Snakes and Starships: IV

“Anyone here surprised to hear that?” Jaxon piped up and Miho snorted.

“I suppose you lump me into the same category as the Emperor just because I’m his daughter?”

“Seems likely,” Orion responded.

“Malicious? Genocidal? Sadistic? Megalomaniacal?” she lists off.

“Accurate,” Orion nodded again.

“Well I’m not him,” Miho declared. “Whatever you’ve heard is ninety percent fiction. I’m just a monster by association.”

“And the other ten percent?” Jazz prompted.

“Accurate,” Miho grinned proudly.

“There’s nothing average about your fighting ability,” Tyrian noted, and Miho’s smile grew wider, throwing him a wink.

“I enjoy what I do,” she announced. “I’m just miffed I wasn’t around to deal Sol’s much deserved final blow.”

“So, you’ve admittedly been on a killing spree but you’re not a murderous savage like your father?” Orion posed sceptically.

“Doesn’t it depend on who I’m killing?” she volleyed. “Or have you never been responsible for the death of an Empire soldier.”

“We’re not a bunch of murderous space pirates,” Jazz frowned, but Orion seemed to be waiting for Miho to continue, and she looked all the more smug for it.

“In order for Rastaban to usurp the former emperor, he needed supporters everywhere. Now, those Empire big wigs are working on expanding my father’s territories into both Union, and independent space.”

“Aggressive Empire expansion isn’t anything new,” Tyrian noted, but Miho was clearly not finished.

“He has people placed in more colonies than the Union knows,” she explained. “And when he calls for them to take control, it will be with the backing of armadas the Union will not be prepared for.”

“Let me get this straight,” Orion levelled. “You, daughter of the emperor, are colony hopping to assassinate your father’s sleeper agents?”

“Attractive and smart,” Miho grinned. “And oddly familiar… have we met before?”

“Definitely not,” Orion replied quickly.

“And that is pretty much it,” Miho added lightly. “So, if you don’t mind, I would like to get on with my work.”

“You still haven’t explained why?” Tyrian pointed out.

“Does it matter why?” she chuckled. “At the end of the day, less assholes are a good thing for everyone.”

“That depends,” Tyrian pressed, though his manner remained calm, “on what happens after they’re gone.”

“And why you’d defy your father when in your position you could live a life wanting for nothing,” Orion added.

“There is a lot he’s done, and continues to do, that I disagree with,” she answered simply. “Because he is a blood relative means nothing, when I know he’d sell even me if that would forward his goals.”

“So, you’re petulant?” Jaxon snorted.

“Petulant – exceptionally well trained, and vehemently at odds with your enemy,” Miho clarified. “So I’d have thought you’d be happy for me to carry out my business.”

For a moment, Orion looked pensive, before he spoke again.

“And Fairchild is a part of the Emperor’s domination plan?” he asked slowly, studying her with renewed scrutiny, and she returned his gaze with equal intensity.

“The GLF is still very fractured,” she answered him, and he could tell she was being careful in her response. “There are countless pockets of Empire forces – some of them very powerful – that operate outside Rastaban’s mandates, just as they did before with my father’s predecessor. For all his faults, Commodore Fairchild fits into one such pocket, so I don’t need to kill him… yet.”

“So why does he want to get you back so badly?” Tyrian persisted. “If he’s not one for toeing the line.”

“Well, ingratiating oneself with the emperor is not without its benefits,” Miho shrugged, then shifted a little uncomfortably, twisting her wrists where they remained bound. “And speaking of benefits, either someone needs to remove these hardlight cuffs, or one or more of you needs to step up the kink game.”

Tyrian blushed.

Orion crossed his arms.

Jaxon stepped a little closer and appeared to be giving Miho’s ill-fitting clothes another examination.

“Hmm…” he began, one full of suggestion.

“No, I’m not going to sterilise the infirmary again,” Jazz broke in.

“Ugh, come on,” Miho growled, sitting up straighter. “I kill Rastaban’s allies, so unless you’re pro-totalitarianism, you’ve nothing to fear from the likes of me.”

Tyrian nodded slowly, the turn of his head a silent question to Orion, who also considered Jazz and Jaxon’s reactions.

“I want to see this for myself,” he declared finally, and with a soft click, Miho’s cuffs fell away.

“Which part?” Miho grinned suggestively, rubbing her wrists a little before sliding her feet to the floor.

“Hey, take it easy, you took a really hard blow to the head not that long ago,” Jazz warned, but Miho stood, grinning, obviously reflecting on Jazz’s choice of words.

“I wasn’t the one taking it, but let’s not focus on that,” she chuckled, seeming completely at ease despite her foreign surroundings.

“Who is your next target?” Orion asked, refusing to react when Miho drew closer to him, far closer than she needed to in order to reply.

“Admiral Darsius Yuul,” she revealed. “He was personally overseeing the transport of some particularly sensitive military grade materials and I had intended on taking him out there, but someone had to get in my way.”

“What happened to your ship?” Tyrian questioned, for obviously she hadn’t just been floating about in space waiting for the admiral to fly past.

“Waiting for me to make contact, which – by the way – I would like to do now.”

“We’ll find Yuul’s current whereabouts,” Orion announced.

“We will?” Jaxon piped up, then looked a little sheepish.

“And,” Orion continued, “when we find him, I’d like to witness your conviction, personally.”

“You’ve a taste for blood, Captain?” Miho teased, licking her lips a little.

“Words are cheap,” he noted. “Forgive me for doubting your word until I’ve see them brought to action with my own eyes.”

“That is… exceptionally inconvenient,” she sighed, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling before fixing them on Orion’s face again. “If I let you tag along, you’ll walk away?”

“And leave you to carve your path of anti-Emperor carnage,” Orion nodded.

“Lovely,” she chirped, smiling at everyone, “though I’d quickly put some distance between your and Commodore Fairchild afterwards; he’s a sore loser.”

 

Atlas was unimpressed with Orion’s plan to accompany Miho on her next assassination, but stopped short of calling the decision madness. Of course, he had no love for the Empire or the Union, had taken his fair share of lives, but being party to straight up murder didn’t sit right with him – and he thought Orion would have felt the same.

Still, when Jaxon used some of his contacts to locate Admiral Yuul, the Promise headed to the tropical resort colony of Eryl and made as inconspicuous a landing as possible.

“Gee, I wish we were here on vacation,” Jenna sighed, moving to disembark.

The remark had been meant for Atlas, but he lingered on the bridge with Jazz a moment before catching up.

“There’s more to this place than clear water and high-end hotels,” Atlas grumbled in his usual, cheerful tone.

“Right you are,” Miho affirmed, joining them with Orion behind her. “I’m not surprised Yuul is here. Eryl may consider itself an independent colony an have a reputation for being a perfect honeymoon spot…”

At this point she winked at Orion, before continuing.

“… but it’s been used as a waystation of sorts for difficult to get, exotic and dangerous materials for as long as I can remember.”

“So, he’s here to offload whatever was on the ship you missed?” Tyrian concluded, coming to stand on Miho’s other side at the bottom of the Promise’s boarding ramp.

“Not just a pretty face,” Miho smiled, and she’d gently stroked his cheek before he had even thought to recoil. “He’ll no doubt be picking up some bits and pieces for his next project as well, buuuut, sadly he’s not going to be able to complete it.”

Tyrian was a soldier, like Atlas, he too had killed in the name of duty, but the flames in her eyes as she spoke so casually of murder? That concerned him, even if Yuul was a really bad guy.

“Let’s go on with this,” Orion prompted. “Don’t hang around, Atlas; get what you need to patch the Promise up, and get back to the ship as soon as possible. If this goes south, we’re going to need to get out of here in a hurry.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Miho smirked, her enthusiasm undampened. “I’m going to need to get some equipment first, and definitely something else to wear, then we’re good to go.”

Trading one last glance with Atlas, Orion then followed Miho away from the Promise and out of the spaceport.

“So, what is your plan?” he asked, as they walked through the exceptionally clean streets bright and warm.

“Acquire gear, find a vantage point, kill the bad guy… then celebrate,” she replied happily. “Oh, that’s cute!” she exclaimed suddenly, snatching his wrist and dragging him unceremoniously over to a boutique.

Shaking his head, Orion had little choice but to trail behind her as she headed inside and demanded the clerk find the outfit in the window in her size. Shopping wasn’t exactly what he envisioned from a highly dangerous mission to kill a high-ranking Empire official, but it was quickly becoming clear to him that this woman – the Emperor’s own daughter – operated by rules entirely her own.

“How does this look?” she enquired, emerging from the dressing room and striking a dramatic pose.

The sleek bodysuit flattered her figure in ways that made Orion shift a little where he sat, and he took a few seconds before answering.

“I think you know very well you would look good in even rags,” he admitted, and Miho’s eyes narrowed on him in an almost predatory fashion.

“Even better out of them, Captain,” she announced, then turned her attention to the waiting clerk. “I’ll take this.”

The process of payment was quick and clean – an electronic transfer keyed to Miho’s bio-signature, and they were out of the boutique in under ten minutes.

“You’re not concerned about your account being traced?” he wondered aloud, as Miho dumped her old clothes into a garbage receptacle.

“I wouldn’t be a very effective covert operative if I didn’t have means to cover up my movements,” she chuckled, “so no, I’m not worried.”

Indeed, nothing about her suggested anything sinister, and Orion found himself struggling against being swept away by her open enthusiasm for their locale.

“I really should come back here for some r and r when I’m done with this crap,” she mused, now carrying a brightly coloured bag over her shoulder.

She’d known exactly where to go to get the equipment she desired, and the ‘vendor’ had been an unassuming woman at a garage with a dizzying array of very specialised weapons.

“That’s the plan?” he probed. “Kill Rastaban’s collaborators then go on holiday?”

“I think I’ll have earned it,” she shrugged. “Conscientious homicide is quite a thankless job, you know.”

Frowning, Orion allowed some of his consternation to show.

“I’ll admit it,” he declared. “I have no idea how you, given your upbringing, became the person you are – what little I know of you that is.”

“It’s not that complicated,” she responded easily. “My upbringing is exactly why I am who I am. A well-trained killer…”

“A conscientious killer by your own admission,” he pointed out, and Miho grunted in confirmation.

“You think a girl brought up with Empire rhetorical poured into her ears could only turn into selfish, carnivorous monster who cares nothing for others?” she posed, watching him with a gentle and unwavering smile.

“That’s what my experience has largely taught me,” Orion nodded, their path drawing them up a steep hill overlooking a public square.

“You’re right in that I was educated a certain way,” she agreed. “But you cannot simply discount the will and conviction inherent in a person. Even the most heinous creatures have choices, decisions they make that are purely self-serving at the expense of others when there are other options.”

“You’re saying something intrinsic in you is the compass that directs your behaviour in opposition to your upbringing?” Orion surmised, but still didn’t sound entirely convinced by her argument.

“My father sees people as a resource, and while he has the ability and want to take for himself alone, that is precisely what he chooses to do. To him, I too am a resource,” she pointed out. “And don’t think simply because he’s half way responsible for my existence I am immune to his outlook. I could follow in his footsteps and reap the rewards of blood and brutality, but that isn’t what I want.”

Her tone had become firmer toward the end of her assertion, and it was a clear message to Orion she had grown tired of being doubted, even though she knew – logically – it was smart for him to be cautious.

Silence wrapped itself around them, until Miho had chosen her vantage point and set herself up.

“So, according to your incredibly modest crew member, Yuul has a meeting with another ranking Empire officer… there…” she murmured, and though she was sort of talking to Orion, it sounded to him more like vocalised thinking.

Orion watched her scan a building in the distance through a recon-scoped rifle of some description, the price for which could have financed more than half the advanced upgrades Atlas wanted for the Promise.

There they waited as time ticked by, Orion occasionally using a long-range scanner to check the room under Miho constant stare.

“Oh, I’m going to wipe that smug expression permanently off your face, you smug son of a bitch,” Miho hissed, and Orion refocused his scanner to find Miho target striding into view.

“And who is he there to meet wi…” Orion began, before his question was answered, and Miho cursed.

“For fuck’s sake, Antares,” she growled under her breath, but Orion heard her colloquial reference to his brother. “I swear, this guy seems to be making it his mission lately, to get in the way of mine,” she continued, and Orion watched her adjust her aim a little.

“You’re going to kill them both?” Orion scowled, and cringed at the amount of concern that had leeched into his voice.

“I should,” she replied with an irritated grunt, then clicked her tongue, then muttered again. “Conscientious homicide.”

And she pulled the trigger.

It was a remarkable shot – just one – that fired a highly compressed sonic ‘dart’ across the considerable distance between Miho and her target; it smashed cleanly through the glass of the window and found its mark perfectly.

What followed, however, was not what anyone expected – not Miho, not Orion and not Antares, who stood but a few feet from the victim. Like a deflated balloon, Yuul’s skin sagged as Miho’s invisible projectile penetrated one side of his skull, and instead of a graphic explosion of skull fragments and grey matter, Antares’ witnessed a rush of flashing purple energy escape the man’s body. His ears were assailed by the most horrific chorus of screams, as the light dissipated, and when silence returned he stared at the bizarre pile of skin, hair and clothing that used to be Yuul.

“That was unexpected,” Miho exhaled, watching through the scope as Antares crouched to more closely inspect Yuul’s remains, before beginning to search along the murder weapon’s most likely trajectory. “Let’s reflect on that later hmm?” she then posed, rocking back and folding her weapon before stuffing it into her bag. “Time to go.”

No doubt thanks to Antares, alarms began howling, and Orion quickly followed behind Miho as they headed toward a river.

“That guy really is a pain in the ass,” Miho muttered, scanning the river bank for a suitable vehicle. “Oh, there.”

Without waiting for Orion’s input, and either assuming he’d continue to follow – or perhaps not really caring at all – she waved over one of the automated water taxis and hopped on board.

“Head for the spaceport,” she instructed, though there was no pilot to speak of, and Orion only just made the leap onto the aft of the vessel before it began to move from the bank.

Her eyes sparkling, Miho settled against the cushions in the surprisingly spacious cabin and kicked her boots up onto a table.

“Isn’t it a little early to be so relaxed?” Orion questioned, shaking his head a little at her satisfied expression.

“This isn’t relaxed,” she told him promptly. “I’m… reflecting.”

“On why Admiral Yuul…” he began.

“Yeah, why a guy who was – according to my intelligence – one hundred percent human, didn’t turn into bloody nuggets, and why instead, he vented pretty lights like a plasma piñata.”

Orion blinked a few times as her description.

“Looked like Fairchild had no idea either,” she mused, gnawing on her lower lip a little, but sitting up a little straighter when sirens sounded much closer, and a robotic voice rang out of nearby loudspeakers.

“Attention citizens and guests. In accordance with city code AWV117, all public and private spaces will be subject to lockdown for an indeterminate period.”

“Just peachy,” Miho grumbled, getting to her feet.

“Please remain calm, until authorities have resolved the situation,” the voice continued, “and thank you for your cooperation.”

Miho managed one step toward the cabin door, before a metal shutter fell swiftly to bar her path, followed by others that covered the windows.

“Well, that complicates matters,” Miho admitted, shoving her bag back down.

“Somehow I’m beginning to see everything with you is complicated,” Orion responded, rubbing the back of his neck and looking around for a panel that might reveal some manual override mechanisms.

“Ha!” Miho snorted incredulously, but it didn’t sound offended. “Don’t go getting all sassy with me, Captain,” she continued, for some reason unperturbed by the fact they were trapped. “You wouldn’t be here if you’d just let me do my thing.”

“Would you have let you go?” he volleyed, rolling to the side to sit and peer at her.

“Okay, I’ll concede that point,” she grinned. “But, only because a part of me is happy you’re here.”

“And why would that be?” he queried, watching her body language change.

“Oh, come on, Orion,” she drawled, eying him up and down. “Your heart isn’t pounding? Blood… throbbing?”

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