THE BLOOD OF ONYX

 

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THE BLOOD OF ONYX

“Let me ask you something. Are you shy to responsibility? Even I can’t imagine a galaxy without any need to face it. I’ve spanned hundreds of years holding a single blind hope for the entire universe. Yet no one even knows my name. I swear to you, I’m not out of my mind. I’m not losing it. I am perfectly sane. Responsibility has held its clutches onto me more tightly than you could ever imagine. If only I had known… If only I’d just known not to go that day, I wouldn’t be here, cursed. It’s the cruellest twist of fate for someone like me – a Nobody; a Pleb. But unfortunately, that’s just something I can’t go over and change.”

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Larry Version 3

All good :) I'm enjoying it. Looking forward to reading more

Roach

Hi, thanks for reading! Chapter 14 will be coming very soon, either today or tomorrow.

Larry Version 3

Recently I have had the chance to catch up, and I must say, it is a great read :) Looking forward to more!

INSIDE - Chapter One

Countless lifetimes before, I existed in forty degrees of a sun's heat – Signelma to be exact, shining distinctly on my exposed face. I dipped my bill cap to shadow my eyes as I stared at the sky. Hestus was oozing with land of the old: the cracked paving slabs under my unwashed combat boots, the sways of the jostling trees in the distance, and the cobbled recesses of our dutiful City around us. I had made my way to the roof of an empty vehicle dock, which was half covered with a collapsed scaffold. Despite only being raised from the surface by a mere fifty feet, the air tasted bitter up here, and the sun’s light felt even hotter.

I relaxed my eyes into the far brightness of the cloudless scene, feeling the weight of the atmosphere, to add feeling to my words. “Heed me, privileged one, ‘tis I – de facto leader of the venerable Mother Mongrels.” Saying the name aloud forced an uncontrollable grin to my face. “As we clear up our simple excursion on the surface of sixth-rate moon Hestus, and the breaths of our enemies lurk in every shadow, we remain stronger than ever, with our minds alert and our bones poised. Given my sterling reputation, I shouldn’t have to tell you that–”

“Hey Claire! What you doing up there?”

My voice whittled down into a low groan, and gritting my teeth silently, I turned to look over the edge. As the young, inexperienced tone of the voice suggested, it belonged to Mulva, a single named Marrizard with the astonishing yet somewhat soothing soul of a ten year old girl.

My smile found its way back to me, as I chanted her greeting. “Oh, fear not dear Mulva, for heights such as these are some of the few ways to accommodate the pure epic scale of my demeanour.” The words embraced me like a white sheet as soon as they were emitted – not that this feeling should surprise me, considering the irrefutable truth they spoke.

“Wow,” Mulva echoed my thoughts with her dearly outspoken innocence. “That sure sounds epic. Are you positive it isn’t dangerous to be up there?”

“For common folk, perhaps,” I proudly replied. “But you are addressing the Galant Sailor himself now; do not allow yourself to forget that.” I faced the sky again. Mulva was relatively new to the Senator Space Station. Announced as a Pleb, she naturally took a shine to the head of the Temple, most likely scouting me out as a worthy mentor. It was truly ironic how she seemed to see me somewhat as an older brother, since in actual fact she had me outlived by two years. 27 years still counted as barely adolescence for a Marrizard such as her, and needless to say she needed plenty more time to learn to grow up.

“Claire, get down here you imbecile!”

This was a slightly less welcome voice, belonging to another Marrizard by the name of Rinna Sarko. She was noticeably more grown, battle hardened and distinctly not a Pleb – but a respected member of the Signelma Sentinels.

“We’re supposed to be scoping out the elements from the specific co-ordinates the Overlord instructed,” Sarko berated profusely.

I gave her my steeliest look downwards, like I was trying to pierce the thick, heavy air with my bare gaze. As I noticed she was mirroring my look upwards and pulling it off with a lot more intimidation, I decided to relax instead. “Ah, the Queen of Speed herself,” I announced her entrance. “Mulva and I appear to have beaten you to the exodus. Have your powers of punctuality diverged your presence this fine morn?”

Sarko’s three fingered hand buried her face with annoyance. “Firstly,” she fumed, “you really need to stop calling me that name. And secondly, tearing away from our assigned co-ordinates like some addlebrained retard to find the nearest rooftop to spout your nonsense from does not – nor will it ever count as ‘beating me to the exodus’.” She glanced up at the sky around me, for just a second. “Now hurry up, Dominion 58 will be here soon, and we need to hurry back to the Senator before the next lightning strike.”

“Your word is gospel, Queen.”

Marrizards – like Sarko and Mulva – and Humans like me looked so overtly similar that it was difficult to reason it with coincidence. I spent so much time with them and the brutish Brodam those days that my mind rarely seemed to wander onto the subject, but both posture and facial features of Marrizards and Humans were alike in a collection of ways. They stood upright on two legs, just like us, had similarly proportioned arms with three fingers on each hand (albeit their fingers were much longer and thinner). Their eyes were significantly larger than humans’, but very similarly placed, with a slightly flatter nose in between. Their mouths were small and they didn’t really have teeth so much as thin plates of baleen, giving the outward appearance of a tiny brush. There seemed a little more grace with the Marrizards – especially the females, since their legs were longer and more slender, their faces rounder and less gaunt, and although they didn’t exactly have hair like us, they housed thin incisions around the top of their heads, loosely resembling brushed back hair on humans. Probably the most notable difference was in Marrizards’ skin tone, which was a very dark brown. Considering this though, I realised that I had in fact seen Humans with this tone of skin, and apparently in certain star systems across the cosmos more heavily populated with Humans, it wasn’t rare at all.

This similarity in appearance did explain the commonness of Marrizards and Humans fighting together during this war: it meant we could utilise the same equipment, we were all proportioned to the same living space, and once the language barrier was overcome through use of auto-translation, we could easily call them ‘brothers’. Truth be told though, as was the case with most other species, my gut always told me it was the Gestalts that forced our hand into collaboration with them.

‘Dominion 58’ – which was the original Human name for the docking shuttle, was since named as hundreds of soul-crushing titles given by the other various alien races housed on board the Senator Space Station. As a Human, I never forgot its native origins, and always enjoyed the ride from Hestus’ surface back to the Senator, knowing its very dimensions were carved specifically to fit the likes of me. Sarko didn’t even have to shove me on board, as she and the others would normally, this instance. Dominion 58’s landing into the City had been beautifully quiet, and I felt barely a shake as it took off again.

“Smoothly done, old one,” I smiled, staring out of the sole tiny window in the cockpit. I watched lovingly as the ancient stones of the City grew faint into the distance as we gained altitude. The interior of the Dominion 58 was cramped with Sarko, Mulva, me and the pilot collecting us – and it was hardly luxury, but it warmed me every time to know that despite everything Humanity had been through, we could still produce quality ships.

“Are we going back to the Senator now, Claire?” Mulva tugged at my waistline. I hadn’t noticed her there, but her soft voice wasn’t enough to startle me. Considering the nature of it, one would assume her to be small, and although she stood roughly a head shorter than me, she was well grown for her age.

“Indeed we are,” I replied, adjusting my cap again. “Let us return to the one place we can call home, and meditate our minds until our true potentials as the ultimate pair of soldiers is reached!”

“That sounds scary,” she gazed at me. “But I can’t wait!”

“Ca’shrimo,” Sarko muttered with a sharp bitterness in her tone. “I simply cannot be dealing with your weirdness right now.”

It was actually a term originated from the Brodam, presumably similar to how Humans would sometimes say: ‘oh for God’s sake’. The Brodam had overused the term so much it had practically become adopted by Marrizards, and even some Humans. Needless to say, close to every time the word was directed at me, it was followed by an insult. I couldn’t think why – in fact truthfully, I wish I could reprogram my auto-translation rig to alter it into a different word every time I heard it. Now that could be an amusing idea.

Speaking of Brodam, the large hunched body of one, Osnarm’iry L-Sote, had been squeezed into the tiny pilot’s seat, and she currently had her big wet nose pressed into the docking monitor, with a hundred percent focus. She was the assigned pilot of the Dominion 58 for all scavenging hunts in the City.

“Are all vertices in accordance with the Communal Airlock, Captain?” I questioned her way with a light spring in my voice.

“Not now Claire,” she shook me off. “Unless you want the shuttle to drift straight through the bulkhead of the dining hall, I suggest you keep yourself silent.”

I turned to the window again, pouring directionless words from my head. “It baffles me, O privileged one, how these bourgeois treat me with such treachery, considering the exceptional traits of this ol’ crackerjack, not to mention being the right honourable founder of one such intrepid…”

“Claire!” Sarko snapped, “Shut up before I put your head through the wall. You could not be further from an actual soldier.”

“Do those words fathom literally or figuratively in your head, Queen of Speed?”

“Uhh… please let me out of here…”

Granting her wish, Osnarm’iry completed the docking. The round airlock released its steel latches, disengaging oxygen through. Even the Senator left me a little light-headed if I stayed up here without putting on an Earth-air tank for a few days at a time, since the air supply wasn’t perfectly matched for my kind. Brodam, Marrizards and Humans being the main three races that lived up here, the air was a fair split between all of their ideals – which were very similar.

Allowing Mulva through first, I ducked my head under the low passageway and climbed aboard. The Senator was Brodam built, and well designed for their greater height and width, but the Marrizards were undoubtedly the dominant race here. It was roughly the shape of a capital ‘H’; split into five sections. This was the communal walkway, where some of the station’s personnel kept track of the Senator’s orbit over the moon Hestus. The office and quarters of the Overlord, one Losal Hoyran, lay along this section also, which was where our mission would hopefully be concluded.

I glanced through the horizontal slit windows lining the starboard side of the corridor, boasting the hollow view of deep Signelma basking space. I thought the same thing every time I saw the stars: they would be good to see. It would be so good to go out there and explore them – but I couldn’t. There was always a price to pay for exploration, and for generations, every known race had been paying that price. I realised long ago that the only way to stay alive was to remain here, for as long as I possibly could.

“I sure hope the Overlord doesn’t send us back down there anytime soon,” Mulva yawned. “I’m beat.”

“Never a day’s rest for the Legends, I’m afraid,” I murmured back, without really thinking. We turned reluctantly into Hoyran’s office chamber, maintaining a strict line with as straight a posture as our backs would still allow us. The man himself was one of the many straight arrows here – a dignified Marrizard, and the oldest person on the station. Considering Marrizards’ theoretical lifespan was 200 years, sixty years would still count as youthful, easily. But this war would nary allow for nearly that many years normally.

“Rinna Sarko, Signelma Sentinel,” he greeted, standing before us in decorated uniform. I didn’t understand how one could possibly earn that many commendations without actually fighting out there with everyone else. Hoyran turned to Mulva and me with less appreciation. “And Plebs: Mulva and Isaac Claire – we have received the supplies you managed to scavenge from the old city. However, without further ingredients we lack the components required to secure the current batch of FG-6 already on the way.”

I rolled my eyes as unnoticeably as I could manage through my frustration. It was obvious where this was going. FG-6 stood for ‘Flusi Guarto-6’, which roughly translated to ‘chemical enhancement’. I normally just referred to it as ‘Flush’, considering my poor pronunciation skills. It was quite simply an intravenous drug containing mostly the rare ‘Element 30’, which caused soldiers of most races to become a little more formidable on the battlefield. Once upon a time it may have been something truly revolutionary – but with this war, to me it seemed like the most pointless military product ever. This station, the Senator, was responsible for the manufacture and distribution of Flush to those out there fighting. Did it help them? Did it ever make a shed of difference against the Gestalts? I wouldn’t bet on it. And I usually found myself being one to venture down to the City to gather its irritatingly widespread components.

“I regret having to lay this upon you all,” Hoyran instructed with little clear sincerity, “but I’m going to need to send you three back down there, with new co-ordinates.”

Mulva was too shy and recessive to dispute this, and I was too collapsed inside to bother, so surprisingly enough the first objection came from Rinna Sarko. “Pardon me, Overlord sir, but a lightning strike is imminent over the City. We surely don’t have time for another recon until the next passing.”

“I’m sorry, but we cannot afford to wait that long,” he insisted. “Besides, according to the other Sentinels the next lightning strike is late, so we should have a few hours. You three need to head down there now before the Senator passes completely over it.”

“Yes sir!” Sarko frowned, tensing herself on the spot. “What are the new co-ordinates?”

“Here we come to the second problem,” he forcefully admitted. “Now, we know the spot is rich with Element 30, but due to unforeseen fluctuation errors with our planet scanners, we cannot be sure whether the co-ordinates are within the City, or in the Forest.” Hoyran moved a little closer. “Now, assuming the spot does lie in the City, head to the area ASAP. However, if when you get there you discover it is in the Forest, report back here immediately. Do NOT attempt to head into the Forest.”

“Ok, orders heard, Overlord.” Sarko saluted, and Hoyran dismissed us. Before I knew it Mulva and I were being whisked back to the Dominion 58. A strong stench of sterilising agent found its unwelcome way to me upon reaching through the airlock. Some of the engineers here were practically obsessed with cleanliness and hygiene – so much so that squad leaders and race reps had taken it as habit to beat respective lessons into our heads during training sessions.

As Dominion 58 made another swift landing in utter silence and elegance, I filled the hatch doorway up with my entire figure to feel the weight of Hestus’ wind, placing my hands on my hips with omnipresent drama. Sarko inevitably shoved past me to reach the moon’s surface, shamelessly ruining my charged moment with Mother Nature’s soulful touch.

“Agh,” I grumbled. “Kindly restrain your insolence, Speed Lady.”

Mulva contracted herself in an awkward position at my back. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that her wish was for this to be over with as well. “Claire?” she wondered, “What exactly are we doing down here again?”

I sucked the surface air in and reached blindly for the narrow exit as I answered. “It seems that our stoic Overlord feels our time is best spent hopping across random points in the City, scrounging up whatever elements we can find for his obtuse obsession. If you ask me… Uh–!” It was only when I opened my eyes again and left the sanctity of the shuttle that I noticed the abhorrence Sarko held proudly with two Marrizard hands.

“Hurry up, you two!” She called, with zero level of awareness of her beastliness.

“Would you mind telling me what the hell that is?” I demanded with all due aggressiveness.

“Huh? Oh!” She actually had the nerve to smile as she gazed down at it, cradled in her arms. “It’s a Type-S Forager rifle. I thought I could do with the extra steel this time. Never know what you’re going to run into, eh?”

“I’m sorry?!” I exclaimed. The huge meaty death machine in her grasp used .50cal ballistics containing Marrizard originated incineration powder. It was capable of ripping an armoured tank in half. How many heavy infantry vehicles was she expecting to ‘run into’ exactly? “I’ll break it down for you Sarko,” I lectured, “Within this huge ancient city you may find yourself right now; there are all of three living organisms: you, me and Mulva. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of hoping it will remain that way for the duration of this mission, until time eventually comes for us to take our leave.”

She rolled her eyes at me. “Ok Claire, I’ll try and order this in a way you’ll understand,” she patronised. “Think back to those three ‘organisms’ you described a moment ago. Now one – and only one of those is a Signelma Sentinel. Care to remind me which one?”

I did not give her the satisfaction of answering the question.

“Rinna Sarko!” Mulva recited, much to my annoyance.

“Thank you Mulva,” Sarko grinned. “Now hurry up, I don’t want any of your time-wasting this mission.”

“I still cannot imagine a single instance where you could possibly have need of that,” I insisted.

“And I cannot imagine a single instance where I would ever take your advice.”

I kicked up cracked pieces of concrete and dirt as I tailed Sarko across the City. Instead of engaging in further discussion, I merely tilted my voice to the orange twilight sky. “It appears words that once leant my fancy have departed from distinction, privileged one. No, withhold that – they’ve been torn from it,” I preached with minor vibrato. “These so-called ‘acolytes’ have twisted a word, such as ‘mission’ – once a well suited dramatic term for my perfectly orientated instincts – to be defined as engaging on spirit-destroying hikes between undexterously babbled statistics.” The thought of it all never ceased to pull me down, but I had to resist it. I straightened my cap and raised my head. “Weaker men might be subjected to it – but years of natural selection will not be wasted on me. I will weave myself into the perfect soldier, obtain my destiny and reclaim those terms lost to me!”

“Shut up back there!” Sarko snapped, bringing my mind harshly back to reality. “And Claire, if you’re the perfect result of natural selection, I feel phenomenally sorry for Humanity.”

“Hey Claire?” Mulva’s voice reached me from behind. “If you’re the perfect result of a Human, does that make me the perfect result of a Marrizard?”

“Of course, apprentice of Physicality,” I answered immediately, allowing my smugness to return. “Why else would your presence be centred on the Temple? I have specifically ordered the Mother Mongrels to include the best examples of each race: Human, Marrizard and Brodam.”

Mulva’s pace became a little more upbeat upon hearing my words. “Brodam too, huh? So G-R-Geyii really does have something to be proud of?”

“Do not be fooled by mere appearances, Mulva,” I chuckled. “Even Georgie has redeeming factors far beyond most Brodam could dream of. Enemies face us at every moment, so as de facto leader, I have taken it upon myself to hide our statuses as simple Plebs aboard the Senator, as to keep our true identities safe within.”

“Enemies?” Mulva’s brow rose worriedly. “Do enemies face us right now?” I could see her focus dart from the empty shadows in the buildings to the tranquil rippling surface of the distant trees.

“Yes, but do not fill yourself with anguish,” I reassured her. “Although those seeking to destroy our temple and wreak havoc upon us do indeed remain in the scene before you, as the one and only SAILOR OF THE COSMOS, I have taken initiative and cloaked us with invisibility from their sight.”

“Huh?” It was Sarko’s voice from up ahead.

“Why have we stopped?” Mulva pondered aloud. We had reached the west boundary of the City, where the stone withered completely and transformed into an endless sea of forest and narrow rivers aligning huge islands of trees.

Sarko was staring down at the tiny device depicting the co-ordinates. “Dammit,” she cursed.

“Unhappy the mission has reached its halfway point before time has allowed for your outside buzz, Sarko?” I inquired.

“No you idiot,” she replied. “The co-ordinates aren’t here.”

“Care to share with us their true location then?”

“About five hundred metres that way,” she pointed further west, directly at the forest.

Following about a second’s mildly dumbstruck hesitation, I instantly turned on my heels and started leading Mulva back. “So it appears the mission played out short and sweet after all.”

“Plebs!” she called out to us, “Where do you think you’re going? The mission isn’t over.”

“Correction,” I raised a finger back at her, pumped up by my distinct recollection of Hoyran’s meeting. “We obtained strict instructions to abort all attempts of reaching the co-ordinates should we discover that they lay in the Forest. Additionally, we were specifically warned that the Forest itself was out of bounds. Have you forgotten about the Forest Feeders?”

“Ca’shrimo Claire,” she moaned, “You could at least pretend not to be a total wuss.” She once again presented the diabolical instrument in her hands. “The Forest Feeders are exactly why I brought this along for in the first place. Now let’s get going.”

Forgetting the hierarchy, the instructions, and the mission itself, I was consumed by stubbornness and bitter rage. I would not stand for it. “‘Let’s get going’? Your insensateness knows no bounds Queen of Speed! That forest will never feel my boot print, for now and evermore – and not all the boosters of velocity in the galaxy could convince me otherwise! I care not for how formidable you consider yourself, I disregard the result of strength with our sum of three, and I would deny myself all the glory in existence – I will never, ever be found walking through that forest!”

Five minutes later, I was walking through the Forest. A mass of shivering leaves ran in a tunnel around us, engrossing the three of us in a picturesque view of foliage and nature, where halfway down the thick green and yellow would turn into twisting trunks with unfurled flowers and weeds – and it was all just so… despicable. I could not believe that I, the gallant SAILOR OF THE COSMOS, had been subjected to this. I narrowed my eyes to catch Signelma’s rays of light clawing their way through the ceiling of branches and leaves. “Privileged one,” I uttered, “you’ll have to forgive my lack of self-esteem and morale. It appears my subordinates have once again hauled me in the unwise direction, postponing my journey to the great destiny of you-know-what.”

“What are Forest Feeders?” Mulva asked loudly. The level of her cheerfulness at that moment was just marginally high enough to cause me seething distress.

“Mulva, your curiosity of such matters comes across only as an extension of this despairingly disastrous detour we are forced to undertake.” I sighed under my breath. “Forest Feeders are carnivorous trees that some of the Senator scouts claimed to have spotted in the Hestus Forest – which is exactly why I object to our being here,” I explained.

“I remember back in the Beta Taurus system, the General Authority had grown orchards of Hegelian trees that spanned entire fourth rate moons,” she smiled to herself. “It was amazing; I could never wait until our field missions.”

I briefly stopped in my blind following of Rinna Sarko up ahead through the narrow winding path to observe Mulva reminiscing behind me, before relaxing and continuing on. “Trust me,” I laughed, “Forest Feeders are nothing like your much beloved Hegelian trees – they’re really nasty. Luckily, they don’t blend in as well as the Hegelian; you should be able to spot the large size and off-colour of any Forest Feeders with ease, so keep an eye out.”

Mulva skipped faster to catch up with me. “Surely they’re no match for over half of the Temple’s finest!” she preached cockily.

I gritted my teeth. “Well yes – of course. Still though, don’t let your guard down. The Hestus Forest is restricted for a reason, and some laws exist that even you and I cannot live outside of. You’re a long way from those Taurus Colony days now, dear Mulva, not to mention half a million lightyears across the galaxy. The empty journey of the stars can change the sentient lands; your very own venerable voyager knows this better than most, so you can take it from me.”

“I love it here, don’t get me wrong,” she chirped, “but I sure hope I can go back and visit the colony someday. Hey – maybe you could come with me! I would love to show you around. There’s a whole bunch of–”

My heart skipped a beat. Mulva, barely half a metre from my walking position, suddenly toppled over a twisted array of roots lining the edge of a harsh slope. Her body just rag-dolled down, for long enough for her beige combat gear to be completely out of sight. I called down immediately, once I’d fought back the locking up of my body. “Mulva! Can you hear me?”

I heard rustling several metres down, but there was no verbal response, so I called again. “Mulva!”

“Claire? I’m – I’m ok… agh!” her muffled cries reached me. “Ow, it hurts… I can’t move!”

“Don’t try, alright?” I instructed, “Just stay put, I’ll be right there!” I took off in a sprint across the slope at an angle so as not to topple down it myself. My steps were irregular and spasmodic due to the bizarre line of gradient in the rough terrain. The ground was hard and cracked with sprinklings of dust – not what would be expected at all due to the regular bouts of extreme rainfall. The soft layers filled the treads in my boots to the point that caused them to be useless, and I felt myself on the verge of slipping with every stride. I paid no mind to Sarko, who seemed a little taken aback at my sudden spring of action. The tangling mask of enflamed bark and leaves still hid Mulva from my view, even as I pounded further down the slope. It was getting frustrating enough to distract my own sense of danger. As soon as the thought entered my head though, my pace became suddenly weaker, and I shot a burst of Hestus’ oxygen rich air from my lungs. It would be extremely dangerous to get lost here. There was a reason that the Forest was out of bounds; not that it should have surprised me that Sarko’s rash indiscretion was enough to preponderate my inquisitive level of judgement.

“Mulva, can you hear me?” I wailed through the stiff tree trunks, hoping the sound might happen to bounce between them and reach her. The slope had ended a while ago, and a scene only of flat ground implied regretfully that she could be in any direction now.

“Claire, I’m over here.” The voice was soft and quiet. This finally caused my shoulders to drop from their locked positions, concluding that if no shout were necessary, she was most likely in sight.

I tensed up again however, upon catching a glimpse of her pale blue combat slacks trailing in the dust to my left. She was incapacitated. Had something attacked her?

No… she appeared to be fine. The fall had bruised her slightly but her implants were clearly softening most of the pain already. The only troublesome aspect I noticed upon dashing over was her expression. Her face had been paralysed at the hallowing sight of something. It wasn’t me she was looking at, but as I turned, I realised immediately what it was.

“Claire,” she trembled, “is that…?”

Hailed in the centre of a wide thicket crammed against the foot of the wild grassy hill was a tree that stuck out. It was about three metres taller than its neighbours, and several shades darker. By far the most irrefutable difference though, was the fact that its roots weren’t embedded into the hard soil, but impaling the other trees and clinging onto them like a cancer. Its branches also faced the same direction – every single one of them – like they had been bent and forced like that, and the way they faced was towards Mulva and me. To say the direction of the branches resembled a threatening taunt would be inaccurate, because it was no threat – the tree was poised for an attack.

“Oh no,” I uttered, standing between the tree and Mulva, who I could hear trying to haul herself up. “It’s a Forest Feeder.”

The branches darted forward heavily, as if a mighty wind had shoved the tree towards me. It wasn’t a whipping motion as I had anticipated, but the form was rigid. I realised far too late that it intended to lance me.

“Agh!” I stumbled back, but the Forest Feeder struck through the lightweight Kevlar in my rig with ease. The light brown fabric around the portion of my right shoulder was instantly stained dark red.

“Claire!” Mulva grabbed me, trying to tear me backwards from it.

“Claire, get down!” This was Sarko’s urgent voice, and was followed by a string of blustering gunshots. My ears were filled with a ringing sound practically as soon as she aimed the heavy rifle and fired. The .50cal rounds tore through the tough bark of the Forest Feeder, shredding it down to a writhing pile of simmering ash. Even the surrounding trees seemed to be relieved of its defeat.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as untroubled. The wound in my shoulder had drained my energy such that I couldn’t stand at all. I collapsed on the ground, breathing fast and hard through my teeth. The burning and stinging protruded through my insides, restricting my movement to agonised spasms. The pain was almost unbearable.

“Claire, don’t try and move,” Sarko instructed. “Let me see.” I reluctantly released the pressure off my wound, and she stared at the bloody mess. “Ok,” she concentrated, narrowing her shallow Marrizard brow. “Your implants have caused your blood to coagulate, but you need to keep the area stiff so as not to open up the wound again.”

She sat me up against a trunk. I attempted to force bitterness out of my look, but a little more than likely burst through anyway.

“Lucky I didn’t forget to bring the old Type-S, eh?” Sarko sighed, punching the extraction call into her rig.

It hurt to speak, but I croaked out a response anyway. “If only you had forgotten to bring your foolhardiness.”

“I’m sorry, alright?” she rolled her eyes at me. “Perhaps if you were a little less useless than a Rhi’tyne you could have dug out a strategy to defend yourself and not just stand there and get injured.”

‘Rhi’tyne’ was yet another Brodam term that Marrizards like Rinna Sarko had felt compelled to steal and use themselves. This was in fact one of the notable few times hearing the word from a Marrizard mouth hadn’t made a cold shudder up my spine in a manner of cringing – although that was probably because a thick numbness was beginning to spread throughout my entire body.

“You shouldn’t be mean to her, Claire,” Mulva’s shrill voice was among the last noises I heard as my eyes began to close by themselves and I began to lose consciousness. “She just saved both our lives.”

I saw only black, barely perceived by my mind that lay in an almost comatose state. Despite the numbness, the stinging pain stabbed down me. It didn’t feel right at all, as if a part of the Forest Feeder’s attack was still within me. I couldn’t stand it, but my body couldn’t even writhe or fidget against it. There was no galaxy to see in front of me, just the pain. Could this truly be the end of the gallant SAILOR OF THE COSMOS?

I didn’t wake until we were back on the Senator. Alone in the medical bay, one of the many foldable gurneys housed my limp form. I had been stripped down and presumably, considering the itching in my skin, sprayed with pharma-gel. Looking down, the wound had been tightly bandaged as well. Despite all of this, my thoughts could not be pulled away from the intense burning inside me. If anything, it was worse now. I wanted to call out to someone, but even my voice couldn’t be heard through the dampening feeling. My eyes just rested on the tiny dark windows displaying outer space, a screen contrasting the bright whiteness of the interior walls. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what had happened to me: I had been poisoned. There was no question that the Forest Feeder had managed to inject me with something, something the medics on board the Senator had been unable to detect. I began to drift off again, hoping only that the next person to enter the module would somehow notice the seriousness of my condition.

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INSIDE - Chapter Two

Water was all around me; or some liquid anyway. It wasn’t until I could actually lay my eyes on the surroundings that the concept of drowning even entered my head. The liquid stung my eyes and my vision was blurred, but my hands reached out blindly, only able to feel hard smooth walls. It was glass, above, below and to the sides of me. The glass restricted any movement like a cage would – only this was definitely a container – to hold both this liquid, and me. That was the exact fact that triggered my anxiety. No-one would place a living body in a closed vat of liquid without the intent of drowning it. I pushed myself around, slamming into the walls, but it was pointless. I didn’t feel like I was drowning, but the dullness of my confused state of mind wouldn’t let me believe otherwise.

Opening my eyes again, I peered through the liquid. Holding a gaze allowed me to realise that it wasn’t the feel of the liquid that caused my eyes to sting, but the colour. It was like a bright yellow, washing out the tone of my skin. The appearance only seemed to darken by two shadows beyond, and to confirm a theory there and then, muffled voices sounded from them.

“Frankly,” one said to the other, “this one was just embarrassing.”

Not only could I pick out the voice, but the familiarity of the species’ tone formed a vivid image of the person too. It was a Human woman, no older than me. She peered into the vat where I floated like it was a curiosity. I saw her face, brimming with evil and restrained madness. How could she justifiably do this to one so important to the galaxy’s destiny? Those who would scope out the transcendent traveller, the marvellous magistrate, and use him as their lab rat – were an entire new level of shameful.

“How did you know what happened?” The other voice clearly came from the dark outline of a Brodam, also female, and also evil.

“I managed to get a drone close enough – I don’t think he saw it,” the Human woman replied.

“Ok, that place is definitely to be avoided this time. Ca’shrimo, this is going to take forever.”

I had no clue of what they were talking about. The sole distinction I could conclude was the deplorable diabolicalness of whatever malevolent schemes these two females were plotting, and the undeniable fact that I was the intended victim. Yet again my alertness wavered, and my mind lapsed into nothingness, causing the two women to wrap themselves into the haziness of my subconscious, until I was completely empty. What I certainly wasn’t, though, was drowning.

“Are you listening, privileged one?” I faced full on into the bowels of deep space through the large observation window at our cabin’s side. The dream had become a mere memory, but it stuck with me long after waking. I was back at the temple: the quarters of me and my large roommate Georgie, who was slumped at the hatch with a disorganised heap of tools. “This chamber before you is the gracious Temple of Physicality, and you are addressing its de facto leader.”

I noticed Georgie’s insatiable huff at my words, and although a look of disdain punished it for infecting the harmonising atmosphere of the module, I let it go for now. He seemed often intent on intruding my transcendent connection with thou out there, but even his relentless protests couldn’t think to penetrate the unique aura I provided.

“Be grateful privileged one,” I turned my focus back to the observation window, staring through my reflection on the thick glass to the far beyond. “The details of our Temple of Physicality will very shortly be known to you. Yes,” I smiled sentimentally, “your destiny of scoping out the galaxy-wide infamous Mother Mongrels shall be achieved by way of the Delta Bravia system, where fate must kindly guide your footsteps to fourth rate Signelma, from which our perilous Senator station humbly orbits Hestus, chief moon of the mighty Bravia 4. Now, make haste! I am tethered to this battle solo, with but the oversized back of a Brodam compatriot to my name.”

“You know,” Georgie shamelessly interrupted my dramatic monologue, “the ‘battle’ of repairing this door requires hours of focus – and I thought I wouldn’t have to say this, but that time may be shortened if I could do it delusion-free.”

“Door?!” I exclaimed in shocked outburst. “This mechanism before us is labelled a docking hatch – a term that should be well fastened into the memory banks of a Mother Mongrel member. It fuses together the Signelma headquarters to our intrepid temple.”

Georgie turned to face me directly, not lifting his large form, but snuffed his Brodam snout-like nostrils aggressively. “Firstly,” he chanted in a low voice, “don’t try and pretend that you’re an aspiring student just because you are vaguely aware of loose terminology. Secondly, I think you’ll find that most species around here pronounce it ‘Pleb wing’, housing all the non-combat-ready losers and weirdos, not the least of whom is you. And thirdly, considering the number of female Brodam stationed with the Signelma Sentinels, I would appreciate you dropping this ridiculous ‘Mother Mongrel’ title you’ve given us.”

“Who do you think you’re calling ‘non-combat-ready’?” I flared back at him. “My body is perfectly fine-tuned to the art of choreographed fighting. As you well know, faking myself as a Pleb is the perfect plan for securing secrecy from the enemy.” I piped down, investing my scrutiny back to the beauty of outer space. “And if you’re really looking to waste precious time embarrassing yourself in the neighbouring wing, you shall do so under my assigned title.” The mischievous growth of a sinister grin dug its foundations onto my face. “What better way is there to reel in prey than by announcing oneself as a third of the exclusive Mother Mongrels anyway?”

Somehow, Georgie failed to give in there. “There are countless better ways of attracting a woman,” he insisted, “namely ways not involving passing yourself off as maternal, or being a strange creature known only to ancient Humans.”

“It shocks me that you have the nerve to spit on the name, Georgie, and I’m sure this privileged one agrees – yes?” I allowed thou out there in the depths of space to fill in the answer for me. “Your silence confirms it,” I chuckled, “and since I parted with the priceless information of the temple’s whereabouts, I’ll thank you to continue having my back. Comrades are more than hard to come by, evident by the relentless backchat from this oversized Brodam before me. Now, procure me the means to indulge myself to perfection, from which I can fulfil myself as physical perfection, and claim my destiny of reaching the BLOOD OF ONYX!”

“Should I even ask who you’re talking to right now?” Georgie seemed to have given up trying to follow my line of thought. It was a good thing, too – as useful an acolyte he was, his simple mind was hardly worthy of my superiority.

Another figure peered in through the hatch, hoping to squeeze past the obscene amount of room Georgie insisted on taking up during his repairs. “Permission to enter the temple?” she inquired.

I turned and smiled warmly. “Ah, Mulva – feeling better I see.”

“Yeah…” she looked oddly puzzled at my remark as she entered our quarters. “Shouldn’t I be?”

“Don’t mind him Mulva,” Georgie grinned, barely looking up from his work. “Claire’s decided to disconnect himself from reality again.”

She giggled to herself avidly. “Let me guess, the privileged one needs his attention again? It sure is a shame that the galaxy wide thoughts can only reach the head of the de facto leader.”

“Please don’t indulge him further,” Georgie sighed. “Anyway,” he finally hoisted himself up to his full seven foot height. Even as Brodam go he was very large, though unfortunately most of his mass was comprised of body fat as opposed to muscle; an infamous fact about him and only part of the reason he was stationed with the Plebs. Personally, I had no idea how he managed to maintain that weight considering the strict rationing here. Then again, one of Georgie’s most notable talents was snidely finding loopholes in Hoyran’s well maintained system on board the Senator. “Have you got anything for us then, Mulva?”

She reached into her pack, presenting three vacuum packed huisers (which was a clumsy mix of various Marrizard native meats) and tossed one to each of us.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Georgie cheered, ripping into his already.

The sight of it baffled me a little though. “Mulva my dear, though your friendly donation to the temple is much appreciated, just where exactly did you find the time to apply for this extra ration?”

“Tell me about it,” she moaned. “The wait alone took three hours. It’s normally bad enough, but yesterday was a nightmare.”

Yesterday – but when? I had been with her practically the whole day. Between the original scavenging mission on Hestus and being forced down there again with Rinna Sarko to roam recklessly into the Forest, she couldn’t have had time to head back to the cafeteria while it was still open. “I don’t see how that could be possible,” I challenged, “unless a daytime tuck shop has been established in the City or something.”

My words had appeared to confuse her even more. Her look almost began to match mine now, perhaps with a little less irrational hostility. “Huh?” she emitted. “No, I got it from the cafeteria.”

“Don’t mind him,” Georgie muttered through an overfilled mouthful of huiser. “You’re still new here Mulva, but soon enough you’ll learn to tune out most of Claire’s nonsense like the rest of us do.”

“Silence, infidel!” I fumed. “My words simply consist of finer phrases you haven’t the talent or experience to become partial to. Perhaps if you didn’t spend time purposely breaking interior hatches so that your repairing skills have to be utilised instead of engaging on scavenging missions with the rest of the Mother Mongrels, you could learn to approach my level.”

“Will you let that go?” he sighed. “It hardly matters anyway: Hoyran called the mission off.”

That had me lost. Georgie had exhibited one of his rare moments that put me in a moment of silence. What in the galaxy was he talking about now? “I mean the scavenging mission yesterday that Rinna Sarko, Mulva and I engaged in.”

“Uh… yeah,” Georgie frowned. “So am I.”

“Then what is this absurdity about it being cancelled? I distinctly recall being dragged into the Forest of all places, where Mulva here took an unfortunate tumble.” I jerked my arm into an extended position in her direction, while still aiming my angular scowl at the Brodam. “How else would she have ended up all bruised?”

This was followed by a moment of uncomfortable silence. My brow fizzled back, and I tilted my bill cap again, looking back at Mulva to realise that she stood by our bunks without so much as a stain on her face. Her bruises had completely disappeared. “What…?” I stammered.

“Well, congratulations, Claire,” Georgie smiled. “You appear to have evolved from a deluded Pleb to a full on crazed individual.”

“Um… Claire,” Mulva stared at me worried, “Are you ok?”

“This isn’t right,” I murmured to myself, trudging over to the mirror in our adjacent bathroom. I pulled up my shirt, dreading to see under. There was no bandage on my shoulder. I had assumed that the pharma-gel had taken care of the pain, but my skin didn’t bear as much as a scratch. How the hell was this possible? “Georgie,” I called back to him, with a whirring stillness in my voice. “Did I get injected with Flush last night?”

Georgie laughed aloud. “Using a vial of FG-6 that it takes them a whole 24 hours to generate on a Senator Pleb? That would be the day.”

“Then kindly explain how my shoulder seems to have completely healed up on its own!” Come to think of it, I felt nothing of the poison’s agonising burn that had cursed upon me last night either. That kind of remedying had to be beyond even the capabilities of mark 6 Flush. “Mulva,” I addressed, following my next instinct.

“Yeah, Claire?”

“Humour me for a moment here. Did you and I not accompany Rinna Sarko on two extended trips to Hestus yesterday in order to search for components for Hoyran’s next batch of Flush?”

She looked practically taken aback with perplexity. “I think I would remember doing that. Are you sure the privileged one didn’t send you a vision or something?”

This was simply insane. Had I dreamt the entire thing? No – It had happened; I couldn’t bring myself to doubt that for a second – not this time. Why was I the only one to remember though? I contemplated aloud. “Whatever could be wrong with me?”

Georgie laughed again. “Now that is a very good question. I’ve actually been wondering it myself ever since I met you four years ago.”

Presumably, Mulva and I had been used for some experiment with Flush. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ne’crux I-Haem had generated a new strain, and in his infinite wisdom deemed us ‘Plebs’ expendable enough to use as test hosts. This was unacceptable. Between everyone on the Senator, Ne’crux was by far the least open-minded enough to ever understand the true value of the Mother Mongrels. However, this did leave me with one clear objective in the hopes of clearing up this mess: find Rinna Sarko. As a Signelma Sentinel, there was no way any of the instructors would use her for such barbaric measures.

I croaked out some excuse to Mulva half-heartily before ducking through the hatch and slipping out of the temple. The artificial gravity felt just about strong enough to result in an uncomfortable stiffness in my ankles. I held my head up high and endured it though – for this was a matter of extreme importance, and even my great mind’s focus needed to be one hundred percent running. Capable instincts told me Sarko would be amongst her kin, within the Signelma headquarters which lay just down the narrow cylindrical corridor from the temple. The Sentinels were five in total, two Brodam; two Marrizard; and one Human. All were female but one – an unsurprising fact really, since if one were unlucky enough to excel in studies and be male, they would be shipped out within the Ring before any protest could be conjured.

“Would you mind telling me what you are doing wandering around?” emerged a soft, bitter echo from the incision of the office hatch to my right. The man it came from stood at seven foot, breathing deeply in the shadows that bathed in his skin (more naturally than I dare say they could anywhere else). He was Brodam, barely hunched at all like Georgie, but hardened to death in his age. This was Ne’Crux I-Haem, a senior and roughly a rare forty years old.

The sound of his inane snarls was practically enough to draw an unpleasant automatic response from me these days. “I would indeed sir,” I retorted at cue.

His reaction to this was hardly based off shock either, and as I attempted to continue on my venture, his arm seized my ragged uniform. That was just one of my many qualms with this authority: despite being a Brodam, Ne’Crux was no brute. He was slick, and fast – irritatingly so.

“You know, Claire,” he snorted shoving me to face him, “one of these days you will have to be taught how to address your superiors… one way or another.”

His presence had triggered my defensive instincts so drastically that I had completely forgotten the nature of my current vocation. “Wait – sir,” I narrowed my tone suddenly. Hesitation followed though; I had to be careful with my wording. “Did you receive Overlord Hoyran’s report on our scavenging mission?”

He edged closer to me, wrinkling his face up. “I assume this is your attempt at a bad joke.” His tolerance remained for the moment.

I wasn’t sure how to reply. My head felt like it was swimming with the dissonance of two different memories. “It was… cancelled then?”

“Must you constantly feel the need to remind everyone of your incredible incompetence?” barked the slippery Brodam. “I personally sent out the reminder to your rig, stating the danger of the unpredictable lightning shift – so don’t try convincing me that it escaped your attention.” He straightened again, as my eyes found their way to the floor. “On your way, Pleb,” he shooed me away.

Was I truly losing it? Already details of the mission I remembered were beginning to blur. Even stranger, it seemed to give me a sense of déjà vu – the feeling alone did. But I was miles from figuring it out.

“Oh, one more thing, Claire,” Ne’Crux called to me as I sauntered back towards the temple. “Hoyran is bringing in a Human Sentinel from a foreign star system. On my advice, he’s assigning her to your very own Pleb wing.” I could see Ne’Crux’s face practically light up upon noticing the very dregs of happiness drain from my soul. “I’m sure she’ll do for keeping you all in check.”

I resigned myself to the temple for the morning. If my day hadn’t already been a wreck, this was the absolute tipping point. A nark in the temple was completely unacceptable. Worse in fact – it was an extension of Ne’Crux I-Haem’s grasp, and he wouldn’t stop until the grain of these very walls was under his twisted spell. Morale had to remain in our spirits though, and as the de facto leader, I was thoroughly destined to be obstreperous enough to see us all through.

The training floor was the largest area on the Senator, housed in a broad module suspended from the ‘hull’ (that was the side of the station facing Hestus’ surface anyhow). It was packed with various obstacles each containing practical training functions ranging in effect from barely applicable to ridiculously excessive. The gadget representatives here seemed most proud of was the almost instant gravity control. Although the Senator orbited a mere 200 kilometres above the surface of Hestus, its weak gravity couldn’t be felt at all from up here, so we relied on the artificially generated effect. Every module contained its own airspace in which the gravity could be controlled, but the training floor was the one place those enlightened ones felt the need to actually use the controls.

The act made the normally straightforward long distance run unnecessarily dangerous as Georgie, Mulva and I lugged our bodies along after the assigned physical trainer, Greta Inoie. She was currently the one other Human stationed around our wing – such that I knew her personally.

“Keep up, Plebs!” She called over her shoulder, without breaking the symmetry of her form. Instructor Inoie was a decent sort, more understanding of the hidden importance within our you-know-what. She had tolerance too, especially in comparison with the likes of Ne’Crux I-Haem. The Overlord had done correct by submitting her to apparent mentor to the Mother Mongrels. A figurehead perhaps – present only to distract the gaze of our enemies from our true identities – but a welcome one.

“Right behind you, instructor,” Mulva called back, trying to maintain enthusiasm behind her outward panting. I had my eyes through rapidly dashing legs to the steel floor below upon which they noisily pounded. Every so often, as if assigning itself as another obstacle, the metal would disappear into a large pane of glass and thus reveal an awe striking view of Hestus and the wondrous blend of colours in its atmosphere.

Inoie’s rig held the controls of the artificial gravity we were abruptly reminded we could not take advantage of. She signalled the rough choice with a mere covering of her head, and not a moment later, the floor – metal or otherwise – left my boots’ touch. The four of us were hurled forwards with the energy of our own momentum. We mirrored the motion the instructor gave us, without looking up for the impending obstacles our heads may well have collided with any second.

As I floated along uncontrollably, I took the time to glance around to check the status of my fellows. Mulva looked a little more relaxed this time, but she was still far from getting used to the feeling. I was sure even Inoie had to fight the urge to throw up as soon as the weight left her, so Mulva’s condition was easily understandable.

“Aaah… my body is not designed for this!” wailed Georgie, cursing as his spherical form started to keel over in the air. Luckily this wasn’t a no air test, so drag forces were easily enough to slow us down to the extent where we could actually take action. I focused back to myself, throwing my legs across an iron beam parting the middle of the lower floor. My arm hit the corner of the ledge ahead, plunging me into a slight fit of pain, but I knew myself above its bounds. I centred the impact, placed my fingertips to its vertex and swung my body back to a standing position. My only wish at that point was that I could have witnessed the incredible act with my own eyes. Only the foolish would dare to question its impressiveness. There was a reason why I was the de facto leader, after all.

“Claire,” Inoie faced me with her hands on her hips, having rekindled the gravity effect. “That was a disgustingly sloppy landing,” she remarked. “How refreshing it is to see that you have remembered absolutely none of my previous tips on the matter.”

I had no words for the offence I felt. Inoie couldn’t help but retain a slight smile, somehow enjoying the sight of my two comrades lying in a heap behind me. “I must admit though Claire, you do at least seem to surpass the rest of the Plebs by actually landing in the first place.”

My arm reached for Mulva’s and I helped her to her feet. She amazingly still looked content, as if she was enjoying herself or some such insanity. It was Georgie I really took pity of, as he spent every ounce of effort just to upend himself.

“G-R-Geyii,” Inoie addressed, using his actual name, “I think you and I will need some extended sessions in order to deal with your… unique size.”

“Great, just what I was hoping for,” was his muttering response.

“Ok Plebs, while you’re recovering, I’ll take this time to introduce you all to your new live-in supervisor.” Instructor Inoie lifted her hand to the hatch, allowing the slow, mechanical platform lift to lower another lucky soul into the overstocked training floor.

So this must be the informer Ne’Crux spoke of, I thought. The figure of the woman exiting the platform gave me a feeling of vast discomfort. It started as a nagging sensation, but as she reached us, my insides experienced real twisted distress. This woman was… Human; in her twenties; no older than me – by heavens! It took barely that time of her silent travel for me to realise beyond a doubt: this woman, the shameless nark, was the Human woman from my dream.

The woman spoke. “Good to meet you all, I’m Phoebe Mara, 24 years old.” She glanced to each of us in turn, clearly infecting the fragility of my well maintained acolytes – and in the exact voice of that evil demoness observing my form imprisoned in that forsaken vat of liquid. “I’ve been a Sentinel for two years now,” she continued her introduction. “You won’t want to hear the list of star systems I’ve been based in – it’s far too long and dull. But I assure you, I’ll aim to keep my visit here as comfortable as it can be–”

“You?!” I growled, not allowing my patience to restrain the inner rage any longer. “This is impossible!” I unleashed a pointing arm with heavy intimidation. “An explanation better lend itself to my ears hastily… Who the hell are you?”

The nark barely took a foot backwards from my words, just lowered her brow. “Uh… I just said,” she uttered back.

“Don’t bother trying to play dumb here!” I warned. “I witnessed you in my dream last night! You’ve been planning this whole twisted affair, dare you deny that?”

Her look seemed both riled and repulsed. “Excuse me? Is that the first half of a chat up line or something?”

Mulva took the time to interject, tracing a disappointed frown at me. “Don’t be rude to our guest, Claire.”

The sound of her voice to my side triggered outrage from within. My scowl squashed my entire face, and I launched the expression towards the thoroughly unwelcome newcomer. “Inexcusable! You appear to have moved on from me to corrupting the fresh soul of this innocent Marrizard! How dare you victimise Mulva with your diabolical indoctrination schemes?” My tongue awaited her response, but everyone seemed to just stand there with empty, pallid faces. “Well?” I challenged again. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, brainwasher?”

“What on Earth are you talking about?” the brainwasher mumbled in a hushed croak. The phrase was perhaps the one thing I had heard today that broke through to my well-guarded conscience. ‘What on Earth’ – the beauty was in its accepted nonsensicalness in our day and age. It took real Humans – those who kept in mind the importance of their lineage – to remember phrases such as this that hinted upon where we came from. However, it was going to take more than a lost phrase to trick me into placing trust into this fork tongue. She was still a demoness.

“Funny y’know, because I don’t remember giving you permission to speak out of line, Claire,” Instructor Inoie realised. “Congratulations Plebs,” her tone dropped with annoyance, “it looks like Claire here has awarded you all with thirty press-ups.”

Before allowing time for the inevitable groan following this punishment, I raised a hand to the instruction. “Specificity of orders required ma’am – is that a collective quantity, or do you wish for thirty between us?”

“Now, Claire!” Inoie barked, feeling the extent of her heavily pushed temper.

As the three of us stretched out onto the steel, Georgie miffed the loudest. “Dammit Claire,” he groaned in his act of repositioning his body yet again. “Couldn’t you keep your mouth shut for once?”

While I sweated through my rapid press-ups, I made sure to keep my mind on the instructor’s conversation with the evil one. If no one else were to believe the impending peril surrounding her, it would be up to me to keep everyone safe from her wrath, including Instructor Inoie if need be.

“What did you say that other Human’s name is – Claire?” Phoebe Mara asked Inoie, softening the level of her confusion and curiosity.

“Yes… Isaac Claire – I’m sorry about him,” Inoie answered brashly. “The other two are G-R-Geyii – the Brodam; and Mulva – the Marrizard.” The instructor added, “They’re both single-named.”

“So these are the people I’m going to be living with for the foreseeable future,” Mara sighed deeply. “Ca’shrimo, save me now.”

Inoie chuckled a little. “Ah, you get used to them,” she laughed. “Claire can be a real pain, but if you’re not Brodam and female then you’ll have no issue with G-R-Geyii.”

“What about the little one?”

“Mulva?” Inoie confirmed. “She’s a’ sweet as they come, just a little ways from maturing. I’m sure under your influence she’ll become a Signelma Sentinel in no time. That one’s sure as hell a lot more worthwhile than the two guys.”

My mind almost trembled at the conversation. What horrors lay in store for us? That girl – Phoebe Mara, something in her seemed enough to trigger my rage at merely a glance. “Authority has forced our doors open to that malevolent manipulator, privileged one,” I grunted, holding myself up and still, “yet the deadly consequences will be ours to face.”

“Cut the chatter and get your ass in gear Claire,” Inoie snapped.

The instructor was under her spell already – that much was clear to me. Even if the others didn’t see – even if they could never see, it was my responsibility to keep the sanctity of the temple from her brainwashing. For now I played along, continuing my press-ups. “One day will come a time to strike back against this,” I assured myself proudly and aloud. “While the moment of her power lasts though, I must wait.”

“Claire – shut up!”

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INSIDE - Chapter Three

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INSIDE - Chapter Four

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INSIDE - Chapter Five

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INSIDE - Chapter Six

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INSIDE - Chapter Seven

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INSIDE - Chapter Eight

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INSIDE - Chapter Nine

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INSIDE - Chapter Ten

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INSIDE - Chapter Eleven

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INSIDE - Chapter Twelve

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INSIDE - Chapter Thirteen

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INSIDE - Chapter Fourteen

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INSIDE - Chapter Fifteen

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INSIDE - Chapter Sixteen

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INSIDE - Chapter Seventeen

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INSIDE - Chapter Eighteen

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INSIDE - Chapter Nineteen

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INSIDE - Chapter Twenty

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