“Yes! Oh, my name is Coronis. My friends call me Corey! If you please, try to get used to calling me that even when we’re in private- I don’t want my coworkers to know about my extracurriculars.” There was silence for a few moments as Kelvin- Coronis- tapped on her watch’s keyboard. “I’m sending you the information about your new identity, did you get it?”
Sure enough, there was a new message in Eve’s inbox. She opened her watch and skimmed it. “Maia? Maia… Oread.”
“The Oreads never amounted to much, and the last one went MIA on assignment a couple years ago. My hacker buddy just changed it so that Maia was reassigned- and after being bounced around for a bit, you’ve ended up here!”
Coronis had taken care of everything. A full life story, an empty biometric bank account and identification number. The picture looked very similar to Eve: her cheeks were a little fuller and her chin a little stronger, and her hair was a few shades lighter, but she had the same button nose, the same dark red eyes, the same thick brows and full lips. Their dimensions were almost identical as well: curvy with surplus flesh. “What’s this?” Eve murmured. “She was a witch too…”
“Ah, my crowning jewel!” Coronis sounded proud. “Check it out, Maia was a witch too. Her power, Pyrostatic, meant her body generated heat and static electricity. Nobody could touch her without getting burned and shocked!”
Eve grinned. “No fooling?”
“Yes! I mean no! No fooling! Mater, so long as you’re here at Lethe-2, nobody is going to lay a finger on you. They think they’ll get zapped, bzzt!”
Someone touching Eve and burning the flesh off their hand was how she had been discovered at her last hiding place. But now she was in the hands of a master smuggler. It was the first good news Eve had received in months. “You’ve done a wonderful job, Coronis,” she said. “I feel safer already.”
“Ahh, you complimented me! Thank you so much!”
Coronis was a decent sort, even if her voice was kind of grating… or was it? Eve found everyone’s voice either annoying or slimy. As she pondered if there was some way to quantify which voices were and weren’t annoying, the vessel began to sink beneath the waves.
The windows blackened as Eve took several minutes to read through the bio. “Maia is a researcher, her focus is on occult, arcane, eldritch and cryptic life forms,” Coronis said. “I know that’s not exactly your area of expertise, Mater, but I figured you’d know enough to get by.”
“Shouldn’t be an issue,” Eve said. “I’ve authored a dozen books and maybe a hundred papers on the subject.”
“But I thought your focus was on magic… uh, what’s the study called? Texarkanism?”
“Teleoarcanism. It’s much more closely related to cryptobiology than most people realize.” Just a few years ago, Eve would have given a more detailed explanation- but she doubted Coronis cared. Hell, she didn’t care much herself anymore. The big questions that she had dedicated her life to understanding no longer filled her with gluttonous curiosity. They seemed faintly ridiculous now.
Fortunately, Coronis didn’t press further. “Well, don’t have to worry about that I guess. The only other thing worth mentioning about Maia was that she’s a lot younger than you… so just be careful not to talk about things that happened before her time.”
Maia had graduated the Academy in 27 AJ, two dozen years ago. Before the massacre on the blue dunes, before the bloody conquest of frontiers once thought unclaimable, before the vicious flattening of the old SMOKE and the rise of the new one. Before the advent of a new queen and the loss of two others. Eve had still been herself, not an itinerant ghost haunting the edges of TORCH space. It all felt a blur.
“I just won’t talk about the past much,” Eve said finally. “I do have a question, though. What’s the purpose of this base?”
“It’s a research station, yes? What do you research? Nearly everything was classified.”
“Ah yes! Here on Lethe, we research the wildlife. Maybe you’ll find it interesting. Have you looked outside yet?”
Eve glanced out at the dark water surrounding her. “External lights on.”
The window became slightly illuminated and Eve peered out. At first, nothing. Then she saw it: a sea serpent, rubbery and fluid. It was massive, at least fifty feet long. The serpent dexterously darted after a ten-foot long fish whose long body and caudal fin reminded her of sturgeons back on Earth. She watched the dance of predator and prey with fascination as the serpent slowly cornered the panicked fish.
The more she watched, the more she realized something was wrong. The serpent’s movements were clipped, choppy, quick for its monstrous size but utterly unnatural. Even more strangely, it had… no mouth. No eyes. No nostrils. It wasn’t- it wasn’t a serpent.
It was a tentacle.
The sturgeon lost the chase. The tentacle wrapped around it and pulled it back. The underside was completely covered in long thin hairs that speared and entangled the struggling fish. The tentacle then drew back to the body it connected to.
It was unthinkable, a swimming skyscraper so large that she couldn’t possibly guess how long it was. The tentacle was one of at least a dozen, thrashing through the sea, catching fleeing prey and then drawing it back to a mouth large enough to eat houses. The creature was covered in black ridges, but its eyes, each the size of a small swimming pool, were a hateful acid yellow. They flickered and rolled, each in search of prey for a tentacle to grab and stuff in its void of a mouth.
One of them spied Eve.