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[Fanfiction] Children


Kalenath
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Hard

 

You... what?

 

The voice was stunned. More than stunned. The other had never heard that particular voice turn furious before. She hadn't thought it possible. But it was. She was.

 

The Lotus was angry.

 

You... dare... The voice if the odd being who served as both guardian and guide for the Tenno was... if anything, getting angrier.

 

It wasn't us! The Reverend Mother of the Corpus Clergy said desperately. It wasn't a feeling she was used to. Usually she was the one scaring people. But this was not a normal situation. Or... it was, but... not intentional. The automated machinery took it out.  She was bleeding to death! The machinery was designed to protect the mother. It did as it was designed! It saved her life! But the damage... Lotus, we didn't know! Not until after she woke! And then... Vina didn't want to stress her. They couldn't even find it! It had been filed in a vault and it took a week and half to find it with the files as messed up as they were. That piece of human refuse scrambled them to try and hide his crimes. Lotus, please! She begged. We want to make this right!

 

That is not the only reason. The Lotus said sharply.

 

No. The Reverend Mother admitted. We... The Board keep it quiet, but... we are having problems with inbreeding. Too few fertile females for our population. Too many children by those. We need diversity. More... She trailed off.

 

You cannot be asking... what I think you are asking... The Lotus sounded..stunned now.

 

If... If she tells us to destroy the material, we will. The Reverend Mother said softly. All who know agree. We are in the wrong here. What Maxwell D-90 did to Lis was a horror. Two days... in that... that torture device... It wasn't built to be one. But...

 

Human have perverted all kinds of things throughout their history. The Lotus said softly, her tone somewhere between resigned and furious. Hardly the first time someone has done such with reproduction machinery. But... That...?

 

It is sealed, under heavy guard. No one else knows what Lis really is. The Reverend Mother said softly. She was fully human according to every scan. Only if one knew the mental peculiarities to look for would anyone have guessed. Who think of Tenno outside of warframes? The energy signature is not detectable with any scanners I know of. But I felt her mind. I knew what she was the moment I did.

 

I... The Lotus sounded soft and scared now. I can ask. But... I do not know what she will say. The probabilities are... confused.

 

We can send it somewhere the Tenno can recover it easily. The Reverend Mother offered. Or we can destroy it. I don't want to. We need the diversity. Our branch of the human race is... stagnating. But... We are not the Board. We have no right to do anything without Lis' permission.

 

You got that right. The Lotus said sharply, then sighed. I was female once myself. I... understand. The machinery did as it was programmed. But you should have told her.

 

We found it yesterday, corroborated its authenticity four hours ago. The Reverend Mother said quietly. I had to... get somewhere I could speak to you. And now? We need to make this right. If we can. If needed, I will talk to her. Apologize myself. This...travesty soils us all.

 

I will tell her. The Lotus said quietly. She will be angry.

 

She has every right to be angry. The Reverend Mother said sharply. She was violated! I would be far, far more than angry. The one who did it to her has been made into a electronics repair drone. Barely one step above a MOA. I would 'request' that you ask Tenno not to kill him if they encounter him.  The Lotus made a noise of understanding and the Reverend Mother's voice turned savage. He doesn't deserve the mercy of death. Not after that.

 

I will tell her.

 

***

 

Lis was sighing to herself. This situation was not spiraling out of control. It just felt like it.

 

"Slow and careful, Sara." Lis said with an inaudible sigh. Getting exasperated wouldn't help Sara's already tenuous emotional control. "Like I showed you. Like you did before. See the harmonics in your mind's eye. Alter the one for visual light."

 

The girl swallowed hard and focused her will carefully. The Tenno who had volunteered -he wore a black and red Oberon warframe- did not move from where Lis had told him to stand. He was not nervous. He knew what was coming. Sara however... was scared. Lis understood. She had never asked the guy's name. She had just tapped his shoulder to pull him out of the crowd of three hundred Tenno -in warframes and not- who had volunteered as soon as they heard what Sara was undergoing. All of them understood. Not all remembered their training, not completely. Cryonesia had taken its toll on every Tenno. But all knew what they were. What Sara was. What she was facing with gritted teeth.

 

"Sara." Lis said quietly. "Relax. You won't hurt him. You can't. Not in here."

 

The room had been set up specifically for Sara's training. The Tenno HQ was a sprawling mass of rooms and compartments. Lis wasn't sure if it was underground, floating in space, or hidden someplace even more exotic like Avalon was. Truth be told? She didn't care. She didn't need to know where it was. The room was dampened and insulated to a fare the well. They hadn't had to train young Tenno for a long, long time. But the records still existed. The Lotus still had access to them. Which was good. She nodded to the Oberon and he raised a hand. A column of blue light erupted from his hand. It went up about twenty centimeters, turned and came back down into his hand. He held it, circulating the power.

 

"I will hurt him!" Sara protested.

 

"No, you won't." Lis sad with a sigh that she let Sara hear this time. "We have been over this. Sara, change the color of the light. You can do it. It is a harmonic of the visual spectrum. You can do it. You did it with me."

 

"I know you." Sara protested, her eyes on the column of blue light. "And I hurt you." Shame sang in her voice but she jerked a little as Lis growled softly. Times like this she had a much better understanding of Leanna, her old teacher, than she had ever wanted to have. It was very frustrating.

 

"Sara." Lis said firmly. "You hurt yourself through me. It was your subconscious. Not your conscious mind. I am protected now. He is protected. Change the color. No more. One wavelength. Control that wavelength. Control is the single most important thing we Tenno learn. Whether we are Archivists, Healers, Elders, Technicians, Warriors or any other path... All need control at the base level to do anything else. You have chosen to follow the path of the Technician. We are looking for a suitable teacher for that path." Sara tensed and Lis shook her head. "No, I am not leaving." She chided the girl gently and Sara had to smile at that. "Sara, I am a Warrior, not a Tech. The paths are different. You will need specialized instruction."

 

"As long as it is not Lou." Sara said with a frown and Lis had to fight to keep from chuckling. The Oberon did chuckle. Lou was a bit much. "Don't know if I could handle the conspiracy theories on top of everything else." She took a deep, calming breath and focused on the column of blue energy.

 

"I wouldn't do that to you, Sara." Lis said with a snort. "I may be evil, I am not that evil." Her dry wit startled a chuckle from Sara and then... it happened. The energy changed color. From blue to red. Sara froze and the Oberon inclined his head to her.

 

"I..." Sara stared at the energy, entranced. It changed again, from red to yellow and then to green and then a deep purple. "This... This is amazing."

 

"Yes it is." Lis said with a fond smile for her student. "Congratulations, Sara. You have taken your first knowing step into a far larger world." Sara stared at the energy, entranced and Lis shook her head. She made a curt gesture at the Oberon who nodded and the energy vanished. "Sara, be very careful. Visible light is rarely dangerous, but it can be. It can cause seizures in unprepared beings. Or it can be focused."

 

"A laser... I know. I did that..." Sara sounded stunned. "By altering one wavelength." Both Lis and the Oberon nodded. "Oh my god..." She shook herself. She was shivering a bit and Lis took her hand, her warframe sensors checking the girl's vitals automatically.

 

"You will learn how to do that more efficiently and far more than that, Sara." Lis promised. "But for now, you need rest and food. You did it." She encouraged the girl. "You did it." She jerked her head to the Oberon who bowed to both female Tenno and left the room. "Well done, Sara."

 

"I have a long way to go." Sara said with a sigh that was completely fake. She was exuberant. "I thought it would be hard." She said a bit sheepishly.

 

"Do you really think I would make you lift a mountain on your first day, Sara?" Lis asked as she led the girl towards the door.

 

"No." Sara admitted. "I was just... afraid of what I might do." Her hand glowed for a moment and she stared at it, a furrow of concentration appearing on her youthful features. The glow faded. "This... is odd."

 

"Well..." Lis put just the right tone of nonchalance in her voice. "... you are odd. So it just figures your first manifestation would be too."

 

"Who are you calling odd?" Sara demanded in a joking voice that faded a little. "I... Thank you." She said a bit meekly. "I know I am... a handful."

 

"Sara." Lis paused and took hold of the girl's shoulders, spinning her so she stared the Nyx Prime warframe in the faceplate. "I don't have to worry about seeing you shot, blown to pieces, poisoned, frozen, burnt, stabbed..." She shook her head as she pulled the now shivering girl into a loose embrace. "If Iriana's treatment works... I won't have to watch you die..." She gave Sara a hug. "Anything else is just a bonus."

 

"I love you, Lis." Sara said, hugging the warframe tight. Lis managed to control the hiss of discomfort, but Sara was an observant girl and immediately released her. "Lis... You... I...."

 

"Sara." Lis chided her gently. "Yes it hurts. No, I won't let them put me in an ICU pod for six months or so while you need me. Maybe when you don't anymore. After you have been started on your apprenticeship."

 

"Lis..." Sara's lip was quivering. "Please. I know you are hurting. Mom is helping. I am getting better. I... I want you to get better."

 

"Sara." Lis said gently. They had this argument regularly and had since the docs had -reluctantly- let Lis off the table on which she had woken. "You need instruction. You need protection. I am not going into the field. I am not going to run around and get blown up myself again. Serene and the others..." She sighed inaudibly. She wouldn't mention who those others were, but the Royal Guard were just as persistent in trying to get her to change her mind as Sara and Serene were. "...are getting annoyed with me. But the simple fact is... you still need me."

 

"I don't deserve you." Sara said sadly. "I never did."

 

"Deserve has nothing to do with it, Sara." Lis retorted as she had every time Sara said that same thing. She had never expected to love Sara. But she did. Then she sighed. "If it did... That whole mess yesterday wouldn't have happened."

 

Sara winced and nodded. Neither wanted to remember what had happened when they had found a small human girl crying alone in a disused hallway. A small blind human girl. It had been... rough. Both had stepped back when older and more experienced Tenno had arrived. But both knew the repercussions of the Tenno known as Malachi's treatment of a small clan of Tenno would be slow to fade. Karl in particular had a long memory. Everyone who met her liked Peri and for the scum to do what he had... At least he didn't hurt the waif. Lis though with a shudder. If he had, there would have been blood on the walls.

 

"I saw Elder Raven moving towards the Admin section earlier." Sara said with a smile. "I bet she was going to look at legal precedents." Lis chuckled darkly. The maimed Tenno might not like field work anymore, but she was just as deadly with her political acumen, biting wit and legal expertise as she had been with her claws in her Valcyr warframe. Sara matched the Nyx Prime's chuckle with her own. "Yeah." Then her stomach rumbled. "Oh come on!" Sara snapped at her belly. "This is getting old!"

 

"Come on, Sara." Lis said with a snicker. "You need to eat and then rest. Do you want to sleep here or at the Tower?"

 

"I..." Sara slumped a bit. "I should socialize. I know. But I prefer the Tower. I know it and... it feels more like home. More than... the other does." She said with an apologetic glance at Lis who nodded.

 

"Right now, comfort is more important than socializing." Lis said with a smile that carried right through her faceplate. "We will continue your training, but..." She paused as a form hurried up from a cross corridor. "Oh, Elder Raven." She said, bowing. Sara hastily did likewise.

 

The female Elder wore formal robes most of the time. Not so much for the formality. To hide the horrific scars that covered every inch of her body. The veil she wore, likewise for her face. She could see just fine. But... the visage made people... nervous. Sad. She was a good woman, a good Tenno.

 

"Lis, Sara." The Elder's voice was... odd. Calm, but... was she angry or crying? Or both? "You need to come with me, back to the Tower."

 

"Elder?" Sara asked her hand going to her mouth. "Is it...? Has something happened to my mom? Moms?" She corrected herself absently. Having Amelia and Serene as parents was bad enough, but Iriana had adopted Sara too, so it made the family arrangements...a bit complex. No one minded.

 

"No, Sara." Raven said gently, obviously forcing herself to calm. "Your moms are fine. But... You and Lis need to come with me. Now." Lis did not argue. She started off as the Elder did, Sara hurrying to catch up. "I am sorry for worrying you. But... This is..." She shook her head. "This is not going to be fun. For any of us."

 

Lis felt something in her still as  Raven led the way to the closest portal chamber which was...cleared. Something was very wrong. There were always guards at the portal chamber. The Elder waved to the platform and Lis stepped up. Sara followed with only a minor hesitation. Raven started working the controls.

 

"At least I haven't eaten anything yet." Sara quipped a bit weakly. "I hate these." She said in an undertone. Lis took her hand a gave it a squeeze.

 

"No one I know likes them, Sara." Lis said with a snort. "Useful, but very uncomfortable." She gave Sara's hand another squeeze and released it as the Elder stepped to the platform which had started to glow.

 

Then they were elsewhere. Lis checked Sara automatically. Sara's face was more than little green, but she was upright. But then...

 

The Portal chamber was packed! And... only with females! Serene stood to one side, her face a mask. Amelia and Kori stood nearby, the human doctor's face a mask, but the Kubrow's anxious. Alicia from Karl's clan stood by Karen, also from that clan. Both wore warframes and looked as if they had been... Lis went totally still as  Michelle stepped forward, her hands reaching for Sara.

 

"Sara?" The Princess of Avalon said quietly as Lis suddenly felt faint. What was she doing out of Avalon? A Mag Prime stood just behind her so she wasn't unprotected with Petra around, but still... "How did it go?"

 

"Ah... Michelle?" Sara asked, as confused sounding as Lis felt. "I... I changed the color." All of the visible faces smiled.

 

"Good." Michelle said with a nod. "Amelia has a meal and a bed for you. She wants to talk. She has missed you."

 

"What are you..." Sara said slowly as Amelia stepped forward her arms out to embrace Sara. "Wait..." She paused, staring from Michelle to Li, to the others and back. "No! Whatever you have to say I can hear! Lis! What is wrong with Lis?"

 

"Sara..." Michelle had tears falling now. "Nothing is wrong with Lis. Nothing. But... you do not want to hear what we will have to tell her. You do not." The Princess said savagely. "There is nothing you can do about it and if you get stressed, she will get stressed. Stressed worse. We are here... for her." At that, Lis felt faint. All of this... All of her and Sara's female friends? Here? For her? Now?

 

"Sara. Go." Lis heard her voice say those words. But they came from far, far away. "Please." Sara was crying as Amelia took her in hand and led her away. The Kubrow gave an encouraging whine to the scared little girl before following. "Tell me."

 

"Not us." Michelle said sadly as she stepped back. Iriana stepped forward, her hand going to the Nyx's shoulders. Was that a stunner in her hand? Lis did not move. She would not resist. Michelle swallowed hard. "You may need it. I did when they told me."

 

"What?" Lis asked, not moving at all as Iriana took hold of her, but did not stun her. Then...

 

Tenno Lis... The voice of the Lotus was... wary. You will not want to hear this. But you must. While you were a prisoner...

 

Lis went stock still as she listened. She felt her world come crumbling down as the Lotus explained. Then she heard a scream. A terrified female scream of rage and pain and frustration and fear and... Her voice.

 

As the stunner flared, she feared nothing would be the same. But... gentle wings held her as she fell into sleep. Comforting wings.

Edited by Kalenath
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(although i kinda rubbed the whole cameo idea into your face and i'm sorry for that.)

I could be wrong, I could be... what is that they call it? "Projecting"? Anyway, Kal doesn't seem the kind to look at something so shallowly, at just the surface. I expect Kal saw the conversation in a slightly different light, especially once all was said and done.

I won't speak for Kal, but what I saw was a question, followed by a lot of answers and clarification. Further if I'm remembering right, Kal said straight away (and quite clearly IMO) that (to put this in my own words) an 'involved or important role' in the story would take more work and planning but even then he didn't say it couldn't happen.

 

The fact that you (and the others) clarified that you only wanted a passing reference?

 

I'd say he doesn't mind doing the odd reference for a frequent commenter of his stories. I don't however expect Kal wants to write in more than maybe 3 characters per story (guessing at numbers based on my own writing experiences and what I've noticed about how Kal does things) and definitely not a never-ending stream of requests month after month. (Artists have lives and limits too!)

 

Again though, I'm not speaking for Kal and this is just my own opinion based on personal experience and observations.

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Can't or won't

 

Lis was aware of scrutiny when she woke. She was still in her warframe. The pain was muted but there. But her helmet... She hissed as she realized her helmet was gone!

 

"We needed access. Just in case. To keep you from choking or...whatever." A soft, sad voice came from the side and Lis turned her head to see Iriana sitting nearby, the healer's face bleak. "Lis, we won't remove you from your warframe." Iriana said with a sigh as Lis went still. "We want to, but... not without your consent. After everything else? No one dares do anything without your consent."

 

"I... don't fully understand." Lis said, marveling that her voice sounded so calm. She was certainly not. "They were kind to me."

 

"They are Corpus, Lis." Iriana said sharply. "Lying is what they do!"

 

"They didn't need to be kind, Iriana." Lis said without heat. "You of all people know what they could have done. They comforted me. Sat with me. Helped me when I had nightmares. When I was confused, or sick or scared. One even sang to me!" She shook her head. "Tell me Karl is not going to launch an assault."

 

"I..." Iriana swallowed hard and Lis shook her head slowly. Lis tried to sit up and couldn't. "Lis, don't struggle." Lis stared down at herself and saw the tell tale signs of energy restraints around her wrists and ankles. Iriana looked sad. "You were thrashing. You clipped Amelia good."

 

"How bad did I hurt her?" Lis was trying not to beg.

 

"You knocked her down, no more." Iriana said heavily. "You were unconscious. Not in control. No blames you. But...we had to be careful."

 

"I am very angry." Lis agreed. "But with the one who hurt me, not with the Corpus personnel who helped me." She said firmly. "Call Karl. Now." Iriana jerked and Lis sighed. "He is right outside, isn't he?" That would be just like him.

 

"He feels responsible, Lis." Iriana said softly.

 

"So do I." Lis agreed. "But it is neither his responsibility nor mine. Get him in here. Sara?"

 

"Sleeping." Iriana tapped some keys on a remote control. "You have been out for five hours. We...felt it best to let her sleep. She... hasn't recovered yet."

 

"She pushes herself too hard." Lis said with a sigh. The door hissed open and a huge white form stepped in. "Karl. Do not attack the Corpus mining facility I was at." Lis said without preamble. "They didn't do it to me."

 

"Lis." Karl's voice was calm and sure. "They have something they must not keep."

 

"If they wanted to keep it, would they have told the Lotus they had it?" Lis argued calmly. "Karl... I was human. Not born infected. What can they learn from my DNA?" She asked Iriana who frowned. "Energy patterns degrade quickly. What can they learn from my DNA?" She demanded of the healer.

 

"That is the beside the-" Karl started only to freeze as Lis nearly exploded.

 

"That is entirely the point!" Lis snapped. "They. Were. Kind. To. Me." She said, heavily enunciating each word. "They didn't have to be. They could have done everything with robotics. They didn't. I can bet Vina's and Mercedes J-54's reaction on discovering this... this horror matches ours." She took a deep, calming breath. "Am I irrational, Healer?"

 

"From the readings? Aside from not letting us heal you?" Iriana said sourly. "No. Very emotional, yes. Irrational? No."

 

"I have a duty to Sara." Lis said firmly. "A duty and an obligation. She and Serene didn't have to be nice to me. They were. The Corpus Executive, her assistant and the specialist they called in didn't have to be kind to me. They were." She shook her head. "So... you will charge in and slaughter a bunch of Corpus.. to recover Human DNA that cannot tell the Corpus anything they do not already know." She shook her head. "Fine. I can't stop you."

 

"Actually." Karl was shaking his head. "You just did." Lis went still and Karl nodded. "I am angry. This... kind of thing makes people angry. Sane people anyway." He clarified.

 

"I am angry too, Karl." Lis said with a sigh. "But the fact remains... Vina was kind to me when she didn't have to be. It cost her money out of her own pocket to help me. She did it. Maybe there was some kind of odd, dedicated plot. Maybe there was some kind of long laid plan. I don't know. I didn't see any sign of it." She bowed her head a little. "I saw a woman who messed up. Whose subordinate hurt me and was punished for it. Whose subordinate cost her superiors a great deal and paid for it. The only one I am really angry with is the man who hurt me. If I ever meet him again..." She shrugged as she trailed off.

 

"No one blames you for that, Lis." Karl said quietly. "Okay. No assault. But... Lis." He said slowly. "I need to know. Why?"

 

"Why what?" Lis asked slowly, but she knew what was coming.

 

"Why won't you let the healers help you?" Karl said in a reasonable voice. "With so much talent in various places, it won't take six months." His tone was calm, but... "Why prolong your agony?"

 

"I ask myself that regularly." Lis said quietly. "But you of all people will understand. I took up the mantle of Sara's protector and teacher. I gave my word, to her and Serene. I owe her and Serene. This is..." She broke off as Karl inhaled sharply.

 

"A debt of honor." Karl sounded as if he wanted to cry suddenly, but then it faded and he just nodded. "I understand. I will talk to Sara."

 

"Karl!" Iriana protested, but the Rhino just shook his head again.

 

"Iriana, Lis made her choice." Karl said quietly. "She is just as stubborn as any other Tenno I have ever met. Maybe not Nikis..." He mused and both Lis and Iriana winced as one. He chuckled without humor. "No, not Nikis. But any other besides Nikis." Lis startled herself with a chuckle of her own and Karl nodded to her. "I will explain to Sara. She respects me. And I will try to dissuade her from her latest crazy scheme." He said with an exaggerated wince.

 

"Do I want to know?" Lis asked, only half joking. Sara was endlessly inventive at times and Lis' continued stubbornness was beginning to strain the girl.

 

"She asked the Tower systems what would be involved in putting herself in cryo for six months while you heal." Iriana said dryly. Lis froze and Iriana nodded. "No. We won't allow it. Do you have any idea what Serene would do?"

 

"Yeah, actually I do." Lis said with a wince. It... wouldn't be pretty. Even out of a warframe, Serene threw an impressive tantrum when she wanted. The reclining Nyx nodded to Karl. "Thank you, Karl. When you are done with Sara, send her to me. I will try to keep her from doing anything too crazy." The Rhino nodded and left the room. The healer sat back in her chair, her face in her hands. "Iriana... I am sorry." Lis said softly. "But I have to do this. At least until Sara finds a trainer, works out an apprenticeship program with someone. Then... I will explore options. I do not like this pain. But I can handle it."

 

"This flies against everything I believe in, Lis." Iriana said weakly. "I can understand your feelings for the ones who helped you. I can even..." She raised warding hands as Lis started to protest. "...see that it isn't some kind of 'nurse-patient' relationship thing. You really believe they were kind just to be kind."

 

"I think they realized that a terrible thing had been done." Lis said quietly. "But Iriana... I talked to people at the Orphanage I was at first. What do you think most Corpus executives would have done if they found a brain dead woman being tortured?"

 

"Disposed of the evidence." The Healer said without hesitation. Lis nodded.

 

"That was what I expected them to do." Lis said quietly. "They didn't. I wouldn't consider them 'good people' by our standards... They wouldn't have helped me if they had found me on a street corner somewhere." She mused. "But by theirs? Vina paid out of her own pocket to recoup company losses and to help me, Iriana. She handed me a loaded Orokin pistol that had been in her family for generations. She was horrified when they found me. I remember... some..." Iriana tensed and Lis shook her head. "I was strapped down and couldn't see anything. Couldn't feel much of anything. But I could hear her. As angry as you and the others are? She was angrier. The scum who hurt me betrayed her to do it and used her resources to do it. She felt personally responsible."

 

"I didn't think Corpus executives could feel that way." Iriana said slowly. "I thought they were brainwashed to only serve the Company. First, last and only."

 

"Oh, she was serving the company." Lis hastened to explain. "They all were. But on a cold pragmatic level, her reaction makes perfect sense. Her resources were used to hurt the company's morale and profits. Now? Her employees are totally loyal to her in a way that puts shame to any brainwashing. You cannot buy that kind of loyalty. You cannot brainwash people into that kind of loyalty no matter how hard you try. It has to be earned. And she did earn it. From her employees and from me." Lis shook her head ."I don't want to kill Vina or any of her people. I want to help them. And on that note..."

 

"Lis..." Iriana growled.

 

"Iriana." Lis said quietly. "Did you hear the rest?"

 

"Lis, you cannot..." Iriana snapped, but paused as Lis shook her head.

 

"Iriana." Lis said quietly. "You bore a new life into the world. A wonderful young being called Mishka. I am a Warrior. I am trained for one purpose and one purpose only. Not to heal. Not to mend, or repair, or to build..." Iriana was shaking her head and Lis sighed. "Iriana, I am a weapon. Trained to kill. No more, no less."

 

"You are more than that." Iriana protested.

 

"Leanna seemed to think I would make a good teacher." Lis said with a sigh. "After trying with Sara though... I don't know. Do I have the patience for it?" She asked the ceiling above her. "Or will I go crazy trying? Wind up hurting kids as Leanna often did?"

 

"Everyone who has seen you instructing Sara is impressed, Lis." Iriana said quietly. "She is so smart, and you keep her on her toes. That is hard to do. I speak from experience." She said with a tiny grin that faded. "You are a good teacher, Lis. You have had a hell of  a shock and you are rebounding. But you need to give yourself time too. We will tend Sara, keep her occupied. For now, rest. Recover. Meditate." She rose and stepped to the bed. She touched the restraint bands and they fell off into her hands. "Do you want help to sleep?"

 

"No." Lis said as she stretched a little. "I need to meditate anyway. The last few days... Peri." She sighed and Iriana nodded.

 

"I really thought Karl or Serene were going to tear that scum apart." Iriana said with a wince. "As angry as I was? Serene scared me."

 

"Me too." Lis admitted as she sat on the bed in seiza. "Thank you for your care, healer. Just... if I start screaming..." She warned.

 

"We know." Iriana said with a frown. "Four drones already though, Lis. You will need therapy some time. Just... not yet. You are not ready."

 

"I appreciate the offer." Lis said with a tiny nod. "I will take you up on it. I just..." She sighed and shook herself. "As for healing? I will. But not until Sara is taken care of."

 

"I will hold you to that, Tenno." Iriana said severely and then she was gone. Lis smiled and started to meditate, but paused as a chime sounded.

 

"Yes?" Lis said quietly as she sat on the edge of the bed.

 

-Tenno Lis.- Lis went still as the Tower systems spoke to her. -You have a visitor. Are you available?-

 

"Who?" Lis asked, confused.

 

-Gunnery Sergeant Miguel Smith wishes to speak with you.- Lis went totally still at that, her heart pounding. -If this is a bad time, Tenno Lis, he can come back.-

 

"No." Lis said slowly as she slid off the bed and onto the floor, her knees automatically folding under her as she knelt. "I... will see him." The door hissed open and a old human male stepped in, his face unreadable. He wore an archaic looking camouflage uniform. "Sergeant." Lis said, inclining her head.

 

"I am not one for fancy speeches." The old Marine said softly. "So I will just say it. Thank you."

 

"Thank....!" Lis fought to keep herself on the floor. It helped, to remain in seiza as her emotions took a nosedive. "Sergeant, in your place, I would draw a firearm and put a bullet through me!"

 

"Why?" Miguel asked softly.

 

"I..." Lis fought herself for a moment until she could answer calmly. "I am the reason Nicholas..." Even now a shiver of hate flew through Lis at the sound of her old clan leader's name. "...enslaved you. Took volition from you. Hurt you. I..." Her eyes burned but she just bowed her head.

 

"Ma'am." Miguel's voice was gentle now. "You saved my life. Lilly told me what you said to the others. Took a while. She is a bit stubborn, that Tenno."

 

"I... I tried..." Lis said sadly. "I tried to sedate. Just... biochemistry, you know? Not hard." She slumped. "Every time I cut a hole and threw sedatives in, one of the others tossed in a grenade!" Hate sang in her voice now. "Luc killed your tank just as I got on it. I cut your hatch open, but you were convulsing. I... I tried..."

 

"Ma'am." Miguel said quietly as he stepped close. "It ain't your fault. What happened. It ain't my fault. It was Nicholas' fault and he has paid for what he did."

 

"Is." Lis said fiercely. Miguel looked at her and she smiled. It was not a nice smile. "Is paying for what he did. You have seen shades." It wasn't a question. "Nicholas' shade is suffering for eternity. Not enough." She snapped. "Even Mag's bloodthirst isn't enough."

 

"Ma'am."Miguel said as he knelt down in front of her. "Let go of the hate. Let go of this. You were misled. But it is past. We cannot change the past. All we can do is go on."

 

"You were just doing your job." Lis felt a tear fall, then another. "And I... I helped..."

 

"Yeah." Miguel said quietly. "You know... Maybe I should let you talk to Charlotte." Lis looked at him and he smiled a bit crookedly. "Maybe you two can beat some sense into each other. You blame yourself for what your clan leader did. She blames herself for not obliterating Marlena instead of leaving that idiot to die. For not knowing what Marlena would become when the Enemy took her. For all the lives lost to the Enemy." He shook his head. "Boneheads. Both of you. If you were a Marine, I would drop you for pushups."

 

"If I were a Marine... I... wouldn't... I... wouldn't...." To her horror, Lis started to sob and then she couldn't stop. "I am sorry." She begged as an arm slowly and carefully circled her and held her. "I am sorry."

 

"So am I." Miguel said as he held her. "But you put my mind to rest, girl." Lis looked at him through streaming eyes and he nodded. "Wondered if I ran."

 

"No way in hell we could have made you run, Sergeant. The scum I served tried. They failed." Lis said weakly as he scrubbed her face with her warframe gauntlet, trying to stem her tears. It did nothing but spread them around. Tears slid off bio armor just as bullets did. "Dang..." She sighed.

 

"Here." Miguel said as he produced a white piece of cloth. Lis took it gratefully to wipe her face. She held it back to him and he shook his head. "Keep it. You will need it."

 

"Been...a bit rough." Lis admitted.

 

"A 'bit'?" Miguel asked with a snort. "Sheesh. And I thought only Marines could be such masters of understatement." A laugh escaped Lis and she shook her head. "You saved my life, Ma'am. It was a bad day. For everyone."

 

"Yeah." Lis agreed. "But for what it is worth, Sergeant? I never want to fight your people again. You may only be human, but it doesn't matter.  We did not expect you to be able to mobilize so quickly or to fight so hard." She swallowed and tears fell again. "To... to fall to the last Marine... to stop us. I think the words are 'Semper Fi'?"

 

"Yes Ma'am." Miguel said with a smile as he rose and stepped back. "Semper Fi." He shook his head. "Lilly wanted me to convince you to let the docs work on you." Lis tensed but the old Marine chuckled. "Nope. Ain't that stupid."

 

"I am not... completely clueless now, Sergeant." Lis said as she gave her face one last scrub with the now sodden piece of cloth. She examined it. A white glove? "Once Sara is taken care of, on her way to learning with a master of the craft... I will seek healing. Tell Lilly that. Maybe she will stop pestering you."

 

"I doubt it." Miguel said with a snort. "A bit tenacious, that Tenno."

 

"Yeah." Lis rose and then bowed formally to the Marine. He stared at her, flabbergasted. "One survivor to another, Sergeant. I am glad you made it. And I am sorry Nicholas hurt you the way he did. I tried to get him to leave you, but he was so mad when you shot him."

 

"I hit him?" Miguel asked, his eyes wide.

 

"Blew one of the hoops right off his helmet." Lis said with a smirk. "You should have heard him curse."

 

"Wish I had." Miguel said with a smirk of his own. Then it faded and he gave her a salute worthy of a parade ground. "Take care, Tenno." Lis rose from her bow and he dropped his salute.

 

"You too, Marine." Lis said as she knelt back into seiza. But her heart was lighter than it had been for some time as he nodded to her and left the room.

 

Maybe just maybe... She could forgive herself. Maybe she could... move on.

 

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Lis sighed as she sank into her meditation. That had been... rough. But she did feel better. Of all the things she might have expected, the Gunny thanking her... She never would have expected that. She relaxed fully for the first time in a while.

 

Lis jerked. She was...

 

Easy, Lis. The voice was familiar. Janet? I need to talk to you. If you don't mind... The Oracle said quietly.

 

Sure... Lis said and then gave a squeak as she was suddenly falling, but only a half a meter or so onto a couch. She stared around wildly but then relaxed.

 

The room was small but comfortable.  A heater against one wall gave off ample amounts of warmth without being too overpowering. Pictures hung on several walls. And a rug sat on the floor. The couch was the only furniture. But it was comfortable. Lis wore her warframe, but no helmet here either.

 

"Is there a reason we have to have this conversation in a virtual world?" Lis asked sourly as she sat back.

 

"I thought you might feel a bit more at ease here." Janet's voice preceded the woman into being, but... Lis' eyes went huge as she saw the woman's visible body covered with burn dressings. Her head in particular was covered completely, only her face was visible and it showed healing burns as well. "I am okay, Lis." Janet said quietly as Lis gasped.

 

"You don't look okay." Lis said sharply. Then she sighed. "I am sorry. Bad day."

 

"Bad month." Janet corrected Lis gently as she sat beside the Tenno and held out her hand. "I won't break, Lis."

 

"You helped me." Lis said as she took the wrapped hand carefully and held it gently. She brought it to her mouth and kissed it. "You told me to remember Sara. I did."

 

"Yes, you did." Janet agreed, cupping Lis' cheek with her wrapped hand. "There is lot I can't tell you." She said sadly.

 

"Nothing new there." Lis said with a sigh. "So... why talk at all?"

 

"I was a mother." Janet said calmly. "You are contemplating it." Lis looked at her and Janet sighed. "So much I can't say, but this I can. It is a lot of work. It is the deepest commitment a person, be they human or Tenno, can make."

 

"I know." Lis tried to keep in a sigh and managed, mostly. "I saw Serene's struggles firsthand. But..." Her face split in a tender smile. "Rocky is worth it." Serene's son was a lot of work, but a lot of joy too.

 

"No argument there." Janet said with a matching smile. But then it faded. "Lis..."

 

"I know, Janet." Lis looked at the floor. "Vina and Mercedes J-54 and Harriet did not hide anything from me. Well, except for what the machinery did to save my life and I understand why they hid that from me. I was very fragile. I know I can't bear naturally. The damage was too much."

 

"I am not here to reopen old wounds, Lis." Janet said softly, her hand coming down to take Lis'. "They saved your life. I am biased, but I think that is a good thing." Lis smiled forlornly at her and Janet gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "All I can really say is this: be very careful, Lis. Executive Vina and Mercedes J-54 and even Sister Harriet are not representative of the Corpus as a whole."

 

"They are Clergy, aren't they?" Lis asked softly. Janet did not respond and Lis sighed. "Never mind. Should know better than to ask."

 

"Yeah you should." Janet said with a smile. "You made some very odd friends, but... If you ever meet them again... it won't end well." Lis went still, and then she nodded slowly. Janet could not come right out and say things. She could allude to them. "But you were contemplating the second point."

 

"I was." Lis agreed. "If humanity does stagnate... If the Corpus do inbreed themselves too far..." She shook her head. "They will get desperate."

 

"And desperate people take foolish risks, even when they are not religious fanatics." Janet frowned lightly. "I cannot advise you. I am forbidden such. All I can do... is offer my shoulder as you offered yours to Serene. She offered hers to me. Kindness will win out, but it has a long and hard road to follow, Lis."

 

"I...." Lis swallowed hard, but the kindness Janet was projecting now as too much. She found herself crying softly as Janet held her gently. "Don't let me hurt you."

 

"This is virtual, Lis." Janet reassured her. "My body is a mess. This..." She waved her had that wasn't stroking Janet's arm at her own body. "...is a representation of my current state. Eventually, they will let me out of the pool I am floating in." She snorted sourly. "Can't be soon enough. Being fed through a tube sucks too."

 

"Can... can you say what happened?" Lis asked.

 

"I am not Tenno." Janet said soberly. "You all are trained to handle large amounts of energy flowing through your body. I wasn't. I held it too long and nearly fried Nikis when he helped me use what I held." She chuckled a bit ruefully. "'None so blind as those who see', huh? All that time I was worried about Nikis' madness and my own nearly killed me."

 

"Are you okay?" Lis asked, concern rising. But Janet smiled and it faded back.

 

"For some connotations of the word 'okay', yes." Janet said dryly. "Others? No. I was hurt very badly but I have people who are helping me. Eventually, once I have healed a bit more and learned a bit more about my ability, I will be able to do a bit more than enter people's meditations and talk. But it will take a while." She sighed. "Probably a long while. I am... only human after all."

 

"I am glad you survived." Lis said with a smile as she gave Janet a gentle squeeze. "Sara and Serene both liked you."

 

"Well, I am glad you kept the wings from taking total control." Janet said with a shiver that Lis matched. "I didn't know that girl was still in there. In hindsight, it was understandable. But at the time?" She shrugged. "Let go of your doubts, Lis. You are a good teacher. Your instincts are good. Follow them."

 

"You know far too much about me for my own peace of mind." Lis said with a sour smile. "Crazy Oracle."

 

"Well, yeah." Janet replied with a snort. "Anyone who does this job is nuts. Anyone who wants it? They should be immediately certified as criminally insane and locked away for their own good." Lis sputtered a laugh. "You think I joke?" Janet asked and Lis froze. "People have wanted these powers. Hell, that is what Rasputin wanted."

 

"You are not Rasputin, Janet." Lis said firmly.

 

"No." Janet agreed. "But I can understand the draw. The need to know. Even when you know it will cause far more problems than it solves, you want to know. You burn to. It... never ends well."

 

"Well, I don't want to know." Lis said with a snap. "I have enough problems. Pushy healers, a crazy girl wanting to go into cryo..." She shook her head. "And now? An Oracle in my meditations." Janet snickered at her tone and nodded.

 

"Once Sara is taken care of, and you have healed..." Janet said slowly. "I may... ask to talk to you again. Nothing formal. Nothing pushed. Just talk. I will need help in what I am supposed to do. Human and Tenno help both."

 

"And just what is it you are supposed to do?" Lis asked as the world started to fade around her.

 

"Bring back hope to the world we live in." Janet said quietly. Lis stared at the now transparent Oracle and Janet scoffed. "Yeah, I know." She said sourly. "No pressure, huh?"

 

Lis was laughing as she woke from her meditation, renewed and refreshed. Just a waft of a gentle touch had her sighing as it vanished.

 

***

 

'Enemy armor!'

 

The waved warning came from the point and the tiny unit of special operations warriors froze in place. The four team mates waited, hoping and praying that their camouflage and sensor baffling worked. If it didn't? Well, it would be quick. The rumbling of tracks sounded in the distance. Coming closer. But it was the many squad of infantry out prowling the Martian hills that were the real danger. More than once, a Grineer had literally tripped over a member of the squad, but each time, the clone had not noticed anything, cursing rocks on the Martian soil for the footing. But there was a problem.

 

Lots of Grineer...

 

Commander Horatius, Corpus Special Forces, was out of his depth. He hated the feeling. He was a raider. A predator. Highly trained, highly motivated and with the best equipment that the Corpus could offer, he and his team were the apex predators in almost any normal situation. This was not -by anyone's estimation- a normal situation.

 

Most of the time, if a concentration of Grineer were located, he would call for fire support or simply ghost out of the area. But this time, the Grineer controlled the space around Mars. With no handy fleet in the orbital space, his fire support options were limited to what his team could carry with them. And since he really, really did not want to advertise their presence when he was for all intents and purposes infiltrating a major Grineer stronghold...

 

His orders made sense. To a point. He had to find out who was attacking the Grineer on Mars. Make contact if he could. At the very least find out who was making such a mess. For several weeks, Grineer patrols had simply vanished. A firebase had stopped reporting and then it's heaviest artillery had inexplicably turned on several other Grineer facilities. The Grineer had responded in their usual fashion, flooding the area with troops. But... they found nothing. Then another facility, an ammo dump, had been sabotaged. It hadn't been a Tenno assault. The only clone survivor had spoken of human ghosts coming from nowhere before his commanders had summarily executed him for cowardice. It had taken Horatius' team two days of careful slicing to get into the Grineer networks to recover that report.

 

Grineer HQ was blaming Tenno and...ordinarily, Horatius would have said the same. But... Every Grineer knew what Tenno were. Even the lowest no rank Lancer would recognize a Tenno. And there was something... familiar about that report. The whole 'ghost' thing. That was what Corpus Special Forces were. They were never there. If they were seen, that was always counted as a failed mission even if it was a success in other ways. Their job was not to be seen.

 

Whoever was attacking the Grineer on Mars though... This wasn't -quite- Special Forces. They were good, no question. They had left way too many dead clones in their wake to be amateurs getting lucky. The operations were planned. Well thought out and executed with precision. Military precision. Whoever these people were... They acted military. Which was good. And bad. And ugly.

 

It was good in that Horatius had some idea of what they might do and how. It was what he was trained to do. Modern military forces -who did not have endless supplies of clones anyway- acted in certain ways. Recon the area. Gather intelligence. Plan. Then execute the operation and adapt the plan as the situation evolved. No plan ever survived contact with the enemy. That was one reasons they were called 'the enemy'. They had plans of their own and they often confounded even the best laid plans even when everything went right. Which was rare in Horatius' experience.

 

The bad? These people, whoever they were, knew what they were doing. They were professionals. The Grineer might ape the mannerisms or act professional on occasion, but they generally were bullies in armor. Not professional soldiers. They were big, strong and loud. Or as one of Horatius' contemporaries had put it 'Big, strong and stupid'. Their idea of subtle was a rifle butt to the jaw. The very idea of sneaking anywhere was anathema. But these unknowns... They knew stealth. They knew how to play the game. And they knew the Grineer's biggest weakness. Arrogance. They were playing the clones like some kind of ancient musical instrument.

 

There was another problem. The ugly one. Horatius had been ordered to make contact. In the middle of a large scale Grineer deployment. Make contact with people who had weapons they knew how to use, knew how to sneak and had a distressing habit of shooting first and accurately.

 

Good thing he never liked easy jobs.

 

Right now, though. He had a problem. He hadn't wanted to move with so many Grineer in the area. If his tiny team was spotted, they would be overwhelmed in moments. They would fight, no question, but five Corpus Special Forces in the open against at least two hundred Grineer? Not a chance even without the rumbling in the distance. There was probably more than one of the misshapen lumbering things and...

 

What the-?

 

Only years of harsh training and decades of combat experience had Horatius stay in place as the dusky Martian sky was suddenly split by a large beam of energy.

 

That... That looked like... Plasma?

 

A loud 'crack' sounded and then an explosion was heard not too far away at all. Horatius went still as a turret pinwheeled away across the landscape. The turret of a Grineer tank! No Corpus plasma gun was that large or powerful outside of spacecraft! They had no ground assault vehicles! They had never needed them! MOAs served the rank and file well enough. All of the Grineer were turning towards where the huge plasma bolt had come from, but Horatius could not see anything. Whatever was firing was behind a lip of terrain from him. Another bolt split the sky and another stupendous crack sounded. Another explosion came from slightly further away. The Grinner were running now, seeking cover. Seeking to advance towards whoever was killing their armor with such ease. Running forward with no thought of...

 

Uh oh... Horatius hugged the ground as explosions started. Smaller, but no less lethal. The screams of injured clones rang from all around and he inched his head up to stare as the hill above him came alive with fire. Fire that seemed to be coming from... holes? It was as if they had... He inhaled sharply as he realized. Foxholes. They were in foxholes! Military history was pretty much mandatory reading for any Special Forces operative. You never knew, after all, if some esoteric bit of information would be useful. Whoever these were, they were military! The Grineer had never had to entrench a position. They just swamped their enemies with bodies. But this...

 

His trained eyes spun around, careful to keep his head still. The Grineer had walked right into an ambush. A perfectly laid, perfectly positioned and perfectly executed ambush. There couldn't have been over fifty of the people firing from the hillside, but they had high ground and heavy cover. Add to that... their accuracy was phenomenal. Clone after clone fell to aimed fire. And... his HUD blinked for his attention and he nodded a little. Jammers. Short range, but high power jammers. The Grineer had no chance with no ability to call for fire support or reinforc-...

 

Something roared from far off and he looked up and froze. Something primal in him curled up as two dark green and orange forms came hurtling into view. Grineer spacecraft! Making a  strafing run! He gulped as ordnance hit and explosions swept towards him. All he could do was make like a piece of dirt and pray. Then... another of the titanic plasma bolts blew one of the Grineer fighters right out of the sky and the other clawed away, seeking altitude and escape. Horatius went totally still as a fiery lance arced up from the hillside. A missile? Who the hell had hand-held surface to air missiles?

 

The Grineer fighter tried to evade, but was too low and too slow. The missile caught the fleeing ship easily and... detonated in a bright blue flash. EMP? Had to be. The Grineer fighter seemed to stagger in midair and then the impossible plasma cannon fired again and the Grineer ship simply evaporated.

 

"Boss..." The soft, weak voice had Horatius freezing. His team! He spun in place to see...

 

"No..." Horatius begged as he slid into the crater where most of his team had been. The firing tapered off as the remaining Grineer stood their ground in the middle of the kill zone and died as a result. Now it was single shots. Still mostly from the odd weapons of the ambushers.

 

"Get clear, boss..." His XO said weakly as she tried to stuff her guts back in from the tear in her armored suit. Another of his people lay still. Of the other two? Nothing remained. "Do.... the mission... I am okay. I am okay..."

 

"Lacy, don't be stupid." Horatius snapped. "Let me see." He scanned her and blanched under his helmet. She wasn't just hit, she was hemorrhaging! His hands flew in trained patterns. She was breathing. Control the bleeding. He pulled her hands away and set a small regenerator on her injury. One use only, but this qualified as a need.

 

"Charlie Mike, boss..." Lacy gasped as he covered her wound with a rough field bandage. 'Continue Mission'. A medical Osprey would have done far better, but they hadn't carried anything that large with them. "Jack is alive... unconscious but alive. Ko and Gils... I..."

 

"I know." Horatius said quietly as he checked the HUD. Only... pieces of his other two still remained. "Don't move, Lacy. I have you stabilized for now." It wouldn't last, but if he could get her to evac...

 

Horatius froze as a pair of humans in oddly familiar uniforms appeared over the lip of the crater. Both were aiming weapons at him. Did he know the weapons? They were not... quite anything he knew. But... they tickled his memory. And if they were military...

 

"Medic?" Horatius begged. He dropped his Dera and swept Lacy's Lanka away from her. "For the love of Profit! Medic!" He screamed as he put his hands on his helmet as he remembered the histories saying was the right way to surrender. Grineer wouldn't have cared, but these... Whoever these guys were, they knew history. "Please..."

 

"Well, hell. Corpus. Just what we needed." The older of the two, a male human with three stripes on his armored sleeve said with a sigh. "Go on, PFC. Get the medics." The younger one scurried away and the older shook his head. "The gunny ain't gonna be happy."

 

"PFC? Gunny?" Horatius said slowly. "Wait..." The uniforms, ranks, the weapons... His eyes went huge under his helmet as he finally recognized them. Marines? Orokin Marines? He was very careful not to move as a number of others in the same uniform stepped up, some with medical gear in hand, others with weapons ready.

 

Oh... S#&$...

 

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Horatius sat. It was all he could do. The odd beings who looked and acted like Orokin Marines hadn't been overly rough. But they had been professional. Not content to strip him of his gear, they had taken his helmet and searched his suit very thoroughly. Then they had gagged and blindfolded him. They hadn't found two of his hideouts, but with his hands manacled behind him...

 

"LT..." The voice of the sergeant who had captured him sounded angry now. "What the hell are we supposed to do with these?"

 

'LT'? Horatius asked himself. Short for 'lieutenant'? An officer?

 

"Are the wounded stable, sergeant?" The female voice that replied sounded... odd. Horatius wasn't sure how. But she didn't sound right. "We can't stay here."

 

"Yes, but... LT, we can't carry them with us." The sergeant said firmly. "Carrying our two on litters is going to be bad enough. We need to egress now if we want to make the pickup." The female voice sighed.

 

"Do you have any idea what the gunny would do to us if we shot them, sergeant?" The other asked, a hint of ice in her voice. The male voice groaned.

 

"Ma'am, with all due respect..." The other said uneasily. "We can't take them with us."

 

"And if we leave them here?" The other asked calmly. "The woman won't be able to walk. Leaving them here is just as bad as putting bullets in them if not worse. You know what the Grineer will do to them.  You know it, sergeant."

 

"Yes, Ma'am." The man said, his tone resigned. "I will... get some more litters set up."

 

"No." The female lieutenant said calmly. "You all need to get moving. Now. Get them in."

 

"Ma'am!" The sergeant protested.

 

"Now, sergeant." The female said firmly and the sergeant sighed. "And ungag them. I do not want them to strangle if they get tossed around and land wrong." Something hissed nearby and Horatius could hear bodies moving close at hand. A hatch of some kind?

 

"Yes, Ma'am." The sergeant said sourly. "Under protest, Ma'am. They are Corpus. They have already seen more than they should have."

 

"We have done our mission, Sergeant." The officer replied as hands took hold of Horatius and lifted him easily. "Now it is time to get the hell out of here." Someone was unwrapping whatever had been wrapped around his jaw to keep him from being able to talk as he was set down on a hard metal floor. "Go on. I will see you at the rendezvous."

 

"You better be there, LT." The sergeant said firmly as the hands holding Horatius laid him down. Then... they let him go. Whatever had hissed did so again.

 

"Yeah... well..." The officer sounded upset now and Horatius understood. "What is your rank, Corpus?"

 

"Are you really Orokin Marines?" Horatius was amazed his voice was so calm. If these were Orokin Marines, or just humans who had found a stockpile of gear... No. Gear alone wouldn't have accounted for the way such a small force had obliterated a large force of Grineer including at least two tanks and fighter craft.

 

"I am the one asking the questions, Corpus." The officer replied, a hint of ice entering her voice again. "I can call you 'Corpus' if that is what you want. But my superiors are going to want to know what a team of spec ops was doing sneaking into our AO."

 

"You are Marines..." Horatius said weakly. This...officer wasn't some avid reader. This was a real, live Orokin Marine officer. Which was flatly impossible. All of them had died in the Collapse. Hadn't they?

 

"You really think I am going to tell you that?" The other asked, somewhat amused.

 

"No." Horatius said a bit weakly. This wasn't like him. But then again... Special Forces traced it's roots back to Orokin like so much more of the Corpus. The survivors who had founded the Corpus hadn't included any Marines. But the literature had been...extensive. Much of it had been romanticized historical dramas or other such drivel. But not all. He was talking to a living, breathing relic of the past. One who apparently wasn't going to kill him out of hand. "My people?"

 

"Unconscious, but alive." The other said calmly. "For now. They are stable, but their wounds are beyond battlefield medicine. Rank and mission?"

 

"I..." Horatius said softly. Then he sighed. "Rank is Commander. Mission was to contact whoever was harrying Grineer forces on Mars."

 

"Well... Commander." The other said quietly. "You accomplished your mission."

 

"Sort of." Horatius tested the bonds on his wrists again, but whatever they were, they were far beyond even his heavily augmented strength. "Gonna be a little hard to report the success." He said with a glint of his usual good humor.

 

"Yeah." The other replied evenly. A hum sounded from close at hand. A drive of some kind? Were they moving? "What am I supposed to do with you, Commander? You saw us. If you were Grineer..." She made a sour noise. "But you are not. You are human."

 

"Sometimes." Horatius admitted. "Job sucks, but someone has to do it."

 

"Well, we are not going to shoot you out of hand." The other replied. "But don't get any ideas. We cannot take any chances right now. There is too much at stake."

 

"Well..." Horatius said slowly. "If... If I remember correctly... then civilian militias were allowed, under Orokin, yes?"

 

"You are a little better equipped than most militia would be, Commander." The other said dryly enough that Horatius cracked a smile. "Not to mention better trained. We had no idea you were in the kill box when we initiated. Sorry about that. Wouldn't have changed anything, mind you."

 

"No." The Special Forces operative said calmly. "I knew when I saw the fighters coming in that we had little chance. Nice trick though. Never seen a surface to air missile outside of history holos."

 

"We have our ways." The other said evasively, but then she paused. "Well, well, well... You wouldn't happen to know why a heavily stealthed drone might be following us, would you?" A whine sounded nearby. Something charging. Something big. "Not Grineer tech."

 

"Vital scan downlink failure." Horatius said without hesitation. "If we lose a team, we want to know what happened. If you shoot it down, you will give away your position to every Grineer in the area. Hell, they might see it in orbit. You know they are looking now."

 

"And if I don't..." The officer replied evenly. "Your people follow me to where I... hmmm..."

 

"Ma'am?" Horatius asked carefully.

 

"If your scans pop back up out of nowhere..." The officer sounded curious now. "What happens?"

 

"If we are lucky?" Horatius said savagely. "The drone drops a large bomb on our position. If we are unlucky? They send a call to the Grineer asking the clones why they set such an obvious trap at the coordinates. The Grineer investigate and... yuck." The officer inhaled sharply and he sighed. "The Grineer have done it before. Many times. They like catching people trying for rescues. We have learned not to try."

 

"Ouch." The lieutenant said with feeling. "Well, hell." She said sourly. "Can't shoot it down. Can't talk to it. Can't lead them to my men..." She sighed. "How long will they pursue?"

 

"As long as they can." Horatius said sadly. "They likely had the drone up as soon as they lost vital scan downlink. My bet is they tracked this vehicle from the ambush site. They may be trying for a visual."

 

"I wish them luck." The other said with a laugh. "They will need it. Power signatures can be hard to hide, but visual? This thing was designed to kill tanks that had top of the line sensors. They need to be a lot closer to get through my ECM. Close enough for my secondaries to swat it. Their signature is lot less conspicuous."

 

"Ma'am." Horatius couldn't believe he was having this conversation. "This vehicle? I don't know how big it is, but it has to have footprint. That footprint can be tracked. Drop us off."

 

"Commander." The LT sounded upset now. "Not a chance if they will kill you or let the Grineer kill you."

 

"Mission first, Ma'am." Horatius said, tired. "You are either an Orokin Marine officer or the best damn actress I have ever met in my life. If you are a Marine... The system needs you. Far more than a couple of busted up Special Forces grunts." He shook his head. "Drop us off. Leave us. We can... egress. Escape and evade. Make contact. Eventually."

 

"If I do, your female soldier will die." The other said quietly. "At the very least."

 

"Mission comes first." Horatius said sadly. "Lacy knew the risks. She would hit me upside the head for doing anything else. If she was conscious, she would be yelling at me for not doing the mission anyway. For not leaving her and Jack to die."

 

"Mission, men, me." The other said softly. For a moment, Horatius did not understand, then it clicked. Do the mission first, then take care of the men under your command, then and only then, take care of yourself. An officer's mantra. "No." The other voice firmed.

 

"Ma'am..." Horatius protested.

 

"Correct me if I am wrong, commander." The other said firmly. "You are human, yes?"

 

"Yes." Horatius said slowly.

 

"And you are in danger, yes?" The LT sounded determined now. Horatius felt a flutter of anxiety rise.

 

"Danger is my job, Ma'am." Horatius said with a snort. "But yes."

 

"My orders were and I quote..." The LT said firmly. "'Destroy Grineer infrastructure. Disable Grineer communications and do as much damage as possible while not hazarding your command'."

 

"I don't..." Horatius started to speak and but himself off when she coughed. "Uh, sorry..."

 

"I am not done." The officer said dryly. "'Adjunct to those orders: If humans in danger are encountered, do what is needed to safeguard them while not hazarding your command.'" Horatius went totally still and she chuckled. "Well?"

 

"And I thought I was crazy." Horatius said with a snort of his own. "How do Corpus Special Forces qualify as civilians, Ma'am?"

 

"They never said 'civilians', Commander." The other said in a slightly snooty voice. "My orders say 'humans' not 'civilians'. You are human. I am not leaving you to die." That was firm.

 

"Ma'am..." Horatius could not believe he was having this conversation. "Mission?" He asked weakly.

 

"If the mission called for it, Commander..." The other said quietly. "I would shoot you. Either to preserve the mission or to keep you out of the hands of the Grineer and their... interesting concept of 'mercy'. Wouldn't enjoy it, but I would do it if the mission called for it. It doesn't. The Grineer cannot see this vehicle or catch it." She paused. "But..."

 

"The drone can." Horatius said softly.

 

"Yeah." The other said with a grunt. "So... Can I ask a question about priorities?" She asked after a moment.

 

"What kind?" Horatius asked carefully. "I may not be able answer."

 

"Fairly straightforward." The other replied. "If they suddenly had three targets instead of one, any idea which they would go for? Or do they have more than one drone?"

 

"More than one drone would be wasteful." Horatius said with a trace of ice himself. "Wouldn't waste the one if they could help it. Throwing good money after bad isn't the Board's way."

 

"Well..." The other mused. "That is... shortsighted." Something rattled nearby and Horatius flinched as something moved. "Relax." The voice said quietly. "You are clear of the mechanisms."

 

"Excuse me for saying this, lieutenant." Horatius said with as small smile. "But asking me to relax when I got my team blown up, got captured, and now am about to be written off for downsizing by the Corpus is not going to work." A snicker escaped the other and Horatius chuckled too. "Just saying."

 

"You are crazy." The other said with a snort as she tried to control her laughter.

 

"Been said." Horatius said with a sigh. "Anyway... they will likely follow whatever they think is the most probable track. If it leads somewhere they can access, or makes sense for people on the run to flee to. Not that you are running."

 

"Eh..." The other said with a audible shrug. "Survival usually kind of trumps stupid courage." A 'thump' sounded, followed by another. "And...we shall see."

 

"Some kind of decoy?" Horatius asked and then shook his head. "Never mind. You won't tell me."

 

"Let's just say that if they do follow something else, it won't give them any intel." The other said in a somewhat smug tone. "So..." She hummed a little. "Anything you can talk about? No codes or anything. Just curious."

 

"I..." Horatius sighed. "Any codes I know will be invalid as soon as they upload that my trace vanished. Standard procedure. Any intel I have will be out of date quick too.  So... we just disappear?"

 

"I don't know." The lieutenant said quietly. "This is above my pay grade. Standard operating procedure is that if we encounter wounded humans, we transport to medical facilities. But... You are not normal humans."

 

"No, Ma'am." Horatius admitted.

 

"So..." The other groaned. "My bosses are not going to be happy. But there is no need to be rude. You cannot escape currently although you will try as soon as you are loose at all." Horatius jerked and she laughed sourly. "I know your type, Commander. You wouldn't know the word 'surrender' if it bit you."

 

"If you are Orokin Marines..." Horatius said softly. "Then..." He shook his head. "Where have you been? How...? I mean... How have you hidden all this time? And why now? Why show up now?"

 

"I cannot answer your questions, Commander." The other said softly. "My superiors may or may not be able to. But one thing I can guarantee. If you try to escape or hurt anyone trying to escape, it will not end well for you. Clear?"

 

"Clear." Horatius said softly but clearly.

 

"Get some rest." The other said, not unkindly. "We have long trek to our extraction point and the drone has moved off. I will keep an eye on it. But don't do anything dumb and you will get out of this intact. Get squirrely?"

 

"'Squirrely', Ma'am?" Horatius asked, confused. "A squirrel was some kind of higher order primate, wasn't it?"

 

"Sorry, ancient slang. And no. It means rambunctious." The other clarified and the Special Forces soldier nodded. "Sleep if you can. It's at least two hours to our rally point if I don't have to evade Grineer patrols or that drone again. Sorry for the lack of a bunk."

 

"Bunks?" Horatius said in an archaic accent. "We don't need no stinkin' bunks. We are Special Forces. We can sleep anywhere."

 

"Speak for yourself." Horatius went still as  Lacy's voice sounded from close at hand. She sounded...awful. "Where are we, boss?"

 

"Dunno." Horatius said quietly. "But um... We are prisoners of the Orokin Marine Corps."

 

"You are S#&$ting me!" Lacy exclaimed and then gasped in pain.

 

"Don't move too hard, Ma'am." The female Marine said calmly. Horatius could feel Lacy's stunned expression. "Your injuries were tended, but are beyond the scope of battlefield medicine. I am taking you to evacuation. Once there, you can be tended and we can figure out what to do from there. How to get you back where you belong. Right now, you are not our enemies. Do as we say and you will be okay."

 

"Don't do anything stupid, Lacy." Horatius said quietly. "I don't know what is going on, but you, me and Jack are alive. That is better than I expected to tell the truth when I saw the bombs fall."

 

"Me too." His team sniper said sadly. "But of all the silly things... We were late."

 

"Yeah." Horatius said sourly.

 

"Late?" The female Marine asked. "Oh, right..." She snickered. "Only thing worse than being on time to an ambush is being late for one. Not your fault." She said in a consoling tone. "We will find a way to get you all home."

 

"Do we have to?" Lacy asked sadly. Horatius hissed, but he knew her well. He knew her feelings.

 

"Ma'am..." The Marine sounded cautious. "You are Special Forces. Right?"

 

"Lacy didn't have any real choice in the matter." Horatius said with a sigh. "Not after she gutted the son of an executive who couldn't keep his hands to himself. Pity she didn't kill him, that would have been easier to hide from." The silence was deafening and Horatius shrugged even though it hurt. "Lots of people come to Special Forces from... shall we say... less than ideal circumstances. All we ask is if you can do the job, not why you want to join."

 

"I see." The Marine said softly. "Well, for what it is worth, I won't leave any of you to die. I can't say what will happen when we get back to base, but for now.... Rest. I have got you."

 

Horatius tried to stay awake, but the humming was oddly soothing. He heard Lacy's breathing ease into sleep as well and then he too was drifting away.

 

***

 

"LT Charlotte... With all due respect, Ma'am... HAVE YOU LOST YOUR BLOODY MIND?"

 

The male voice wasn't -quite- a scream, but the intensity level was through the roof. Horatius jerked, but he wasn't where he had been. He was lying on something soft. It yielded under him but when he tried to move, he couldn't. He still couldn't see. Something was holding him down, but... not any kind of restraints he knew. It felt... like energy?

 

"Gunny, I took responsibility." The voice of the female Marine was coming from a ways away. It sounded... mechanical? "They were in the kill box when we initiated. Two died to Grineer ordnance. The others were hurt. They surrendered. What was I supposed to do? Shoot them?" She demanded.

 

"Of all the-... STUPID...!" What had to be a high ranked NCO sounded as if he was hair's breadth form losing his temper.

 

"Not her fault!" Horatius managed to croak out the words somehow. "Ours! Blame me! Us... Not her. She... is..."

 

"Sir, calm down." The voice of what had to be a medic came from close at hand and suddenly, Horatius was floating. He was going under.  "Gunny, lieutenant?"

 

"Aw crap..."The NCO said with a sigh. "Okay, tend them. But for the love of god, keep them secure... And as for you, LT...You come with me. You get to explain to the big boss why you just violated almost every single aspect of our security arrangements." A female gulp sounded.

 

Not her fault. Horatius was pleading as he slipped under. Not her fault...

 

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Ow

 

Commander Horatius hurt. Every fiber of his being hurt. He tried to move past it and after a long moment, managed to dull the pain through sheer force of will. Pain was a fact of life. While he wasn't really as  crazy as some of his allies thought on occasion, he did know pain. No one made it through Corpus Special Forces training without learning to deal with pain, or in some cases, love it. And then the job...

 

Horatius had done some tough jobs for the Board, for the Clergy. He had been shot, stabbed, blown up more than once, and basically hurt in a number of ways doing his job. His job was not safe by any stretch of the imagination. But he was good at it. He had been good at it for a long, long time. Corpus technology was sufficient to allow for lifespans of thousands of years if the being in question had the funds to provide for them or was deemed a needed asset of the company. Horatius had been deemed such an asset. He had just reached his third century. The parents he dimly remembered were long gone. Fond memories, but only memories. He did the job.

 

"Good morning." A voice that Horatius remembered pulled him out of his daze and he jerked as he realized that he was unfettered. His eyes shot open and he froze as he saw the woman standing by one wall of the room he was in. But...the room...wasn't right. He couldn't say how it wasn't right, but it wasn't. It was bare. He was lying on the floor, but it wasn't hard. It felt...comfortable. Lis nodded to him. "Commander."

 

"I... uh..." Horatius swallowed. "The Tenno said... you were... going to suffer for eternity."

 

"Things change." Lis said quietly. "My duty is to Sara. Now and always. But she is moving on, finding her own path. The healers are getting a little annoyed with me not letting them heal me, so..." She shrugged. "They never said I died." Her tone was mild, but her eyes were twinkling.

 

"If I had thought we had a chance, I would have recruited you." Horatius said with a sigh. "You were -are- good."

 

"Lots of harsh training and lots of experience." Lis said with another shrug. "A lot like you actually. Crappy jobs for the most part. Until recently anyway. "

 

"Someone has to do the crummy jobs." Horatius agreed. Then he shook his head. "Is this an interrogation?"

 

"No." Lis replied evenly. "They got all the information you had while you slept." Horatius went still and Lis nodded. "They were gentle, but very thorough." She raised a hand in warning as he opened his mouth to exclaim. "And no, there are limits to the information that you get. There is way too much at stake."

 

"Then... why let me wake at all?" Horatius said slowly. "This... doesn't seem like a good idea."

 

"Good?" Lis queried. "I don't know. But I do know this. You could have taken me on that outpost, Commander. You and your team. It would have hurt, cost you a couple of your people, but you could have. Why didn't you?"

 

"If I have been scanned..." Horatius said slowly. "Then you know."

 

"I want it in your words." Lis said slowly. "I liked Gen H-12." Horatius jerked and then nodded.

 

"We were deep cover." Horatius said quietly. "We had been sent to infiltrate a terrorist cell, but not..." He emphasized the word. "...to destroy them. The Board wanted us to. We couldn't care less what the Board wants. They use us, screw us and throw us away to further their profits. We do not serve the Board."

 

"I figured that out when you let me go after killing that Black Ops team. You serve the Clergy." Lis said quietly. "So... The reason you are here and I am here is fairly straightforward. You saw it." Horatius jerked and Lis nodded. "The answer is 'yes'." That took a moment for Horatius to understand and when he did, all the breath left his body in a solid whoosh.

 

"Are you out of your @(*()$ mind?" Horatius exploded. "After what Maxwell D-90 did to you? After what the Board has done? After... everything? You would... just..." He went still as she nodded silently. "Why?" He demanded.

 

"It's simple." Lis said quietly. "I want humanity to survive too." Horatius choked on his instant retort and swallowed hard. "I am not human, Commander Horatius. But I was once."

 

"I..." Horatius hadn't felt fear like what washed over him in a long, long time. "Tenno? You are Tenno?"

 

"Don't tell me you didn't suspect." Lis said, small smile playing over her face. "I know better."

 

"Do you have ANY IDEA WHAT THE BOARD WILL DO?" Horatius hadn't planned on screaming, but he was. "They..." He went still as Lis knelt. An... oddly formal a posture. One he dimly recalled from somewhere as having been called 'seiza' in ancient martial arts. It looked... right. "I... No... You can't..."
 

"My DNA is human." Lis said quietly. "I was human. Once. They cannot do what they tried with Amelia and Sara Priosa from my DNA. It is simply not possible. The other... samples they took were not human. You know this." Horatius nodded jerkily and Lis sighed.  "Angering Serene is a very bad idea. And Bek is angering her with him trying again." Horatius went totally still and Lis nodded. "He is. He is taking samples that he stole from Alad V and cloning them. The results apparently...don't live long according to our sources."

 

"Aw S#&$..." Horatius slumped in place. "We are screwed."

 

"Not yet." Lis said calmly. "Luckily for a lot of people, Serene has sworn off of field work. But anger her enough and she will again. You saw her on Larissa." Horatius swallowed and nodded. Lis smiled a bit sadly. "Darkness manifested. That is her."

 

"Bloody terrifying." Horatius agreed. "Which is the whole point I bet."

 

"I have heard of Infested running from her." Lis said with a sigh. "I believe it."

 

"Me too." Horatius said with a grunt. "So... what? Why wake me? Why talk to me?"

 

"Two reasons." Lis said calmly. "One, you are a conduit to the Clergy. Your other...soldiers..." She paused and her face turned sad.

 

"Lacy doesn't want to go back." Horatius said quietly. "She was good. Loyal. But... she never wanted to stay. I made her XO to keep her busy. She isn't... like me."

 

"I know." Lis said quietly. "Or me for that matter. She still has the core of wanting to do the right thing. That... will burn her out or burn her up. Good person. Bad situation."

 

"Lots of that in Special Forces." Horatius said with a shrug. "And the second thing? Wait! Jack?" He asked and Lis bowed her head. "Oh no..."

 

"I am sorry, Commander." Lis said softly. "There is too much intercranial damage. He is not going to wake up." Horatius slumped and Lis nodded. "I know about losing comrades."

 

"I bet you do." Horatius said with a sigh. "So... what? What do you want from me?"

 

"Not me." Lis said quietly as another form appeared. She simply...appeared beside Lis who nodded to the...woman who was...wearing a...golden crown. One that was starting to... glow! Horatius went totally still as he recognized it. The Crown of Orokin! The symbol of the Orokin Royal Family!

 

"Empress...?" His voice was soft, scared almost.

 

"Commander Horatius." The impossible Empress said quietly. "You will not remember this conversation. You will not remember who had you or what happened. You were captured by people in odd uniforms. Uniforms of Orokin nature. None of the rest of your team survived the ambush."

 

"I..." Horatius was on his knees, with no clue how he had gotten there. "No... I... I want to serve! To help!"

 

"You can." The Empress said softly. "But it will be a hard task."

 

"We only get hard jobs, Ma'am." Horatius said with a sigh. "What do you need?"

 

"We cannot and will not aid the Board in it's insane attempts to profit from horror." The Empress said firmly. Horatius nodded. "That said... We may... be able to help you."

 

"Me?" The Special Ops trooper asked cautiously. "Why me?"

 

"You are available." The Empress sounded cold and aloof now. "I... do not agree with much of what the Corpus does. What they want or how they go about it. But even I have to admit, compared to the Grineer, they are definitely the lesser of two evils."

 

"I dunno, Ma'am." Horatius said slowly. "I mean... The Grineer don't usually lie about who or what they are. The Board?" He shrugged expressively. "So... What do you want me to do?"

 

"Escape."

 

***

 

"You realize this is a very bad idea." The words were respectful... but...

 

"Your opinion is noted, Gunnery Sergeant Smith." Eliza, Empress of Orokin said quietly as she watched through the window as the Corpus Special Forces commander was laid out on a surgical bed. "Show us an alternative?"

 

"I..." Miguel sighed deeply and shook his head. "I am just a grunt, Ma'am. I shoot things when I am told to. This spy and political stuff is out of my area of expertise." He glanced at her sidelong. "That said... Lieutenant Charlotte should have contacted us. Or left them somewhere."

 

"It was...a surprise." Eliza agreed. "But the benefits may outweigh the potential risks. The woman?"

 

"Ma'am..." Miguel said with a sigh. "If what Charlotte says is true, and she isn't a liar by nature, she doesn't want to be a soldier. Every limited scan the docs have done says the same thing. She is unhappy with what she was doing. She is good, no question. But this...?" He shrugged. "I dunno."

 

"Should I talk to her?" Eliza asked after a moment.

 

"No." Miguel said firmly. "Permission to speak freely?"

 

"Always, sergeant." Eliza scoffed. "You know that. At least in private."

 

"Frankly..." Miguel was obviously choosing his words with care now. "Letting the one we are going to release see you was a mistake in my opinion, Ma'am. Mind wipes can go wrong. He could remember."

 

"We needed to ask his permission." Eliza said quietly. "But point taken. It's just... I feel so isolated at times with Sara and Lis and Serene gone. Mishka and Rocky are wonderful, but I am always so busy..." Miguel nodded.

 

"My advice?" He said quietly. "Make time to spend with Michelle. Time to spend with Mishka and Rocky. Go to that music class of Mishka's if you wish. With Michelle here, you don't have to do it all." Eliza paused at the words and glanced at the sergeant. He shrugged again. "Not quite the same speech I give new LTs but the same gist. You don't have to do it all. Delegate." A polite cough came from nearby and Miguel turned to where the two Tenno guards who never left Eliza's side stood. "Yes?"

 

"Good luck, Sergeant." The Ash Prime on the right said with smirk in his voice. "We have been trying to get her to do just that for the last three hundred years." Miguel turned to look at Eliza who flushed a little.

 

"I... um... well... True. Michelle is here now and she is helping." Eliza said softly. "Raven is back and I think to stay. She... said she doesn't feel right outside. Too many people staring." She smiled a bit wistfully. "She may be opposition, but she is smart and dedicated. But all people see is the scars."

 

"Judging by appearances..." Miguel said with a sigh. "Morons."

 

"No argument there." Eliza said with a sigh. "So... this Lacy? What does she want? Do we know?"

 

"She just out of surgery." Miguel said with a frown. "Haven't had a chance to ask yet. She was good, no question. They all were to get into the middle of the ambush site undetected by our people or the Grineer. But if she doesn't want to be a soldier..."

 

"We won't force her." Eliza said firmly. "Who is going to..." She paused as Miguel winced. "Oh... Lilly demanded to talk to her, didn't she?" The Empress asked, her face a little worried.

 

"Lilly and Lis." Miguel said with a shiver. "Now there is a combination I would not want to try."

 

"Agreed." Eliza smiled a little. "So... can you do it? Drop him off?" Miguel just looked at her and she sighed. "Look, sergeant, I understand what I am asking. What I am asking is wrong. But it is needed. If they are getting desperate..."

 

"We only have his word for that, Ma'am." Miguel jerked his head at the window.

 

"No." Eliza said softly. "It is corroborated." Miguel stiffened and Eliza nodded. "And if his reaction is anything to go by... I don't think the Clergy knew about Bek's latest brainstorm. None of our sources said anything."

 

"Tell Karl's people?" Miguel said quietly. "You know they will shut it down. Hard."

 

"But that won't stop it." Eliza said quietly. Miguel shook his head and Eliza sighed. "Oh, I don't doubt that Karl's people will trash the area, kill any they find and destroy or snatch any information they can make off with. But the Corpus are not stupid. They will have backups. Lots of them."

 

"Right." Miguel shook his head. "We can do what you ask, Ma'am. We can plant him somewhere that it is plausible that he escaped us to. But then what? If they will just kill him..."

 

"They won't." Eliza said with a small. Secretive smile. "Or... I have it on very good authority they won't."

 

"I hate it when you say things like that, Ma'am." Miguel said with a grunt.

 

"Welcome to our world. Sergeant." The Ash Prime said with a snort of his own. "Check your sanity at the door."

 

***

 

Horatius jerked. What the-? Had he fallen asleep? What had...?

 

He stared around wildly, but the small cave hadn't changed. The still form of the only member of his tiny team who he had managed to grab and escape with lay still. He was no medic, but the readings from jack's helmet worried him. A lot. His head was fuzzy, so fuzzy.

 

A woman had been talking to him. One he knew? Lis...something or other? But the conversation had made little sense. One word over and over. 'Yes'. But 'yes' to what? He didn't know.  Or... he couldn't remember. He focused on what he could remember.

 

His team had crept into someone else's ambush. Some had been killed and the others had been captured. He had been placed in some kind of vehicle with his wounded squadmate. Lacy hadn't survived and the oddly uniformed people had removed her...corpse... from the vehicle. But then... he had seized his chance when it had started to move again. He had thrown himself out and pulled Jack's still form with him. One of his holdout blades had cut the restraints off and he had fled. Then he had alternated between crawling with Jack's still form on his back and running with the man in his arms.

 

He hadn't seen any pursuit, but that meant nothing. He was still on Mars. That was clear from the red landscape, but the terrain was very different from where the Grineer had been ambushed. He knew there were Corpus facilities on planet. Some even still in Corpus hands. Or at least, they had been. Now? He had no idea. But he had to get back. He had to report. If those odd uniforms were what he thought... everything was about to change.

 

Orokin Marines. Someone had found a cache of gear that had been used by Orokin Marines, the single most elite pure human fighting force of the Orokin era. And not just that, but they were trained. Professionals. Maybe not Special Forces, but professionals. He had no idea how, but they were actually Marines. So... Things were about to change. If the Grineer discovered that group, they would do anything at all to wipe them out before the word could spread. Before hope could spread. Grineer relied as much on fear as they did on their brutality. If that fear faltered?

 

The clones were numerous, but no one had a solid grasp on how many human survivors actually still existed in the Origin System. It could be as few as a million but some numbers said thirty or forty billion, scattered all around the various habitats and colonies. If all of them realized that hope still lived... That would fundamentally shift the balance of power, something the Grineer would not allow. The atrocities they committed daily would pale in comparison to the slaughter they would unleash. He had to warn the Corpus. But if he just popped back up on the screens... he would invite death. So... he had to do it smart. But...

 

Horatius stared across at where his squadmate lay and shook his head slowly. He couldn't help Jack. There was no way the man would survive alone in the Martian wilderness. He... had no choice. He sighed and did what had to be done.

 

***

 

"Damn..." Miguel's voice was hushed as he watched through the concealed camera that had been secreted in the cave they had deposited the two Special Forces guys in. "He told me... I didn't believe him..." The Special Forces Commander had just broken his subordinate's neck.

 

"What else could he do, Gunny?" Charlotte's voice was subdued too. "The other wasn't going to survive and he has to finish the mission." Miguel just growled at her and she sighed. "Gunny... Okay, I got emotional. I screwed up, all right? But I couldn't just shoot them. You wouldn't have just shot them." She paused. "There he goes..."

 

The small tank destroyer's sensors were fine tuned and even they had difficulty following the Special Forces operative as he crept from the cave, seeking high ground to try and find his way to a Corpus facility. And the completion of his mission.

 

Miguel just shook his head, eying the small satchel that sat beside the commander's seat of the tank destroyer.

 

The one marked 'human DNA samples'.

 

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