LUX #25

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Eve sighed heavily. Peitho was an obvious snake… but her offer made sense. As enemies they could only harm one another, and Peitho was clearly a control freak who wouldn’t rest until this threat was eliminated. It didn’t do Eve any good to take Peitho down, which would almost certainly give away her identity. To live their lives with blades pointed at one another’s throats simply wasn’t sustainable.

Meanwhile, Peitho’s abilities could be crucial in keeping Eve hidden. A manipulative sociopath was well-suited at keeping secrets unlike the obviously unreliable Coronis. “How am I to trust you?” Eve asked slowly. She didn’t want to take the offer, she would accept any reason to refuse… but she just wasn’t finding one.

“It’s easy to hide things in Lethe-2 from the outside world. Almost impossible to hide things from within the base.” Peitho’s smile grew and grew. “It’s a closed system, and gossip is the only meaningful currency we’ve got down here. Think about all the things you’ve learned since you got here yesterday, and how much of it is stuff someone would rather you didn’t know.”

That was absolutely correct. “So I couldn’t betray you, not without you finding out,” Peitho continued- she really did love the sound of her own voice, didn’t she? “We’d see each other every day. I can tell how sharp you are… do you really think I’d be so much of a bungler as to try anything while under such tight scrutiny?”

All very convincing. “And by the same token… how can you trust me?” Eve asked with a stony stare..

But Peitho had an answer ready for that, too. “You’re desperately hiding something, aren’t you? If I had any doubts before, this conversation confirmed it. You don’t have the luxury of making an enemy of me either. We can’t destroy each other… so we may as well become partners.”

Peitho, Eve noticed, had hidden both her hands under the table. So Eve couldn’t see her bandaged right fist and be reminded of the moment of their meeting. Eve took a series of deep breaths to center herself, then opened her eyes. “What would you want me to do?”

“Do whatever you like. Get high with Coronis. Actually do work. I couldn’t care less. Just let me tend to my projects in peace.”

“Like Eirene?” she asked crisply.

“You don’t understand what she and I have,” Peitho said smoothly, as though Eve had walked in on them arguing. “And honestly, what she and I do together isn’t your business.”

“You beat the shit out of her so you could feed off of her terror,” Eve said, compensating for the churning fury in her gut by forcing her voice to be flat and emotionless. “You’re just a big mosquito who looks like a person. You suck the life from the people around you to keep yourself strong… and you want me to become a part of it.”

“Far from it.” Peitho seemed unruffled by the comment. None of this phased her, or if it did it didn’t show on her face. “I want you to not be a part of it. Just leave us both alone. I know what it looks like, but I have no intentions of hurting Eirene.”

“So what was last night?”

Peitho looked away, her cheeks pinkening. “Err. That’s private. Let’s just say Eirene enjoyed that a lot more than you’d expect.”

What?” Eve felt herself move forward, although she had no input over this decision. Peitho put up her hands defensively. 

“I’m serious! She enjoyed it! That… that’s our foreplay, all right?” Now there was a genuine emotion: fear. Peitho had grasped the gap that existed between them physically… no wonder she was so intent on making an ally of Eve. “She likes it when I’m rough. All the squirming and crying is just… roleplay.”

Eve stopped a few instances in front of the desk, breathing to calm herself. She had come close to a meltdown right here in Peitho’s office. She scowled at Peitho. “Eirene didn’t mention that.”

“Would you give intimate details of your sex life to someone you had just met?” Peitho relaxed once she realized Eve wasn’t going to bound over the desk and crush her like a bug. “She gets off on it. Don’t let that nice girl routine fool you too much, she’s one kinky bitch. And I do care about her, quite deeply. She’s the most precious person in the world to me.”

During their first meeting, Eve had been able to tell when Peitho was sincere and when she was bullshitting. Today, it was harder: everything Peitho said sounded sincere enough. But calling Eirene her most precious person… Peitho was utterly inscrutable. She seemed to both completely believe it and know it to be false all at once. A truth-lie. 

Eirene had seemed half-hearted in her desire for protection. It seemed more like she desired company. And while she did seem afraid of Peitho, her feelings also struck Eve as more complicated than simply wanting her torment to stop.

Did it even really matter that much, what Eirene wanted? Eve didn’t have the luxury to predicate her decision-making almost entirely around how they made some random person feel.

Was Eirene miserable and vulnerable? Certainly. But Eve wasn’t a defender of the downtrodden. She was a monster a thousand times more vile than Peitho, and this knight in shining armor routine was little more than a charade. She was just using Eirene to fuel her delusion that Eve was somehow fundamentally decent. That was a laugh.

Perhaps protecting Eirene was the right thing to do all the same. But that right thing could lead to another meltdown, which would kill everyone aboard Lethe-2- including Eirene.

“I need… some time to think about it,” Eve finally settled on. “Let me get back to you.”

There was a flash of rage in Peitho’s eyes, one that quickly subsided. “By all means,” she said. “I don’t expect to be helped unless it’s out of self-interest on your part… which is something that warrants careful weighing. You know where to find me.”

Eve staggered out of the office feeling worse than she had in months.

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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.”

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LUX #14

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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

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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.

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