The hand of god...
1 week agoA noise, the slightest pat of bare feet on steel. Fraeia opens their eyes and looks to the door of their quarters. The light shines through frosted fixtures on the top and bottom of the door. Amber must be awake, they think. Is she not sleeping well? She hasn't taken her medication in a while. Fraeia lets out a sigh and rises from their cot. They step toward the door and it slides open with a hiss. Amber stands at the center of the common area, facing the cockpit with her back toward Fraeia's quarters. Fraeia notes her clothing or lack thereof. She didn't bother to put on her fatigues, deciding instead to wander the ship in her undergarments. It's awfully cold for that. She's still, motionless like the subject of a painting. It isn't right. Humans jitter and shift, they can't help it. Fraeia feels an instinctive urge to back away, to arm themselves but instead chooses to speak, "Amber?" There's no response. Fraeia takes a step forward, a cautious motion made to avoid making even the slightest sound. They take another step and call out again, "Amber." Again, no response. Fraeia straightens their posture and prepares. When ready, she reaches out to brush Amber's shoulder. For Fraeia, Amber's skin is soft. It's not like that for her. To Amber, it should be an abrasive, agonizing sensation. She should recoil from the contact. She doesn't. "Amber, what's wrong?" Fraeia walks around to meet her gaze and Amber's eyes are sealed shut. Is she still sleeping? From up close, it's clear that she wasn't lying. She hasn't showered in some time. Fraeia gives Amber a gentle shake and her eyes open. That urge returns, an instinct sharpened through battle, through experience. Fraeia doesn't see Amber staring back. They see an enemy, a predator ready for its trap to snap closed. Fraeia narrows their eyes, more curious than afraid. They could break the girl in two with ease, but why would they have to? "What is this?" Fraeia asks, their fingers curling into a fist. Amber's head sways as she lets out a guttural groan, her jaw dropping to alter its pitch. These aren't words. It's as if she's trying to relearn how to speak. After a moment, her mouth closes, but the sounds never stop. Amber looks Fraeia in the eye. The sound she makes is like a growl, an animalistic expression expected from wild fauna, not a human. Fraeia stares back. Is this another symptom, some new facet of her already confounding mental state? Is this even Amber to begin with? Before they can ask, Amber turns away. She stumbles toward her quarters, the door opening and shutting when she makes her way inside. "I see," Fraeia says. They glance toward the kitchen and on the table is their tablet. They make their way over, their eyes fixed on the closed door. Fraeia picks up the tablet and backs away to their quarters, locking the door behind them. After taking time to learn, it finally makes sense. They stare at the screen, absorbing all the information they can on humans and their mental health. Sleepwalking? What species could manage to survive for so long with such a peculiar quirk? Fraeia smiles and exhales. It's a sigh of relief. While worried, they felt better knowing such a thing could be considered normal or at least understood. It's supposed to be rare. Best not to mention it...
I haven't said a word all day. Fraeia doesn't seem to mind, but I can tell they're worried. We often go hours without talking, sitting across from each other with our eyes fixed on our tablet screens. Today is different though. Maybe their anxiety got the better of them. They speak up, breaking a long-held silence, "Tell me more about this goddess you mentioned. Are there any interesting stories?" I look up, more than a little confused as I try to adjust to the change. "Well, yeah. There are a few. In that culture, they believed warrior women would descend from the realm of the gods and pluck the worthy souls from those who died in battle." "Was she one of them?" They ask. "Yes and no. Freya was from a different realm, a different tribe of gods called the Vanir. She married Odin, the king of the Aesir gods, so to speak." I sit up straight in my chair, trying to recall the memory so I could tell it as my mom did. "These warrior women were called Valkyries." Fraeia's eyes light up and I nod as I continue, "The eden soldiers who drift from ship to ship in the void?" "The… Marines? Dobhein." "Yeah. Humans named them Valkyries. The valkyries only take half of those souls to Valhalla, a great hall where the gods themselves train and party as they wait for the end of the world." "Sounds grim." I shake my head, then nod with a smile. "I'm glossing over quite a bit. The end of the world is beside the point." I wave my hand as if to brush the issue aside. "Freya got the other half of those worthy souls, and took them to her realm, a place called Folkvangr, the field of the host." "I like her more and more." "Good," I reply. Fraeia nods and their attention shifts back to their tablet. "That's the most you've said all day. Thanks for indulging me." "Sorry," I reply, my eyes trying to find where I left off. "I'm running out of spoons." Fraeia looks up and tilts their head as if unsure of whether they heard correctly. "Spoons? You said spoons?" Right. How would they get that? I set the tablet aside and try to explain, "Imagine that everything you do, every interaction or event throughout your day, requires a spoon. You start with a ton of them, but each little bit of effort you give overtime takes a spoon. Eventually, without some kind of way to replenish your supply, you run out." "How do you refill the supply?" They ask. I chuckle. "I wish I knew. Sometimes sleep does it. Sometimes, having time to myself does it too." I shrug and rub the back of my head. "I haven't figured that part out yet. It doesn't help that given how my brain works, I don't even have the right amount of spoons to begin with. I always have less than I should." Fraeia nods and glances to the side, as if deep in thought. They return my smile and reply, "Should I do the talking then? Would that help? I apologize if I've been taking too many." "It's not you." I lean back and take a deep breath before continuing. "I wouldn't mind knowing more about you though. What's your story?" I'm fishing here. Boudica's got me thinking. I realized I'm alone on a ship out in the middle of nowhere with someone I barely know. I feel I can trust them, but I've made that mistake before. I can't help but feel like they aren't telling me something. Maybe Fray is just trying to be polite. Then again, I can tell something's bothering them. Ever since our last encounter with Gibraltar, they've been different. "My story?" They reply, crossing their arms and leaning back. They rest their right foot on top of their left knee. "Sure."
My story… yes. I was born and grew up in a vat, a glass cylinder filled with viscous black ichor. All eden are born this way. I learned as I grew, chose a human matrix, and studied the very basics of human culture. To my shame, it would seem I didn't quite learn as much as I thought. You continue to surprise me. It's why I've taken on the monumental task of learning more from your ship's drives. As a neophyte, I chose a vigil to be my home. Vigil worlds are massive military training facilities. Their climates are usually dangerous, and extremely unforgiving to better prepare soldiers for exposure. I excelled and mastered the vigil of mind and war before my first battle.
"Slow down. You said you chose a human matrix. Why?"
Ah… humans are fascinating to me. We can appear however we want, but the lebha misjudge humans, I feel. We have it so easy. Your minds are as fragile as your bodies. It's astonishing to me how your species has made it so far. You always talk about humanity as if its best days are gone. I disagree. Only time will tell, however.
A taste of war
My first battle was a disaster, but one we made the best of. We won, of course, but lost nearly four thousand soldiers over five weeks. It's rare to lose half that much, and certainly not in such a small time frame. On average, it usually takes us twice as long to take a planet. I fought on the front lines as an officer. I commanded thirty-five soldiers, all of them I can still name. They're dead, but not all under my command. When all was said and done, I couldn't handle the front lines. I'm just not violent enough. For the first time in what at the time was 150 years of life, I felt weak and incapable. I felt… sub-par. I did so well on the vigil, but in practice, war is very different. My superiors believed I was better suited for the void. After that battle, I took them up on their offer. I was accepted as a lesser officer of the Dobhein, a Valkyrie. It's why your myths make me smile. This was my element, my true calling. I'm free when I'm in the drift. Beams, missiles, and flak could be all around me as I float toward an enemy ship, but it's so calm. It's quiet. When a ship explodes, you don't have to worry about the ringing in your ears.
The Dovhein are more than capable of fighting in any environment. We've been used in ground assaults, in-atmosphere combat, and more. We fight on land, air, and sea, but the void is where we thrive. Be it in narrow corridors on the ships we board, or the vast expanse of space, we are trained to handle extremes. Taking an enemy ship is better than destroying it. There's less debris left behind. Most on a vessel are not prepared for combat, so they surrender. We then study our enemy through interrogation or by directly studying their technology. Given our specialized nature, it's rare for us to come into contact with other species unless we're trying to kill them. It's also rare for us to connect with other lebha. Most see us as wild, maddened, creatures. It's one thing to be unafraid of death, even to desire it, but to actively seek it? Dobhein is a word used to describe those marked for death. They have the highest death rate of any other special operations unit in the lebhan military. We're in a hostile environment, but we're also used more than any other unit as well. Every capital ship has a Dobhein squad.
"That's how you ended up on the Viritine?"
Valkyries are launched. They don't deploy like drones or fighters. We are like bullets. We are loaded into the barrel of a special gun and launched at an enemy ship. Lebhan bodies can handle several times the force of a human. That being said, higgstech is still involved. It wouldn't be possible otherwise. We leave the barrel at 1600 meters per second. We would pass out or suffer a concussion without it. If we need to maneuver, we are equipped with special suits to do so, thrusters and micro fusion cells that allow us to build more speed. I ended up on the Viritine because my gunner overshot, and I was traveling too fast to maneuver safely. My mission changed. I was told to assist an avatar under heavy fire, and I was speeding straight toward her. My communications were handed over to Viritine herself. I was only a lesser officer and now a goddess would be spectating me as I work. To say it was motivating feels wrong. It was much more than that. I entered the enemy vessel with zeal, using explosives to decompress the aft cargo bay. It didn't take long to clear the ship. I took out weapons first, forcing the crew to flee in terror from what I assume they thought to be an armored beast with a rifle. Viritine was impressed and demanded I be asked to join her crew. I agreed without hesitation.
Don't apologize. To apologize is to take responsibility. You do it too much. No one needs that much weight on their shoulders. Losing Viritine was painful. She always called me her favorite, her "livr hiathi." Her magic bullet. I'm good at what I do. I doubt I would have agreed to this piracy plan of yours, otherwise.
"I'm not taking responsibility. I sympathize."
All the same. I'll be fine...
The Voice of The Void
4 days agoThere it is again. The soft sound of bare feet on metal. Fraeia's eyes open and they leap from their bunk. The door slides open, but before Fraeia can look, amber rushes through from the other side. She grabs Fraeia their shirt and pushes them back, slamming them against the wall and lifting them off the ground. It didn't hurt. The only thing that bothered them was the smell. Fraeia blinks at her in silence and Amber speaks. No, not Amber. This is something else. The voice is deeper, layered on itself. "Duri valise labhr an?" she asks. Amber lacks vocal implants. How is this being done? Moreover, she speaks lebhan as if it was her first language. "Sul," Fraeia replies. Amber shakes their head, "Lir ouer abhil midai." We must keep her safe? Who? Before Fraeia can reply, Amber, loosens her grip, wandering around the room before leaving...
"What are you keeping from me?" I ask. Fraeia cocks her head at the sudden shift. "I… what?" "You can barely look me in the eye. Why? Did I do something?" "No. Amber, you didn't do anything," Fraeia replies. I shake my head. I saw their eyes light up. I know they're lying. "Are you with me? If piracy is too far, then fine. Just say that." "Why would I mind stealing from my enemy? Amber…" Fraeia sighs and crosses their arms, "Gibraltar spoke through you, and I think it's been doing it for a couple of weeks." "What?" I ask. Fraeia reaches out with their hand as if to soothe me. "You've been sleepwalking. I didn't think it was important. A few nights ago you spoke and it wasn't you. You attacked me." My hand covers my mouth and my eyes go wide. It isn't just shocking, it's also fear. If I attacked them, then I'm lucky to be alive. "I'm sorry. Please, I didn't know." "Obviously. Calm down." "Don't tell me to calm down." I shout, "That's the worst possible thing you can say to me right now." My lungs are heaving, my chest tight. I'm panicking again. "I don't remember this." "I imagine not." "I was being controlled by it?" I ask. "I don't know." I wasn't prepared for that. Fray always knows. How could they not know? "What do I do?" Fraeia stands, their hands still raised. I don't know why but it helps. "Let's postpone the piracy for now." I can't help but scream. I feel like I'm being betrayed. "I knew it. You don't-" "I said for now. I'll take us back to the breach. We will figure this out, but you have to trust me." I nod, my eyes fixed to the floor as I try to calm down. They lower their head to meet my gaze, "Amber. I'm with you." "For how long?" I whisper. I grab my head with both hands, speaking to myself more than them, "I can't keep doing this." Fraeia's reply doesn't help, but it matters more than they know, "For as long as this takes." They take a deep breath and ask the question I've been dreading for some time. When they do, I cant help but glare. I'm unable to lash out but no way will I let it slide. "Amber, When did you last take your medication?"