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Astaria's Final Day

Astaria's Final Day

A Story by Stephen Mayo
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short section from the middle of a larger story. This is a major event in the main character's motivation. http://www.newhorizonrpg.com

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Brilliant colors danced outside the window, lighting up Deep Aquilon with a vibrant rainbow caused by the sunlight filtering through the layers of ice surrounding the city’s dome. The light show was always the most colorful during the brightest part of the day. The phenomenon was known as the wyld hour, a time when the most superstitious of Aquilon’s citizens claimed that one could hear the sounds of the other world, if they listened close enough. Astaria wasn’t sure if she believed the stories of another world, but this place did take on an alien appearance when the light was particularly bright, bathing the entirety of Deep Aquilon in an ever coruscating display so brilliant that it drowned out the city’s artificial lighting for the better part of an hour. She found the result beautiful.

Today’s lights were only slightly brighter than normal, but they provided a peaceful backdrop to her otherwise cluttered office as the colors flooded in her open window and danced around the room. The moving lights interacted with her projected work screen in odd ways, but didn’t actually interfere with its functionality, so she never bothered to turn on the optical filter. She was trying to finish up work early this afternoon. Today marked six months since her arrival in Aquilon, Six months since she met him.

Alto was smart, some would consider him brilliant, but he had an innocence about him that was only slightly tempered by his own life’s ordeals. He was so different than the life she had left behind that she couldn’t help but love him for it. Of course, one really can’t help but love someone who saved their life.

Her first day in Aquilon was quite nearly her last, as a sudden shift in air pressure over the glacial plain caused the gyrocopter she was riding in to plummet to the ice below. The pilot was lucky; his wafan body could be rebuilt from the injuries he sustained. Astaria wasn’t quite as lucky, so could hers. As a child growing up in Xanadu during the aftermath of the Aquilonian Cyber Fad, she honestly believed that promethean conversion was one of the worst things that could ever happen to her.

Her entire young life she was surrounded by those who had lost friends and family members to back alley cybernetics augmentation, black market versions of the latest fashion trend coming out of the Kingdom of Ice. She knew several people who still bore scars in their own bodies where they had eventually had their own implants removed, some choosing to live with the loss of a limb rather than deal with the social stigma.

Though she expected the Aquilonians to be different, she never expected to have their enthusiasm wear off on her, even if just a little. As a promethean himself, Alto walked her through the process step by step, helping her come to grips with her new body. The fact that he had a large part in designing that new body didn’t hurt either. The care and empathy he showed during the transition was part of what had endeared her to the young scientist. After seeing death so close at hand, he still held a zeal for the life he lived. Instead of accepting her body as a necessary handicap, he taught her to see it as a fresh life.

She wasn’t exactly surprised the first time he showed up at her hospital room with flowers, but she had surprised herself with how readily she accepted his attentions. After living a regimented life where much of her routine and outlook was controlled by others, she found herself drawn to something different, to a sense of belonging for something more than her ability to follow orders. Those were the same orders which her new life finally convinced her to leave behind.

Alto had been acting strangely the last week or so though, and she wasn’t sure what was causing it. He seemed to have a lot on his mind, and she feared that Indrajit was working him too hard. The poor guy would never turn down work, and in fact often had to be instructed to leave when he got too caught up in his latest findings. More than once he had been late for dinner, still sitting at his computer running over simulations when she came to find him. Dinner was at his place tonight though, and he had promised to have it ready by the time she got there.

Lost in thought, she didn’t notice at first when the bracelet on her left arm began pulsing steadily with a tiny green light that appeared behind the large central jewel. If her new heart hadn’t been synthetic, it would have stopped beating when she finally noticed the light. That light hadn’t blinked for almost three months. Not that she really cared anymore. She hadn’t submitted a field report in even longer.

Apprehension welling up in her, she pressed the two crystals on either side of the central gem. The entire bracelet began to glow, projecting light up over the palm of her hand. The message was short.


“Mission considered compromised.”


The message itself was really nothing more than she expected, but the sign off sent shivers up her spine.


“Greet your sisters warmly,

Mother”


Fear began to grip her for just a second before her old training kicked in. She was no longer simply wasting away the last hour of work, she was fighting for survival. She didn’t bother with subtlety as she kicked out the false footing around her desk to reveal the Ophion Blackbird concealed within. Knocking out an additional panel revealed three extra clips and a harness. Her casual business dress was sacrificed for a set of spidersilk armor hidden inside the cushions of her large office chair.

As she pulled supplies from secret niches around her office, a nagging thought settled in the back of her mind. “I’m going to miss dinner.”

Though she tried to avoid them, she still had to pass several people on her way out of the office. Patients from the hospital looked at her as if she were an escapee from the psychiatric center. Maybe the looks were because her armor was the same color as the psych scrubs, or because of the gun slung over her shoulder. Most likely it was because the slightly insane look that had plastered itself on her face, a mix of anger, fear and sadness. Whatever the reason, she had to rush past several worried looking security personnel on her way out of the building, sending up a general alarm for the hospital as she went.

Once she was outside she blended in about as well as red paint on a white dress, but she didn’t have as much in her way. The sciences and health sector of Deep Aquilon didn’t see many armed individuals aside from the Rhine Watch and the Templar Aquilonia, and she didn’t exactly look like any of them. Her apartment was only five blocks away, but it took her the better part of an hour to cover the distance while keeping an eye on her surroundings. She probably didn’t have to avoid everyone, but habit and training had taken over, and she made the trip keeping out of sight as best she could in the crowded afternoon bustle. She had to stop three times as patrols of Rhine Watch officers came up the block she was about to cross. She couldn’t be positive, but they seemed to be looking for something. Maybe the fuss over her exit from the hospital had kicked up more noise than she realized.

Three floors up into her apartment building, and she still hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. When the door looked unharmed, she nearly breathed a sigh of relief, until she felt her key turn too easily in the lock. The soft click of a safety was the only warning she had, causing her to take a half step sideways before someone on the other side of the door decided that it needed three large bullet holes through it.

From the sound, the shooter was just inside the entryway. No time to think now, Astaria planted her foot as hard as she could into the broken door. What was left of the frame shattered, sending splinters and chunks of wood raining into her front hallway. A blind fire burst sent several bullets in after the door, eliciting a scream of pain from someone inside.

Taking a second to look through the opening, Astaria saw the figure of another woman backed up against the wall with her right hand pressed up against a bullet hole in her thigh. A Xanadian MG-75 shaking unsteadily in her other hand. Midnight black tresses covered half of her face, but Astaria knew that underneath the shadow there was a scar beneath the woman’s right eye. Her angelic themed armor brought back memories which were at once painful, and oddly comforting. Astaria raised her gun and set her sights dead center of the intruder’s chest. Steeling herself for what was going to happen, she stepped through the door.

“Drop the gun Raven.”

Through grunts of pain, the other woman looked up at her. A vicious smile spread across her face, distorting what would otherwise have been considered beautiful features.

“Something has changed in you sister. The old you would have shot me by now. Whatever life you found here has made you weak.” She tried to stand, but eventually gave up and let the gun drop to the floor, her body quickly following as she sat.

“So what do you plan to do now Astaria.”

“The question hadn’t really crossed my mind yet. You’re right, I probably should just kill you now and stash the body somewhere, but we’re still sisters.”

“Sisters?” Raven laughed. “You betrayed us the moment you refused to complete your mission. Mother thinks you have gotten weak, and I’m inclined to agree with her. You obviously have gotten slower, or you would have paid better attention to her warning.”

Before she could speak, waves of pain lanced through her body, a sound like a thousand screams cutting into her ears. A distorted voice broke through the noise. “You like this? Latest work from the lab, they call it a banshee wail.” Caught off balance, she barely saw the incoming fist that took her off her feet.

Her entire body had a dull ache, her ears were ringing, and her skin itched slightly. Mostly though, her jaw hurt. She didn’t have the chance to look in a mirror at the moment, but she was pretty sure that it was turning a wonderful shade of black and blue. She could hear voices, two people talking. She didn’t open her eyes yet, trying to appear as if she were still unconscious as she assessed her situation. She was sitting, and obviously tied up. The recognizable hardness of a dining chair dug into her back, straining against the tight bindings.

“You might as well open your eyes. Your breathing changed when you woke up.” Astaria could place that second voice now, one that was all too familiar.

“Galatea.” The name almost sounded like a curse as it passed through her lips. “I didn’t expect Mother to be so serious about this that she would send you. I must have done something really bad this time.” She laughed softly.

“Missing in enemy territory, and presumed a traitor, Mother didn’t exactly feel like taking it easy on you.” The other woman leaned in close, her sapphire eyes boring into Astaria’s as she examined her prisoner with a look of contempt.

“Your initial reports seemed promising, despite your little accident. Mother actually felt sorry for you when she heard about your hardship. The fact that you were willing to undergo the procedure so that you could stay and complete your mission rather endeared you to her.” Galatea stepped behind the chair, out of Astaria’s line of sight. A sharp sting raced over her scalp as the other woman grabbed her hair and wrenched her head back so that they could make eye contact again.

“And then something changed.” She released Astaria’s hair and began to walk slowly about the room.

“We knew things were different when you changed the way that you were referring to ‘him’.” The last word held hatred and disgust. “Suddenly he had gone from simply being the head scientist on the project, to handsome and enjoyable. Mother was about to pull you off the mission, but not long after that you stopped submitting reports. After the first month of hearing nothing, we began to look into rectifying the situation.”

She stopped talking to examine a picture on the table. Astaria and Alto were hand in hand watching a theatrical performance in the culture district’s Earth Park.

“It’s bad enough that you betrayed us,” The picture frame shattered against the side of Astaria’s face, glass shards leaving a large gash across her right cheek. “but you had to do it with one of them.”

Galatea’s voice never wavered, simply kept a dead calm tone which was all the more unnerving when contrasted with the anger roiling beneath her features. “Mother simply sent us here to clean the mission and get out. I actually volunteered so that I could come here and leave a message. No one betrays us, no one leaves. And especially no one draws one of our own away. You won’t be around to see it, but he will get the message.”

A malicious grin split her features, the first hint of anything besides anger. At that moment, Astaria was truly afraid. “I think I’m going to begin with the eyes, those beautiful violet eyes that he seemed to be so fond of.” The last thing Astaria heard was Raven and Galatea laughing, before her screams drowned out her last few moments.


* * *


Six patrol cars from the Rhine Watch were the first sign that something was wrong as Alto approached the building. Astaria was over an hour late for dinner, and the fact she hadn't taken any calls had begun to worry him. Now he had a sick feeling in his stomach, like it was trying to eat through to the outside world. Six cars? With the lack of serious crime in Deep Aquilon, Alto didn't remember ever seeing this many together outside of the station. Something was wrong; something was horribly wrong.

Several members of the Watch were in the lobby of the building. They appeared to be conducting traffic control. Anyone heading for the third floor was turned away, and several unhappy residents were milling about the room with expressions ranging from annoyance to panic. One of the Watch members stepped in the way as Alto headed for the stairs.

“I'm sorry sir, but access to the upper floors is restricted at this time.” The man's pale features and haunted expression said more about what was going on than his words ever would.

“You have to let me up. I need to check on someone.”

“I can't do that. No one is allowed without authorization. You're going to have to wait.”

“It's ok. He's with me.” Alto recognized the voice's owner even before the large vanir exited the staircase. What little blood was still in the Watchman's face drained away completely.

“Sorry sir. I was unaware. No one told me to. . .” The man fell silent as the new arrival raised a hand.

“It's fine, but you should get back to your job.” The other man turned to Alto and inclined his head toward the staircase. “I would tell you not to come up, but I know how stubborn you are when something gets stuck in your head.”

Alto followed the other man in silence until they were away from the checkpoint and past the first landing. “Indrajit, what's going on? Why is the Rhine Watch here?”

“It's bad. It's real bad.” Indrajit's eyes held the kind of sorrow that eats at the soul when you have to tell a friend news that they should never have to hear. “It's Astaria. Someone got to her.”

Alto lost a step and had to steady himself on the railing just as they exited onto the third floor. Half a dozen members of the watch were in the hall, and he could hear several more people behind what was left of Astaria's door. He went to take another step forward, but his motion was halted by a large hand resting gently on his shoulder.

“I know it's no use saying this, but you shouldn't go in there.”

Alto shrugged out of the larger man's grip and sighed sadly. He didn't say anything before heading into the room. He should have listened.

There had obviously been a fight. The door was shattered, and several holes in the hall and entryway were most likely from gunfire. That on its own he could have dealt with. The inner room was shattered. Broken chairs and picture frames littered the floor, and streaks of crimson traced the walls. A white sheet sat draped over a form in the center of the room, it's edges taking on ruby hues as it soaked up the puddle of blood around it.

Fear threatened to freeze him in place, but he had to know for sure. His steps were halting and off balance as he headed over, and more than once he stopped to lean against one of the surviving pieces of furniture. He almost stopped himself, almost convinced himself that it wouldn't be real if he didn't see it, but he needed to see. He pulled back the sheet slowly, revealing blonde hair matted with blood, and features that were still beautiful despite the savagery of what had been done to them.

His knees gave out and he dropped to the floor beside her when he saw her eyes, or didn't see them. They were gone, taken in a way that he could tell would have lasted for a long time. Whoever did this had wanted her to suffer. The tears that had been held back by shock up until now started to make up for lost time. Blinking to clear his vision enough to see, he moved the sheet back into place. He stood slowly, managing to make it a whole three steps before collapsing. The edges of his vision went black, drawing his perception of reality down to one white hot point of pain and sorrow. He was vaguely aware of people helping him move, forcing him to walk, but the blur could have just as easily been a dream.

When sounds started to register once more, and sights were no longer alien to his mind, he found himself sitting in the hallway with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders as he shook uncontrollably. He had no idea how long he had been sitting there, but the hallway was almost empty now save for people he could only assume were the Watch members responsible for cleaning up crime scenes. As he slowly started to look around, he noticed that it was dark outside.

“At least an hour then.” He spoke to no one but himself as he tried to remember the lost time he had just awoken from. The whole process was no use, and he gave up soon after starting.

“Good, your back with the rest of us.” Indrajit was apparently still here as well. He stepped through the broken door and handed a clipboard to the nearest watchman. “I called you a ride. You're in no shape to get yourself home. Take a few days off. When you're ready to talk I'll be in the office.”

Alto managed to get out a weak “thank you” before someone he wouldn't remember later led him downstairs and to the waiting car. When he finally got home he passed out on the couch, barely noticing the smell of an uneaten dinner on the table, or the soft thunk as a box with a sapphire ring fell from his pocket to land abandoned on the floor.

© 2014 Stephen Mayo


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Featured Review

The story is interesting, full of good description and setting. i only have two problems with it. First, too many long sentences. Read it out loud and you will see what I mean. Don't use a long sentence when 3 short ones will do. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Second, i couldn't read it all the way through because the font is so small. It gave me a headache. 12 point would be nice.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Jordan

4 Years Ago

Building off of this person's review, blocky paragraphs make it harder to read on this site. Having .. read more



Reviews

The story is interesting, full of good description and setting. i only have two problems with it. First, too many long sentences. Read it out loud and you will see what I mean. Don't use a long sentence when 3 short ones will do. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Second, i couldn't read it all the way through because the font is so small. It gave me a headache. 12 point would be nice.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Jordan

4 Years Ago

Building off of this person's review, blocky paragraphs make it harder to read on this site. Having .. read more

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Added on August 20, 2014
Last Updated on August 20, 2014
Tags: New Horizon, Sci-Fi, Guns

Author

Stephen Mayo
Stephen Mayo

Billings, MT



About
Been a while since I updated this. At the moment I'm writing for the New Horizon RPG (http://www.newhorizonrpg.com) I'm also working on a few personal projects whenever I get time. more..

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Prologue Prologue

A Chapter by Stephen Mayo


Chapter 1 Chapter 1

A Chapter by Stephen Mayo