Friday, February 19, 2016

Serving Thanatos

Artwork by Samuel Pray, using Daz 3rd, Filter Forge and Photoshop.

Tyme RPG setting - Science Fiction/Space Opera.

"Lock it down!"

"Trying to!" Nike growled, her jaw set. She hadn't signed on for this, but she wasn't about to let this one slip through her fingers. Not when she had the best system on the planet to play with and wouldn't be able to use the excuse of not having access to the right tools. "Trace is being bounced all over existence. Every time I think I've got it figured out, it jumps to a new location." She glared at the screen, her fingers dancing over the controls. Every time she came close, the signal fluttered and died, only to resurface somewhere else. Except it wasn't quite what was happening. A jump. A careful move to avoid being trapped. Even with the system, one she'd all but drooled over the first time she'd seen it, at her fingertips, she was barely able to keep up with the target. "Tricky, tricky bastard."

"Try harder." Drake leaned in, his voice pitched low, soft and dangerous. Under different circumstances she might have found Drake interesting, the type of man she'd have given a second, perhaps even third look, before moving onto someone else. But at the end of the day he wasn't her type. "We're relying on you." Oh, she knew what that meant. Fail and her sentence would be increased. Fail and she'd be the one blamed for losing the traitor. Fail and... fuck it, she didn't need this shit. "You're losing him again." Drake rested one hand on her left shoulder.

"Then back off and let me do my damned job." She shrugged off his touch. What did he think touching her would do? Give her super powers so she could track this little shit down? Yeah - no. That wasn't how it worked. "I've got this. Just need a little longer. That's not going to happen with you trying to cop a feel." Easy words to say, harder to do. She wanted to lash out at him, to tell him to do it himself, but her focus had to be on the search. Had to be on the signal. Her eyes narrowed, breath sharp through clenched teeth. "There - shit, almost got him." So close. She hadn't expected that move, though she should have done. Whoever was behind the transmission was both smart and fast.

She chewed on the inside of her lip, her gaze never moving from the information that crawled across her screen.

A low sound, a huff of frustration, and Drake stepped back. "I didn't cop a feel. This is Thanatos, not Ontour." Another three steps and muttered complaints that she didn't quite catch before he spoke clearly again. "I don't pull shit like that."

Fine, maybe that had been unfair but at least it had forced the man to back off.

Damned traitor. Whatever I did, I didn't betray our people. I didn't turn to the Raiders and offer them our secrets. Not that she'd had any secrets like that to sell, but it was the principle of the thing. Whatever Drake continued to mutter about, wasn't something she could afford to focus on. "By Thanatos I'll find that bastard if it's the last thing I do." Anyone who sold out their tech deserved a traitor's death. One who sold it to the damned Raiders needed to die a hundred times over. The Raiders - she'd been through one round of living under the control of those people, never again. It was a feeling she knew was shared across the face of the planet and yet one of her own, one of their people, had sold them out.

"Calm and focus on the job, Nike." His voice calmer now, lacking the edge that had sliced through the air moments before. "You're the best at this, it's why we called you in. Don't think about the others in the room, or what's going on beyond this place, focus only on the target."

"Called me in. Sure. Keep thinking that's how it worked." A slight smile twitched at her lips. The temptation to look back over her shoulder niggled at her, but she ignored it. Dragged her in, out of a warm cot, and a decent dream. Not like she'd been given anything more than a cell like room, with a bed, a door, and - yeah - that was it. No computer, no access, nothing that could be used to break the terms of her sentence. Access to computers, to the system, was strictly monitored and would be long after her sentence was over and done with.

"We have to get this guy, Nike. He's already sold out some of our top military secrets and we're relying on you to put an end to this."

"Yeah, I know." There was nothing like a mountain's weight of pressure pushing down on her shoulders to encourage a girl. She bit back a growl and tried another set of tracking codes. Warnings flashed across the screen and she snorted. Whoever this was - he was good, damned good. Where in the name of Hades had he learned his skills? Not Thanatos, or anywhere in System One, that much she was certain of, but there was something familiar about the way he was keeping himself just out of reach. Something she wasn't quite able to put her finger on. "Sneaky bloody bastard. He's jumping - seems random but..." there was always a pattern. Human, computer, alien, combination, it didn't matter, there was always a pattern. All she had to do was find it. "It's not... I know it's not. Just a little longer - that's all I need." Thanatos save her, if he dropped out of the system before she completed the track then...

No, she wasn't going to think like that.

The job. She had to focus on the job and the traitor. Her sentence had her serving the greater good of Thanatos, that was what the magistrate had said and a part of her even believed it.

A sound. Door opening and closing behind and to the left of her.

"Any luck?" A female voice this time. Soft, eager and not one she knew. "We need to cut off the flow of information to the Raiders."

"Not yet, but she's getting closer. Nike is the best we have."

Nike snorted. Best they had indeed. Best they had access to was more like it. There were others out there who put her skills to shame, not that she was about to tell them that. And it wasn't like she'd signed up for this crap. Being hauled in front of the magistrate and given a choice of a year of hard labor, or a year service to the Queen hadn't been that difficult a choice to make. Would they throw her onto a ship and send her to the penal colony if she failed to pin down the traitor's location?

No, that wasn't like the Magistrate. Nor would the Queen permit it. At least Nike hoped she wouldn't. There'd be a new hearing and - and what? Her term would be extended? No, she was overthinking this. Just because she'd agreed to the contract it didn't mean they could demand the impossible.

"If she fails there'll be hell to pay. We have to cut off the flow of information to the Raiders."

"Give her a little longer," Drake insisted.

She watched the screen, fingers moving over the controls, her mind filling in the gaps until it fell into place. A fraction of a second before her opponent made their next step, she was on them, locking down the location. "Got you!"

Movement ceased behind her but she didn't look.

"Yes. Yes. Yes." Nike cried out, confirming the information, a grin claiming her face. "Not going to break free of me now!" She jabbed one finger down on the enter key and screamed. "You're mine now!" Only then did she finally look back at the small, but growing group, that watched her every move. "Janos, they're in the university of Janos, station six, language lab, log on information confirmed and the data chip should be ready..." her station spat out the chip, "now." She snatched up the chip and tossed it over her shoulder, not bothering to check to see if someone was ready to catch it. If they didn't, well, she'd hear the scrambling to grab it when it hit the floor.

The tension eased from her shoulders. Her part in the job was over and done with. If luck was with her, she'd be escorted back to the transport and returned to her quarters - behind the thick walls and locked doors of the military compound - within an hour, two at the most.

"We've been trying to track this bastard down for over a month, what makes you think that this - this criminal is capable of doing what we couldn't?"


"The best, yes - you've said. But would the best be truly so easily caught the way she was?" The cold, unfamiliar, female voice inquired. "Such a truly talented hacker would have covered her tracks, no?"

"I. Did." Nike turned away from the screen, her task there completed.

"Then how were you caught?" A tall, dark haired woman, with touches of iron grey in her hair, arched a thin eyebrow.

"I was betrayed." The words threatened to stick in the back of her throat. Nike let her gaze move slowly around the busy room. Six people, two women, four men, apart from herself, were scattered through the room. Drake and the newcomer were the only two standing, the rest worked at terminals and pretended - for the most part - to be busy with their work. She wasn't buying it. This was entertainment for them. "I'm not sloppy enough to get caught any other way."

"So you claim," the woman snorted, her nostrils flaring. "It wouldn't take much digging to find out what really happened - I'm not impressed."

"Commander Lianer, the reports confirm that Nike was turned in. Or rather her arrest was triggered by information received by the cyber-crimes department." Drake explained, his tone firm though a smile pulled at his full lips. "The sister of an ex-lover, I believe." He clasped his hands behind his back, shoulders pushed back, chin lifted slightly. His jet black hair was cropped close to his scalp, drawing attention to the high cheekbones and full lips that clashed with the current stern set to his features.

Idiot, the sister was the ex-lover.

She'd tried explaining that several times, but people heard what they wanted to hear. Not that there was anything wrong with having a same sex lover - not by the laws or customs of Thanatos. She'd never hidden the fact that she fell in love with the person, not the gender. Trouble was, her lover's brother had tried to claim that he'd been the bed mate, not his sister.

The lie had stuck.

"Ah, love - a dangerous thing even if it's nothing more than a shared passion in bed." Commander Lianer smoothed her hands down her black and silver uniform pants. "Not a mistake I plan on making anytime soon."

Because you have no passion to share.

Nike bit down on the urge to yell at the Commander. It wouldn't help.

"We've got eyes on the traitor, security forces are closing in on him now." A male voice, this time from a station to the far back and right of the room. "Shit, he's not going quietly. Armed. Response team hit. Back-up moving in. He's down. Repeat, he's down."

Down? Dead or something else? Not that it mattered these days. Not her problem. Except the man was a traitor. Whatever happened to him, he deserved it. Once they had all of the proof, he'd be executed. Maybe publicly, maybe not. The traitor would die, and anyone working with him would die, Thanatos would have his due and then...

"An interesting show, but I believe I've seen enough. If you're finished with her, you'll release Kiera Nike into my custody." Commander Lianer's words cut through Nike's thoughts. "I have the release forms here, and she'll serve with my unit from this point on."

Nike blinked, her throat drying out before she could speak.

"What? When did this happen?" Drake held his left hand out for the sheet of paper, his fingers closing on the document as soon as it was within reach. He frowned and looked down at the documentation, reading it through twice at least twice before he continued. "This can't be right. You can't just take her and extend her sentence like that. Not without a court ruling."

"Not my call, but I'm not about to turn down the added resources that Nike brings with her." A cold chuckle followed the words. "She's not without talent and those will be put to use in the coming months. This hacker is only the tip of the iceberg, and I'll be coordinating with several off world teams."

A strangled protest that turned into a rapid cough rang out from one of the operators at the far end of the room. A harsh whisper, questions darted back and forth across the room, ignored by the Drake and Lianer for the most part.

Would one of them speak out, say something outside of the room? It was a slender hope but Nike doubted it. Too much of a risk if they wanted a long term career.

Nike swallowed hard and pushed slowly to her feet. "What do you mean, extend my sentence?" It was one thing to listen to the fears, to believe - under stress - that something like this could happen. The reality was another matter entirely. Tension rippled through her body, raising goose flesh in its wake. "I made my agreement. I was to serve one year, that was it. A year." Her heart raced, beating so loud that she was surprised that no one else could hear it. "My time is up in less than two months."

"Her sentence hasn't been extended, exactly. You're right, the courts would have to be the ones to extend your sentence, and that would require new charges." Lianer smirked and nodded to the papers. "If you read that last paragraph it clears everything up. I'm sure, given recent events, you'll understand why you're needed."

"Special circumstances," Drake choked and met her gaze, finally looking away from the paperwork before he passed them to Nike.

She let her fingers close around the sheet even as she fought the urge to scream. Words danced across her vision and it took five attempts before the pieces fell into place. Cold sweat beaded across her brow even as her knees threatened to buckle. No. She wouldn't give them the satisfaction of passing out. At least not in front of witnesses. "I've been... drafted."

"Into the service of Thanatos," Lianer cast a triumphant look around the room, "with full pay and all benefits except one."

The ability to quit...

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