Releasing March 3rd, 2020
Nyx was shoved through the door into her cell by her silent guards, and she barely made it to the bare cot at the back of her cell before her legs gave out. She collapsed onto the bed, her lips sealed against a groan of soul-aching fatigue. She had blocked the pain, for now, though that was a temporary reprieve. Not even her cybernetic modifications allowed her to ignore pain forever.
The door slid into place, leaving nothing but a blank wall. There was an almost invisible seam marking the entry, but it was so fine she couldn’t fit a hair between it and the hardened steel of the wall. She’d tested the strength of both door and wall more times than she could count, but it had defeated her. It had taken her captors years to manage it, but they’d finally built a cell she couldn’t escape.
Not that getting out of her cell accomplished anything except staving off the boredom for a little while. She was being held on a space station far from the standard shipping routes, a fact she’d been able to ascertain from the crew’s complaints about the lack of fresh food and other supplies. Their complaints didn’t mean much to her, though, save as a source of information. Her rations consisted of flavorless food tabs and the occasional bowl of synthesized algae broth. It kept her alive, but she had no idea what fresh anything was like. Her water and air were recycled, and the jumpsuit she wore had been laundered so often it had lost all traces of shape and color.
She stayed sprawled on the cot until her legs stopped shaking and her hands were steady. The tests always did this to her. She might not feel pain, but her body still recognized the trauma she endured as they tried to force her mind to accept the programming. Today’s trials had included replacing one of the implants at the base of her skull, and as usual, it had been done without anesthetic. They needed her awake and aware during the tests so they could assess their progress and any changes. She’d learned early on that if she didn’t cooperate during these sessions, they’d deactivate her ability to block pain. It was a brutal lesson, one she never wanted to experience again. There were other ways to defy her captors.
Nyx got to her feet as soon as she was able. If she stayed down much longer, it would look like weakness, and that never led anywhere good. She went to the tiny sink and cleaned up as best she could, using the trickle of tepid water and a washcloth she’d liberated from stores during her last escape. For some reason, they’d let her keep it.
They. Them. After all these years, she still didn’t know who held her prisoner. She’d been created by the Astek Corporation about a year before the war ended, but she’d been separated from her batch siblings once her unique abilities were discovered. Since then, she’d been moved from lab to lab, subjected to a lifetime of tests, trials, and torments. All she had was a name whispered into her mind by one of the strongest of her furies. The Gray Men.
There were no mirrors in her cell, so she used her fingers to assess her injuries. Her medi-bots had already sealed the wounds, and she estimated they’d be fully healed in two hours or so. If they fed her, it would happen faster, but she doubted that would happen. It was in their best interest to keep her weak, so they made sure she never got enough food or rest to be at her best.
Despite that, she stayed strong. They hadn’t broken her yet, and they never would. She’d die before that happened, and she had no intention of dying until after she’d taken her revenge. In the words of an old Earth poet whose work she’d encountered one of the rare times she’d been allowed books to read: she had promises to keep and miles to go before she could sleep.
Eric was convinced that weddings were a special kind of hell. It was bad enough that the members of his team seemed to be falling in love like it had the gravitational force of a black fraxxing hole, but to celebrate the fact he had to don his dress uniform and go make polite conversation with groups of beings, most of whom he had to salute – including the bride and groom.
As happy as he was for his commanding officer, Dax Rossi, and his new wife, Trinity, being at this reception stirred memories he didn’t want. The last time he’d been at a wedding, he’d met Echo, a vivacious blonde cyborg who had seen past his scars. They hadn’t been together long, but she’d been special to him. Then she’d died, and he’d learned she was an assassin with a long list of targets, some of them his friends.
He shook off his stormy mood, shoved the memories aside, and headed for the bar at the far end of the reception hall. If he was stuck at this party for another few hours, he wasn’t doing it sober.
He took in the decorations while he walked, and grudgingly admitted the place looked good. Nova Force’s operations base out here on the Drift was small and utilitarian, like everything else on the space station. The drab walls of the largest briefing room had been festooned with red and gold bunting, and light cubes filled the space with cheerful lights that shifted slowly between colors, adding a festive air. Tables were draped with red table cloths strewn with some kind of glittery golden confetti the janitorial bots would probably be trying to eradicate for weeks. The room wasn’t that large, and he had to navigate through a crowd of well dressed and exuberant wedding guests to get to the bar. By the time he made to his goal, he was downright parched.
The bartender looked up and grinned at him. “Hey, Magi, one of your usual?”
Eric grunted an affirmative and claimed a seat. “Make it a double. I didn’t expect to see you behind the bar tonight, Kit. I thought you’d be enjoying the party with your wife and brother.”
Kit shook his head as he worked. “Not tonight. This is our gift to the newlyweds. Luke and Zura handled the food, I’m providing the drinks.”
“Who is watching the twins?”
“They’re with Nan. She offered to babysit. She, Nico, and the sprites are at Dante’s, just a short walk from here.”
“Nice. No one is going to mess with those kids with Nan on the job.” One of his teammates had gone on an undercover mission and come back with a new life, including a girlfriend and a little boy they were in the process of adopting. Faced with the daunting task of juggling an instant family and a military career, Dante had ended up hiring Nan, a surprisingly spry senior, to help out.
Kit snorted with laughter as he set Eric’s drink down in front of him. “She’s something else. I heard she’s banned from the male strip clubs across the station. I didn’t want to know the reasons why.”
“Me either.” He took a sip of his drink. “Did you know Dante caught her teaching Nico how to pick locks the other day? When he raised hell about it, she informed him that she was teaching the boy the practical application of physics.”
Kit cocked his head to one side. “She’s not wrong about that. Just do me a favor and don’t mention that to Royan or Owen. They’ll try to corrupt my kids a thousand different ways if they think they can justify it as educational.”
Eric put his drink down and tapped his fingers. “They won’t hear it from me. I’m a professional keeper of secrets.”
“More like the professional finder of other people’s secrets. Not that I’m complaining. The work you and your team do makes the galaxy a safer place.” Kit’s normally cheerful expression turned solemn. “You know why our bar is called the Nova Club?”
“It’s not a coincidence. My batch siblings and I were freed without any issues, but we know many weren’t. Nova Force were the ones who put their lives on the line to save the cyborgs from the corporations. We named the club for all of you.”
Eric let that sink in, a little stunned. “You never said anything before. Do the others know?”
“I’ve never mentioned it to anyone until now. I just thought you looked like you could use a bit of good news.” Kit leaned in. “Memories?”
Kit’s family had been Echo’s employers. They’d been wounded by her betrayal in ways he couldn’t imagine.
“You getting anywhere with your side project?”
Eric took another pull at his drink before answering. It didn’t totally wash away the bitter taste of defeat, but it helped. “It’s slow going.”
“Echo believed in you. If anyone can find this Nyx person, it’s you.”
“A couple of months ago, I’d have agreed with you.” He mustered a grin. “I’m one of the best at what I do, after all, but there’s someone out there who’s at least as good as I am, and they don’t have to play by the same rules I do.” And that was the fraxxing problem. He was bound by galactic law and military protocol, and his adversary had no such restrictions.
Kit grunted in commiseration. “It’s frustrating, but you’ll think of something. It’s what you guys do, right?” More guests approached the bar, and Kit stepped away to serve them, leaving Eric alone with his thoughts.
Protecting people from the corporations was what they were supposed to do, but he hadn’t done that for Echo. She’d left him one last message, and her words still haunted him.
“I’m sorry, Eric. What we had was never meant to be. I was dead before we ever met. If I meant anything at all to you, save her. You’re the only one who can.”
Save her. He’d been trying to do that for months, but so far he hadn’t been able to find Nyx, never mind mount a rescue. Her name had been in the files Echo had given to his side just before she died, but a name was all he had. That, and a mention of something called the Fury Project, which appeared to be related to the creation of cyborg assassins like Echo.
So far, he hadn’t found anything that the higher-ups would accept as actionable intel, and every time he got close to something solid, the trail would fizzle out faster than a shooting star. Someone was playing games with him, and he was running out of moves.
He stared into the dark crimson liquid at the bottom of his glass. No, that wasn’t accurate. He was almost out of legal moves. He drained the last of his drink and stood, suddenly certain of what his next move would be, and the risks that came with it. He’d joined the IAF to avoid going to prison, and they watched him carefully to make sure he didn’t revert back to old habits.
If he was going to do this his way, he’d have to be smart about it. Good thing he was one of the best hackers in the galaxy, or this might be a challenge. He could almost feel his data ports tingling in anticipation. He was going to find this missing cyborg and fulfill a dying woman’s last request. He hadn’t been able to save Echo, but he would save Nyx.