LUX #24

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The statuesque personnel officer strode in like she owned the place. She would have been more intimidating were it not for her hand, entombed in a mitten of bandages. “I hope you’re enjoying your first day,” she said brightly to Eve. “Which also seems to be a day off.”

“It looks like I’ll be getting some work done today anyways,” Eve replied, standing up to face Peitho. She kept her voice cool. “What do you want?”

Peitho didn’t break eye contact with Eve. Her eyes were milky and pale, with a predatory hunger behind them. “A minute of your time, in fact.” She didn’t even look at Eirene. “It’s protocol for me to interview new arrivals… something I should have done the moment you landed, but you’re the first-ever new arrival so it slipped my mind. Silly me.”

Eve glanced back at Eirene. She couldn’t really say no… and maybe this would be her chance to learn a little more about Peitho. “Okay. Let’s go. Catch you later, Eirene.”

“Yeah Eirene. Catch you later.” Peitho smiled cheerily at the redhead. She led Eve out of Engineering, up two decks to the offices on Deck 5. Peitho’s office was a little too colorful, cheap and tawdry and over-decorated. “Have a seat,” she said, sitting on the other side of the desk.

“I prefer to stand,” Eve said, crossing her arms.

“Sure. So then… Maia Oread. Our woman of mystery, eh?”

Eve said nothing. Boredly, Peitho leafed through a file on her desk. “Previous psyche report describes you as ‘adventurous’, ‘outgoing’, ‘fun-loving’, and ‘effervescent’. My, how you’ve changed.”

Where was Peitho going with this? Eve couldn’t tell. She had so many conversations that could be interpreted as people on the verge of discovering her identity… it was dangerous to snap to that conclusion, though. Some may have just picked up on the friction between the real Eve and the mostly fictional Maia.

“I wonder, why did we need another Enyoni researcher? There are a dozen of them, and I know for a fact eleven of them do no work.” Peitho’s calm smile flickered. “And the file is noticeably devoid of reasons for your transfer. You got injured, spent some time recovering, and now you’re here? Why?”

Nysa had asked the exact same question. That more or less confirmed that Peitho had doubts about her cover identity. “I don’t know,” Eve replied. “They just told me I was being transferred, not why. What does this have to do with your job?”

“I feel like we got off on the wrong foot last night.” Peitho’s grin widened. “Eirene and I have a complicated relationship. I know what it looked like, what you saw, but there’s more to it than that. You probably see me as some kind of monster now… but I’m just trying to make my way, same as you.”

She was good. Smooth, clear delivery, eye contact. A fantastic liar. Eve could definitely see people buying this veneer of affable civility. “I saw you for exactly what you are,” Eve said, clenching her fists. “And you can’t fool me. You can try to provoke me, or you can stay far away from Eirene and me. If I were you, I’d go for the latter.”

If Peitho was concerned, it didn’t show on her face. “I can’t do that, unfortunately. So why don’t you and I be friends instead? Eirene is a sweet girl, but she can’t do you any favors. You help me out… and I can make sure nobody asks too many questions about this file of yours.” She pressed her finger to her lips. “Not even Nysa.”

Eve opened her mouth to tell Peitho to go screw, but paused. Did… did she even have the luxury of turning down this offer?

Already, Cressida knew her true identity. Nysa had at least an inkling. Coronis had a big mouth. At this rate her secret would be out in a week. “How do I know you even have that ability?” Eve asked suspiciously. God damn it, she was actually humoring this.

Peitho’s eyes sparkled. “Aren’t you at-all curious as to how a base like this can exist? If LUX at-large knew what a massive waste of money and resources Lethe-2 was, we’d all be tried for crimes of incompetence. Nysa’s solution to this is to fudge her reports and bury her head in the sand- or the water, heh. Your buddy Coronis doesn’t spare a second thought as to how much attention her drug-running brings. And Libera… Libera is barely here. She’s barely anywhere.”

Peitho pointed to herself proudly. “I’m the one who keeps the wheels running. I’m the one who assuages the higher-ups, who deflects whistleblowers, who keeps LUX in the dark about what goes on here. If you had any idea of the kind of shit I’ve buried in my years down here… well, let’s just say I’m the real power behind Lethe-2. Not little Nysa, as much as she thinks she’s in charge.”

“Yeah, you’re really wonderful,” said Eve, feeling her temper climb her throat once more. Peitho truly was a despicable shitstain, wasn’t she? “But if you’re so special, tell me this: why are you down here? Such talent should have carried you to LUX’s Board of Directors, or our representation in Chantico. And if you’re so ambitious and hard-working, shouldn’t you have blown the whistle a long time ago?”

Eve half-expected Peitho to freak out, but instead Peitho just shrugged the comment off. “None of that is your concern. I have my reasons for being down here… just as you do. I can spend some of my valuable time and considerable resources finding out exactly why you’re here, or I can spend it making sure nobody else finds out.”

<== ==>

LUX #23

<== ==>

Eve kept Eirene company in engineering for the rest of the day. Her formal work detail was in the research lab but the events of the morning had shaken her. Something about Eirene’s company was relaxing, though… the engineer had this way of explaining her work in a way that was both soothing and engaging. Eve learned a lot about the complicated relativistic physics and exotic chemistry behind the negative mass engines.

The conversation eventually drifted from engines to Eirene’s life before Lethe-2. “Hey, we were on Pergamon at the same time,” Eirene said as she scribbled some calculations on a holographic screen projected from her watch. “Did you ever go to, uh, Ambrosia?”
“The coffee shop in Module 4? Yes, a few times.” They had a good decaffeinated green tea, Eve remembered. “You were there a lot?”

“My favorite spot. You probably saw me hunched over my screen, headphones on, looking at nobody,” she giggled. “I was antisocial then too. You?”

“The same.” Eve had gotten good at deflecting questions about her past. “You were an engineer on Pergamon?”

Eirene pursed her lips in disappointment and nodded. “But not an applied engineer. I was helping to design a portable LUX base… one that could be loaded onto a ship within a day and moved from place to place. Of course, every inch of something like that had to be as compact and economical as possible. I was working twelve, fourteen hour days for months.”

“Sounds like a good way to get burned out.”

“Well, I thought I had a handle on it until I spilled some water at the office one day and started sobbing inconsolably.” Eirene finished writing. “Here, you can check my math. But yes, I had a nervous breakdown. So they found a new job for me down here.”

Eve looked at the holograph. Most of these formulas were far too complex for her to understand… teleoarcanism didn’t involve many numbers. “As a punishment?”

“More like a vacation. A permanent vacation.” Eirene glanced around. “Lethe-2 is LUX’s Island of Misfit Toys. Everyone is here because they screwed something up at some point… unless you’re the exception to that?”

Eve decided to dodge the question. “You did these equations in your head?”

“Ah, I’m cheating. My power is Vellum Mind- it mostly lets me do useless tricks that a calculator could also handle. I’ll give you an example… punch the air.” Eirene watched Eve make the motion. “So your punch hit at about 10.3 meters per second… not that fast. If you sat on me, I could tell your exact weight.”

“I weigh more than I’m comfortable admitting,” Eve said truthfully. “So your brain functions as an accurate measurement tool?”

“Yeah, more or less. Just a silly little power, hardly any better than useless ones like Corey’s.” Eirene giggled, but her good spirits soon fell. “…I think a lot about what if I didn’t have Vellum Mind. SPRING or PLUTO would have been more interested in me, if I weren’t a witch. Instead I had to go to LUX, where the only thing that matters is results. I couldn’t reach that standard… so they sent me here to die.” She put the paper aside.

Eve said nothing. “That’s what LUX is to you?” she finally managed.

“…Yeah, I guess so. The Mater Veneficis is gone, but she got the branch she wanted. She was so brilliant, but like all brilliant people she didn’t understand how ordinary people think or feel.” Eirene’s smile was rueful. “In the end, the stress caught up to her too, didn’t it?”

Did Eirene have an inkling of Eve’s identity? No… it couldn’t be. She was just talking. “Mmm. A lot of strong opinions on her down here,” Eve said carefully.

“Don’t get me wrong, I liked Eve. I understand how she felt.” Eirene stood up and stretched her legs. “‘The only way we’ll ever be treated as equals is to do excellent work.’ It’s a nice idea. Better than what we have now. Eve isn’t so popular down here, but Hyperion is especially hated… I wouldn’t say her name very loud if I were you.”

“Duly noted.”  Eve hadn’t gotten the chance to talk to many LUX owls since her meltdown. The potential for being recognized when her face was in the newsphere every single day had been too great, and before Lethe-2 she had spent a year hiding out in a FORGE base where everyone wore masks anyways. It was simultaneously refreshing and crushing to hear Eirene complain.

Eirene walked around to the side of the engine, wrench in hand. “I found the problem. There’s a loose bolt,” she said, testing the weight of the wrench. “Four hours of tests and calculations… and it’s a loose bolt. Typical, right? But it’s a triflingly easy fix.” She opened the maintenance hatch on the side and crawled inside. “Good that I caught it when I did, though! A few more days and the damage would have been a thousand times worse.”

Eirene climbed out a moment later, her forehead stained with grease and sweat but her lips curled into a triumphant smile. “There. We’re do-” her smile fell off her face and her mouth opened slightly. The color drained from her face as she stared bug-eyed at the door.

Peitho had just walked in.

<== ==>

LUX #22

<== ==>

Hustling down to Engineering, Eve half-expected to find poor Eirene smeared over the walls. Instead she was sitting by the engine, reading something on her watch. “Oh, hi May,” she said. “You look, um… a little frazzled.”

“I am a little frazzled.” Eve straightened herself out. “Are you all right?”

“Fine, fine. I’m just running some diagnostics on the generator, a few things have been funky.” She patted the side of the van-sized machine. “Shouldn’t be anything to worry about. This girl’s top-of-the-line.”

Eve took a seat alongside Eirene. “What did Cressida want?” she asked cautiously. Cress had wanted to talk about something- could it be related?

“Oh, umm, a personal affair.” Eirene averted her eyes. “It wouldn’t be right of me to say any more, it was said in confidence.”

Eve bit her lip. If Cressida had something to hide, maybe Eve could use that for leverage. But how to get Eirene to talk about it? “If Cressida is the security officer… shouldn’t she protect you from Peitho?” Eve asked. 

A rueful smile formed on Eirene’s face. She must have swung by medical, because the injuries Peitho had inflicted were gone. “You’d think so, right? But Cress is an incredibly gentle and kind person. I think that’s why she and I became so close… well, I don’t think I’m like that, I think I’m just too weak to be tough and too cowardly to be mean. But I can get away with being so passive and feeble… I spend all my time working with machines.” 

She ran her hand along the engine with almost maternal affection. “Nice predictable machines. Harmless if you handle them properly. Every problem they can have can be understood, controlled, and fixed. People are so… messy. They’ll never do what you want, they change when you look away, and sometimes they’ll do things just because you weren’t expecting them to do it. That’s why I spend all my time down here.”

“If she was truly kind… wouldn’t she keep you safe?”

Eirene shook her head. “It’s not like that. Cress wants to help- and she does, in a million ways. But she doesn’t have the guts to stand up to Peitho… because Peitho’s a terrible enemy to have, and Cress just isn’t much of a match for her. I would never ask someone to sacrifice themselves for me.”

“What about me?” Eve asked.

“You?”

“Am I going to be destroyed?”

“Oh… hah… I don’t know. Part of me says you will be. Part of me says you’re an even bigger monster than Peitho. Most of me… is just happy that someone was willing to try.” Eirene’s smile was one of someone who had walked through hell… no. Of someone who was walking through hell. 

It was inhumane, to manipulate someone the way Eve was trying to manipulate Eirene. Taking advantage of someone so vulnerable… Eve saw how someone like Peitho could do it, and how revolting it was. Was it really right for Eve to cling to life like a barnacle, even if it meant lowering herself to that scum’s level? “It was… reflex,” she said finally. “I didn’t think. I just moved.”

“Well, I’m pleased you did. How did you get so brave, May? Is there a secret to it or something?”

“No secret,” Eve said, shaking her still-damp head. “I just want to help. But… like you said. It might not go the way we want it to. The only way for you to be safe is for us to do something about Peitho, right?”

“Something? You don’t mean…?”

Eve kept her face stony. “As a last resort. Let’s try to think of something better first. That means we’ll need whatever kind of allies we can muster. Cressida is the security officer, and your best friend besides. Can’t we get her to help?”

“Well, I can try to talk to her. I don’t think it’d do much, though.” Eirene opened a shunt and pulled a tray out. It was made of a clear glass with several indents in it, each of which had a different liquid inside. “Lessee… helium-4 normal, helium-3 a smidge low… oh, interesting, an excess of caesium… so that means…”

Eve’s scientific knowledge didn’t cover the negative mass engines that TORCH used so extensively in their bases and starships, although she did understand the basic underpinings of the strange machines. It was also far and away the last thing on her mind right now. “We should think of something better,” she urged. “If Cress won’t be responsive to being asked. Maybe we could…”

Eirene looked up and frowned. “We could what, May?”

No, too strong. She had to dial back. “Well, you know her much better than I do,” she said instead. “How do you get Cress to do things?”

“You don’t. Poor thing… she doesn’t really commit herself to any course of action. She can never decide which fork of the road to take, so she just ends up going nowhere. Then she wonders why she’s not happy.” Eirene sighed. “And the person on the base whose job is to help her is the personnel officer-”

“-Peitho.”

Eirene nodded gravely.

If Cressida was truly so indecisive, she’d probably keep her discovery about Eve to herself. But on the other hand, Nysa and maybe Peitho were prowling the base, looking for weapons to use against Eve. It seemed only a matter of time before one of them got wind that Cress knew something and squeezed the truth out of her.

“…This isn’t right,” she muttered. “Any of it. This isn’t what I wanted.”

“It’s not what any of us wanted,” said Eirene. She was closely studying the results from her diagnostics. “But it’s what we got. Why do you think half the girls down here are so conked out all the time? We’re all trapped in this place together. You can’t escape without dying, so the girls die- by inches.”

Eve glanced around the dark, humid engine room. “So this is my tomb, huh?”

“I think you died a long time before you got here, May. If you don’t mind me saying.”

“…You’re a sharp one, Eirene,” said Eve, smiling grimly. “You could be pretty dangerous yourself.”

Eirene giggled. “Well, fortunately for all of you I have cripplingly low self-esteem.”

<== ==>

LUX #17

<== ==>

Eve’s heart began to pound at the prospect of recognition. “Were you ever stationed at Pergamon?” she asked, trying to keep her voice even.

“LUX Command? No… never. Before here, I was only ever stationed in Chantico.”

Her heartbeat only intensified. Maia Oread had never been to Chantico… but Eve Volcanis had spent much of her life there as a well-known public figure. Eve had grown out her hair and hired a neo_SMOKE surgeon to alter her facial features, but things like her body type were harder to disguise. Anyone who had met Eve before would probably recognize her, unless they were particularly oblivious. “Well… maybe we ran into one another somewhere else. What did you do in Chantico?”

“I was BEACON in those days. Worked at a checkpoint.” BEACON was TORCH’s military arm, they partially handled security services in the capital. “Did you ever go there for vacation or something…?”

Coronis interjected before Eve could respond. “May, didn’t you present your research at a symposium in Chantico?”

“Oh! Oh yes.” That was a good cover. LUX ran multiple symposiums a year in Chantico, and it would be the main reason for an owl of May’s station to travel there. “Yes, I suppose that must have been when we met.”

“Huh, okay.” Cress didn’t sound convinced. “Well, it’s nice to remeet you. Uh, I wanted to talk to Eyes about something, but if she’s busy…”

“No, no, I’m finished.” Eirene stood up. “Um, I’ll see you later May. Cress and I will be in the engine room.”

The two of them left the mess hall, leaving Eve alone with Coronis who finished up her sandwich. “You and Eirene really hit it off, huh,” the smuggler said, a burning woman and an angel dancing beneath her chin. “You know who she reminds me of sometimes? Juno, the Mater Sapientia.”

Juno flashed through Eve’s mind. The gentle, doe-eyed, astonishingly brilliant woman who was Eve’s very favorite conversationalist. Soft and kind, but strong as steel in her convictions and unrelenting in her pursuit of truth. Emerald of hair and eyes, quick to joy and tears, and the best scholar Eve had ever known.

Eve had reduced her to a charred pile of meat.

 “You never met Juno,” she said through her teeth.

“But you do see the resemblance, right? I was a biiiig fan, almost as much as I was of you. You gotta understand, I spent so much time reading about Matres, I feel like I’ve known you for years now.”

“So I’m just as the texts describe me?”.

Corey shook her head, her curls bouncing. “Nah. You’re way cooler in person. Anyways, how did you and Eirene become such good friends?”

Eve hesitated to tell the story to Coronis, but decided to be truthful. Peitho was going to be a problem moving forward. “…so now I have to protect Eirene. It seems to me like Cressida is the one who ought to handle that, but whatever.”

“Cress? She’s… well, don’t expect too much from her.” Coronis sipped her coffee. The story had no visible effect on her. “Poor thing can barely choose what socks to wear in the morning, let alone to stand up to someone like Peitho.”

“She knew me,” Eve hissed. “Maybe we met in Chantico… I don’t remember her. But if we did meet, it’s only a matter of time before-”

“May, May, may I ask you to stop worrying so much?” Coronis moved to put a hand on her shoulder, but realized what a bad idea that was midmotion. “We can handle Peitho. We can definitely handle silly old Cress. I invited you down here because I thought the calm and quiet would help relax you… but how are you going to do that if you keep inventing problems for yourself?”

Eve scowled. Did Coronis not see how this was her fault? She brought Eve down to this godforsaken base where tinpot tyrants like Peitho thrived. She failed to vet everyone properly, putting Eve close to at least two people who could recognize her. She didn’t account for the suspicions of Nysa. All because of how excited Coronis was at the prospect of her very own Mater friend. “So what are we going to do? Just… nothing?”

A visage of what looked to be Eve and Coronis dressed as burglars appeared by Coronis’ head. “I didn’t say that. I’ll talk to Peitho- she and I have an understanding. Cress though, she’s truly no threat to you or anyone.” Coronis stood up. “Okay, I gotta lot to do today but we should get dinner together!”

She wandered off, leaving Eve to finish her meal alone.

Eve expected most of the crew to bother her with introductions, but they were giving her a wide berth. Not that she was complaining, she hated to awkwardly seek common ground with a stranger. She’d prefer curling up with a long, boring research paper in her room any time.

But it remained unsettling. None of them had any interest in the first newcomer to the base ever? 

Eve hadn’t quite polished off her plate when Nysa approached. “Good morning, docent,” she said, hands folded behind her back. As yesterday, Nysa stood out with her meticulous and professional dress sense. Today it was a butter-yellow pantsuit with a jacket that went down to her knees. “This seat free?”

“Not unless there are invisible girls down here.”

Nysa smiled with half her mouth. “I knew an owl like that. Naturally there was a twist to it: she couldn’t turn her bones invisible. If she lost her focus she turned into a shambling, levitating skeleton. It was probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

Eve mustered her most polite smile. There was no way Nysa was here for small talk. She was here to squeeze Eve for more information.

Nysa sat across from her and stared a hole into Eve. “I was reviewing your file again, docent, and I wanted to ask you more about your Pergamon deployment. I was there for several years, but I don’t believe we ever met.”

“It’s a ringworld,” Eve replied cautiously. “A floating city. Close to a million agents live there, not all of them LUX.”

“Very true. Plus, you were a researcher while I was on the administrative side of things. I read the papers you published on Pergamon and found them illuminating- especially your theories on the Titans.” Nysa chuckled ruefully. “You know who studied the Titans extensively? The Mater Veneficis. Eve Volcanis.”

<== ==>

LUX #16

<== ==>

Besides Phoebe, the only person who actually seemed to do any work in Lethe-2 was the cook. Breakfast was just as hearty and delicious as dinner: corned beef and cabbage sandwiches, pot roast with ginger, fried chicken and waffles, bean soup, yogurt with chunks of almonds and dark chocolate, and literal barrels of rich hot coffee.

Eve sat with Eirene and Coronis, trying to enjoy her hot tea and waffles in peace. She stayed away from coffee… she didn’t need to feel any more restless and jittery than usual.

Coronis seemed to have totally forgotten their awkward encounter the night before and was happily chatting away about, of all things, other Matres. “I read a really interesting article about Blood and Treasure,” she said. “You know them, Eirene?”

“I don’t. Is that their name?” Eirene’s voice was nasally and she inadvertently whistled on “s” sounds. She was so close to Eve that her face was flushed from the ambient heat. “What about you, May?”

“Nightshade, the Mater Sanguinis, and Majuro the Mater Auri,” Eve replied, sipping her tea. “Nightshade led intelligence and Majuro organized the internal economy during the Cenotaph War. They went on to found UMBRA and SPRING, respectively.”

Coronis’ smile flickered. “Y… yeah, them! Nightshade handled killing and Majuro money, so Astra called them Blood and Treasure. Oh, they were both so amazing, Eirene. They’re both gone now, though.”

“They are?” Eirene asked with a frown. “I didn’t think Matres died very often.”

“They don’t, those two are some of the few… and technically, Nightshade’s only missing.” Coronis stroked her chin as a shadowy figure appeared next to her head, slitting the throat of a golden woman.. “She was the architect of the Snuffing of SMOKE, you know. But she disappeared right after. My pet theory is she committed suicide, which would really suck..”

“…Wait, you’re a fan of hers? Even after she killed all your… umm, all those SMOKE sisters?” Eirene glanced at Eve.

Coronis giggled. “I’m not one of those neo_SMOKE sisters who’s all militant and angry. The Snuffing was terrible- but why hold a grudge? UMBRA’s never gotten in the way of my business… speaking of, Eirene, have you swung by medical yet for those bumps and bruises?”

Eirene touched her swollen lip. “Not yet… maybe you could help me? You don’t ask as many questions as they do.”

“Sure sure,” said Coronis cheerfully. “Friend price for my favorite wrench wench.” She emitted an illusion of bandages wrapping around a broken wrench.

“You really don’t have any shame, do you?” Eve said before she could stop herself.

Coronis’ smile faded. “W-well, it’s not like that. All I ever do is give people what they want. What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s okay, May.” Eirene idly scratched at one of her bruises. “Corey helps me. She helps everyone… and it’s all voluntary.”

Coronis nodded. “Y-yeah! I don’t force anyone to do anything, I just make things available to them and charge for my trouble. If OPTICA or some other law force cared, they’d have a cop stationed here… but I don’t see any law.” A police officer wagging her finger appeared next to her cheek for a moment, then vanished. “And trust me, there are people who do much worse than I do down here.”

Eve narrowed her eyes. Maybe Coronis was right… maybe she did provide a valuable service. Living in an intoxicated stupor seemed more appealing with every moment she spent in this miserable place.

Midway through breakfast, a large, powerfully-built woman approached the three of them. Her build was rangy and athletic, clear strength behind her movements, but her grey eyes were massive and soft. They were partially hidden behind her iron-filing hair. “H-hey Eyes,” she said nervously. “Corey. Uh, new girl.”

“Oh, introductions!” chirped Coronis. “Cress, this is May, our new cryptobiologist. May, this is Cressida- we call her Cress. She’s all muscle on the outside, but don’t be scared, she’s soft and gooey on the inside. You two probably have a lot to talk about.”

Cressida wore an Arcane Suppressor behind her bangs, the dark grey metal block outwardly identical to Eve’s own. “We’re all witches down here,” she said sheepishly. “Guess you and I are a little more witchy than most, eh?”

Cressida’s speech was oddly clipped, she swallowed the last sound of most words. Eve wondered if it was a side effect of the AS interfering with her brainwaves or if she was consciously holding back. It’d be rude to inquire into her magic power, and Eve wanted to make a good first impression. “So what do you do, Cress?” she asked instead.

“Security… on paper. I don’t really do much securing, to be honest.” Cressida stared at Eve with fascination, then said the four words Eve dreaded most. “Have we met before?”

<== ==>

LUX #15

<== ==> 

Eve made her way over to Eirene who was huddled in a ball on the floor. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“…Is she gone?” Eirene murmured from behind her knees.

“She’s gone. You… didn’t see any of that?”

Eirene didn’t answer. “Thank you,” she said at last, looking up. “I- thank you.” Her eyes were red and bleary, her nose stuffed, her mouth smeared with blood.

“Come on, get up.” Eve tried to keep her voice gentle. “I’d help you, but… my powers won’t let me touch you.”

Ponderously, Eirene got to her feet and wiped her face. “W-what are you doing here?” she murmured, even quieter than usual.

“Just going for a walk. What was that all about?”

“Oh… um, nothing.” Eirene became very interested in the floor.

Eve was unconvinced. “She was beating the shit out of you over nothing?”

“Believe it or not, yes. I mean, it’s kinda hard to tell… maybe I did do something and Peitho just didn’t want to say. Or maybe something else had her mad.” Eirene shook her head in disbelief, as though she had just realized the absurdity of what she was saying. “I never know what she’s thinking.”

Eve decided to change tactics. “Stronger than she looks, though,” she mused. “Is that some sort of arcane power?’

“Y-yeah. It’s called The Only Thing To Fear.”

“…’Is Fear Itself’?”

Eirene smiled through a busted lip and bloody teeth. “She gets the stronger the more afraid you are. You’d have to ask Peitho about the specifics of how it works… not that she’d say.”

Curious. It was a somatikos power like Born from Atom since it only affected Peitho’s body… but it drew strength from the emotions of others, giving it an empathic quality. That was the fascinating part about magic powers, they so often escaped easy classification. Eve would love to spend days and days studying every aspect of Peitho’s ability to see what she could learn from it…

But now was not the time. “Wait, she was hitting you so you’d be scared of her?” Eve scoffed. That was sickeningly straightforward. “And knowing this, you’re still afraid?”

“I-I can’t help that. Fear’s not, like… logical. I know that Peitho wants me to be scared of her, that doesn’t do much to make me less scared.” Eirene hugged herself. “I’m n-not strong like you, May. Probably I’ll get the rest of the beating plus interest in the next few days.”

“I made things worse for you, eh?” The black pit in Eve’s stomach grew in size and heft. Of course Peitho would try again the moment she thought she could get away with it. Eve hadn’t protected Eirene, she had just made herself a target. “Well, in that case, the only option is for us to stick together.”

Eirene looked up. “B-but…”

“I’ll be your bodyguard. I may not look it, but I’m good in a fight. I’ve dealt with bullies like Peitho before, and they always seek weak targets. If she thinks you’re well-protected, she’ll leave you alone.” Eve’s anger left her for just a moment- the instant she noticed its absence, it returned.

Eirene didn’t look convinced, her muddy brown eyes glossy with tears. “For a time. But you can’t protect me forever.”

“Plenty of time to think about forever. Let’s just worry about tomorrow.” Eve turned to leave. “You work down here, right? I’ll probably set up shop one level above in the research lab. Where does Peitho hang out?”

“Work Areas, Deck 4. She’s, um, our personnel officer.” Eirene calmed down the more they talked, and although they couldn’t touch she stuck close enough to Eve that sweat was forming on her brow. “Probably the most powerful person on the base after Vice Director Nysa.”

As Eve suspected. “Libera’s just a puppet, eh?”

“It’s more like she doesn’t really care about what happens. I don’t think she even knows my name… to Libera, you’re either someone who can give her pleasure or you don’t exist. Or you’re Nysa.”

Wonderful. Not one day aboard Lethe-2 and Eve had already managed to tick off the two most significant people aboard. Classic. Even when her one and only goal was to not make waves, she still managed to leave a trail of enemies in her wake. She was like a cancer cell, infecting communities, undermining and weakening and ultimately destroying them.

While she’d usually despise herself for this, Eve was starting to think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if Lethe-2 was destroyed.

<== ==> 

LUX #14

<== ==>

Peitho turned her attentions back to Eirene. “You tell her to come down here?”

“No! N-no, no Peitho, I promise-” Eirene’s pleas were cut short with a hard slap to the face. She wept softly in Peitho’s grip. Rancor rushed through every inch of Eve’s body.

The white-haired woman returned her attentions to Eve. “You see? She belongs to me- and there’s nothing you can do about that. Turn around, leave this place, and never speak of what you saw to anyone. It’s the best for all three of us.”

Eve took another step forward. “Let her go.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “This is your final warning.”

With a disbelieving sneer, Peitho dropped Eirene and stormed over to meet Eve. “Big mistake, newbie,” she breathed. “I think I’ll teach you some respect.”

Eve just stared. Her bluff had been called… she couldn’t actually fight back. Throwing a punch would probably set off a chain reaction that would lead to Eve completely losing control and destroying herself, and Lethe-2 while she was at it. Even in the best case scenario where she regained herself, she would still end up killing Peitho and Eirene.

“I know all about your power,” Peitho continued. “Pyrostatic… static electricity, right? Oh yeah- I know loads of things. But it won’t do much with that little headband on, now will it?”

“You sure do love the sound of your voice, don’t you?” Eve asked, having no plan. “Make a move or leave.”

Her only hope was that her voice sounded scary enough for Peitho to leave without fighting. Much to her horror, Peitho made a move: she dropped into a fighting stance. Her posture was loose and casual, with the air of a professional boxer or a seasoned street brawler. She knew how to fight, and quite well at that.

Peitho skipped forward and threw a punch, all her body weight behind the explosive strike. Eve barely saw her move and couldn’t have dodged it in a million years.

The attack found its mark, the soft cartilage and brittle bones of Eve’s nose. Peitho was a lot stronger than her size would indicate: some sort of magical power, perhaps? Super strength, or maybe she was just freakishly athletic.

It was a devastating strike. Most people would be knocked out cold and would wake up with a shattered nose.

To Eve, it felt a bit like a butterfly had landed on her face. Peitho was the one who screamed.

“F-fuck!” she stared down incredulously at her hand. The flesh over her knuckles and metacarpals was seared an ugly dark red, and her three middle fingers were limp. They had shattered into a thousand pieces on impact. Peitho put her hand away and stared up at Eve, terror in her eyes. “W… what are you?”

Oh, how easy it would be to just pluck her head from her shoulders. To rip her heart out in one fluid strike. To singe the flesh from her bones until all that remained was a charred pile of bone scraps, to boil her and roast her until she was begging to be put out of her misery, to make this vile bitch suffer indescribable anguish for daring to even stand in Eve’s way. She went to grab Peitho and make her feel true pain-

And breathed. One and two and three. Four and five and six. Seven and eight and nine. It was all Eve could do to restrain herself from attacking. Instead she stared a hole in Peitho and controlled her breathing. “Get out,” she whispered.

Peitho ran past Eve and out the door. Eve watched her go, then took a minute to settle her temper. She counted to sixty. All the flames, all of the Eve that wasn’t to ever see the light of day, caged once more. Trapped in an unbreakable box beneath a thousand miles of concrete, never to escape. Peace. Discipline. Peace.

LUX #13

<== ==>

There really wasn’t much to Lethe-2. Eve hadn’t been here for a day and she was already starting to go a little mad at the prospect of seeing these exact same rooms every single day. No wonder this place had gone to the dogs.

Her last stop would be Deck 7, engineering. There was only one deck below that: the brig. Eve wouldn’t go down there… for some reason, she pictured it as a whispering abyss beckoning her forward so it could reach out and swallow her. These feelings of dread happened a lot with no explanation.

The engineering room was grimy and poorly ventilated… not that heat could possibly bother Eve. The machines again formed a lovely industrial harmony, all of them working together to sustain life (as it were) at the bottom of the ocean. She approached the engine and negative-mass generator, a great spherical machine that let out a sonorous hum as it milled massive amounts of energy to power the entire facility. Eve lay her hand on it and let the hum run through her, let herself drift… when a wet crunch sounded from the other room.

Something was broken. Her skin stood on end and she went to leave the way she came- but then her eyes drifted to the source of the commotion. It couldn’t possibly hurt to get a closer look, right?

Eve carefully inched forward, making sure not to put too much of her considerable weight into her steps, and stopped at the doorway. There was another clatter and a choked cry. There was someone in there.

She pressed her ear to the door “P-please,” she heard. A frail woman. “I-I didn’t mean it, please…”

Another crash and a squawk. “Don’t lie to me,” said another voice. Feminine, but that was where the similarities with the first voice ended. This one was strong and assertive, almost statesmanly. “You know how much I hate… liars!” A muffled cracking noise and a low moan of pain. “You said you’d keep an eye on her- instead I see you eating with your friends?”

‘Her’? Who was ‘her’? “Agh! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” the first voice choked. “I forgot, I swear, I won’t do it again, I’m sorry!”

She should go. This had nothing to do with her.

“What guarantee do I have?” the second voice asked. “How do I know this isn’t just you trying to trick me again?”

The first voice was gagged, choked, sobbing. “I-I didn’t… I didn’t try to trick you… urgh! Urgh! Urgh!”

“Stop that,” Eve said.

Wait, what?

With a heavy sigh, Eve realized she had opened the door and strode inside. The movement was completely automatic. Now she was involved, and nothing she could do would ever make her not-involved.

This room looked to be storage for repairs and replacement parts. There were two people inside, Eve recognized one of them. It was that small, soft woman from dinner, Eirene. The one who had looked like she’d break if handled roughly.

She had been handled roughly. Her lip was split and her clothes were in tatters, with a long tear in her shirt to reveal the pale flesh of her belly. Her left arm hung as though she couldn’t move it, her right arm was nursing her ribs, there were the beginnings of bruises on her neck, and her cheeks were shiny with tears of pain and terror.

The other woman, who was holding Eirene by her shirt collar, was beautiful. She had sculpted features, a small mouth like a ripe cherry, wide and dark eyes. She was gorgeous by any standards, buxom and feminine and in-shape. She had pale white hair that gave her a faintly ethereal quality.

Eirene’s blood stained her hands.

The white-haired beauty narrowed her eyes at the sight of Eve. “This is a private matter,” she scowled. “Go to bed.”

Eirene trembled like a leaf, her eyes overflowing with terror. Scared of Eve? No. Scared half to death of the white-haired woman.

“Let her go,” Eve said quietly.

The white-haired woman smiled grimly. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced, have we? I’m Peitho. You must be the new transfer. I’ve read your file… Maia.”

“I don’t want to talk. I want you to stop hurting her and put her down- before I have to make you stop.” Eve took a step forward.

Wait, wait, what was she doing? Charging in like an action hero to protect the weak from a sadistic bully? That was about as far-removed from keeping a low profile as possible. She may as well announce her identity over the PA system.

But it wasn’t right to let this continue. But she was sticking her own neck out for little Eirene, who had never done a thing for her. But it wasn’t right. But she shouldn’t. But she had to.

<== ==>

LUX #8

<== ==> 

She stared at Coronis with a frown, unsure what to make of these comments. “So dinner is ongoing?” she asked.

“Yeah! You hungry?”

“Not really,” said Eve. “I ate when I woke up.”

“Hmm? Oh yes… I guess it’s still morning for you. We’re a few hours ahead of standard time.” To Eve’s immense relief, Coronis led her to the quietest corner of the room. The owls here were all fully-clothed, none of them were passing around drugs, and all of them had food with their drinks. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet the new transfer! This is May Oread- she’s a cryptobiologist.”

“Pleased to meet you all,” Eve said, bowing her head and taking a seat.

“I’m Corey- I work in acquisitions. And yes, I do take requests, so don’t be shy to ask!” She giggled. “Lessee. Thumbelina here is Eirene- she’s the base sweetheart, please handle her gently. She works in engineering.” The small, pretty woman gave Eve a wave. “Next to her is Lerna, she’s our resident chemist. She cooks up the pheromone we use to ward off the big guys- so she saves our lives every day. The vision of perfection next to her is Ariadne, she’s a biological engineer who tries to reverse engineer the big guys- not much luck so far.”

“Bite me, Corey,” said the silver-haired beauty second from the left.

“Sure, I can pencil that in.” Corey chomped her jaw. “Just let me finish introductions! Lastly is Phoebe on the end- she designed the base, the pheromone emitter, and pretty much everything else. She’s crazy-wazy smart.”

Phoebe didn’t look up from her food or acknowledge that she was addressed. Eve liked her already.

“Hey, welcome to the base,” said Eirene. She had a soft, melodic voice. It was so nice that even Eve didn’t find it annoying. “How was your voyage?”

“Fine,” Eve said, forcing a polite smile.

“We’ve never had a transfer before- at least, I don’t think. Usually it seems like LUX command has forgotten we exist.” Eirene smiled shyly. My, but she was delicate: shapely features like a porcelain figure, a girlish physique, and frizzy dark red hair tied back.

“Try the food,” Coronis said, pushing a plate towards Eve. Eve absently took a bite, then took six more. It was delicious. The meat had the rich taste of lobster cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce, and the potatoes were perfectly seasoned. Eve, who had been eating tasteless waifers for months, found an appetite she previously had not noticed.

Some modest chuckles rocked the small group. “Good right?” laughed Coronis. “When I was in SMOKE back in the old days, the food was bleggggh. Down here we eat like Matres- a perk of deep sea life!”

“Your chef must be very talented,” Eve said carefully.

“Oh, Dryas is great,” said Coronis as an industrious little cook stirring a pot appeared beneath her chin. “We all love her. But it’s more about the budget. The stipend is super generous… there’s just not that much to spend it on.” She popped a baby potato in her mouth. “Plus there isn’t much to do down here. We haven’t got a bowling alley or anything like that. For some girls, food is their only thing to look forward to all day.”

Eve looked over at the three women who had been getting handsy with one another. Their foreplay had devolved into a writhing mass of limbs and gasps. One let out a shrill squeal as her limbs splayed. Nobody was reacting as if this was anything remotely unusual. “For only some girls, it seems.”

Annoyed, Eve refocused on her food. She was worried about a inevitable barrage of questions about herself and her past, but they didn’t come. The conversation was subdued and banal. Coronis, who Eve had pegged as a center of attention, seemed lost in thought. These must be the base introverts.

Now that she thought about it, Eve was completely starved for interaction. She even strangely enjoyed Nysa’s inquisition. It was a conundrum, and one she had never been able to resolve: she got bored and pissy when nobody talked to her, and defensive and short when people did. No matter what happened, mind-destroying fury was never more than two steps away.

After finishing the lobster-esque and potatoes, they had a dessert of tart lemon cakes with powdered sugar. They too were delicious- Eirene mentioned that the lemons were grown on-site in the hydroponics lab on Deck 4. Eve looked around for Libera and found her sitting near the center of the room. Most base directors would have had their own private table or dais, but that wasn’t Libera’s style.

She had also gotten brutally drunk. Her shoes and glasses were off and her beautiful hair was askew. Someone murmured something to her and Libera burst into hysterical laughter. Then Nysa helped Libera up and walked her out of the galley.

<== ==>