Just A Few Questions

“Answer the question.”

“I already answered enough.”

“That so? Fine.” The woman stood from her seat, towering over Khaihraz with her chin raised. “We can release you. Oh, and we’ll be sure to apologize to your Master for holding you here. I’m sure he’ll have questions. You’ll answer him, won’t you?” As if to exemplify the seriousness in her statement, she opened the door to the interrogation room, waving a hand towards it. “Out.”

Khaihraz scowled, remaining where he was seated. “He’ll kill me. You’ll lose your only witness to what he has done. Julianni will be in even more of a dangerous position, and all of this will come to a head.” He leaned forward, voice laced with venom. “And it will all be your fault for letting me out of this so called ‘protective custody’.”

The door quietly shut and the Calmatar woman walked back over to the man, peering down at him. “Let me explain something to you, Khaihraz. I am doing my duty. Nothing more, nothing less. I really, really, don’t care if you die. I know exactly what kind of person you are. I’ve seen them plenty of times. You’re a rat. You burrow yourself into places that are most beneficial to your survival, then move on when it’s clear you can’t survive anymore where you’re at.”

From his seated position, he turned to face her fully, looking up. “You have no idea wh-”

“You’re a coward,” she interrupted. “A pitiful excuse for a human being. Feeding off of the corpses of other people’s misfortunes to fatten your Master up, then crying and wondering why it is he decides to feed you poison. You’re expendable. He never gave a flying fuck what happened to you, and neither do we.” Continuing to look down at him, she shrugged her shoulders. “You have two choices. Answer my questions and find a chance for survival. Or, you can walk out that door to your death. I think you know as well as I do that you can’t hide from your Master forever. And judging by his actions against Director Avala, I expect you to suffer when he finds you. You can’t kill him. He has many lives available to him. You have one. Think about that.”

His eye twitched as the words washed over him. He knew she was right. Dominius was a capsuleer, and there were many resources available to him. Even if Khaihraz was lost to him, the Holder would surely find another. Not only that, but without the protection I-RED was offering to him, he would be branded an escaped slave, and hunted down for the rest of his life. Sure, there were places he could hide. But for how long? His options were extremely limited.

Not only did these facts concern him, but there was a small part of him, hidden away, that felt remorse for his actions against Julianni. She had done nothing to Dominius, save for standing her ground and placing herself in a safer position. However, Khaihraz felt anger as well. For she would have been safe by his side, if only she hadn’t abandoned the Degario family. He would have protected her with his life.

“She abandoned God by joining you all. She abandoned all of us. None of this would have happened if she would have come back,” he said softly, furrowing his brows. He had been defeated.

“I’ll ask you one more time, Khaihraz. Why do you refuse to answer our questions, and why will you only speak to Director Avala?” She said, sitting down across the table from him.

“Because I trust her more than I trust you.”

“Why? What is your affiliation to her?”

Silence descended upon the sound-proofed room. The man closed his eyes, then spoke, his words barely above a whisper.

“She is my sister.”

 

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Personal Leave

Rain pelted down onto the city, showing no mercy to the crowds of residents underneath its assault. Despite this, the people still went about their business, driven to the next goal, be it a place of work, or to a den of the many vices that were available to all. Most hardly  winced as the droplets of water attempted to overtake the hoods and umbrellas that the citizens used. It was just another day, and nothing would stop the cycle that the city had in place.

Neon signs with various advertisements lit up the darkened atmosphere, giving a soft glow through the smog in the littered streets. The smell of…well, who knows what it was- some large amount of filth- assailed the woman’s nostrils as she stepped out of the apartment and onto the street. She had been here for the past several months, but that didn’t stop her nose from wrinkling every time she stepped outside.

An umbrella opened up as another woman departed the building in the wake of the first. “Let’s be quick, Director Avala. They’re expecting us back soon,” came the voice from under it.

Julianni pulled up her hood, knowing full well that her guard had no intentions of sharing the umbrella. “As you wish, Mazaki-haani,” she replied, tugging her hood closer to her face.

As they walked through the filth-laden streets, the Director couldn’t help but frown to herself. Since she reported the message received months ago, she was ordered to go with Mazaki-haani to an undisclosed location. There, they would wait until orders arrived that the two were permitted return to their work. Her “personal leave” was finally over, and matters had been deemed stable enough for her return. While she certainly didn’t want to be ungrateful, her time in this city had been rough. Criminal elements ran rampant in the area, and every step she took with her guard, Sheyan, was taken carefully. More than a few times, Sheyan had to step in to ensure the two would remain safe and unmolested by the city’s less-than-savoury individuals.

Despite this, Julianni knew that the decision to place her there would not have been taken lightly. The apartment that the two had taken up residence in was, after all, adorned with security features for the two capsuleers. It was just as elaborate as the features her home once possessed, if not more so. She knew it was safe.

Down the main street they traveled, until they came to the spaceport, a building in much better condition than the rest of the city. It was a sight that Julianni couldn’t help but feel a moment of excitement to see. She was gone so long, and she knew that there was much work to be done.

“Bay 3B-2,” muttered Sheyan into Julianni’s ear. She could hear the tension in the Internal Watch operative’s voice. This had been just as hard for her as it had been for Julianni, she imagined. If not more so, considering she knew Sheyan’s opinion of her was less than positive. Winding down the halls towards the designated bay, Julianni kept silent.

A number of thoughts ran through her mind. What had become of the person who sent the message to her? Were they being sincere? What would happen upon her return? All of this, she knew, would be answered in time. There was no use fretting about it now.

Arriving safely at the bay, Julianni and Sheyan prepared to board the shuttle that would take them to the planet’s station. Her heart began to pound. Was it fear? Anxiety? Excitement? Or was it all of these that caused her to feel a rush of adrenaline once they buckled into their seats and the ship took off?

It was a smooth ride to the station, and as they left the city behind, Julianni let out a soft sigh of relief. Finally, she would be able to return to her purpose.

Sheyan looked to Julianni, speaking more clearly. “You’re to report to Doctor Aneozomi-haani the moment of our return.”

Julianni didn’t even bother to answer, at first. But finally, she looked at the operative and her tone was soft. “Thank you, Mazaki-haani. For watching over me these past months. I realize it was your assignment and your duty b-”

“You’re right. It was exactly that. Nothing more,” Sheyan interrupted, staring the Director down. “It changes nothing.”

The Director grimaced, then glanced to the side away from Sheyan. “Of course,” she replied softly, silencing herself thereafter.

The trip to the station was uneventful, as was the trip to I-RED Mobile Headquarters. Sheyan Mazaki departed, leaving the Director to report.

The halls were a comfort to her, and noting a few familiar faces seemed to lift her spirits even further. Knowing she would be returning to work was a relief to her as well. A feeling of determination washed over her as she opened the door to Doctor Aneozomi’s office. No longer would she let these problems weigh on her, and no longer would she allow them to rule over her life. She was going to take charge.

“Ah, Director Avala. Please come in. I’ve been expecting you. Welcome back,” said the doctor, looking as she always had and with a polite smile on her face.

Bowing, Julianni nodded. “Rikaato, Doctor. I am happy to be back. You wanted to see me?”

Emiri nodded. “I did. Forgive me for doing this right at your return, but we need to adjust your TCMC.”

Julianni raised a brow. “For what purpose? I thought it was working as intended?”

“It is. But an adjustment needs to be made. Nothing serious. You’ll not notice a thing.”

The Director tilted her head slightly with curiosity, but questioned nothing further. “As you wish.”

The Doctor smiled faintly, then gestured to the door. “We’ll need to make our way to the lab. Once we’re there, it will only take a few minutes. Then you can get to your duties.”

Nodding, Julianni complied, following Emiri to the lab. It was an odd request, but certainly within the rights of the Doctor to decide. Whatever needed adjusted with the device, Julianni figured it would be done, and she could indeed get back to things. First on her list was asking the Executor about the conclusion of the message she received.

Little did she know, her memory of the event would soon be suppressed.

One Step Forward

Many weeks had gone by since the attack. At the advice of Lord Ibrahim, Julianni had slipped into a new clone so as to save the healing process, and each day she felt thankful she had listened. There were no questions from others, no pokes and prods into just what had happened. Everything was normal. Everything was alright, as it always needed to be.

Her home was a total loss, and while she felt saddened, there were worse things, of course. God knew such a fact was at the forefront of the woman’s mind. What bothered her most was that Shiran Mazaki had been killed trying to stop the attacker. She knew that he was safe, of course, his own new clone having been activated at his passing. But to also know that it was her own fault that caused him to face such a problem was troubling, to say the least.

Calling off the investigation was the only right action, and since the weeks had come and gone, no more issues had arisen. No flowers, no notes, no threats or video calls. It was as if nothing had ever happened. Julianni had grown used to it, and she was happy to put the search into Dominius’ actions behind her.

Letting out a breath, she leaned back against her chair in her “home” within the Alliance headquarters. Her empty glass of wine discarded to the side, her hands came to rest at her lap and she closed her eyes.

She could put it all behind her, she thought. How easy it would be. If Dominius decided to send messages, then so be it. She’d simply forward them to the Executor, as ordered, and he’d handle what business matters needed tended to. There was no reason for her to interact with him anymore. While she’d felt an anger for what he did, the craving for revenge resting on the tip of her tongue so prominently, she knew that God had a reason for what had happened. She’d deserved every second of His Wrath, and so she’d suffer and pray for forgiveness.

Yes…that’s what she needed right now. A moment of prayer.

Her eyes opened and she stood, slowly striding towards her shoes. A pause came, however, when a message arrived in her inbox.

d0sha7r3mah7 | [UNTITLED] | YC119.11.19 11:30 | Inbox

Glancing off to the side, she let her implants take over her senses. The sender caused her brow to raise. What sort of name was that? Her head tilted. Was it a name at all? What was so familiar about that phrase?

Whatever it was, she couldn’t place it. Julianni shook her head and proceeded to read just what was sent.

you were right

degario

i have proof

need safe passage

immunity

will you help?

 

Yours Truly, Dominius

“Sir? I have movement.”

“What do you mean, you have movement?”

“Wait, it’s gone.”

“Gone? What was it to begin with?”

“I don’t know, sir, I just had an alert of movement in the treeline. Near the wall- Look! There it is again! What was that?”

Yalin leaned towards the screen, his eyes squinting. There was movement, alright, but he couldn’t tell just what it was. Something in the trees, for sure. Birds? Butterflies? The oasis was known to have a bit of wildlife in the area, after all.

“Turn it to thermal sensors.” Better to be safe than sorry, he thought to himself as the young man at the controls pressed the appropriate buttons.

Yalin frowned deeply at what the reveal was, and the face of the young Civire at the screen went white. “S-sir…”

“Where is Avala-haani?”

“One moment…” Though it was a brief pause, it felt like ages. “She’s in her garden. Outside,” he finally replied, looking to his commanding officer.

“Get her a message to get inside immediately.” Yalin’s hand went to his ear piece. “Mazaki-haan, we have a situation here. I have slaver hounds at the Avala estate.”

The flight to Julianni’s home didn’t take long. Shiran Mazaki’s ship bursting through the atmosphere and speeding towards the coordinates was certain to turn some heads, but it didn’t matter. Yalin knew that time was of the essence, and he was certain by Shiran’s piloting that he was just as aware.

Now above the oasis, the glint of a reflection caught Yalin’s eye from the window near the seat he was strapped into. Was that a vehicle? His hand went to his earpiece again. “Mazaki-haan, I have a vehicle bearing approximately 45 degrees East. No movement.”

“I’ll check it out. You get to Avala. Keep your eyes open and watch the trees.”

“Copy that.”

The ship made it’s landing, a hard jolt from the rough landing jarring Yalin slightly. As quickly as he could, his hands fumbled with the straps at his shoulders, then reached for his pistol. Safety off.

He moved slowly, yet had just enough urgency in his step not to waste time searching for the woman. Whispering, he switched his comms to the emergency frequency of the home. “Director Avala, this is Yalin-haan. I’m on your property and am making my way to you for extraction. Please confirm your location.”

The answer was not quite what he expected, but it certainly helped pinpoint where he believed the woman was. A single shot of a pistol rang out from near the home. Muffled. She had to be inside.

His pace quickened, finding the gate to the estate still locked. A quick fix, of course, once the security system was overridden with the Internal Watch codes. The gate swung open, and the man pressed on with determination into the grounds proper.

Another shot.

“Avala-haani, I’m on my way to you. Respond.”

Still no response.

And then, he saw the blood.

A trail of droplets led towards the front door, a bloody print of a palm smearing itself across it. He cringed and raised his weapon, kicking the door open.

He jumped at the sight at first, firing his pistol into the beast that lay on the ground. But it was already dead, it seemed, a hole blown through the hound’s eye.

The room itself was a mess, furniture flung about the area with crimson spatters of life essence in what would surely have been a Blood Raider’s dream. He shuddered.

It was then that he heard the whimpering. Was it one of the hounds? No, it was a person. It had to be. Cautiously, doing his best not to slip on the blood, he found himself following the trail up to what was some sort of room with a circular window.

More blood decorated what he believed was once a prayer room of sorts. Smoke was rising into the air, a candle having began to catch fire of a rug towards the side. Yalin coughed, raising his arm to his mouth.

His eyes caught the second hound, dead as well. This one seemed to be laying over top of who he could hardly recognize as Director Julianni Avala.

Most of her body appeared to have been mauled by the creatures. Bite marks adorned her bare arms and legs. Even one looked to be around the woman’s neck. A pistol lay in her hand, gripped firmly as if it was all that kept her present.

“Director…” Yalin said softly, then turned his attention back to his earpiece. “I have Director Avala. Repeat, I have Director Avala. I need immediate medical response and evac at the IRV-Jussho’s location.”

“Copy that, we’re almost there.”

He nodded and put away his pistol, dropping down to his knees to put pressure on the woman’s neck wound. “Mazaki-haan, what’s your status.”

“In pursuit of a suspect. Get Avala safe, then meet at my coordinates. Mazaki out.”

“I need to get you out of the house. Just bear with me. Can you put your hands here?” He reached for her hand with the pistol, prying it out and guiding her hands to her neck. “Put pressure. I’m going to lift you, alright? We need to get out. There’s a fire.”

He didn’t even wait to see her acknowledgement, nor stopped lifting her over his shoulders when she cried out from pain.

“Arriving now on the vessel’s location. Standing by for extraction.”

Yalin sighed thankfully as he carried her out to safety. Ancestors, let the person who did this be caught, he thought.

WHAM.

THUMP.

A groan.

“P-please…stop…”

And so Mazaki stopped, lowering his stun baton. “Stay where you are,” he told the Ni-kunni man curled into a ball in the sand. He had sure fought back, but ultimately, Shiran was able to overtake the snake-like man. Shiran wiped a bit of blood from the corner of his lip.

Retracting the stun baton, panting slightly, he pulled the electronic manacles from his pocket, approaching. “You are hereby to be in the custody of the Internal Watch for questioning rega-”

And then, a sharp jolt at his leg. The man had actually pulled a knife. The Ni-kunni man retracted the blade, then quickly plunged it into Shiran’s stomach, dropping the Calmatar to the ground. More stabs came, despite Shiran’s fighting back, the stun baton slowly becoming less of a weapon each moment.

As the darkness began to overtake him, Shiran Mazaki looked up at his murderer, coughing out blood. “Bastard.”

Then, darkness.

Pique

Dominius waved his hand to the tear-stricken female servant within the room, then began buttoning up his shirt. “Go clean yourself up,” he ordered the frail and battered woman. “Oh, and tell Khaihraz I wish to see him.” And of course, she obediently left, nothing to keep her dignity in place but the small tablecloth wrapped around her body.

He smiled.

His jacket was pulled on, adjusted carefully, then he began working at fixing his perfect brown hair. A prideful grin appeared as he looked into the mirror to ensure he looked as immaculate as possible.

Then, a knock at his door.

“Enter,” he commanded.

In stepped his faithful servant Khaihraz, looking prepared to do whatever was asked of him. “You wished to see my, my Lord?”

Dominius turned on his heel and flashed that prideful grin. “I did! It’s high time we bring our results to light, I believe. Get him on the comms.”

“Of course, Lord Degario. At once.”

The Ni-kunni servant quickly moved to the holo-display to the side of the master chambers, pressing his fingers to the touchscreen with quick succession.

Lord Degario, now confident his appearance was up to par, took a seat at his lounge chair, waiting as patiently as any man of his stature could.

And it wasn’t long before the hooded figure appeared on the screen. “Lord Degario. I take it you have some news?” His voice gruff, yet demanding.

“I do. We have the location of her home, among other things.”

The hooded figure nodded, then looked away as if he was about to disconnect.

“Heh, you can wait. I have a plan in mind to send her a message,” Dominius forced. He was beginning to grow offended that this man would simply toss the information to the side.

“No, you have a plan to be patient. As far as we know, she’s not told anyone yet. Do not commit any action like an angry child would, Dominius.”

Oh, and how the anger did start in. He could feel the blood rushing to his cheeks, to his mind. A frown appeared. “Do you forget what she said in her me-”

“Do you take me for a fool?” Came the interrupting remark.

Dominius began to see red. The nerve of this man, why he would have him killed on the spot were he part of his Holding. “Do not forget who helps fund you and your activities,” he spat. “I could withdraw at any time.”

“Then do so. I do not need your funds to do what needs done. My Faith does not need your funding. It would still remain strong and I would continue His Work without the petty offerings of some child.”

The Holder’s fist slammed onto the table. “You think you can speak to me in such a way? I will not allow it.”

The hooded figure snorted. “You already have.” And then, he disconnected.

Dominius was left speechless. He knew he couldn’t simply withdraw his support. His plans would be ruined. Everything he’d done thus far would be for nothing. He was seething, though, wanting nothing more than to take his anger out on something.

He looked to Khaihraz, who was smart enough to know not to have said anything thus far. The snake-like servant simply awaited an order.

Drawing a breath through his nostrils, Lord Degario spoke with all the tones of a man that had something to prove. “I will not let this woman get away with speaking to me as she did. And one day, I will not let him, either,” he sneered. “For now, focus on her. Send her a message.”

Khaihraz bowed his head. “How would you like it delivered?”

Dominius glanced off to the side at a statue of one of his most prized slaver hounds. With a nod towards it, then back to Khaihraz, he waved his hand.

“Do it.”

Breathless

The weight was unbearable. How could she handle it all? How could she do it? Was there even a way? Her eyes squeezed shut as she curled into a ball in the corner of her bedroom.

She had no choice. It was public. Last time something went wrong for him, he drank and drugged himself to death, she told herself. How could she have put him in a position to do that again?

But how could she put herself in such a position?

“He is weakening your will to serve God by placing himself in a position of importance almost more than Him.”

As much as it killed Julianni to think that over, she knew it was possible. She knew it could be true. Perhaps not intentionally, but the more she thought about her recent actions, the more she realized it was happening.

She didn’t want it.

The woman didn’t want to be married. It was too soon. Not only that, but she had so many things to take care of. So did he. But again…how could she say no?

He’d begged her not to leave him. He told her how he had been abandoned before. Could she do that to him? Could she be so ruthless? So selfish?

Tears squeezed out of her already bloodshot eyes and she began to sob.

What could she do to fix this? Was it even possible? She felt as if all the air from her lungs had escaped- as if there was nothing left of her but the husk of body left behind.

She wanted to be there for him, to help him through his troubles; Julianni knew what it was like to be alone. But what was she willing to give up to do that? How much of herself was she willing to sacrifice? Or had she already sacrificed it all?

A clock within her home let loose a soft chime, delicate and soothing in its sound.

And then, solitary silence. So much that it was deafening.

Passenger

“It’s been some time since your last appointment. We’ve both been quite busy, haven’t we,” came the calming voice from the woman across from her.

“It has, and we have. But I could have tried harder to be here. You have my apologies.”

The brow of the psychologist raised, and her head tilted. “There’s no apology needed, Avala-haani.” A pause. That quiet, awkward pause of a person who was picking apart the structure of words presented to them. “We both could have tried harder. Nevertheless,” Emiri Aneozomi began, “I have decided to withdraw the mandatory drug tests you were subjected to. All of them have come back negative thus far, and myself and the Executor have no reason to believe they ever will.”

Julianni nodded her head. She’d expected something like that to come up, and she’d certainly been prepared for it. Lately, reading these people was getting easier and easier. It made her wonder just why she even came to these appointments anymore. “Thank you. Is there anything else?”

Another loft of the doctor’s brow. “There is, if you’ve the time to spare…”

With the way Emiri trailed off, Julianni knew that there was more of a demand there than was spoken. After a small shift in her seat, she laid her hands calmly into her lap and looked towards the doctor, nodding. “I do.”

“Good.” That pause. Julianni’s eye twitched. That damn pause. Why wouldn’t the woman just say what was on her mind? “I’ve noticed a bit of a change in you. More…confidence, perhaps. I’m happy to see it.”

“Thank you again, Aneozomi-haani. I’ve been working towards that, and I’m glad to see it’s noticed,” she confirmed. It was true, of course. The target practice at her home, the beginnings of combat training with Aldrith- both had done wonders to boost her courage thus far.

“Mh, yes. However, I’m concerned. Have you spoke to anyone about what you’ve endured?”

Julianni thought about it. Had she, really? No. No, she hadn’t. Not at length, at least. “Briefly.”

“Don’t you think it’s time to? You’ve not even revealed to myself what’s going on in that head of yours. Not that I am offended, of course. But surely there must be someone you can be open with. You need to be.”

Names began to swim through the sea of Julianni’s increasingly darkened mind.

Zeke.

Luna.

Utari.

Ioannis.

Vince.

Hespyr.

As each name slowly waded through the murky sludge, so too did they sink to the blackened depths. For each person had their own life. Their own problems. Their own worries. Struggles. Heartache. Loss. She knew it, even if they didn’t show it. Who was she to drown them further?

“I am open with God,” was Julianni’s reply, a lie thick like the very dark sludge that was eating away at her mind.

Emiri sighed, then stood and made her way to her desk. “I hope one day that is true, Avala-haani, and that you find someone you are able to speak to without worry. You need to let it all go. I know it affects you, and I’m not the only one to notice.”

“If there are concerns with the quality of my work, I give my word I will try harder.”

“I’m sure you will, but that is not what I meant. Regardless, I have an appointment with someone else. I would like to see you again next month, if that works with your schedule. Otherwise, you know where to find me. I will be here,” the doctor said with a saddened smile.

This time, it was Julianni’s turn to pause. At the very least, she was beginning to wonder if maybe she really did need to let it out. But to whom?

Standing slowly, she bowed to Emiri, then gracefully glided to the door without another word. What else was there to say?