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[Fanfiction] Quest


Kalenath
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Quest

 

Ric was whistling as he worked. He wasn't wearing his warframe for this. Vauban warframes were great for some things, but not delicate electronics work. He had no idea why some people didn't like what he whistled. He had liked 'The Liberty Bell March'  as soon as he had heard it the first time, even before he had made it his life's work to emulate certain aspects of proper silliness. There was more than enough horror in the universe. He had dedicated himself from a very young age to making people laugh. He didn't remember everything. Indeed, there were gaping holes in his memory. But much of what he did remember was sobering, so he strove to keep a light and cheerful attitude no matter what the universe threw at him.

 

This did not always endear himself to his teammates, but his current group cut him a lot more slack than any of his previous clans ever had. He rather liked this group of eclectic individuals. Any clan of Tenno was going to be that way, but... This one went a little further than most. Case in point...

 

"How's that?" He asked as he finished up a connection.

 

"Um. Still blurry..." Cecelia replied, somewhat worried. "It shouldn't be, should it, Ric?" Her fear was easy to hear, despite her having the form of a MOA. Her long metal legs twitched a bit where she lay on the table, her housing laid bare to his expert ministrations.

 

"Easy, girl." Ric said with a soothing hand on her housing. The MOA was sensitive to touch and actually had admitted that she appreciated the tactile contact that other more organic sentients took for granted. "Whatever those scum did to you, we will find and fix. Have no fear. If all else fails, I'll say 'Ni' at the problem. That should work."

 

"Will you demand a shrubbery?" Cecelia asked with a somewhat timid laugh.

 

"A small one." Ric said with a laugh of his own. He liked this girl. Who cared if she was inside a robot body? She was a girl. "And I won't make you cut down a tree with a fish." He said gently. She laughed, but then gave a gulp.

 

"I am scared, Ric." Cecelia said with a sigh. "I really, really am. I don't know what those Corpus scum did to me before..." She paused and Ric rubbed her housing again. "Before Mari. And then the tower." She started to cry. MOAs did not secrete tears, but she was shaking and sobbing noises came from her. Small wonder, she had lost the being she considered her mother.

 

"I know, Cecelia." He said sadly as the choked sobs came from the MOA. "I know." For once his voice held no humor. "It's okay, girl. It's okay..." He soothed the distraught MOA gently.

 

"It isn't getting any better, Ric." Cecelia said with a sigh after a moment. "I... I thought it would."

 

"It hasn't been that long." Ric said, still rubbing. "You are grieving for your mother. No one blames you, Cecelia. No one. Not even the Black Knight would dare."

 

"You are all...so good to me." Cecelia said faintly. "Ric... I..." She made a noise of resignation. "I better get off my butt before Sensei finds out I am moping again and punishes me."

 

"Smart girl." Ric said with a snort as he stood back. The various openings on the MOA's housing closed on their own and he nodded as she jumped down from the table. She seemed to shake herself and he smiled. "Cecelia?"

 

"Yes?" The MOA asked.

 

"Don't ever change, girl." Ric said quietly. "You are braver than Lancelot and tougher than castle walls. We will find out what is messing with your vision."

 

"I was worried I was transmitting." Cecelia said with a grunt. "I don't want to endanger the clan. I don't want to fight again, Ric."

 

"You don't have to." Ric said with a snort."That is what we are for. Brave, Brave Sir Robin..." He hummed and Cecelia laughed as he had intended.

 

"Sir Robin? You are not that lily livered nut of a knight." Cecelia said as she came close. He let her nuzzle him, it was her method of giving reassurance. "More... Galahad." She said with a laugh as he swatted at her.

 

"Galahad?" Ric demanded. "Get out of here, you silly girl." He scowled dramatically, but Cecelia was laughing as she darted away. Only when she was gone did he frown in thought. "Galahad...?"

 

Why did that name send a shiver though him? The character in the movie that he loved so much had been...well...a dweeb was the best description. But then again... The whole point of the movie had been silliness. This...didn't feel silly. This...felt...

 

"Ric?" Karl's voice came from nearby and Ric turned to see Sensei looking at him. Karl wore his warframe and it was battered. Ric's eyes went wide as he saw the Clan Leader was carrying a Prime version of the Orthos he favored. That was new. "Everything okay?"

 

"Ah, I am okay, Sensei." Ric said , giving himself a shake. "Cecelia is having some trouble. Her ocular sensors are messed up somehow, but I cannot find a cause."

 

"Is she okay?" Karl asked, worried. Not surprising. Of all the inhabitants of the dojo, Cecelia was probably the most fragile psychologically.

 

"I don't know." Ric admitted, humor deserting him for a moment. "She is trying to remain upbeat. But she is scared." He shook himself. "Are you okay? You were gone for a bit. You look like you tried to storm a castle beside Arthur's Knights.." His eyes lingered on the damage the warframe had taken.

 

"Yeah, I am okay." Karl said with a nod. "The Michael problem is solved." Ric snarled at the name but nodded.

 

"I hope you made it hurt." Ric's normal good temper deserted him as he recalled finding Cora and Amelia unconscious. Jac and Michelle had been missing and while Jac had come back none the worse for wear, the pregnant Tenno had been very close mouthed about where she had been or where Michelle was. Odd for her.

 

"Oh, it hurt." Karl said dryly. "And it will hurt him for a long, long time. Crowley is not one to tick off."

 

Ric shuddered. The Nekros Grand Master had been...courteous, but there always the underlying feeling... The feeling that Life and Death to Nekros were engineering principles as opposed to the solid immutable facts to that they were most. It wasn't rational, that feeling. No, honestly, that fear. Ric knew that. He had... He paused. What?

 

"Ric?" Sensei asked, concerned.

 

"Hmmm?" Ric asked. Sensei was looking at him.

 

"You looked like you were going to say something." Karl said slowly. "Then you just stood there. You sure you are okay?" He asked.

 

"Tired." Ric said with a sigh. "Lots going on. Oh, the security codes have all been changed. Here is the new list Miguel and I compiled." He held out  a datapad to Karl who took it. "I can't be sure about anything that might be hardwired."

 

"Yeah." Karl said sourly as he took the pad. "I put in a few and I bet Nicholas did too. As for who he shared them with?" Karl shrugged. "One less."

 

"Sensei..." Ric said slowly. "The Tenno with the Nekros... They were both Primes and they not in any database we have access to." He paused. "Can I ask?"

 

"There will be a full briefing." Karl said quietly. "In the secure room." Ric's eyes went wide at that. The secure room was at the center of the dojo.  It was called secure because it was. No data in or out past the walls, shields, and armor. For Karl to have a meeting there... "We will have two new people coming in as well. I will introduce them there. But no one outside of our group gets any information. Clear?"

 

"Sensei..." Ric said slowly. "The Lotus..."

 

"No one." Karl said quietly, but with command. "I bet she knows, but she keeps secrets like nobody's business."

 

"I..." Ric nodded slowly. "I serve." He said calmly.

 

"Very well." Karl said with a nod. "Come on. We need to talk."

 

Ric shut down all of his scanners, then followed Sensei into the corridor. It was no surprise that Sensei led the way towards the center of the dojo. Other Tenno could be seen heading that way as well. Aeron was hovering near Jac who was taking is over protectiveness in stride. For now. They had all just had a massive scare. Two was walking with Amelia, their hands intertwined. Ric didn't really care about personal relationships. He had his tech and that was all that mattered. Will and Alicia were standing near the door that led to the secure room and Ric sighed silently as he saw Alicia touch her lover and Will shy a bit. The poor guy simply couldn't handle it sometimes. Sometimes he was okay with it, others... Ric paused as Karen appeared with both Cora and Miguel. Cecelia appeared from another corridor.

 

"Who is minding the shop?" Ric asked dubiously.

 

"We are on lockdown." Karl said quietly. "Until the meeting is done, no one enters or leaves. No coms." Ric's eyes went wide at that, but then he nodded. The dojo was self regulating. It didn't need much oversight except in emergencies. "Our new people are inside." He said as Ric looked around.

 

"There is more going on here than I know." Ric said slowly as the group passed the first doorway. The secure room was an airlocked environment. Truly secure. "I am not one of the 'disposable' knights, Karl." He complained a bit whimsically. "Don't order me to charge any killer bunnies, please."

 

"I am not going to throw you at any killer bunnies." Karl said with a sigh as the door ahead of them opened. "Whatever the hell that means." He said sourly.

 

"His name is not 'Tim', Ric." Cecelia said with a laugh. "And I don't see any long fan-" Her words choked off as the door ahead opened and two forms became visible ahead. Primes. A Frost Prime and... Ric went still. Was that a Saryn Prime?

 

"Tenno Karl." The Frost Prime said calmly.

 

"Close it." Karl commanded. Ric waited until all of the group were past the door and then hit the control to seal. The seals hissed and clunked, and then there was dead silence on the room. "Ok, everyone... This is Saun and Mori. They will be training and working with us."

 

"Guardsman Saun." Jac said quietly. "Good to see you again."

 

"I did not get the chance to beg your forgiveness." Saud said softly. "I offer apology for myself and Commander Petra."

 

"Commander?" Jac said with an incredulous look. Aeron looked from his wife to the Frost, then at the Saryn and then back at Jac who flushed. "I..." She shook her head. "You were obeying orders, Guardsman Saun. No one was killed. But for what it is worth, I accept your apology." He bowed his head.

 

"Where the hell is Michelle?" Amelia snapped. "What the hell happened?"

 

"Michelle is safer than any of us at the moment, Amelia." Karl said quietly. "This is going to be a shock. It was to me, Two, Will and Alicia. I had a Grand Master with me to share the shock when Jac told us.  But... Let me do this formally. "Clan, meet Guardsman Saun and Guardswoman Mori, both of the Orokin Royal Guard." Ric, Cecelia and Aeron all exclaimed. Miguel, Cora, Karen and Amelia just looked blank. "For those who don't know, the Royal Guard were Tenno selected and trained to be bodyguards for the Royal Family."

 

"But they all died in the Collapse." Aeron said softly. "With the Royal Family." He stiffened.  "Royal Guard never left their posts." He said slowly. "And I..." He paused as Jac hit him on the arm. "Ow! Jac?" He exclaimed.

 

"Aeron." For once, Jac was totally serious. "You need to hear this." Ric stiffened. For Jac to be serious... "Sensei?" Jac asked.

 

"Go ahead, Jac." Karl said quietly.

 

"I was with Michelle, forted up in Medical. With Amelia." Jac said softly. "Then I was hit by a trank dart and knocked unconscious. When I woke... I was lying on a bed, unharmed, unrestrained. An older woman was sitting by my bed with breakfast for me. She wore the Crown of Orokin..."

 

Ric felt his world suddenly start turning in circles as every eye in the room focused to Jac.

 

***

 

"Holy.... Fracking... Infested manure..." Miguel's soft words cut through the silence that had ensued when Jac finished speaking like a knife. "Orokin lives." Both Royal Guards nodded to him.

 

"A remnant of Orokin." Karl agreed quietly. "And this is why we are in here. And that is why no one is going to talk about this outside of here. At all."

 

"If the Grineer... Hell, if Corpus get word of this..." Cora said, her face dazed. "Oh my god."

 

"Exactly." Karl said with a nod. "As far as anyone outside of this group knows, Saun and Mori are newly awoken Tenno we found. We will need to come up with a better cover story."

 

"Sensei..." Cecelia said slowly. "I don't know if that will work." Everyone  looked at her and she seemed to wilt a bit. "I mean..." She stammered a bit.  Ric laid his hand on her housing and she leaned into his touch gratefully. "A Frost Prime, we might be able to explain. But a Saryn Prime? Or other Royal Guard Prime warframes with all Prime weapons? I..." She trailed off. "Sorry." She said , abject.

 

"Good point, Cecelia." Karl said with a nod. "Mori?" The female guard nodded, but her posture as unhappy.

 

"I can use another warframe and I have trained with other weapons." Mori said with a scowl that showed even through her closed helmet. "I remember bonding to this one and won't enjoy doing it, but secrecy is more important than comfort."

 

"Good." Karl said with a nod. "We have a selection of warframes now and can get more if needed. We will get a list for you. We have a selection of weapons, including some Prime designs. But as of right now, you are Saun and Mori, Tenno of my clan. You take my orders. We are less formal than some clans." Aeron coughed and Karl waved at him. "Hush." Karl said sternly, but it was obviously joking. "Give respect and it will be returned. Outside of the clan..." He paused and shook his head. "Some Tenno are honorable, others... not so much."

 

"Royal Guard don't talk." Jac said quietly. Saun and Mori nodded. "But we need to watch our tongues. Cecelia?"

 

"I..." Cecelia made a gulping noise. "Ric... Hit my override."

 

"Cecelia." Ric protested. That would take all volition from her! "No!"

 

"I don't trust myself, Ric." Cecelia said in a small voice. "If you hit my override and Karl gives a command, I cannot disobey it."

 

"No." Karl snapped as Ric turned a helpless look his way. "Cecelia, you are not  a slave. You are not a robot!"

 

"Karl, I am a robot." Cecelia said flatly. "The Corpus put in a bunch of overrides that Ric cannot remove without destroying me." Karl looked at Ric who slumped a bit and nodded. "I... Use the override. Command me to keep the secret and I will. It will hardwire into my systems and I will be unable to spill it."

 

"No." Karl said quietly as the room stilled. Jac and Amelia both stared a from the MOA to Karl and back. "Cecelia, you are not a slave. I refuse to treat you like one."

 

"Karl Sensei..." Cecelia begged, not moving as Ric's hand edged towards her shutdown switch. She had insisted that be installed in case she went berserk or something. "Please...?"

 

"Wait." Mori said quickly as the tension in the room seemed to sky rocket. "Um... If I may? Cecelia, how old are you?" Karl looked at her but did not interrupt.

 

"My organic parts were cloned almost two and a half years ago, but I...um... woke up less than a year ago." Cecelia said with a gulp. "Why?"

 

"Princess Michelle told us of you." Mori's voice was soft now. "She worried we might overreact. We have seen reports of the Corpus. But you are not Corpus. You were made by them and then remade by that deranged tower AI."

 

"I was." Cecelia said sadly. "Now I serve the Tenno." She said with a small motion towards Karl. "I don't want to fight." She pleaded. "And I don't want to be the cause of fighting! I certainly don't want to be the cause of my friends being hurt."

 

"You won't have to." Mori said quietly. "And now I understand why Michelle was so worried about our reaction to you, young one." Jac stared at the Saryn and then, unaccountably, smiled.

 

"What?" Cecelia asked, confused.

 

"You are a child, Cecelia." Mori said gently. "A very smart, very capable, very hurt child." She stepped towards where Cecelia stood frozen. "And I think we can help each other."

 

"What do you mean?" Cecelia asked, not moving.

 

"My people need resources and training, but mainly we need to do something." Mori said quietly as Saun stepped to her side, nodding. "We have watched and waited for far too long. We have sat and... and done nothing while horrors happened. It chafed upon all of us, Tenno and civilian alike. Now we can do more. Cautiously, carefully, but with all the precision and fury that we can bring to bear." She shook her head. "But... we must balance it as well."

 

"In all things... balance..." Cecelia said slowly.

 

"You have studied the Code." Mori said with a nod.

 

"I have." Cecelia said with a gulp. "But... Where do your needs leave me?"

 

"Somewhere safe where they just might be able to help you." Mori replied quietly. "Where you can learn all you wish. Where you can be who you are."

 

"But..." Cecelia said softly, relaxing a bit. "I don't know who I am." Ric had a sudden inspiration.

 

"Yes!" The male Tenno exclaimed.. All eyes turned to him and he smiled widely. "Cecelia!" Ric said brightly. "You have a quest!"

 

"A quest?" The MOA asked, incredulous.

 

"A quest to find who you are."

Edited by Kalenath
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Paths

 

"What?" The MOA sounded stunned.

 

"You heard me." Ric said with a smile. "Cecelia..." He said as the robot seemed to freeze in place. "Calm down. It's okay."

 

"I..." Cecelia seemed to shake a bit. "I know I am not rational at the moment. I...can't...seem to get past it."

 

"Cecelia." Ric was amazed that none of the others in the room had interrupted. The ones outside of warframes were watching, but silent. The ones in warframes were still. "Do you know what a 'Rite Of Passage' is?"

 

"Ah..." The violet hulled MOA paused and then made a noise of confusion. "The usual definition is a societal ritual performed in some cultures at times when an individual changes status. I don't understand. I am not going to change, Ric."

 

"Cecelia, you have changed since I have known you." Ric said gently. "When I first met you, I was cautious around you and you were terrified of me. Are you now?" He asked with a smile.

 

"Ah, no.." Cecelia replied. "But..." She seemed to quiver. "I... I  should stay in here. Cut off."

 

"No." Karl said quietly. "As I said, you are not a slave. We will not treat you like a slave or a prisoner."

 

"But..." Cecelia started top protest and broke off as Karl snarled a little. "Karl Sensei... I..."

 

"No, Cecelia." Karl's voice was flat. "We won't let you suicide. We won't let you wipe your memories and we will not take volition from you."

 

"But if someone does read my databases..." Cecelia said weakly. "Then the secret is out. Please don't make me responsible for that."

 

"You are not." Karl said with a nod. "Mori?"

 

"No communication is possible through the stellar corona." Mori said with a nod. "One of us..." She waved to Saun. "...needs to go in person."

 

"When?" Karl asked after a moment.

 

"We are supposed to take a report to Guard Commander Petra in five hours." Mori said with a nod. "The Princess also asked for an update."

 

"Why so long?" Amelia asked after a moment to digest that. "If you can just...teleport...?"

 

"It's not a teleport." Mori replied. "I am not up on all the tech, not my area of expertise. But the portals are generated from Avalon. They have enough power to handle the massive loads, but even they cannot do so indiscriminately. They have to keep to a schedule."

 

"If not a teleport...?" Ric said, curious. "Then what? I thought the radiation would scramble any signals."

 

"As I say, I am not a tech." Mori said, looking at Saun who shrugged. "But the techs talk about 'quantum entanglement'." Ric stiffened and Mori nodded. "The explanations always go downhill from that. I thought I knew my physics."

 

"Holy flying fanged bunnies..." Ric said, almost reverently. "Quantum entanglement transportation? I have seen the theory, but... Wow, the power needs..." He paused and then smiled. "That is why they built it in the corona. Solar accumulators would provide enough juice."

 

"I guess." Mori said with a shrug. "I don't understand it. Give me biochemistry any day."

 

"I don't want to go." Cecelia said, her tone abject. "Please, don't make me go." She begged Karl.

 

"Cecelia, tell me true." Ric said softly. "You are bored."

 

"No." Cecelia said sharply, jerking. "I am not! I..." She quieted as Karl looked at her.

 

"You have revamped all of our databases." Karl said quietly. "You reworked the search engine and optimized everything. I can handle the maintenance now and if I can, anyone can. You are bored."

 

"No!" Cecelia protested. "I..."

 

"You have upgraded every computer system we use." Alicia said softly, her voice concerned. "And even all the ones we don't. You don't have anything to do now, do you?" Jac stared from Alicia, to Ric , to Karl, then extricated herself from her husband and walked to Cecelia who was making sobbing noises. The pregnant Tenno laid a gentle hand on the MOA's hull.

 

"Oh, Cecelia..." Jac said softly. "Why didn't you say anything?"

 

"Everyone is busy." Cecelia said, dejected. Her legs folded as she sat on the floor. "I want to stay!" She declared.

 

"I know." Jac said sadly. "So do I." Cecelia stared at her and Jac sighed. "Cecelia, it was only by the grace of some unnamed deity that I wasn't hurt worse by what happened. If... If I had..." She broke off, then continued. "Cecelia, our security has been breached. We got complacent. And now..." She bowed her head.  "You need help we cannot give."

 

"You are my friends!" Cecelia said fiercely. "I..." She gasped and then screamed. "Jac!" She cried. "I can't see!" Jac laid a quick hand on Cecelia's hull, Ric was fast to do the same. "All optical sensors are reading on line, but I can't see! Help me!" She begged.

 

"Easy." Ric said as the room went still ."Easy girl..." He said as he started a diagnostic. "Alicia?" He asked after a moment. "Nothing shows wrong mechanically. Can you check the organic linkages? Hang on, Cecelia." He said, shifting as Alicia came close, her medical scanner out.

 

"Don't..." Cecelia begged. "Don't leave me."

 

"We won't." Jac and Alicia both chorused. They looked at each other and smiled, but then Jac wrapped her arms around the MOA while Alicia focused on her readings.

 

"Alicia?" Karl asked after a moment.

 

"I am not sure." Alicia said, her tone worried. "These readings. I need to check some things." She patted the quivering MOA. "It will be all right, Cecelia. We will find out what is happening and fix it." She pulled up a holo, obviously reading it very quickly.

 

"I am scared." Cecelia said in a tiny voice.

 

"Course you are." Ric said with a snort as he patted the MOA's hull as well. "But you are not alone. Come on, girl, calm down." He chuckled a little and then hummed  couple of bars. "We are Knights of the Round Table..." He sang. Cecelia jerked and then her rich voice joined in.

 

We're knights of the round table
We dance whenever we're able
We do routines and chorus scenes
With footwork impeccable

We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot

We're knights of the round table
Our shows are formidable
But many times we're given rhymes
That are quite unsingable

We're opera mad in Camelot
We sing from the diaphragm a lot

In war we're tough and able, quite indefatigable
Between our quests we sequin vests
And impersonate Clark Gable
It's a busy life in Camelot

I have to push the pram a lot

 

Cecelia was alternating between chuckling and crying as Ric finished up the silly song.

 

"Better?" Ric asked kindly.

 

"You are crazy." Cecelia said with a gulp. "But... yes."

 

"So they say." Ric said with a grin. He paused a Mori looked at him. "Yes?"

 

"When you have a moment, we need to talk." Mori said quietly.

 

"About?"  Ric asked, caution in his tone.

 

"That tune." Mori said with nod. "Do you know the others?"

 

"Let's not turn this into a musical." Karl said with a sigh. "Alicia, Jac, Ric, stay with Cecelia. I need to figure out how to get Serene here without telling her what is going on."

 

"What?" Cecelia asked, confused. "Why not?"

 

"Because the Tower systems do not know that Avalon survived." Will of all people said. Will didn't talk a lot, so when he did, people tended to listen. He wasn't antisocial, just focused. "And while the Tower systems are secure from outside intrusions, the Lotus and any Tenno who visit..." He trailed off as Cecelia made a noise of comprehension.

 

"One wrong question and the secret is out." Cecelia agreed. "Um...I might...be able to help." Even not being able to see, she could apparently feel when all eyes landed on her. "I have been... corresponding with Sara."

 

"I see." Karl said, his tone painfully neutral.

 

"Nothing sensitive!" Cecelia protested. "She is lonely. Mishka helps and the Tower is a good place for them to learn, but..." Cecelia sighed. "She is lonely." She repeated. "Sara is worried about Serene. Very worried."

 

"Okay." Karl said with a nod. "Will, get Saun and Mori set up with quarters. Miguel, see what weaponry we have available that suits them. Aeron..." He paused as Aeron nodded.

 

"Acquaint them with the dojo training areas." Aeron said quietly. "Right, boss."

 

"Don't call me 'Boss'." Karl said with a snort. "Alicia, Amelia, Jac, Ric, get Cecelia to medical and find out what is happening to her."

 

"Medical?" Cecelia asked weakly.

 

"If it's not mechanical, Cecelia..." Ric said gently, still holding his hand on her hull. "Then it has to be organic. Something to do with the linkage between your brain and the machinery. We will help you."

 

"Sensei..." Two spoke up from where she lurked. "If Serene goes to Avalon, can Lis go with her?" Ric turned to stare at Karl who had stiffened.

 

"I... I don't know." Karl said softly.

 

"Who is Lis?" Mori asked.

 

"Lis is a former renegade Tenno." Karl said quietly. "The clan who held this dojo, who built it, went rogue. I hunted them down." Mori nodded soberly. "She...wasn't truly renegade and rebelled against the leader. But... She was hurt while escaping and led them to the tower and well... The punishment for unauthorized entry is clear. As is the punishment for violating their rules of hospitality."

 

"Yeesh." Mori said with a gulp. "Eternal servitude. I see. I will ask. But... probably not. Why?"

 

"Lis foreswore her allegiance to Nicholas." Karl said quietly. "She swore to Serene."

 

"She did?" Mori said with a frown in her voice. "I...see..." She shook her head slowly. "That may provide an option. I am not sure."

 

"She is a good kid." Karl said with a sigh. "She also has a crush on me."

 

"Oh." Mori said with a nod. "Well, I will go as soon as our scheduled report time comes around. I should be back an hour after that."

 

"Okay." Karl said. "Cecelia..." His voice turned gentle. "You okay?"

 

"No." Cecelia said honestly. "But I won't make you punish me either." Mori and Saun both looked at Karl as he chuckled a bit.

 

"Good girl." Karl said with a nod. "Okay, we go do what we have to. Two, you have that recon op. Saun, Mori, go with Will.  Everyone else, you have your orders." He stepped close to the MOA and laid a slow hand on Cecelia's housing. "We will help you." He promised.

 

"I hope so."Cecelia said weakly as the door clunked open and all the others filed out. Amelia, Alicia, Jac and Ric stayed next to Cecelia. "I... what do I do?"

 

"Can you walk?" Amelia asked.

 

"I can't see, Amelia!" Cecelia snapped, and then was immediately apologetic. "Sorry. I am being a big baby."

 

"Fear is understandable under the circumstances, Cecelia." Jac said in a soothing tone. "Let me be your eyes." She laid a hand on the MOA"s boxy weapon housing and the other underneath Cecelia. "Can you get up?"

 

"I..." Cecelia gulped and then sighed. "Yes." She rose slowly, Jac maintaining contact as the others stepped back. "You can't hold onto me all the away to medical."

 

"Oh yes I can." Jac said with a small smile. "Come on, one foot, then the other." Cecelia started off, careful to stay balanced. Amelia smiled and darted off. Alicia and Ric stayed close as Jac guided the MOA carefully from the secure room. "So... What do you think of Serene's daughter Sara?" She asked as they walked. "I have never met her."

 

"Technically, she is Amelia's daughter too." Cecelia said with a soft noise that could have been dismay or humor. "She is brave, kind, funny. But sad."

 

"Yeah." Jac agreed. "After what she, Amelia and Serene all went through, no one blames her."

 

"She is trying." Cecelia protested. "She is doing the best she can. She is only ten."

 

"Technically, she is less than that." Alicia said softly. "Since she was flash grown, she is just a little older than you."

 

"Could she be having these same problems?" Cecelia asked. "She never said anything to me about such things."

 

"Possibly." Alicia said after a moment's thought."Cloning causes all kinds of problems, as the Grineer have shown. But you don't show any of the classic cellular decay. Matter of fact..." She paused. "No..." She mused. "Not possible."

 

"What?" Cecelia demanded.

 

"Don't mind me, Cecelia." Alicia reassured her. "Just thinking aloud."

 

"Anything to take my mind off of this." Cecelia said with a groan. "Anything?"

 

"Anything?" Ric asked with a grin.

 

"Um..." Cecelia paused and then laughed a bit hysterically. "No. Not anything from you." Ric pouted loudly and she laughed a bit more naturally. "I like you, Ric, but... Not you."

 

"That just shows that you are a sane and sensible person, Cecelia." Jac said with a laugh. "And here we are." The doors to medical hissed open and Amelia was waiting with Jimmy, the cyborg medic.

 

"Come on, Cecelia." Amelia said kindly, stepping up to place her hand on Cecelia's weapon's mount beside Jac's. "Let's find out what is wrong, shall we?"

 

"There is not enough space in the scanner ward for all of us." Alicia said quietly as she gave Ric a significant look. "We will wait here." He nodded silently.

 

"Okay, Cecelia..." Jac said leading the MOA into another room with Amelia and Jimmy at their sides.  "Nice and easy..." The door hissed shut, cutting off any further conversation.

 

"What?" Ric asked quietly.

 

"Can she hear us?" Alicia asked just as quietly. Ric touched a button. "She is...so fragile."

 

"Yes she is." Ric agreed. "She can't now. Not that she would eavesdrop. What is wrong with her?"

 

"I don't know." Alicia admitted. "All I have are guesses."

 

"Best guess?" Ric asked. "Cause I am stumped. This isn't the twenty eight questions to cross the Lake of Fate."

 

"No." Alicia said with a grin that didn't show. "I really don't know, Ric. Nothing in any of our files that we have from the Corpus experiments shows anything like this."

 

"Alicia." Ric pressed. "She is scared out of her mind."

 

"If what I think is happening is happening... It's going to get worse." Alicia said quietly. "Lots worse."

 

"How worse?" Ric asked, dazed.

 

"She will lose the ability to move, then hear, then talk." Alicia said softly. Ric paled and Alicia nodded. "Yeah."

 

"She is already halfway to insane!" Ric said sharply. "This will push her right over!"

 

"I know." Alicia said quietly. "Tell me true, Ric. Can you crack that black box that her organic parts are in?"

 

"Maybe." Ric said a bit carefully. He had looked at the anti-tampering systems. Very carefully. Corpus anti-tampering systems were no joke at all. "Why?"

 

"We need to get her out." Alicia said quietly. "We need to get her out of the shell and into something that can sustain her."

 

"Alicia..." Ric breathed, horrified. "She can't survive out of that shell!"

 

"I know." Alicia said, leaning against the wall for support. "But if I am right, and every reading says I am even though common sense and normal science say I am not..." She slumped a bit. "I thought I understood the Corpus horror. I really did. I was wrong. None of us comprehended what they had done."

 

"Alicia, you are beginning to scare me." Ric said slowly.

 

"Good." Alicia said with a half hearted snarl. "Because I am F***ing terrified. The implications... I really hope we got all the cloning samples this time. If they do it again... That poor kid."

 

"Alicia... What the hell?" Ric demanded.

 

"I..." Alicia pulled up her holo display. "You know we have been scanning Cecelia for some time, trying to determine how the Corpus did what they did?" Ric nodded. "We all assumed that the Corpus did the same thing that they did to Serene's daughter Sierra."

 

"Didn't they?" Ric asked, feeling a bit sick. No one would blame him. A girl having her brain removed to be placed in a MOA was horrifying. Alicia shook her head. "What then?"

 

"These are the scans that I have been taking." Alicia said, a series of holos appearing so that Ric could see them. They were obviously of a human brain. She pointed at a fuzzy patch below the brains in each of the five holos. "Note this. It's important."

 

"Okay." Ric said with a nod. "Cecelia's brain?"

 

"Yes." Alicia said quietly. "And this... is what I took a few minutes ago." A new holo appeared beside the others. In this one, the fuzziness was less. An indistinct mass appeared below the brain. It wasn't clear but it obviously was flesh.

 

"What is that?" Ric asked, peering at the oddity.

 

"I was never an OBGYN." Alicia said quietly. "I have been researching things to help Jac." Another holo appeared nearby as the first set of holos faded. "This is a scan from a human woman in the sixth month of her pregnancy..." Ric hissed in stunned recognition. "Yeah." Aside from Cecelia's brain, which was outsized, the rest of it was identical to the new holo. "Cecelia's brain wasn't removed from her body. Her body's growth was stunted somehow while they grew her brain. And now? Its growing again."

 

"That is not possible, Alicia." Ric said softly. "She would know."

 

"Would she?" Alicia asked reasonably. "The Corpus lied to Mari, they lied to Cecelia. What is to say they didn't lie to each other about what was done to make Cecelia and the others like her? Small wonder the others she spoke of went mad. Cecelia is going to lose all the connections to her senses, Ric as her new body gestates. All of the neural linkages will fail, be severed as her human body's nerves develop."

 

"No..." Ric stammered, undone. "I..."

 

"We need to crack her shell Ric. Soon." Alicia said with a sigh.

 

"Or?" Ric asked, dreading the answer.

 

"She will outgrow it... and die."

Edited by Kalenath
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Age and Experience

 

"You...are kidding..." Cecelia's voice was weak. Then again, she lay on her side on one of the medical tables, her housing open so the medial scanners could access her innards. "I am a baby?"

 

"No." Alicia said sadly, her hand gently tracing the MOA's weapon housing. "Your brain is fully developed. It's your body that is only now developing. The reason you cannot see is that your brain has changed. The nerves don't connect in the same places in your brain anymore."

 

"I..." The MOA trailed off, thinking hard.

 

Ric had remained. Alicia had shared her findings with the others and all had been horrified. Well, except for Jimmy who was incapable of horror. Then they had broken the news to Cecelia. Jac sat by the MOA, her hand on the robot's quivering knee. The others let her think.

 

"Am I Mari's baby?" Cecelia asked after a moment.

 

"In every way that matters, yes." Ric said before anyone else could. For once, his voice held no humor at all. Everyone else let him speak. "She protected you. She nurtured you. She loved you. You were her daughter. Are her daughter." He said fiercely. "Cecelia... I know you are scared."

 

"You know..." Cecelia said faintly. "I am not. I thought I was going crazy. But... if there is a rational explanation for all this..." She sighed and spoke in a calm voice. "What do I do?"

 

"Normal sedation won't work on a MOA and turning your systems off would hurt you." Ric said when the others looked at him. "So... What we can do is remove you from the situation."

 

"Remove me?" Cecelia asked carefully.

 

"You have been in virtual worlds." Ric said with a nod. Cecelia made a noise of understanding and he continued. "What we would do is crack the box, insert a probe to make contact with your brain matter and draw you into a virtual world. We would let you manipulate it as you choose while the docs remove your organic material from that housing and place it in a safe environment."

 

"And if I lose it?" Cecelia said, worry sounding. Not fear, just worry.

 

"You won't." Ric said quietly.

 

"Why?" Cecelia asked suspiciously. "How can you be sure?"

 

"You won't be alone." Ric said with a firmness in his voice that hadn't been there before.

 

"Ric..." Cecelia said softly. "You... No... If I do go bonkers, I can hurt people."

 

"You won't." Ric repeated, still quiet. "And it won't be me, at least... not just me."

 

"Who then?" Cecelia asked.

 

"That would be me." Saun said from the door. All eyes, even Cecelia's non-functioning ocular sensors turned to him. "You need help. The clan has offered, but I am here and not occupied at the moment, Lady Cecelia." The formality should have been goofy. It wasn't.

 

"I am no lady,..um... Saun." Cecelia said softly. "Just Cecelia."

 

"Evil has touched you." He said softly. "It has left its mark upon you, sullying your innocence and hurting you sorely. It is the duty of any who would face such evil to assist those who were hurt in the fight against it."

 

"Saun...I..." Cecelia stammered. "I don't know..." She quivered again. "Alicia? Is it starting?"

 

"Yes." Alicia said sadly. "You will lose control of your extremities first."

 

"I am afraid." Cecelia said slowly. "Not for myself, but all the clan. I... I don't...want to leave you. Go... away." She did not say to where.

 

"You will be missed, Cecelia." Jac said kindly, rubbing the housing. "But you won't die if we have anything to say about it. And who knows? Maybe we will be able to come back."

 

"Right..." Cecelia said after a moment. "You are going too. I..." She made a growling noise. "Do it. And Ric..." She said.

 

"Yes, Cecelia?" Ric asked as he stepped forward, tools in hand.

 

"Dispose of this chassis as soon as  you can." The MOA said firmly. "Do not try to study it further. I bet the Corpus included something special in case the brain case was opened or removed."

 

"They did." Ric said flatly. "We have all the data we need on you housing. As soon as you are out of it, it gets tossed out an airlock."

 

"Crush it first." Cecelia said as he started working. "Just in case."

 

"Teach your grandma to suck eggs, Cecelia." Ric said with a laugh that was almost like his usual self. "I was planning to add a sizable plasma charge to it when I tossed it."

 

"Good." Cecelia said in relief and then paused. "That's...cold..." She made a noise, then jerked.

 

"Try not to move, honey." Jac begged her. "It shouldn't be long."

 

"I am not afraid." Cecelia said softly as Alicia helped Ric into the harness that would let him access the virtual world made for Cecelia. He sat in a special chair they had rigged for him, one connected to the computer systems. She gasped again and then was still.

 

"Done." Ric said as he stepped back. "Probe in place. She is mapping to the virtual world now." He took a deep breath and moved to where another chair like Saun's had been set up. "The anti-tamper systems are offline. As soon as you are done, get the chassis to airlock three. I left the plasma satchel charge there. Hook it up to the chassis, set the timer for five minutes and cycle the lock. Getting the organic parts out will be delicate but straightforward. More doc work than tech work." Amelia and Alicia both nodded as Alicia came close, connecting him.

 

"And she needs you." Jac said in a monotone.

 

"And she needs us." Ric replied as she sat, letting Alicia fuss. "Hopefully, this won't take too long. We will get her situated and then take turns staying with her. Ready?" He asked and Saun nodded. "Once more, unto the breach... charge!" The world fell away.

 

***

 

It was quiet. It was dark. Ric materialized in the dark emptiness, he heard nothing for a moment, then soft crying sounded. He was standing on a solid surface, but nothing was visible.

 

"Cecelia?" He called. "Where are you, girl?"

 

"Here." Cecelia called from nearby. "But I still can't see!" She complained. "Why can't I see?"

 

"It's your world. Lady Cecelia." Saun said, materializing at Ric's side. "Turn on the light."

 

Suddenly Ric was dazzled by brilliance. He stood in his Vauban warframe, Saun beside him in his Frost Prime. They were standing in a large, square room. The walls and floor were composed of shimmering golden energy, crosshatched by darker bands of energy. But it was the figure who knelt on the ground in front of him who had his heart flying into this throat. The little dark haired girl was crying, hugging her knees. She wore a Tenno bodysuit.

 

"Cecelia?" Ric asked gently, commanding his warframe to retract his helmet. He heard Saun's helmet retract as well. "You okay?" He asked, squatting down in front of her.

 

"I feel...weird." The girl said in a recognizable voice. "I'm all squishy... I sound weird."

 

"You sound like someone I know." Ric said with a grin. "A certain crazy girl I know."

 

"Ric..." Cecelia begged. "Help...?"

 

"Come here." Ric said, holding out his arms. The girl stiffened as he touched her, then she was in his arms and crying. "Easy, girl..." He said softly, stroking her hair. "Easy..." He looked up and nodded as Saun laid a blanket that had appeared out of nowhere around the girl's shivering form. "Easy, Cecelia." Ric said quietly. "It's all right."

 

"I am such a wuss." Cecelia said into his shoulder. "Such a coward. Why do you put up with me?"

 

"Because you are neither a wuss nor a coward." Ric said quietly. "You are also not a silly English k-nig-hit, or a man with an outrageous accent who shouldn't be where he is." Cecelia chuckled wetly and Ric smiled. "I don't know what is going to happen, Cecelia. What I do know is that you are my friend."

 

"Some friend." Cecelia said sadly. "All I seem to do is cause problems for you to solve." She stiffened as he slapped her arm.

 

"Stop that." Ric commanded. "If you keep denigrating yourself in my presence... I may have to sic Sir Bedivere on you. He wants to try out his scales again. Do you know the airspeed velocity of an un-laden swallow?" Cecelia chuckled.

 

"African or European?" She asked with a slightly strained grin that eased.

 

"That's my girl." Ric said with a matching grin. "Better?"

 

"Yeah." Cecelia said with a gulp. She hugged him again, then looked at herself. "I... This is a normal human form?"

 

"Yes. We had to make a basic form for you. We picked a common genotype from your DNA." Ric said quietly. "If you don't like it, you can change it here."

 

"I can?" Cecelia asked. "I mean...I turned on the lights, but..."

 

"This virtual world is yours, Lady Cecelia." Saun said calmly. "You control all parameters except the safety protocols."

 

"I..." Cecelia shook her head, still clinging to Ric, who let her. "Why? You could put me in any environment you wish. Why let me choose?"

 

"Couple of reasons." Ric said quietly. "First, we don't want you bored." He said with a grin."Second, we want you calm. Third, and to me, most important, we want you to think about what you want."

 

"What I want?" Cecelia asked, confused. "What do you mean?"

 

"Cecelia..." Ric said gently. "There are no guarantees in life." She looked at him and shook her head.

 

"There is one." Cecelia said sadly. "We don't get out of it alive." Ric sighed and slapped her arm again. "Hey!"

 

"Stop that." Ric said with a snarl that was only half faked. "I am not going to let you mope in here anymore than I let you mope out there."

 

"I..." Cecelia seemed to wilt. "If this is a virtual world... Can I make Mari?" Ric shook his head. "Why not?" She demanded.

 

"You can, but you shouldn't. You could make a simulacrum that looked and acted like Mari, Cecelia." Ric said slowly. "But it wouldn't be her. Seeing it would hurt you, very badly. If you believe nothing else I say, Cecelia..." His voice was totally serious now. "Please believe that. A virtual simulation is not the one you loved. I speak from painful personal experience, Cecelia. Please... don't go there." Saun looked at him, the other Tenno's face unreadable.

 

"I..." Cecelia swallowed heavily. Then she hugged Ric tight, tears falling like rain. "I miss her! I miss her so much!"

 

"I know." Ric said softly returning the embrace gently. "But there is something we can do here. Something that I think will help."

 

"What?" Cecelia asked when she had cried for a bit.

 

"Cecelia..." Ric said quietly. "Every culture I have ever heard of has had Rites of Passage. Some were silly, some were incredibly dangerous, but all served the same purpose. They teach you about yourself. You need to learn who and what you are."

 

"But... I..." Cecelia swallowed. "I thought... Somehow I thought I would get another robot body." Ric shook his head. "Ric, I..."

 

"You are not a robot, Cecelia." Ric said quietly. "We could make you a body like Jimmy's. It would be wrong. You are human, not a robot."

 

"But all I know is being a robot." Cecelia said weakly.

 

"I know." Ric said with a smile. "Hence why we are here. You can learn about your body and your mind in a safe environment."

 

"How?" Cecelia asked, concerned.

 

"Do me a favor..." Ric said quietly. "You saw the dojo's Zen garden?" Cecelia nodded. "Can you make one here?"

 

"I..." Cecelia paused as the scene around them changed. The walls of energy vanished, replaced by gray metal. The ceiling vanished into a mist of fog and the floor was suddenly white sand. A bench appeared nearby and a large wooden archway appeared over it. Saun nodded and stepped out onto the sand. He left no footprints as he knelt slowly into seiza. Cecelia stared around, shocked. "This is... I..."

 

"This is not real, Cecelia." Ric's tone was very gentle. "You control all parameters except the safety protocols. You want to make it a castle in the clouds, or a domed habitat under a sea, or anything else you desire -within reason- and you can."

 

"This...must be a drain on the dojo resources." Cecelia said, dazed. "Why waste it on me?"

 

"Per Karl, 'It's not a waste'." Ric said with a nod. "You need time to come to grips with your new status. Time runs the same here as outside." Cecelia stiffened and Ric nodded. "When you wake up in the real world, you will be changed. Very changed from the way you were. This place is intended to give you a chance to acclimate to your changes. To ease yourself into your new circumstances."

 

"Why?" Cecelia asked, confused. "I thought Tenno met change head on."

 

"We do." Ric agreed. "But you are not Tenno, Cecelia." The girl stared at him and he sighed. "The first clones the Corpus produced, Sara and Sierra, were made from Tenno tissue. You were not. If you choose to follow our ways, you may eventually become Tenno. But as of now, you are a scared, hurt human girl who happens to be my friend."

 

"I..." Cecelia breathed, almost reverent. "I could become Tenno?"

 

"You could." Ric said with a frown. "But it is a hard life, Cecelia. Don't jump into anything. Find out as much as you can and make an informed choice." He took a deep breath and then let it out. "That is for later. For now..." He gave her a squeeze and then let her go. "Saun can help you calm yourself and start you on the path to knowing yourself. Once that is begun, your quest can begin. But you have to want it. It will not be easy or quick."

 

"I want to get better." Cecelia said in a low voice. "I want to be what Mari wanted me to be. Myself."

 

"Good girl." Ric said with a smile. "I need to go back, see how it is coming. Saun?"

 

"I will remain until relieved." Saun said with a nod. "Lady Cecelia?" He indicated a place on the sand beside him. Cecelia rose and walked to him, flushing as her feet left imprints in the sand. "Do not fret. Balance is hard to achieve, but it is the core of all of what we are. It is needed in all things."

 

"I am no Lady." Cecelia said as she knelt.

 

"We disagree." Saun said with a smile as he nodded to Ric who nodded back. "Now, breathe with me." Cecelia closed her eyes and listened to the Tenno's breathing, matching it with her own.

 

Ric smiled as he keyed to return to his body.

 

***

 

Something was wrong! Ric wasn't back in his body! He opened his eyes and froze.

 

"Hello Ric." The small female Tenno said sadly as she looked at him. Her hair was golden blonde and her face was small and petite. She was pretty, not beautiful, but pretty. Well, not beautiful to anyone but him. They stood in what looked like the great hall of an old Earth castle. "You are in trouble."

 

"I am in trouble?" Ric asked sarcastically. He shook himself. "Of course I am in trouble. I am always in trouble." He shrugged. "You are going to be in trouble when they find out you scampered off, Gwynn"

 

"I didn't." The woman said sadly. "I have permission to talk to you. Ric, tell them." Ric shook his head. "Ric, please!" She snapped. "I am dead. You cannot help me anymore! You don't need to protect me anymore!"

 

"I gave my word." Ric said softly. "I keep my word."

 

"It wasn't your fault!" The woman nearly screamed. "Ric! Please!" She begged him as he bowed his head.

 

"I gave my word." Ric focused himself and vanished.

 

"Damn you, Ric!" The woman screamed as she fell to her knees,  tears starting to fall. "Don't..." She begged the empty air. "No." She sobbed.

 

"It's not your fault, Gwynneffar." A somber female voice preceded an Ember warframe appearing nearby. It...was not a normal Ember. It had gold in places. A Prime. "He made his choice."

 

"Why did I cheat on him?" Gwynneffar sobbed. "Why? Oh why did I cheat on him? He was such a good Tenno... I..."

 

"I don't know, sister. You were young. He was gone far more often than he should have been." The Ember said sadly as she pulled the sobbing woman up and held her tight. "I don't know if those are the only causes, but this I do know. It's time to go home."

 

"Home?" Gwynneffar said in a monotone. "My home is gone, Ember. Gone because of my stupidity, gone because of his honor. He won't tell them. They will kill him and he will die without telling them. He won't join us! He will go into oblivion to protect my honor even when it doesn't matter anymore!"

 

"Gwenneffar, it is his choice." Ember said sadly. "Come on. We don't know what the future holds, but you need rest."

 

"What I need is for my husband to wake up and realize that he is tilting at windmills again." Gwynneffar said with a snarl. "All this time, all these experiences, fair and foul and he is still being stupid!"

 

"Age and experience do not necessarily mean wisdom." Ember said with a sigh. "But we can hope."

 

"Hope? What hope? They will kill him, Ember. It wasn't his fault, it was mine!" Gwynneffar said as she started fading. "And they will kill him."

 

"I know."

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You did not just do that...

 

Ric came back to himself chilled. What had happened? He had left Cecelia's virtual world and... He couldn't remember. He shook himself, mysteries later.

 

"Status?" Ric asked calmly.

 

"Brain case is open." Alicia said with a nod from where she stood nearby. "Amelia and Jimmy are better surgeons than I am, so they are handling the disconnections from the chassis. There are a lot of them."

 

"True." Ric said, shrugging to ease tight muscles. "Cecelia is coping. Saun is meditating with her."

 

"There was an odd fluctuation." Alicia said with a curious look at him. "When you exited. Only a few milliseconds, but you didn't seem to be either here or in the virtual world." She disconnected the leads that had connected him to the virtual world.

 

"I don't think anything happened." Ric said slowly. "But then again, virtual interfacing can wreak havoc on short term memory." He rose slowly and stretched. "I will run a diagnostic on the interface and then check my memory before I go back in. Last thing I want to do is add more mass to Cecelia's tipsy scales of sanity."

 

"Agreed." Alicia said with a shiver then paused as Amelia cursed. "Amelia?"

 

"We got her." Amelia said quickly. "But something just started blinking. It was under her brain."

 

"Don't move!" Ric shouted as he threw himself forward. "Don't..." He pleaded as the cyborg started to retract with the glistening blob of flesh that made up Cecelia's organic parts. He eased past Amelia who had frozen in place with Jimmy and stared down into the now open MOA chassis. "Not...good..."

 

"What is it?" Alicia said quickly.

 

"Motion sensor." Ric said softly. "Concealed by the mass of tissue. Didn't show up on scans because of the box material." He took a deep breath. "Ok...Corpus Mark XVII A-89 dead man's switch and motion sensor." He swallowed. "Here is what we do. I am going to pick up the MOA and slowly take it to the airlock. Any sudden movement will set off the MOA's reactor." Three inhalations responded to his calm declaration. A MOA's power system wasn't that large, but it was powerful. "We need the doors open between here and the airlock. Alicia, when I pick it up, slowly walk to the door and open it. Then stay here and help Cecelia." He eased his arms under the mass. It was very heavy outside of his warframe, but he lifted it an inch at a time.

 

"If it is a dead man's switch..." Alicia said as she walked carefully to the door and opened it. "Why hasn't it gone off?"

 

"I garbled the primary detonation sequence. But this design has a backup timer." Ric said with a nod. "I spoofed the timer when I jammed the anti-tampering systems, but..." He shook his head, careful not to jostle the chassis.

 

"How long?" Alicia asked as he passed her, stepping carefully. "And why isn't it disabled?"

 

"In order, you do not want to know..." Ric said as he made his careful way towards the next door. At least it was a short trip to the airlock form there. "...and I couldn't." One did not simply turn off Corpus anti-tampering systems. Disable them temporarily? Spoof them so they didn't think they were being tampered with? Sure. For a while. Turn them off? That was a one way ticket to 'Boom'.

 

"What?" Alicia demanded.

 

"Close the door." Ric said as he started off, aware that the blinking light was flashing faster now. When it stopped flashing... Well... The good news was that he couldn't feel a thing. And now, he was far enough away that Cecelia and the medics would be clear of the blast radius.

 

"Ric!" Alicia's voice was taught with fear.

 

"Close the door!" Ric barked. "And make sure the corridor stays clear!"

 

He continued walking slowly and carefully, praying that no one else was close. He had messed up. Again. He blinked. Where had that come from? He sighed a bit. Time to check his memory after this. The cryonesia that all Tenno suffered had robbed him of a lot of his past, but much of it was clear.

 

"Ric?" Karl's voice came from up ahead. "Problem?" Ric saw the Rhino ahead, near the airlock.

 

"I missed a trap." Ric said quietly. "Get the plasma charge, hook it up. Set it for two minutes. Then I will lay this thing down and we can cycle the lock. The out gassing will push it far enough away for the charge to incinerate it without scorching the paint."

 

"If it is motion activated..." Karl said reasonably as he picked up the small demolition device and waited for Ric to close. "Then the out gassing will set it off."

 

"It might not. And if it does? Better here than Medical." Ric said firmly. He smiled as Karl hit the airlock controls. "Plant the charge. Slow."

 

"I have done demo work myself." Karl said mildly as he reached out with slow, careful fingers to attach the small Tenno device to the Corpus monstrosity. Then he froze as the blinking light...vanished.

 

"Crap!" Ric snapped, then jumped into the airlock, slamming his elbow into the 'cycle' panel. He wasn't in a warframe or space suit. But he was also out of options.

 

"Ric!" Karl shouted as the airlock sealed behind him.

 

"Once more...unto the breach..." Ric said softly, then exhaled mightily, closing his eyes tight. The outer door hissed open and he was... Something wrapped around Ric as he threw the chassis away. A bright light...

 

***

 

"Of all the stupid, pig headed, spit for brains testosterone driven male plans..." The irate female voice was loud. Very loud to Ric's ears. He tried to move but an avalanche of pain told him he was better off not. He tried to open his eyes and they wouldn't. "Oh no. Don't you dare! Not after all that!" Something touched his arm and he felt most of his body relax. He hurt.

 

"Ow." Ric complained.

 

"Be glad it hurts, moron." Alicia. This was Alicia. And she was seriously unhappy. "Of all the stupid... Why didn't you just set it down like you said you would?"

 

"No time." Ric groaned out. "Thirty second timer. Damage?"

 

"Dojo's paint is scorched. I will take it out of your pay." Karl said quietly from nearby. "You are a mess."

 

"Who pulled me in?" Ric asked slowly.

 

"Paranoia pulled you in." Karl said dryly. "This situation was one we envisioned actually when we built this place. People did try to smuggle bombs into Tenno dojos on occasion. The safety net worked as intended. It grabbed you to keep you from being blown out, let the bomb travel away as the airlock started to close. Luckily blasts don't propagate well in vacuum so you have tissue damage from decompression, but not a lot of blast trauma."

 

"Sensei, with all due respect..." Alicia snapped as hands touched Ric in various places. "Butt out! Ric needs Medical. Now."

 

"I..." Ric started to protest, but the pressure of an injector on his arm had him falling.

 

***

 

"Idiot." The sour voice was the first thing Ric heard on waking again. Amelia was unhappy. "Of all the stupidly heroic plans... Have you ever heard the words 'vacuum without a spacesuit is bad', Ric?"

 

"There was no time." Ric said softly. Not that he could do much more. His throat hurt and his voice was rough. He also couldn't seem to move. "I was... I knew we only had  couple of minutes at most. Then it triggered..."

 

"You scared us all, Ric."Amelia said as a hand gently touched his arm. "When the blast shook us, we thought you were dead."

 

"Been dead." Ric said quietly. "I hurt too much to be dead again. How bad? And...Cecelia?"

 

"Cecelia is better off than you." Amelia said sourly. "Her body is ensconced in a pod filled with a nutrient solution very similar to the compound that was in her braincase. She will grow in that pod, slowly. According to Saun who came out to see what the fuss was about, she is handling her confinement very well. You..." She sighed. "At least you were not in vacuum long and you exhaled so there is minimal lung damage. Some throat lacerations. But mainly the rapid changes in pressure hurt your ears and eyes. You will need some reconstruction."

 

"I need to do a memory check." Ric said softly, trying to get comfortable. Nothing really hurt now. It was more an ache, concentrated in his face, ears and throat. "I think something happened when I exited the virtual world."

 

"What you need to do is relax." Amelia said with a snap. "You are not moving until we repair the damage. We are going to put you in with Cecelia. I bet she wants to talk to you too." Ric winced at the malicious humor in the doctor's voice.

 

"Doc, I am sorry." Ric said with a sigh. "There was no time."

 

"You scared the hell out of all of us." Amelia said softly, a hand tracing Ric's forehead. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised, you acting like a knight and all."

 

"I am a knight, Amelia." Ric said softly.

 

"What?" Amelia asked, confused.

 

"The order of knighthood I belonged to ceased to exist in the Collapse, Amelia." Ric said quietly. "I am the only survivor. Good riddance." He muttered.

 

"You never said anything about this before." Amelia said worriedly. "Let me check a few things. What kind of knight?"

 

"I am not proud of it, Amelia." Ric said, lying back. "What is past is past. What is done is done and cannot be undone."

 

"You know, I think this is the longest I have ever heard you talk without quoting that fracking movie." Amelia said with a laugh. "I kind of like it."

 

"Amelia?" Ric said with a grin.

 

"Yes?" She replied absently.

 

"Ni!" Ric said with a wide smile as she groaned.

 

"I knew it was too good to last." Amelia said with a snort. "Just lie there and let me finish these checks."

 

"Ni!" Ric said with a laugh.

 

"If you don't stop saying that, I am going to sedate you." Amelia warned.

 

"Party pooper." Ric said with a fake pout. But then he sobered."I want to run some mental exercises. May I?"

 

"As long as you don't move or quote that movie, it's fine by me." Amelia replied. "What for?"

 

"The last thing I want to do is add anything to Cecelia's burdens." Ric said in a serious voice. "Alicia said that my return from the virtual world was...off. I don't think anything happened, but I am not sure. I want to be sure."

 

"Fair enough." Amelia said with a sigh. "Go ahead. These scans will take a bit."

 

Ric relaxed and focused his mind as he had been taught long ago. He barely remembered most of his training, more dream like fragments than actual memories. But the skills were so ingrained that he didn't really need to focus on anything, he could -and had- done many of his mental exercises in his sleep. What he found did not surprise him. His memory had been altered.

 

"Doc?" Ric said after a moment.

 

"I am a bit busy, Ric." Amelia said, cross. "What?"

 

"My memory was tampered with." Ric said softly. Amelia inhaled sharply and he sighed. "Not sure by who or how, but... it was." Amelia cursed and Ric nodded a little. "I know."

 

"Okay." Amelia said slowly. "We are going to put you back in with Cecelia. I will run a full series of scans, see what, if any alterations I can detect."

 

"Amelia..." Ric said, worried.

 

"Ric, you are bleeding out your ears and your eyes...well...They froze." Amelia sounded as if she were biting her lip. "We cannot sedate you normally. Alicia shouldn't have drugged you the way she did."

 

"Scared her." Ric said softly. "Didn't mean to scare you all." His voice turned sad. "Never mean to scare people, distress them. Just happens."

 

"Ric, it's okay." Amelia said gently as a hand touched his again.  "I will monitor you closer this time, try to see what happens and why. Relax, let me finalize the connections."

 

"I..." Ric sighed and started to speak quietly. " A knight is sworn to valor." Amelia paused whatever she was doing as Ric continued. "His heart knows only virtue. His blade defends the helpless. His might upholds the weak. His word speaks only truth. His wrath undoes the wicked."

 

"What is that?" Amelia asked, stunned.

 

"The Code of the Order of the Sword." A new voice sounded. Ric did not move as Mori's voice came closer. "I might have known."

 

"I was quoting another movie." Ric said quietly. "One called DragonHeart."

 

 

"Is that so?" Mori asked softly. "First that song, then this... Who were you, Ric?"

 

"I don't remember." Ric said softly. "I remember an oath of knighthood, but I don't remember if I was in the Order of the Sword." A rough hand grabbed his left arm and exposed his forearm. "Ow." He protested mildly.

 

"Mori!" Amelia said, distressed.

 

"The Order of the Sword were terrorists, Amelia." Mori said with a snarl. "The worst kind of scum." Ric didn't speak and Mori sounded confused. "No brand..." At Amelia's interrogatory noise, Mori spoke softly. "They branded each of their members with a symbol of a sword on the left arm. The final initiation rite. After the recruit did their first act of violence against their enemies. Usually a bomb in a place crowded with civilians." Ric slumped but did not resist as she checked his other arm.

 

"You are distressing my patient." Amelia snapped. "Get out."

 

"Amelia..." Mori began, only to be cut off.

 

"Get." Amelia sounded like a she dragon protecting her eggs. "Out!"

 

"Mori..." Ric said as the hand withdrew. "I don't know if I was or not. I remember...what they did. If I was... Do what you have to do." He said quietly.

 

"Ric, shut up." Amelia snapped, patience gone. Something touched his head and the world fell away again.

 

***

 

Ric came back to himself kneeling in the Zen garden that Cecelia had made. But now, it was decorated. A shrine sat on one side of the sandy area and a series of rock had been laid seeming at random around the area, some regular, some irregular. All different sizes ranging from pebbles to one that was the size of an old style hovercar. Ric nodded to both of the other occupants. Saun returned the nod and vanished.

 

"Ric?" Cecelia asked evenly.

 

"Yes, Cecelia?" Ric asked as he sat on a rock. It was sloped sharply, so he had to focus on balancing.

 

"Saun told me you got rid of my chassis and hurt yourself doing it. That was dumb." Cecelia said with a glower. "Brave, but dumb."

 

"Your chassis was going to self destruct, Cecelia." Ric said quietly. "I missed a trap. It wasn't connected to the rest of the anti-tampering systems." He sighed sadly. "No one else was hurt, so it's a win in my book."

 

"You were hurt." Cecelia said calmly. "That is not a win in my book."

 

"We each have our own distinct points of view, Cecelia." Ric said quietly. "From one point of view, what I did was the height of stupidity. From another? It was needed. If the chassis had self destructed in Medical..."

 

"It would have killed me and hurt others." Cecelia said slowly. Ric nodded silent. "Thank you. But I still think it was stupid."

 

"Hindsight is always clearer than foresight, Cecelia." Ric said with a smile. "But nowhere remotely as valuable. If we had possessed time, I would have used a drone to move it. We didn't. The timer was counting."

 

"I was scared you were not going to come back. Saun said you were hurt." Cecelia said with a swallow. "I..."

 

"It's all right, Cecelia." Ric said quietly. "They are putting me back together as  we speak. So... what have you been thinking?"

 

"I have been thinking on what I am." Cecelia said, her tone equally quiet. "I am not a robot. I can accept that now. I think so anyway..." Ric nodded but remained silent. Cecelia shook her head. "You are going to make me wax eloquent aren't you?" He raised an eyebrow and she snickered. "Don't..."

 

"'The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.'" Ric said with a smirk. Cecelia laughed.

 

"Is that so?" Cecelia demanded humorously and then spoke in a deeper tone. "Well... 'Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government.'" Cecelia said with supremely dignified silliness. "'Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.'" They both laughed.

 

"We both have way too much time on our hands." Cecelia said when they finished laughing. "But that was a fun movie."

 

"Yeah." Ric agreed. "Anyway...back to you?"

 

"All right." Cecelia said with a nod. "I feel... odd. Not physically, although that too. I feel as if I am not totally here." Ric looked at her and she shook her head. "I know I am not. I know this is a virtual world, but... This is more... I don't know. Unreal?" He still didn't speak and she grimaced. "It's like... Nothing is real? I don't know."

 

"Technically, nothing is." Ric said softly. Cecelia stared at him and he shrugged. "Cecelia... 'Real' is a concept that defies easy explanation. What is real for one person is not for someone else. You don't have access to your databanks now, do you?"

 

"Um... Some." Cecelia said with a wince. "Not directly and not as easy, but I backed everything up."

 

"Good." Ric said with a nod. "But that leaves you here and me here while they fix my eyes."

 

"Your eyes?" Cecelia asked slowly. "What did you do?"

 

"Um..." Ric felt his face start to heat. "I missed a trap. A dead man's switch ad motion tracker. I had to get the chassis out of the dojo so I took it to the airlock and... it activated."

 

"If my chassis had exploded with you holding it, you would be in a million pieces." Cecelia said suspiciously. "What did you do?" She repeated.

 

"I had to toss the chassis into space. I... um... cycled the airlock without a suit." Ric said sheepishly, Cecelia inhaled in horror and he shook his head. "Hey! It worked! I..." He was unprepared for her to jump across the intervening distance and hug him tight. "Cecelia... I..." He stammered as he realized she was crying. "Hey..." He said gently soothing her.

 

"You silly English K-nig-ht." Cecelia said, hugging him tighter. "I love you."

 

"What?" Ric stammered.

 

"You heard me."

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Thoughts

 

"Cecelia..." Ric said slowly, still holding the crying girl. "You are not thinking clearly."

 

"I have never been clearer in my life." Cecelia said softly, her face buried in his shoulder. "I was afraid of you. When we first met, they told me you were a tech, and I knew next to nothing about Tenno except that one had hurt Mari, my mom." Ric didn't speak and she continued. "When Mari collapsed, when you brought us here from the Grineer ship... I was so scared and you... You came in and made a funny noise. You... You worked so hard to make me laugh... I..."

 

"I could tell the moment I saw you that you were young, hurting and terrified." Ric said softly. "I was trying to calm you down."

 

"You succeeded." Cecelia said, hugging him tighter. Her nose was running, dripping on him, but he didn't care.  "You were so scary in your warframe... You undid you helmet and made funny faces at me until I laughed. You told me everything you were doing and why. You explained everything even though it took far longer. You were so good to me."

 

"Cecelia..." Ric said quietly. "I do like you. But the word 'love' is wrong."

 

"Actually... According to ancient philosophers, there were several forms of love." Cecelia said softly. "The Greeks called them Agape, Eros, Philia and Storge. In order, spiritual love, physical love, mental love and affection. Eros is not on the table. Not now , not ever." Ric stiffened, but Cecelia wasn't done. "I am too young, for one thing. For another..." She sighed. "I know you have secrets. I don't care."

 

"Cecelia... I..." Ric said softly.

 

"This is more Agape." Cecelia said with a nod. "I don't expect you to return my feelings. But I do love you. Not the same way I loved Mari. Or the way I love Karl, Will and all the others who have given me time, given me space and helped me through my troubles. You make me laugh, Ric. You make me cry. You are everything I hope to be, everything I aspire to be." Ric felt fear blossom.

 

"Cecelia, stop." Ric said softly. "You don't really know me. You have fallen for an ideal, not a person."

 

"I know. That is why I am not saying it anywhere but here, silly English k-nig-ht." Cecelia said, squeezing Ric again. "I know my emotions are all screwy, so I don't know if this will last. I want it to. Oh my goodness, I want it too. But you cannot always get what you want. Or Mari would still be here." She bowed her head a little.

 

"Oh Cecelia." Ric said, smoothing her hair gently. "It's all right. I am...flattered. Stunned, but flattered." He shook his head. "Thing is, you don't know me. I don't know me."

 

"Huh?" Cecelia asked intelligently.

 

"You know about the cryonesia, Cecelia." Ric said with a sigh. "It hit me harder than most." Cecelia stared up at him with red eyes and he shrugged. "I remember bits, pieces. But I don't remember most of it. I remember kneeling while a man I cannot place tapped my shoulders and head with a sword tip." Cecelia inhaled sharply.

 

"You are a knight?" She demanded. "Really?"

 

"I don't know." Ric said with a sigh. "Was it a drama of some kind? Some kind of weird training? Or something worse?" He asked his tone turning hard.

 

"What do you mean, 'worse?" Cecelia demanded. "How can being a knight be bad?"

 

"Cecelia." Ric said quietly. "In the movie, why did the Black Knight do what he did? Why did he kill everyone who tried to follow that path?" Cecelia stared at him.

 

"I don't know." Cecelia admitted after a moment.

 

"Neither do I." Ric said quietly. "Breaking the Fourth Wall, it was needed for the movie at that part of the plot. And the fight was hilarious. But in the story... it is never said. There could have been dozens of different reasons to block the path, some noble, some not. We don't know. And..." He slumped a bit. "I am wondering how much I don't know about myself."

 

"Ric?" Cecelia asked gently. "What is wrong?"

 

"When I woke in medical, I said something. I am not sure why." Ric said slowly. "Mori was there and she... Well, she did not react well to what I said."

 

"What did you say?" Cecelia asked after a moment.

 

"A knight is sworn to valor." Ric said quietly. "His heart knows only virtue. His blade defends the helpless. His might upholds the weak. His word speaks only truth. His wrath undoes the wicked."

 

"Poetic." Cecelia said with a shake of her head. "But... What does it mean?"

 

"It's a take on the Code of Chivalry. It's a quote from another movie, one called 'Dragonheart'." Ric said quietly. "It is also..." He paused and took a deep breath. "Apparently part of the oath that the members of the Order of the Sword took."

 

"The what?" Cecelia asked. "I don't know that group."

 

"Good." Ric said soberly. "They were terrorists." Cecelia stiffened and withdrew a bit. Ric let her. "As far as I can remember... I wasn't affiliated with them. But... There is a lot I don't remember."

 

"You are not a terrorist." Cecelia said slowly.

 

"Cecelia, we don't know that." Ric disagreed in a calm voice.  "I could have been."

 

"Is there any way to recover those memories?" Cecelia asked. "Like files that have been deleted?"

 

"Human memory is chemically based." Ric said with a sigh. "Tenno likewise.  Prolonged cryo damages or changes a lot of the chemicals that make up memory. Short answer? No."

 

"I am sorry, Ric." Cecelia said soberly, hugging him again. "What happens if they decide you were one of those 'Order' people?"

 

"A trial and then an execution." Ric said soberly. "Some of the Order were rogue Tenno, Cecelia. The precedent was set and followed." He said when the girl hissed in horror. "And... They deserved it. They were the only group -in my opinion anyway- that warranted the death penalty. Every last one of them. They targeted civilians almost exclusively, Cecelia."

 

"Why?" Cecelia asked, dumbfounded. "Tenno do not target civilians."

 

"Tenno do not target civilians now, Cecelia." Ric corrected her. "Mainly because the Grineer don't have civilians, Corpus civilians are few and far between, and the Infested?" He shrugged. "Irrelevant. All Infested are combatants."

 

"I... I don't get it." Cecelia said slowly. "Everything I have heard of Orokin says it was a golden age. A time of peace and plenty. Why...?"

 

"I don't know." Ric admitted. "If I ever knew, I don't remember. But throughout human history, there have been many groups who disagreed with ruling parties. Sometimes through lawful channels, sometimes...not."

 

"Then we need to prove your innocence." Cecelia said with a shake. "How do we do that?"

 

"Cecelia, I might not be innocent." Ric said quietly.

 

"I don't care." Cecelia said with a snarl. "Until proven otherwise to me, you are." She hugged him again. "You do have some memories, yes?"

 

"Some." Ric agreed. "They don't all make a great deal of sense. The damage seems to be random. Cecelia, you need to be ready in case..." He broke off as she squeezed him again.

 

"What I need is to focus myself on something." Cecelia said quietly as she released him and returned to her space. "And this will do nicely. When I can, I will look up all available information on this Order. Until then, we both need to focus."

 

"I keep seeing you as a little girl, Cecelia." Ric said sadly. "You are not. I apologize."

 

"No offense taken." Cecelia said with a smile. "I am less than two years old, so I guess I am a little girl." She shook herself a bit. "What do I do?"

 

"What do you want to do with your life, Cecelia?" Ric steadied himself on his rock and nodded to her. "And don't say live with me happily ever after." He said with a fake glower.

 

"Drat." Cecelia mock pouted, but nodded and continued seriously. "I want to help people. But... Not fighting. I don't want to fight anymore. Just the thought of hurting people makes me sick."

 

"There are lots of ways to help people, Cecelia." Ric commented. "Medical, legal, engineering and construction, to name but four broad categories. There are lots more."

 

"Medical is kind of icky." Cecelia said with a frown. "Legal... Hmm..."

 

"Don't do it for anyone else." Ric cautioned. "Do it for yourself. If you try to please anyone else, you will wind up unhappy." He paused. Something...

 

"Ric?" Cecelia asked, concerned again.

 

"I... I think I said that to someone once." Ric said slowly. "Or...something." He shook his head, the memory refused to come. "Whatever it was, I lost it. You need to think on why you want to help people and how you might do it best." He nodded as Saun popped back into the virtual world. "Saun."

 

"Ric." The guardsman said calmly. "Your eyes are fixed. You are needed."

 

"Okay." Ric said with a sigh. "Cecelia wants to help people but is not sure how. Cecelia...?" She looked up at him and he smiled. "Look at your strengths and weaknesses. You know more about them than anyone else." Cecelia nodded a little. "Think about what you want to do and why. Then see if you can fit your strengths to those options. You also need to look at your weaknesses. You do not need to follow the Tenno Code, but it can provide some framework for you to start from."

 

"This will take a while." Cecelia said dubiously.

 

"It takes as long as it takes, Cecelia." Ric said with a sad, fond smile. "You are building your future. Lay a solid foundation and you can grow from that." He bowed his head. "I am honored by your feelings, Cecelia, but mind them." Saun looked at him and Ric snorted a bit sourly. "Don't tell me that you and Amelia were not listening." Saun did not react and Ric shrugged. "Back in a bit. I hope." He focused himself.

 

"He is not a terrorist!" Cecelia said fiercely. Ric was gone before he heard Saun's reply, if there was one.

 

***

 

This time, there was no disconnect. He woke in Medical with a quiet argument raging. His eyes were covered, but didn't hurt anymore.

 

"For the last time, Mori, 'no'." Amelia said with a snarl. "You are not mind-scanning him with our gear."

 

"Doctor, he is corrupting your friend." Mori said quietly. "You heard what she said."

 

"And if you repeat it outside of this clan, I will have Karl beat the crap out of you." Amelia said with a snarl worthy of an irritated mama bear. "And he will. You don't know her. You didn't see her when she arrived the first time. She was terrified of her own shadow when she arrived. She was so timid she could barely talk to me!  You haven't seen her with him. He pulled her out of her shell, him and Jac. They truly like each other."

 

"And that is what makes him so dangerous." Mori said, still calm. "They could lie in wait for years, decades, before they struck. If..."

 

"Mori." Amelia snapped. "Your whole argument is based on the assumption that he is guilty. I refuse to treat him as guilty until proven that way."

 

"The proof may be him blowing your head off, doctor." Mori said with a sigh.

 

"Doc." Ric spoke as Amelia drew in an angry breath. "Calm down. Mori is right."

 

"Ric!" Amelia protested.

 

"As for me corrupting Cecelia?" Ric said with a shiver. "You heard what she said, didn't you?" Amelia didn't reply so Ric took that as a 'yes'. "She knows her emotions are flip flopping. She understands that she has fixated on me and that may not be a good thing. I need to stay away from her for a bit."

 

"She won't understand." Amelia said, scared.

 

"Yes, she will." Ric said with a sigh. "She is not a little girl, Amelia. I made the same mistake. She is young, but not a kid. Mori is right." He could almost feel Amelia's disapproval. "What little I remember of the Order of the Sword is horrifying, Amelia. If I am a sleeper agent..."

 

"There are no signs of programming." Amelia sounded upset and who would blame her? "And I have looked carefully."

 

"I don't doubt you have, doctor." Mori said diplomatically. "But they were very good at hiding their agent's triggers." Now her voice turned sad. "They were known for that."

 

"You know how much a deep scan hurts, Mori." Amelia said with a snarl. "And he may not even be one!"

 

"Amelia..." Ric said softly. "I might be."

 

"Damnit!" Amelia sounded between anger and tears. "I... I will need to clear it with Sensei. If we do it, I will do it. I don't trust you." Ric sighed as fingers touched his face. "Easy Ric. Let me get the coverings off. The regen took so you should be okay."

 

"Inconceivable." Ric said with a grin. Amelia paused and groaned. "What?"

 

"What is it with you and those old media files?" Amelia asked with a strangled snort. "You spend more time perusing those than on the shooting range."

 

"I like to laugh." Ric said with a shrug as her fingers removed the last of the bandages. "Can I look now, momma? Please?" He asked in a wheedling little boy tone. Amelia choked on another laugh and then sighed.

 

"Slow." She commanded. Ric opened his eyes a crack and they worked. He smiled as he saw Amelia bending close, a dark green mass looming behind. The Saryn looked...anxious. She had exchanged her Prime for a regular version. "Well?" Amelia asked.

 

"I can see you." Ric said with a nod. "No blurring, no flashes. You do good work, doc." His tone turned serious. "Mori... I don't remember." He said quietly. "But I don't expect you to take my word for it. What do you need?"

 

"A genetic sample and a mind scan." Mori said calmly. "I will take both when I report."

 

"Okay." Ric said with a calm he didn't really feel. "Doc? Call Karl. Get permission."

 

"He is with Serene, trying to get the stubborn woman to get off her duff." Amelia said with a grimace. "I don't think..."

 

"Mind scans take time, Amelia." Ric said with a grimace of his own. "Call him."

 

"All right." Amelia moved to the com until nearby and started speaking into it as Mori looked at Ric.

 

"If you suspicions are true, I will not resist, Mori." Ric said softly. "And yes, I do remember the punishment."

 

The Order of the Sword had been... evil was probably the best word. Their tactics were brutal, their targets people who could not fight back. The response from the civil authorities had been... overwhelming. Hanging, drawing and quartering was a gruesome punishment. Barbaric, but effective. Orokin hadn't had a death penalty until the Order had made them revive it.

 

"I mean no offense." Mori said quietly. "You seem a good Tenno. But.." She shrugged helplessly.

 

"But they were murdering scum!" Hatred welled inside Ric and he paused. Where had that come from? He paused. "I just..."

 

"What?" Mori asked.

 

"When I said the words 'murdering scum'..." Ric said slowly. "I felt a flash of hatred. Not anger, hatred and rage. But... I have no idea why." Mori stiffened and spoke.

 

"'Murdering scum'?" She said quietly. Ric stared at her and she shrugged. "It might have been a trigger phrase."

 

"That would have been too easy." Ric said whimsically. "Tenno don't do easy."

 

"Not in my experience, no." Mori agreed, a smile hidden behind her faceplate. She shook herself. "I don't mean to be..." She trailed off as Ric waved at her.

 

"I am sure you remember more about them than I do." Ric said calmly, not mentioning the fact that Mori's home likely had files and files on them. "What little I do remember is horrifying enough. The Choya nuke. The Luna bunker buster. The..." He paused and then spoke softly. "Princess Gwynneffar." Why did that name send a shiver through him?

 

"We remember." Mori agreed. "We will never forget." Ric nodded. The Royal Guard had lost an entire detail with the princess when the Order had killed her with a fuel air explosive during a speech. The crowd had gone with them. Thirty thousand souls, gone in a flash of light.

 

"If I am one of them, I can only hope I am the last." Ric said sadly. "If I am not one of them, I forgive you."

 

"They would probably consider this fallen era perfect for themselves." Mori said with a wince. "They could plot and scheme, murder, torture and more. And get away with it. But if you are not, my life is forfeit."

 

"Bull." Ric snapped. Mori stared at him. "You are doing your job! Kill yourself for making a mistake? What are you, ten? Everyone makes mistakes. Some can be fixed. Some can't... be..." He paused again. "What the...?" The feelings were...

 

"What?" Mori asked, concern mounting again.

 

"Some mistakes can't be fixed." Ric said slowly and then screamed as the world exploded inside his head.

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Was that his trigger phrase? or just some other mind-screwy Orokin stuff?

 

Nothing quite so simple or innocuous.

 

 

I'll repeat my question:

What in the name of all things holy have you done Kal?

 

Well... Let's just say that there are certain people you do NOT anger...

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Memory Lane

 

Ric could hear raised voices, but the pain in his head was overwhelming. But then...

 

A flash and...

 

Ric was kneeling in front of a man in ornate robes, who held a sword. The man tapped Ric's right shoulder, then his left, then his head with the tip of the blade. The man smiled as he withdrew the sword.

 

"Welcome to the family, Sir Ric." The man said with a fond smile. "And now, the important part..." He turned to where a pretty girl was standing in a white dress, her face a mask of worry. "You would do it anyway, silly girl. But I figure you could do far worse, so you have my permission to wed this Tenno. Now that he is a knight, no one will complain. Much anyway."

 

"Thank you Father." The girl said with a wide smile.

 

Another flash...

 

 "Gwynn, don't be stupid." Ric said sharply. "I didn't ask you to change for me. I never did. I never will."

 

"I do love you, Ric." Gwynn said softly from where she stood. "And I want to show you how much. I wanted something of you. I never see you. You are always off, doing things for Father. You can't talk about them, I know that. But I never see you. And someday... You may not come back!"

 

"Gwynn..." Ric said helplessly.

 

"I want your child."

 

Another flash...

 

The pretty girl was crying as Ric held her.

 

"I didn't mean to, Ric." She said sadly. "I swear I didn't mean to. He was at the hospital. He was around the new mother's class. He was nice. He wanted to talk. And then... it got more. He... I..."

 

"I need to report this." Ric said sadly. "Just to the Royal Guard." He said as the girl stiffened. "They need to see if you have been...tampered with. Drugs or...worse."

 

"Please don't tell them!" She begged. "My father will be mortified!"

 

"Better mortified than in mourning, Gwynn." Ric said sternly. "Just the Guard. They don't talk. You know this."

 

"No!" Gwynn said sharply, breaking from his embrace and darting to where a skana was hung on the wall. She pulled it down and held it awkwardly. Ric froze in place as she reversed the blade and aimed the point at her own slightly swollen belly. "Swear you won't tell anyone." The new brand on her forearm gleamed wetly in the light.

 

"Gwynn..." Ric said softly, not moving. He knew how sharp that blade was.

 

"Swear to me you won't tell anyone, Ric!" Gwynn demanded. "Yes I was unfaithful. Yes I slept with other men. And my choices... were horrible. I am lost. But I will not drag my family down into this scandal. I will not. Swear to me or I end it now! For both of us!"

 

"We can't do this alone, Gwynn..." Ric begged, not moving.

 

And yet another flash...

 

He knelt before the cryopod, his warframe helmet open, tears falling.

 

"I am sorry, Gwynn." He said as he keyed the cryo systems live. "I am sorry. I couldn't stop them. I never expected such a blatant attack. A fuel air bomb... Ah Gwynn... I tried. I couldn't do it alone. Why didn't you listen? The Guard wouldn't talk! I knew the Order was going to do something. I knew they were going to kill you for leaving. They never let people leave. They can't."

 

The pod opened and he lay down, his warframe still dripping. Blood and...other things fell from his gashed and torn armor. None of it was his.

 

"I made them pay, Gwynn." Ric said sadly. "I made them all pay. They were expecting a horde of Royal Guards. Not me. A Bastille and my skana and they all paid the price. It's...not enough. It's not... Some mistakes can't be fixed, Gwynn." He said sadly as the petals of the cryopod closed over him.

 

"If there is any justice in the universe, I will never wake up. Never face life...without my Gwynn. Without our child... But I swear to you, Gwynn. Sword and Soul, Blood and Bone, may my own Skana end me if I transgress as the nutcases said. If I do wake... Your family will never know of your dishonor. I will never speak of this again. Not to my fellows in the Guard. Not to other Tenno. To no one! Some mistakes can't be fixed." Was it his imagination that a woman's tear filled face was suddenly in front of him? Gwynn was reaching for him, but he closed his eyes, banishing the illusion. "I swear it by Blood and by Steel."

 

Then the overpowering cold hit him and dragged him into oblivion.

 

Ric woke to Amelia cursing. His throat hurt, he had been screaming. He remembered the flashes and his oath to Gwynn. His wife? He didn't remember her. He wished he did. She was pretty. But it was fading as he recalled it. He grasped the shreds of memory, trying to hold them to himself as they fled. Then they were gone and only the gut wrenching sadness remained.

 

"What the hell did you do?" The doctor was demanding of Mori.

 

"We were talking, no more." Mori said, concerned. "He convulsed after he said 'Some mistakes cannot be fixed'." Ric jerked as Amelia cursed again.

 

"Ric?" Amelia asked softly. "Can you hear me?"

 

"Yes." Ric said slowly. He opened his eyes and Amelia was standing nearby, her face worried. Mori stood nearby. She was tense. "I am...functional. I think... Ah..." He cried as pain erupted behind his eyes again. "Doc..." he groaned.

 

"No!" Amelia cursed as an alarm went off. "Ric, hold on! I need to..." He faded.

 

***

 

"Ric..." The pretty girl was crying. "Oh Ric..." She hugged him tight. He couldn't move. Couldn't speak.

 

"Gwynneffar, you have to let him go." A commanding voice sounded from nearby. Female and very much in charge. "You have to do it now."

 

"Ember, I can't!" Gwynneffar said sharply. "He won't remember! He lost too much!"

 

"He is not dead yet, Gwynneffar. Let him go!" The other woman -it had to be a Tenno- said just as sharply. "Or do you want to be punished again?"

 

"I don't want to be punished, Ember." Gwynneffar said sadly. "But he is worth any pain or torment you can imagine. He was and is, always will be... a perfect knight. I didn't deserve him!"

 

"Girl, you have already bent the rules, hell you have broken the rules." The other voice said quietly. "Don't make us hurt you. He wouldn't want that."

 

"You fight dirty, Ember." Gwynn said, laying Ric down and bending down to kiss his cheek. "I am sorry, Ric. Please. You are released from your vow, Ric. Please..."

 

"I...gave... my word..." Ric managed to croak out, then darkness swirled him away again.

 

***

 

"You gonna sleep all day?" Jac's voice was worried as Ric swam back to consciousness. He opened his eyes and found himself still lying on an medical bed. Something seemed to slap him inside his mind, but he couldn't recall what or why. When he tried to focus on his memory, it faded.

 

"How long?" Ric asked as he shook himself a bit.

 

"Four hours." Jac said softly. "Mori went to report. She is due back anytime. Serene and company should be here shortly."

 

"Ah... What happened?"  Ric asked. "I remember... I was talking to Mori... it all goes blank after my head hurt."

 

"You triggered some kind of flashback." Jac said quietly. Ric was suddenly aware that she was armed. The Lato in her hand was an oddity, but a comforting one. "When I came in... you were screaming." Ric swallowed as she looked sad. "Ric..."

 

"What was I saying?" He asked after a moment.

 

"You were swearing vengeance for your wife and kid." Jac said in a kind voice, but Ric still felt as if he had been sucker punched.

 

"I... I was married...?" Ric said hesitantly. "And a kid...? I don't remember that. Or... I don't think I do. It's all blank now. I think I had...flashes of something." He tried to recall what he had seen, but it wouldn't come. "Nothing now."

 

"I know." Jac said in a very quiet voice. "Amelia blocked off what she could. But..."

 

"She cannot block them all or I turn into a vegetable." Ric said with a sigh. "Fine. And the pistol?"

 

"I didn't want to." Jac said softly. "But I remember the Order too."

 

"Promise me Jac." Ric said in a whisper. "Promise me you won't let me hurt you if it comes to it."

 

"I can't promise you that, Ric." Jac said sadly. "I... I can't. You are my friend."

 

"And if I am a mass murdering monster, Jac..." Ric said reasonably. "Then I would use that. If... If this isn't the real me..."

 

"It is." Jac shook her head. "Ric... You were not cold. You were not analytical like the Order acted. You were screaming in rage, in grief. You were screaming for someone named Gwen."

 

"Gwen..." Ric said slowly, rolling the name around on his tongue. It didn't...feel...right. "What else did I say?"

 

"Ric..." Jac said cautiously. "Don't."

 

"Jac?" Amelia's voice came from nearby and Jac darted away before Ric could wonder why she was so upset. Why she was suddenly crying? Amelia entered as Jac left, the doctor's face a mask of worry that eased a bit as she saw Ric looking at her. "Rise and shine, lazybones."

 

"Doc." Ric said slowly and carefully. "What did I say? When I screamed?"

 

"I wasn't paying attention, Ric..." Amelia started but paused when he raised  a slow hand in a 'stop' gesture. "Ric..."

 

"Whatever I said was bad." Ric said quietly. "That is clear. Am I a terrorist?"

 

"No." Amelia said softly. "You are not. You are a Tenno who lost his family to something horrible. And... from what you said..." She trailed off.

 

"What did I say, Amelia?" Ric asked, rising up on his elbows to look at her.

 

"You were speaking a language I don't know." Amelia said slowly. "Mori did, that was clear from how she reacted. I thought she was going to draw her sword. To use on you or herself, I don't know. When I asked, she said you were swearing vengeance on those who killed your wife. And swearing a binding blood oath never to talk about it. To anyone."

 

"A blood oath..." Ric said, feeling faint. As horrible as it was, that felt right. He knew suddenly -somehow- that he had sworn such an oath. "Then these blocks in my memory..."

 

"...may have been self inflicted, yes." Amelia confirmed. "Ric, I can..." Ric bowed his head and Amelia let out a whimper. "Ric, don't. We can prove your innocence!"

 

"Am I?" Ric asked no one as he lay back and closed his eyes. "Am I indeed?" He shook his head slowly. "Go away, Amelia." He said in a soft voice.

 

"Sensei is going to want answers, Ric." Amelia said quietly. "I have to do the scan. Soon."

 

"I will resist it." Ric said calmly. Amelia paled.

 

"Ric." Amelia said slowly. "There is no need. Whatever or whoever you are protecting... It is long past."

 

"I gave my word, Amelia." Ric said softly. "I won' t break it."

 

"Ric..." Amelia pleaded. "This is the only way to prove your innocence.  Jac told me... Told me what the punishment was for the Order that were caught. I know you do not want that to happen to you."

 

"What I want is immaterial." Ric said without emotion. "I swore an oath."

 

"To someone who is long dead!" Amelia said, exasperated.  "Ric!"

 

"Does time along determine if something is right or wrong?" Ric asked, still calm. "I am here. I do not remember it all, but I do remember that when I give my word, I keep it."

 

"Ric, a mind scan can help organize the memories you have left." Amelia said, trying to stay calm herself. "If you do not resist, it can help."

 

"I gave my word." Ric said, then lay back and turned his head away from Amelia.

 

"Ric... Please..." Amelia begged, but he did not respond. "Ric, I have to do the scan. Mori is going to report what she knows. If I don't do the scan, they will want to take you and do it themselves." Ric did not respond. "Ric, please!" She begged again. The supine Tenno ignored her, even when she started crying. The door hissed ad Amelia sobbed. "Alicia..."

 

"I heard." Alicia's voice was flat. "Amelia, get it ready."

 

"Alicia...if he resists..." Amelia said, scared.

 

"I know." The door hissed again and Alicia sighed. "Honor's a *@##$ isn't it, Ric?" He cracked his eyes and she was stepping close. She wore her warframe. "This is going to hurt Amelia as much as it hurts you."

 

"Probably more." Ric agreed softly. "But I have no choice."

 

"I know." Alicia said with a sigh. "Living with Will has taught me more about honor in a few months than I ever knew in most of what I remember in my life. I need to restrain you."

 

"I know." Ric said, laying his arms and legs out straight. "I won't fight you, sister. But if I swore an oath to keep secrets, then I have to resist the mind scan. It feels...right. I don't remember swearing the oath. But I did. I know that."

 

"I...disagree." Amelia said as she started strapping his limbs down. "But if there is one thing living with Will has taught me, it is that honor is not something people like you and him take lightly." She was gentle, but efficient. In moments, the only part of his body he could move was his head. "I need to put  a mouth guard in, but before that... Is there anything I can do?"

 

"Is Karl here?" Ric asked after a moment.

 

"No." Alicia said with a sigh. "Serene is being pig headed. She doesn't want to leave Lis. Can't really say I blame her. Doesn't help that we can't tell her where she is going."

 

"No it wouldn't." Ric agreed. "I have to resist it, Amelia."

 

"I know." Alicia said sadly. "And we have to get answers, so we will ramp the power up. And that will hurt like nothing else you have ever encountered."

 

"You might be surprised." Ric said in a soft voice. "But... I have no choice. In all things, we follow the path we are set on."

 

"Yeah.' Alicia said with a nod. She was crying in her warframe. "Yeah we do. Open wide." Ric did as instructed as she slid a plastic thing between his teeth. "Bite down." He did and the plastic suddenly swelled to grip his teeth, holding them together. "I am sorry, Ric." Alicia said, abject. "You are my brother and I trust you with my life. But orders are orders."

 

Ric grunted an acknowledgement as she strapped his head down. Then he went still as the door opened and Amelia pushed cart in with a sinister looking piece of equipment on it.

 

"Alicia?" Amelia begged. "Did he...?"

 

"He is going to resist, Amelia." Alicia said sadly. "Nothing you or I say can change that. Whatever he is protecting must have been worth it to him. Any Tenno can swear such an oath, but we all know the costs. He accepts the costs. He knows what we have to do."

 

"This isn't right!" Amelia snapped as she pushed the cart closer to Ric's bed. "If he doesn't resist, it can help him make order of his memories.

 

"Amelia..." Alicia said, her tone mixed pride and sadness. "If he didn't resist, he wouldn't be Tenno. Do you want me to do it?" She asked kindly.

 

"I do, but..." Amelia shook her head. "I need to. I am the mental technician, Alicia. I will.. I will make it as gentle as I can." She started setting up the scan and Ric focused on his breathing. "We are going to break the blocks, Ric." Amelia said, her voice turning cold. "All you will do is hurt yourself and us, to no gain."

 

"Amelia, don't do that." Alicia said sadly. "He is doing what he must. So are we. Don't hate him for being what he is."

 

"At least with his mouth strapped shut, he can't quote that blasted movie." Amelia said with a watery chuckle. Ric smiled a little and grunted a 'Ni' at her. She sighed, but relaxed a bit. "You silly Tenno. I am sorry." Ric couldn't move, so he nodded with his eyes as she swung the apparatus over his head. "Ready." Amelia said with a wince as she stepped back. "Images will be pulled up on screen two and recorded." Warm energy started playing across Ric's scalp.

 

Ric started counting in his head, an old technique, but effective. Then he started doing multiplication tables with another part of his mind. Another started reciting every dirty limerick he remembered. Which was a bunch. The last subdivided piece of his mind found itself listening to a fanfare and then watching a line of golden text scroll across a starscape as the memory of yet another movie started and a small odd looking starship appeared, fleeing a much larger one.

 

"Resistance." Amelia said, tears welling. "Increasing power to compensate."

 

The warmth became a tingle. Then a burning. Then a searing.

 

"Oh my god..." Amelia said, her tone stunned. Ric stared up at the screen and froze, his mind still working to resist as he saw...himself. In robes that were not Tenno. With a brand on his arm.

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