“Loose Lucy!” Anna exclaimed happily. “Man, it’s been years, hasn’t it? When was the last time we met?”
“Gabros-1, I think. A quarter-century ago.” Lucifera paused. “I’m a bit surprised you remember me.”
“You kidding? I never forget a face- especially not a cute one like yours.” She glanced at Ruth. “You were there too, but I don’t remember your name.”
“Colonel R-ruth Lakham.” All the color had drained out of her face. “I-it’s an honor, Mater.”
“Just Anna, please. I mean, you technically outrank me.” Anna winked… or maybe she blinked. It was hard to tell as she only had the one eye. “And lastly would be… you.”
Herod met Anna’s curious gaze. “Corporal Herod Makkaba,” she said. “I’m the colonel’s personal protection detail. Pleased to meet you, Mater.”
“Interesting.” Anna scratched her nose. “Well, I’m the Mater Sicario, but you can call me Anna too.”
The Mater Sicario… the amount of stories about her were staggering and generally hard to believe. She didn’t seem stuck-up like Berenice, but the friendliness was somehow worse. “It’s an honor,” Herod said automatically. “That’s the Isis AEGIS, isn’t it? That’s how you turn invisible?”
“Colonel!” Ruth hissed. “M-Mater, please forgive her impudence. She’s very new to the legion, she doesn’t know-”
“Ruthy baby, chill your tits.” Anna flapped her hand. Ruth shut up instantly. “I’m as far removed from that sort of thing as I can. And you got it in one, Herod.” Anna did a little pivot, showing off how the catsuit hugged her whip-handle-lean thighs. “AEGIS Mark XVII. Isis. It doesn’t have all the weapons from the Gawain, and barely any armor, and it can’t fly. But it has some fun tricks.”
The Isis AEGIS was worn mostly by BEACON_Unorthodox, who handled guerrilla, counterrevolutionary, sabotage, and other black operations. Herod had never tried it on herself. It didn’t fit her problem-solving style. “Are you the VIP that we’ve been sent to guard, Mater?” Herod asked, keeping her voice polite.
“I said to just call me Anna. And yeah, that’s me! Well, one of three. But the other two are kinda my groupies.” Anna pointed at the ground. “They’re down below right now.”
Lucifera cocked an eyebrow. “In the tunnels? Mater Si-”
“Anna.” There was some firmness behind it that time.
“…Anna, what are you doing on this planet? It’s… well.” Lucifera hesitated. “Kra-ki-wa isn’t exactly the shining center of TORCH space. About as far removed from that as you can get..”
“Well, that’s the great thing about being a Mater. I can do pretty much whatever I like. So I thought this would be a nice place to go, and now I’m here.” Anna showed her teeth. “Don’t worry your pretty green head about it too much, Loose Lucy. You know me- I can take care of myself.”
“Then why do you need an entire legion as an escort?” asked Herod.
Anna turned her attentions back to her. Herod finally realized what was so disturbing about the way she moved… it was clipped. Most people would turn their entire upper body to face her, but all Anna did was move her head a few degrees to the right. “Great question. I don’t know. Is that why you guys are here?”
Herod stared. “You’re telling me you didn’t requisition our support, Ma- Anna?”
Without a word, Anna turned invisible once more. Her body shimmered momentarily before vanishing from sight.
“Anna! Shit.” Lucifera pinched the bridge of her nose. “Why did it have to be her? Ruth, tell Amalek, Sheba, and Tamar that the VIP is the Mater Sicario.”
“Y-yes ma’am,” said Ruth. “B-but I want to say… I’m not comfortable with this. We aren’t bodyguards… and it’s the Mater Sicario. You know her reputation.”
“The operative word is Mater. As in, we do what she says.” Lucifera grunted. “Anna’s not how some people think she is, but you’re right to be wary. Just… give her space and do as she asks. If it seems really sketchy, come to me. Tell the other colonels the same. Capem?”
“…Capem, legata.” Ruth staggered away.
Lucifera limped towards the tunnels, favoring her left leg more than she had before. “Ruth seemed intimidated,” said Herod, keeping her voice neutral. “But you weren’t, legata. Do you and the Mater have some history?”
“Nothing so fanciful.” Lucifera smiled wistfully. “She and I go way back. All we old biddies have been around for such a long time that our paths have crossed once or twice. Anna… well, there’s not many people like her in this galaxy. Maybe she’s the only one. Hope so- one of her is enough.”
“Are, err, the stories true about her, ma’am?” Herod dropped her voice to a hush. “Did she really kill 200 Neighbors death commandos in an evening without any weapons?”
“Ask her that one. I do have it on good authority that the one about her standing still for seventy hours straight is true. Let me put it like this: a Mater is the best, the absolute best, at whatever her little niche is. For example, Berenice is the Mater Bellum because she’s bar none the best soldier in TORCH- a lot of people might hate her, but nobody knows how to fight a war like she can.”
“And Anna is the Mater Sicario,” said Herod. “The Mother of Assassins.”
“So she’s the best professional murderer in TORCH. Try to stay on her good side.” Lucifera picked up the pace. “C’mon. I don’t like tunnels so I don’t want to spend any more time in there than I have to.”