nothing less than the complete defeat and destruction of the Volkisch Movement.”

“Quick and satisfying answer.” Aaliyah replied. “How do you hope to achieve this?”

Erika crossed her arms and sat back on her chair, looking confident. Here came her speech:

“In Rhinea, the key contradiction is not the treatment of Imbrian workers by the bourgeoise, but rather the pitting of Imbrian workers against racialized populations.” Erika said confidently. Her eyes then fixed on Aaliyah specifically, in a way that got her ears to twitch. “Katarrans are treated in an abominable fashion throughout the Imbrium, but Rhinea has a specific relationship with the Shimii people alone. Shimii are segregated and criminalized very specifically. If Katarran bodies are forced into a state of anarchy, Shimii are subject to complete, invasive control. The Shimii’s existence is a form of discipline on the Imbrian persons in many different ways. They are competing workers, they are racial others, they are security threats, and they are also captives.”

Erika fixed Ulyana and Aaliyah with a powerful gaze.

Both were now staring directly at her with much greater interest than ever before.

“Eisental is absolutely crucial to Rhinea and the Volkisch. Without the rest of the Empire to feed their industries, they must count on Eisental for raw materials and primary processing that allows finished goods to be made everywhere else. Eisental is both crucial to Rhinea and also its soft underbelly, being incredibly vast with many terrains. But Eisental is also the site of an ancient Shimii state that was crushed and subjugated by the Imbrians. These contradictions of Eisental’s identity are the key to victory. If the Shimii rose up in their masses, Eisental would collapse, and with it, Rhinean capitalism and its current Volkisch stewards would also topple over. The Shimii, in the agrispheres, in the segregated sweatshops of the corporations, in the ghetto of Tower Seven, they are the sleeping, suffering masses whose plight we must heed if we want to stir a revolution.”

After a pause at the end of Erika’s speech, Ulyana spoke up, now smiling wide too.

“You’ve really thought about this very thoroughly!” Ulyana said.

“What about Katarrans?” Aaliyah asked bluntly. “Don’t you want to liberate your people?”

“Of course I want to liberate them ma’am Bashara. I would be heartless otherwise. But it will come when it comes; Eisental hangs in the balance of a Shimii’s tail.” Erika said. Crucially she was still excited and not offended by the question. She was engaged in discourse. “Trust me that I am thinking of factors for Katarran revolution as well, but such a thing supersedes Eisental. In the conditions of Eisental, we have our best chance for revolution by focusing on the Shimii.”

Ulyana and Aaliyah gazed at one another as if silently gauging each other’s responses.

In the midst of this, the Premier of the Rotfront would suddenly make her heartfelt plea.

Erika reached out a hand on the table, symbolically extending for a shake not demanded.

“Comrades, the United Front is just a steppingstone for me. Whether or not anything comes of that discussion in Aachen. I wish you to join me in this endeavor. I ask that you evaluate for yourselves what Eisental’s revolution needs, and you will understand that I am correct. If you ally with me, slowly but surely, a new dawn will come to Rhinea. I will work tirelessly for this. I will work with Gloria Luxembourg, or the Three Arrows– but I want to work with you, comrades.”

“I hope you’ll take this well.” Ulyana said. “But you remind me of Bhavani Jayasankar.”

Erika’s mouth briefly hung open and then she closed it, and then opened it, and laughed.

“Quite a high compliment! I will never refuse such a comparison!” She said.

Her tone of voice was fully out of control now, increasingly giddy and girlish.

“We will evaluate everyone who speaks to us, and let you know of our final decision.”

Aaliyah spoke up, as if to reign in Ulyana who was clearly taken with Erika’s enthusiasm.

Olga was confident, however, that Erika had achieved some success with these Union folk.

Nobody could have heard that woman say such things and not be taken in by it.

She had such audacity, but also, such a clarity of purpose. Erika had heavily reasoned ideas.

She could be foolish and reckless and authoritarian sometimes, but she was irrepressible.

Flawlessly dependable, hopelessly dedicated, a shining beacon for Katarrans in her care.

“Erika, I have a final question.” Aaliyah asked. “What would Rhinea look like afterward?”

Olga thought the adjutant’s tone of voice suggested she was trying to keep Ulyana from speaking further.

But again, there was no hesitation on Erika’s part. She had always been thinking about this.

“My vision of Rhinea would have it become a one-party communist state with regional soviets, including a majority-Shimii Eisental Soviet operating as an autonomous zone. Similar to the Union system.” She said.

“Right, but what about you?” Aaliyah asked. “Where are you in your vision of the future?”

“Oh, of course, I do see myself as something of a political architect. Like a Daksha Kansal.”

Erika smiled completely placidly. Aaliyah nodded her head.

“So you’d be in charge.” Aaliyah said. “You would have a strong leadership role.”

“Someone must be; and I am better prepared in all aspects than most.” Erika said.

“She is our Premier.” Olga spoke up. “We obviously have expectations of her to lead.”

Was that a question trying to trip her up? That Shimii sure was a tricky one. Ulyana seemed to be swayed, but even after hearing about the liberation of her people, that Aaliyah was pressing Erika harder with every question she asked. And her face was unreadable most of the time too. Olga would have thought she would have been elated to hear Erika’s idea for a Shimii autonomous region, but she seemed to be concealing her emotions well despite Erika’s sincerity and kindness.

“Thank you for answering our questions honestly.” Aaliyah said.

She fixed Ulyana a critical look, and Ulyana looked back at her a bit helplessly.

Olga sighed. Was that not what they wanted to hear?

Erika, however, was still entirely calm, and her usual charming self.

“Anything else you desire to know?” She asked.

Ulyana looked like she was about to speak but Aaliyah answered first.

“No, I am satisfied. You have means and ambition and are clearly formidable. I can see why you are a core pillar of the United Front. Regardless of any decisions we make, we look forward to your participation in Aachen.” Aaliyah replied.

She had gone completely neutral on them. Olga felt unnerved. Did Erika mess it up?

“Of course. Likewise. We shall meet again, comrades. Thank you for your time.”

Erika, calmly and politely, began to stand up, as did Aaliyah–

“Actually–”

Ulyana spoke up, and this time in such a tone as Aaliyah could not try to repress her.

Olga glanced at Aaliyah, and found the Shimii just as surprised as the rest.

“Erika, I do have a curiosity.” Ulyana said. Her face showed determination that was similar to Erika’s own and the adjutant at her side did not try to interrupt it. “Gloria Luxembourg did not meet us in person, and we are well aware that the most connected or influential anarchists will not show themselves openly. Isn’t it dangerous for you to come all the way here?”

At this, Erika smiled again. It wasn’t a soft, girlish smile like the rest.

Olga could feel the fierceness in her, the danger.

She was smiling like a Warlord smiled.

“It is dangerous– but I am staking everything here, comrades. I am done hiding.” She said.

Outside the door, Olga could hear Kalika grumble to herself.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me. Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you.”

Erika turned around and left the room, followed by Olga. Kalika then started after them.

“Oh, Kalika!”

In the hallway, Erika looked over her shoulder and met Kalika’s gaze suddenly, stopping her in her tracks.

With that same determined smile as before, but her arms girlishly linked behind her back.

“Please stay with our friends– I want you to act as my liaison to the Pandora’s Box.”

“What? Excuse me? Ugh!”

Erika bobbed her head to one side a little bit without changing expression.

Kalika gritted her teeth and closed her fists.

Olga fixed her own gaze on Kalika, but she also knew the woman would sigh and say–

“Of course, Premier. Please take care on the way back.”

Erika drew back. “Is that really how you feel?” She asked, in a mischievous voice.

“You’re a bitch.” Kalika said. “But you’re the only bitch here with her head on right.”

Without another word, Kalika turned around and obediently returned to the meeting room.


Erika and Olga turned and left the meeting room and Kalika behind.

Walking side by side down the hall out to main lobby of Solarflare LLC’s campus.

Their mood was complicated but not somber. They were both poring over their previous encounter.

“How do you think it went?” Erika asked.

“I think they would be fools not to join your fleet.” Olga replied.

It wasn’t directly addressing the question, but it was her honest feelings.

She thought to say more– but something distracted her in the hall–

Coming from the opposite direction, crossing paths with them.

Two women walking past carried a distinctive presence that made Olga freeze in place. One was taller than the other, well-endowned, her suit and hair color giving her a monochromatic appearance, while beside her was a slighter girl in a dress all done up in lace, her long hair slick and shining as if treated in oil. At the sight of these sophisticated-looking women–

Olga’s eyes dilated, her skin crawled.

She felt a sudden shock run through her nerves, almost similar to the frenzy that the hunger for human flesh inspired in her, at its worst. Erika noticed a few steps ahead and stopped and looked. Her gaze traveled from Olga to the two women.

“Erika,” Olga said. “Please wait there.”

“Of course.” Erika said. She watched from where she stood.

Olga turned fully around, and her aura flared up.

From her body, a black and red wind swept toward the two women, a few meters away.

They stopped walking, and themselves also turned partially to see who was behind.

In the desolate metal hallway full of meeting rooms behind doors.

Syzygy Enforcers I and III smiled as they met the confrontation from Olga and Erika.

“Well, well! Fancy meeting you here, Hunter I.” Enforcer I, Avaritia, grinned at them.

Her strange eyes formed cross-hairs that locked on to Olga with vicious interest.


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