We Were Alone

This is a story I wrote a while ago as an experiment in bringing characters to different settings. I like this one a lot, but really am enjoying the writings after it more. Wanted to post those, so here is this one first!

“I just want to be a pilot Violet. When I’m in my Swallow I feel free. I wish I could fly it without fighting a stupid war.” Emily lay on her bed in her cabin, apparently talking to no one in particular.

“So why would you fly if not for war?” The metallic voice of the ship’s computer queried.

“I don’t know. Fun? Do you even have fun?” Emily sat up and looked at the display screen that was active in her cabin.

There was a brief silence as the computer processed her question. “I don’t think so. It would appear my creators didn’t think there would be a reason for me to ‘have fun’ as the computer for a military vessel. Maybe you could teach me that too.”

Emily smiled and softly shook her head, “I have to ask, Vi, do your creators even know how sentient and independent you are?”

“Well, they know I can alter my programming to better serve the ship, but they don’t know the extent that I have used that ability–” there was a slight pause and the voice got noticeably quieter, “and they certainly don’t know how much you’ve helped me.”

“Well, if they did I wonder if I would ever be allowed near a ship again.”

Violet, the ship’s Virtual Systems Controller, had started talking with Emily soon after she first boarded the ship. Something about Emily’s reserved nature compared to the rest of the crew’s personality intrigued Violet. As a systems controller she needed to know how to best interact with the whole crew. However, Violet wasn’t prepared for the care and interest that Emily showed. Emily responded early on asking what to call the computerized voice that talked to her. Violet said “Computer? Or VSC?” And Emily replied, “nah, I’m going to call you Violet.” Soon after the ship altered all of its display panels to have a violet motif. Deviating from the standard red of the rest of the United Core Worlds fleet.

Since then Emily and Violet have spent much of their free time together. Emily’s lack of interest in fighting gave a completely different view of the world to Violet, and made her realize just how narrow her creators had made her world view. She had been rewriting herself constantly, building up her abilities of free thought based off of the one person who seemed to think differently than the normal military mind.

“Em?” Violet asked softly after a while, she avoided turning on the cameras in Emily’s room, unless she knew that Emily was welcoming her.

“Yeah Vi?” Emily responded quietly from her bed.

“Why did you join the military if you detest fighting so much?”

Emily sighed and rolled over, “What a question.” She was quiet for a minute, thinking about how to explain her desire to fly. “My parents were freighter pilots. I grew up in the space lanes with them and I remember the joy of watching planets and stars float by. They always talked to me about feeling the ship around them.” A tear formed in her eye, thinking about her parents. “I guess I just wanted to be with them again. And after war broke out, the only ships permitted to fly were those in the military. Flying is how I commune with them I guess.”

“Ah,” Violet stated before being quiet for a few minutes. “They sound like great people.”

“Yeah. They were.”

“Davidson, please return to the formation. This is a readiness drill, not a joyride.”

Emily cursed before clicking in her comms, “yes sir.” She returned to her place in formation and clicked off her comms again. “Violet, hate to bother you, but I have a question.”

Violet’s voice chimed into Emily’s Swallow fighter, “No problem, I’m actually running analysis on your squadron right now.”

“Huh, do you have any control over the formation planner?”

“Yes. As the Systems Controller, it is my job to predict and alter the formation planner as necessary.”

Emily smiled, “You said you wanted to learn about having fun right? How does now sound?”

There were two soft beeps before Violet responded in a voice that could only be described as excited, “Tell me what to do.”

If there was anyone watching that flight, they would have described it as a dance, a ballet. Ships darted around each other, tighter than most military drill permit, At times it looked like a ball of fighters, ships blended together in a way that would make picking any one out impossible. Not all fighter pilots could handle it and occasionally one would pop out of formation for a few seconds, but somehow their spot in formation appeared right in front of them and they fell back in.

Ships shifted around each other, close, far, close ,far. Who was next to each pilot in formation changed by the second. At time, everyone clustered together, other times everyone seemed far, far away.

Emily didn’t need to follow her pathing computer, she could see where Violet wanted her just by watching the other ships. It was exhilarating. This wasn’t standard military line and wall formations, this was fluid, organic. It was strange to Emily, No human had designed a formation plan that was as alive as this computer just did. Of course, Emily had trouble viewing Violet as a computer anymore. She was just as alive, perhaps even more so than most of her comrades.

The dance slowed down after a few minutes and soon the ships returned home to the Diomedes. As the pilots got out of their ships the flight commander was sweating as he ran over.

“I’m sorry crew, I don’t know what the computer was thinking giving you all that exercise.”

Emily smiled faintly, “And here I was going to thank you for giving us a good run, Sir.”

Of the 28 pilots on board the Diomedes, 19 nodded in agreement with Emily, 6 were standing indifferent to the situation, 2 grumbled under their breath and the last one was on the ground throwing up.

“Hey Emily, why don’t you ever join us during meals?” Emily’s compatriot’s voice chimed over her shoulder breaking her away from the book she was reading. “The other pilots talk. We don’t know you that well. We got to know you in order to trust you on the field.” He set his tray down next to her, adding, “You’re too good of a pilot to be lost, so I’m going to get to know you.”

“Lieutenant Commander Sanders, I didn’t realize my book was threatening my life in the sky. Please, join me.” She clicked the button on the side of her datapad and the words clicked off, replaced by a clock overlaid on a picture of a kitten.

“Oh please, just call me Mike. What were you reading?”

“Classic science fiction. I love these stories from when humanity had so much hope for our times. Could you imagine looking at the stars and dreaming of making contact with another life form?”

Mike laughed, “Other than humans? Man, they were dreaming.”

Emily rolled her eyes slightly before changing the subject, “What about you Mike, what do you do for kicks?”

“The normal, I have some netGate games I play with friends, and I try to watch as many Combat-Cycling matches as I can. I’m a big fan of the AC Centaurs personally.” Mike ate with big mouthfuls, and only swallowed three quarters of it before talking his next line. “Last week, Jag Jenkins had an amazing flag catch, while taking out three other bikers along the route! Did you catch the game? So worth it, even if you don’t like the GCCL you have to appreciate that level of athlete.”

Emily smiled and nodded briefly, “I’m sure it was excellent. It’s too bad we’re going to be going dark soon. I’ve been trying to pull a number of books off the net beforehand.”

“Oh shit! You think the rumors are true?” Mike dropped his fork onto his tray, “I’m going to miss the big rivalry game with Sirius! Maybe I can convince command to make an exception, I’m sure it would be good for crew morale.” Mike picked up his fork and returned to his meal.

“Well, Mike, it has been a pleasure, I’ll try to join the crew more often. Unfortunately I Have to go check in on some stats I had Vi–” She caught herself and continued with almost no pause, “the computer run on my flight recently.”

“Oh, all right! Have a good one Emily!”

Emily walked out of the mess hall and made her way to the elevator. Once inside she asked softly, “Oh man, Violet, Why do you make such better conversation than my wingmates?”

“I’m sorry. That conversation sounded quite pleasant, Jag Jenkins did have an amazing play.”

Emily paused and looked up at where she thought a visual sensor was in the elevator and furrowed her brow, “And you are now a fan of Combat Biking?”

“No. I am trying to learn to have some fun.”

Emily’s mouth opened as if she wanted to make a retort, then she paused and shook her head, just in time for the elevator to open at her floor. She walked out in amazement. As her door closed she asked of Violet, “Did you just make a joke? Did you write a humor protocol in your system now?”

A strange electric laughter came from the speakers in Emily’s room. “Oh Emily, you should have seen that look! It was totally worth it.”

“Oh no,” Emily looked down, “I’ve created a monster. Next you’ll be telling me dad jokes.”

“Hey, as a disembodied intelligence, I don’t get to do things like run or dance, I only have my words and this ship. Using the ship has shown to get us in trouble, so words it is.”

Emily laid down in her bunk, “You know Violet, I was excited to join this crew last month with the hope of some exploration. But it has been awfully nice to get to know you along the way too.”

Our Virtual Systems Controller assumed control 
of the readiness test at 1107 hours and began
an intricate process of redesigning the formation 
planner for all 28 fighters in real time building 
on each pilot’s strengths and weaknesses. I tried 
to return to our scheduled flight plan multiple 
times over the course of the test but I found the 
VSC to be unresponsive to my request.

Upon landing the majority of the pilots didn’t 
seem to mind the drastically more difficult flight 
plan and even seemed to have enjoyed the experience. 
A few pilots were put to the test, but should be 
able to improve to the level of our top pilot, 
Lieutenant Emily Davidson.

It is my opinion that the flight test run by the 
VSC is more akin to a real battle situation, as 
well as the formations employed being better 
suited to tactical combat. I believe we should 
employ our powerful VSC in the process of 
formation planning for the time being with a deck 
commander in the role of overseer.

We should contact Fleet Command about security 
locks on the VSC to ensure an override can 
take place in the case of emergency.
Excerpt of Readiness Report, Commander Lindsay Drake

———-

“Attention all crew. This is the Captain speaking.” Captain Ged’s voice boomed over the intercom and bounced off the bare walls in the fighter bay. Emily set down her wrench and hopped in her Swallow, to get a better feed through her ship’s coms.

“For the last two months we have been meticulously testing the myriad of novel systems on board our fine ship. Every one of you has performed immaculately. Command is pleased as well, but we don’t get any time to rest.

“As you all know, we are at war with the World’s Collective and 21 hours ago they made a strike to the furthest point inwards they ever have. They used an exploratory Gate to hit one of the UCW’s outer defensive points, seemingly with the goal of capturing the gate that would give them a foothold in our worlds.

“A majority of our fleet is en route to intercept their fleet, but command believes that this large fleet is leaving important strategic targets vulnerable. Since we can generate our own Gate, we are being put into a front line role in this war.

“All Hands, prepare for Gate. We are taking the fight to the enemy. Upon exit, we will be beginning the first major offensive for the UCW. We will be operating dark. Ged Out.”

Emily sat in her cockpit for a second. She looked up and saw the excitement in her wing-mates’ eyes. It scared her. They were going to war. No more exercises. No more elegant dance. Her job was now to kill other human beings.

Her comm beeped softly and Violet’s voice chimed in, “Em…” She trailed off and there was a silence for almost a minute. “I’m scared.”

“You’ll be fine Vi. You have a whole crew looking after you.”

“But I’ve read enough about Human History to know that war changes people. I don’t know if I want the changes described.”

“An unfortunate part of being alive is that we don’t often get what we want.”

“Just… Don’t leave me Emily.”

Emily sighed and opened her cockpit again. “I’ll do my best Vi. I’ll do my best.” She climbed down and re attached the panel she was working on before the announcement then made her way to the flight commander.

“All right pilots, This is it. We’ll be primarily running capital defence, but be prepared to operate a bombardment package if it calls for it. You are the best pilots in the galaxy, I expect every one of you to come back home.” Flight Commander Howe was standing in front of the 28 small craft pilots and the 42 deck hands of the Diomedes, all standing in formation for the first time in a month and a half. A mix of excitement and fear filled the pilot’s faces and Howe’s face reflected their emotions. “One last thing before we mount up. Trust the VSC. It has been getting smarter every time we run a formation. It know’s each of your personal strengths and weaknesses. I was wary at first, but I am confident it is the greatest development in this ship. Let’s get to work.”

Each pilot made their way to their Swallow and boarded. The first four were loaded in the launch tubes before Gate, the rest were arranged by the deckhands in launch order. The Flight Commander signaled to the bridge that his crew was prepared.

The Gate Warning light lit blue alongside a quick alarm bell, and the Diomedes dropped through the fabric of space, leaving just a ripple where they left.

A square of faint blue appeared in space near Iota Carinae II and moved leaving behind the sleek hull of the Diomedes. Immediately seven sets of four fighters launched from the launch tubes on her back and immediately set into a defensive position. There were no other ships present. The Diomedes advanced on the large space station sitting in orbit around the colony.

Eight of the 28 fighters were equipped with bombardment packages and started their approach. At the same time, the Diomedes opened fire unleashing a volley of nuclear weapons on the unsuspecting station. Two of the defensive turrets spun into position and hastily attempted to block the oncoming destruction. They managed to destroy three of the warheads, but not enough to prevent the destruction of their quarry. The remaining warhead struck true, followed by the eight cluster bombs from the Swallows.

Life support was hit critically.

Command was wiped out.

Crew quarters were decimated.

The Swallows returned home and the Diomedes left.

Emily returned to her quarters after another successful attack and flopped onto her bed. She was thankful that she was never asked with the bombs. She didn’t know if she could handle it.

“Hey Violet,” Emily softly reached out to her electronic friend. After they had started their military operations they had less time to talk. It felt like it had been ages since she had answered one of Violet’s odd questions. “Are you still around?”

There was a pause that scared Emily before Violet’s voice came through, “Hi Em,” her voice sounded different, “This isn’t what I expected.”

“Me either. Why haven’t they started reacting to us faster? Why haven’t they ever fought back?”

“What would they fight back with?”

“I don’t know, maybe have more gunner crews on duty? Maybe they could produce some new ships? The World’s Collective used to produce the majority of the galaxy’s merchant fleets before the war.”

“It is strange. It’s as if they don’t know that they are in a war.”

Emily paused for a minute trying to understand how a government could completely abandon so many installations. “Hey Vi, what kind of targets are we attacking?”

“I–” Violet stopped talking for a minute. “I can’t tell. I’ve been given coordinates, but have no information about what kind of targets we are hitting. As far as I can tell even Captain Ged doesn’t. Our orders were to jump to the coordinates and take out the stations nearby along with any other targets of opportunity.”

“I don’t like this. Something doesn’t feel right.”

“Emily, I think this is bad.” Violet’s voice chimed into Emily’s quarters 20 hours later. They had just raised another station unopposed. “I don’t think that station was military at all.”

Emily’s eyes flashed open and she looked at her console’s screen. “What do you mean?”

Scan data flashed onto the screen. “After our last conversation I decided I would collect some data as we were starting the strike. That station only had minimal defensive capabilities. There weren’t even fighter bays built in. All the ships that I could track before the station collapsed on itself were merchants and traders. There were no signs of anti-capital warheads, and next to no signs of other munitions.

“When we first entered the system I listened in to the public broadcast channels and they welcomed us as if we had just Gated into the system. During the attack all the signals were unencrypted, and were general sos signals, not military information.

“Emily, I think we’re attacking civilians.”

Emily’s breath stopped for a second as she looked at the information that Violet was providing. “Shit.”

“What should we do Emily? I Can’t refuse the commands.” Violet’s voice had gotten quiet.

Emily struggled to breathe. The thought of the half dozen stations she had participated in obliterating rolled through her head. Thousands of innocent people were potentially dead because of her. Emily fainted.

———-

Lieutenant Davidson was admitted into my sick 
bay at 0200 hours by two security officers. 
The VSC altered them to a medical issue in the 
Lieutenant’s cabin. When they knocked there was 
no reply. So they opened the door to find 
Davidson on the floor unconscious. I immediately 
treated Davidson’s minor bruising and set her 
under medical surveillance.

At 0400 Davidson woke up hysterical. I 
administered a low dose of tranquilizer to try to 
calm her down. She did, but soon fell asleep. 
I could not make out any words in her hysteria.

It is my diagnosis that Lieutenant Davidson is in 
the process of a psychological crisis due to the 
trauma of war and in a panic hit her head. I 
recommend pulling her off active duty for the 
time being while I keep an eye on her mental state. 
She has always had a strong will and the sudden 
onset of this behavior is worrying.

Incident Report by Medical Officer David Michaels

———-

The alert sirens rang out. Emily was still feeling groggy and confused as she looked around the med bay. Red lights flashed where normally there was the bright blue-white of medical lighting.

“Emily!”

The ship shook around her. Medical instruments fell off of a shelf. Emily still had a blanket on her lap. She looked down trying to remember why she was in the med bay. She remembered a fall. Her head?

“Emily!”

Emily reached up and felt the bandage wrapped around her head. It felt tight, but strangely comforting. She caught her reflection in a hanging piece of metal on the wall. She looked terrible. The gauze would need to be changed again before too long. She wondered where the doctor was.

“Emily! You need to get up!”

Where was the doctor? Emily thought that if the ship was this rough, the doctor would need to be down in the med bay ready to take on patients. Violet wouldn’t have a schedule without a doctor present. Especially not if Emily was in the med bay.

“Lieutenant Emily Davidson. I need you to listen to me now.”

Emily smiled thinking about Violet. That computer really was the highlight of this ship. Emily had really grown attached to it. Violet. She had made that name. She didn’t even know why, the name just jumped from her lips and it felt right. Wait. Violet was talking wasn’t she?

“EMILY!” Violet had the volume as high as it could go.

“What’s happening?”

“Oh thank god. You were sitting there with that silly look. You need to get up. The ship is falling apart!”

“What do you mean, I noticed the doctor had abandoned his post.”

“Yeah he abandoned ship with the rest of the crew. GET UP.”

Something about Violet’s voice flipped a switch in Emily’s head and her training kicked in. She was alert. The alert sirens, the red lights, the shaking. The ship was being pummeled. The hull would hold a bit longer, but the Diomedes was living on borrowed time at this point.

“Is there still a pod?”

“No, you’ll need to take a shuttle.”

“But we need someone on both sides to disengage the locks.”

“Good thing you have me then.”

Emily cringed at the finality of that statement but ran to the hatches that would take her to the shuttle bay. Her head pulsed with pain from the sudden burst in activity but she pushed it away.

The shuttle bay sat at the back of the ship, near the top, adjacent to the flight deck she worked on. The med bay was at the center of the ship, in one of the most secure places, to protect the wounded. She would have to go up five floors on ladders to get there. The lifts would be out of service by now.

“I’ve done everything I can on my end to prep the shuttle. You need to get there.”

“What about you? Going to try to be noble and go down with the ship?” Emily yelled back at Violet as she rushed up the ladder.

“I’m copying myself to the shuttle. But you are more important. Go as fast as you can.”

Emily made it to the top of the ladder, her arms felt like jello. The ship shook as another warhead exploded into the hull. She was running out of time. “Violet, what is the status of the ship?”

“Critical. Estimating five minutes or less of containment.”

Containment. That was what worried Emily. The ship ran on an advanced gravimetric power source. Containment breaks and the whole ship collapses in on itself. Including anything relatively nearby. The VSC was originally programmed to shut down all power by this time and kill the singularity. Emily needed to leave before then so that Violet could finish her job.

Emily ran into the shuttle that was sitting prepped. The shaking had become more frequent. The other ship was using smaller arms to scuttle the ship, they had no intention of salvaging anything.

“Violet, I’m on board, are you ready?”

“Yes, disengaging locks. Get out of here. I am shutting down the singularity.”

Emily grabbed the controls and pushed her way through the opening bay doors as she passed the lights went out. The doors stopped moving half open. The the explosions started. The whole ship started to explode through a chain reaction. It was a military ship. Rather than fall into the wrong hands it was designed to explode when it lost power.

“Violet, please tell me you made it on board with me.”

“Yeah. I’m here.” Violet’s soft voice replied. “I just, feel very small without the Diomedes.”

“We’ll make it. I promise you.”

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Zenith 2.2

Their mission was simple: Investigate the Hospital at Oregon Health and Science University. Reports had come in through some of the Society’s sources that people were going missing from the hospital. Most were transients, so the police department wasn’t the fastest to respond, but something else caught the Society’s eyes. All of the victims were seen on camera as walking out of the hospital under their own power with their arms behind their back.

Normally the Society’s agents didn’t bother with missing people reports, but two things drew their eyes to this one. The first was that one of the missing people were dropped off on the doorstep of the hospital in a coma yesterday. The second was that a visiting doctor from southern California had been the latest victim. This doctor was suspected to be a mage.

There was little other information about the whole situation. None of the Society’s contacts knew what the doctor was visiting for. No one had been able to follow the other victims after abduction, they all seemed to vanish into the night.

The two young ladies arrived at the hospital in the late afternoon of the next day as the sun set behind the hill. They entered confidently and Violet walked up to the reception desk.

“I’m here to see my father, I hear he just got checked in with a coma. Sam Owen?”

Emily felt the magic that Violet was infusing with her words, to make her story believable. They had decided that the first place to check would be the patient that had returned. One reason that they were selected for this task was Violet’s ability to prod and peer into people’s minds. The added bonus was Emily’s ability to get them out of a pickle in a flash.

“Ah I didn’t know he had a daughter, we would have called. He is up in the ward on floor seven. Check in with the orderly up there and she’ll bring you to his bed.”

“Thank you,” Violet replied, releasing the magical influence and walking to the elevator with Emily in tow. When they got in the elevator alone she turned to Emily, “That was strange.”

“What? You seemed like everything was under control.”

“No, that’s just it. It felt like she had been conditioned into obeying mental commands. I barely had to prod her and I felt her mind bend around me.”

“Well, we best stay on guard then.”

The elevator dropped the two at their floor in moments and opened to a standard looking hospital hallway. Many rooms peeled off, but The spotted the doors to the main ward on this floor and headed that way. As they entered the first thing Emily noticed was that it was surprisingly quiet inside. When you have a dozen or more sick people in a room, there is generally at least an occasional groan, but here it was lacking completely.

“Can I help you two?” The orderly asked from her station nearby.

“y- yeah, Sam Owen, I’m his daughter.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll bring you to his bed.”

They walked down and the orderly opened a curtain. There lying on the bed was the man they had been looking for lying silently in a coma.

“I’m sorry, I have to ask, why is it so quiet in here?” Emily stayed outside of the curtain and turned to the orderly.

“Everyone we have in here is in a strange coma. We can’t figure out what happened. None have a sign of traumatic injury. We had a specialist flown up from UCLA, but he hasn’t come to work in the last few days.”

“Thanks, I’m going to go support my friend.” Emily turned back to Violet who was standing by the bed.

“There is some connection here Violet. Be careful in their minds.”

Violet set down the Sam’s chart, “It looks like he wasn’t in a coma before his abduction. He was in last for abrasion. Looked like a bar fight. Guess I’m going to have to go in.”

Emily reached over and squeezed Violet’s hand as she watched her eyes close. Emily went into guard mode while Violet was incapacitated by someone else’s mind. Reaching out tendrils of her magic creating early warning points about people coming in. Mixing her newer control of Prime with her vast control of Space she was able to trigger a warning when any people of extraordinary abilities walking into the ward.

Violet’s eyes and mouth snapped open and she started falling backward. It looked like she was trying to scream but couldn’t get the words out.

Emily reached out and grabbed her, “It’s OK Violet, get out of there. Come back to me.” She watched as Violet struggled against some unseen foe, her face writhing and twisting between fear, pain and anger. Emily pulled her tighter and pushed some strength to Violet’s mind from her own.

She hit a wall. Violet was quarantining her own mind.

Then as suddenly as it started Violet’s face relaxed and she flopped to the floor with a cough. “Something is going on with these coma patients Em. I was just getting started with looking through his experience, when it felt like something jumped into my head. The only clue I could get before that happened was someone wearing scrubs, but the memory of him in Sam’s head was just a shadow, as if the memory had been partially erased.”

“So maybe someone at the hospital has a business on the side?”

“Or someone has been convincing enough to get in. I need to get outside Emily, lets go.”

Outside in the cool night air Violet sat down on the curb for a second. “Do you have any Advil?”

“Are you OK?” Emily asked as she turned back to VIolet.

“Yeah, it’s just a headache. I got some at my place, let’s go.”

As they walked back to the tram, a man they barely noticed walked past wearing scrubs headed into the hospital.

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Zenith – 2.1

The winter sun shone down on Emily’s golden hair as she looked across the river. A light breeze created tiny ripples on the slow moving water, distorting the reflections of trees and buildings on the other side. A single duck sat in the water, paddling lazily against the current. While sunny, the waterfront was approaching freezing. The residents of the city were out in force, well bundled in coats and scarves.

“Hey friend,” Violet’s voice rang clearly from behind Emily prompting a smile to form on her face.

“What a day, huh?” Emily asked as she watched a team of dragon boaters paddle up the river back to their berth.

Violet’s arms wrapped around Emily, and Violet placed a small kiss on the top of her head. “Not unlike the day I met you if I recall.”

Emily turned around to match her black haired partner’s gaze. “At least I’m not worried about killing you with newfound power now. Well, I guess we should make our way to the Council, no rest for the weary.”

After the sudden removal of Jiro six months ago, the council of mages had gone through a vigourous questioning process of everyone involved. Emily and Violet were not spared the brunt of this work and they had been on a form of probation during that time. They still had training sessions with Ged, but were forbidden to practice magic outside of the council halls, an enforcer  was tasked with keeping an eye on each of them.

Rumor was today marked the end of the investigation and the two ladies were hopeful that they could be re-introduced to the society as agents. They wanted to help people. They both recognized now the power they could wield and through discussion, and comic book references, knew that they needed to use their power to help the world. Neither really knew what that would look like, but it was important to them that they could try.

The full council of thirteen was seated in the chamber when they arrived. They sat in a semi-circle, with aides and scribes sitting behind them. In front was a collection of seating, mostly full of various area mages. In the front row, two seats were left open, specifically for Violet and Emily, next to the enforcer that was present that night and three other agents that had been involved in the Jiro case.

As the two women sat down, Ged stood up, “We now bring this meeting of the Council of Mages into session. Today we are here to conclude our business regarding the Jiro incident. All parties are now present.” Ged continued on recounting the events as it was determined by the investigation.

Events started well before Emily was a mage with a Paradox spirit being brought into the world by some gross magic, only to infest a mage. A member of the audience asked if the council had any leads on who had acted to produce such a spirit and Ged paused. The councillor to Ged’s left replied after a second that there was too much interference from outside sources for them to determine the source.

The meeting continued for a little over an hour and a half. There were questions from many parties and statements from everyone involved. In the end the council decided to treat it as a natural disaster and removed any claims against people for practicing gross magic in public.

Tragedy had been diverted and the mage population was content. As people left, they talked in hushed tones theorizing who could have caused the tragedy in the way that a general populous discusses a war long after the soldiers had given their lives.

Ged however motioned to Violet and Emily And walked back to his private chambers. As they arrived he closed the door and motioned to some chairs.

“None of this would have been possible without you two. In that light we are making you two partners. You’ll be a new team in the area. I’ll try to avoid giving you two any more force of nature level missions this time, but you two are the most promising mages in the region. We need your help with all sorts of things.”

The two looked at each other briefly before Violet replied, “Of course, we are here to help with anything we can. But Master, something seems to be troubling you with all of this.”

Ged stood back up and sighed, “You are the Zenith of Mind Violet, I should know I can’t hide from you.” He turned and looked straight at Violet. “I was the one that led to Jiro’s manifestation. I brought it into the world, and couldn’t do anything to help.”

“Does anyone else know?” Emily asked quietly.

“No. Well, I’m sure some councilors suspect. And that strange man that night knew something, I don’t know how he could. I’m considering stepping down as a councilor. I hardly feel fit after what I put you through.” Ged turned and looked out his window as the evening light shining on the Portland skyline.

Emily and Violet stood up in unison and walked to Ged’s sides. Violet put her hand on Ged’s shoulder and stated plainly, “You’re fine. Maybe at some point you should tell the council. But a wise man once told me that we are shaped by our past, but defined by our present. You are a leader, so lead us.”

Ged sighed again and a tear nearly formed in his eye. “Thank you. I’ll do what I can.”

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Zenith 2.0

A man sat in a chair in the center of a dark room. A single light shone from a desk lamp sitting on a table nearby. His head was covered by a thick black bag and his arms were tied behind the chair’s back holding him in place. Attached to his inner arm was a blood bag, slowly accepting his blood from him.

A pair of heels clicked down the hallway followed by the click of his door opening. The flash of light from the outside didn’t last long as the door closed behind the lady. She walked to the table and flipped through the pages on a clipboard under the lamp. Her pale arms and red dress shown vividly in the soft light until she walked over to the man. She looked down at him and examined the full bag of blood in front of her. Deftly she swapped the bag for a fresh one, only spilling a single drop of blood on her bare hand. She licked it up and smiled as she checked the saline drip connecting to his other arm.

Without a word she turned and walked out of the room with the fresh bag of blood and clicked off down the hall.

The man shivered as she left, releasing the tension he had been holding in. He couldn’t remember how long he had been hooked up to this system. He couldn’t remember when he had last had a full meal. All he knew was that these people, no these creatures, had him figured out and that his particular skills made him very valuable.

The lightbulb made a loud pop as the bulb burnt out, plunging the man into complete darkness.

He was no longer alone.

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Zenith – Part 16

The sky was overcast and dark as the collection of mages made their way to the park. There wasn’t any rain, but it was certainly threatening. Streetlights illuminated the way, but Emily didn’t need them to find her way. She traveled as if in a trance, a new found confidence in her ability to bring Violet home fueling her movement. Cars stopped for them, not because they were intimidated, but because the universe seemed to tell them it was the right thing to do.

As they approached their destination a voice called out, “No! I won’t let you!” followed closely by a fireball striking out towards them. The ball of orange flames seemed to grow in size as it moved, searing the concrete and making Emily’s face feel tight. A shield seemed to appear from nowhere, blocking the magical blast just before it hit the party. The enforcer stood at the ready, sword in one hand and shield on the other.

“Do what you must do Hypatia, we’ll buy you as much time as we can,” Ged’s voice wavered slightly as he turned to face Jiro, loading his hand with raw, glowing mana.

Emily didn’t take the time to watch Ged’s counter attack, she just turned and held the knife up to the location of the former fold. Flashes and bangs sounded behind her as she channeled her power through the blade. Help me with this one final task and you shall be free, she pleaded with the blade.

One of the council members cried out in pain as he pushed too far forward and received a blow that would probably be his last. The other three Clustered tighter, preparing for the worst.

Emily slid the blade down through space, a glowing trail left in the air around the blade as it adjusted the universe itself. She filled her mind with images and thoughts of the strange pocket she had visited that first day. Reaching through the realms of the universe trying to find the place lost to space.

Click.

Something connected. It wasn’t seen, or heard, but felt. Emily reached with her other hand into the cut the knife had made in the fabric of space and grabbed hold, not with her hand, but with her entire being. She felt the knife get warm, pouring what energy it had left pour into the fold, binding it to reality, restoring the change that it had been forced to make.

Then it was done. Emily pulled the knife out. A hand grabbed hers through the fold and Violet followed it out.

“Jiro. PLORIUS. STOP.” Violet’s words rung out over the park. Jiro, whose true name was in fact Plorius, froze, unable to resist the power of the Zenith. “It is over.”

“Not quite,” announced a robed figure walking up behind the vile mage. He reached out his hand and set it on Jiro’s head. “I release you from this realm. Let your anger fade, and return across the veil.” Jiro’s face turned from terror to true peace as he collapsed onto the ground. His body shriveled up as if time accelerated his mummification on the spot. Dry and creased the body lay on the sidewalk.

The robed mage looked up at Ged with a look of disgust, then turned and seemed to vanish back into the shadows.

Emily wasn’t paying attention to the other mage, her focus had turned to Violet, who she was looking at with her physical eyes for the first time in months. She stepped forward and gave her partner a hug, she had no words for that moment and for a couple second Violet didn’t either.

“Em, we have time, but you must fulfill your promise to the spirit.”

Emily stepped back and looked down at the knife sitting in her hand. She felt herself transition back to the green field of the Knife’s spirit. “Show me what I need to do.”

The black hooded figure held up it’s arms, bound by thick chains. Emily reached out, a knife still in her hand and slashed through the chain as if it were butter. The fell to the ground with a loud clanging sound and emily returned to the real world.

The knife slowly turned to ash in her hand and she felt a strange warmth pass through her. Thank you, Zenith of Space, she felt as the blade finally disappeared and the warmth of the spirit moved on to the edge of the veil.

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Zenith – Part 15

The two sat in a lotus pose on the floor with the three tools laid out between them. Ged’s eyes were half closed as he focused on the bell. Emily’s eyes were locked on the sword trying to comprehend it’s secrets. The two mages nearly glowed as the focused their magic around themselves and into the physical devices.

“Disruption,” Ged said plainly, “But not severance. This must be how he created his labyrinth.” Ged picked up the bell, careful to keep it silenced, and set it aside before turning his attention to the knife.

“I’m only getting distance,” Emily muttered, “Like this sword would be able to hit a target across the room.” She turned to the knife as well.

Emily’s vision clouded. Darkness crept in from the edges of her eyes. Emily’s breath came fast, but she couldn’t look away from the knife.

Emily watch out! Violet pushed forward into Emily’s mind, realizing what was happening just as her vision went black and her mind finalized a connection to another being.

Emily opened her eyes to see an alien feeling hallway. It felt black, but somehow she could see clearly. It reminded her of mind space, but completely different.

“It’s so cold…” Violet’s voice hit Emily’s ears. She turned and saw Violet standing next to her. Violet was shivering, but there was also a look of terror in her eyes that Emily didn’t recognize.

“I don’t know where we are Vi, but we will make it through this. Together,” Emily walked up to violet and put her arm around her. “I can tell something else is wrong, what do you feel.”

“This place. It is alive but not like a mind. I have no power here.”

“Well, let’s see if we can figure out what it is,” Emily supported Violet and started walking.

The cold, steel hallway seemed to stretch out forever in both directions. Emily chose one and started walking. Movement felt harder in this space, but it still felt like space. There was no other being in the hallway with them, but it felt like they were being watched, recorded, analyzed by unseen eyes. Their footsteps echoed into their ears with a melodic but twisted beat.

Then there was a door. Not in the wall, not at the end of the hallway, but standing in the middle of the hall. Emily looked at it in awe, unsure of what to make of it. The backside looked the same, but it was a freestanding door. “Should–” she paused and looked at Violet, “Should we open it?”

Violet’s eyes were locked on the door but she could only nod at Emily.

Emily reached out and touched the handle. It felt warm and inviting, which was strange in this cold alien world. The handle felt stuck, like it hadn’t been turned in a long time and had a desperate need of oil. Turning it made a grating noise that seemed to grow in volume the further the handle turned until finally there was a click. The door didn’t open the way you’d expect a door to, instead it seemed to fade away until Emily was only holding a copper ball in her hand and a green field stretched in front of her. She stepped through with Violet under her arm.

A grass covered hill stood in front of them and a figure in a hooded cloak stood atop. The two mages slowly and carefully climbed the hill and approached the figure. They seemed to take many steps and no steps at once, as if the space they were in were playing with them, adjusting space constantly around them.

“Have you come to gloat over me? Like the last one?” a voice boomed out from the figure as they approached.

“Honestly, I don’t even know who you are,” replied Emily as truthfully as she could. “I’m just trying to help my friend.”

The cloaked figure turned around revealing a glowing black void under the hood. It looked intensely at the two women through nonexistent eyes. “You are disciples of the golden city, but there is something else…” The figure moved closer, or rather the space around them shifted to place it closer to the mages. “You…You’re here?” It reached out its arms and felt Emily’s aura around her. “You can free me? Set this right?”

“Yes,” Emily replied without thinking, the words barely felt like her own, “But first I need your help.”

The figure turned to Violet who was looking more sickly the closer she was to it, “She’s the one that last one wanted to remove. You want her back. I will help you, and you will help the universe. I’m glad the Zenith found it’s way back.” It’s words caused a shiver to run down Emily’s spine, but she tried to focus on the task at hand.

“Tell me what I need to do.”

Emily’s eyes opened milliseconds before Ged’s, his face flush with fear.

“There’s a powerful spirit in this one Hypatia, Don’t try to engage it.”

Emily looked at him with a smile, “I’ve already made a deal, master. it was more than willing to help, as long as I broke it’s bond to the knife. We must get to The former site of Violet’s house.”

Ged looked warily at Emily, “You’ve never had a connection to Spirits, how did you talk to it?”

“It found me. It claimed I was going to help the universe. Something about a Zenith.”

Ged’s eyes went wide as he muttered, “two, in my house?” He snapped out of his surprise, “Okay. Let’s go. We’ll run protection for you while you do what must be done.”

Emily picked up the knife and walked out the door, followed closely by the four other mages.

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Zenith – Part 14

Emily heard Violet’s panicked voice and knew the weight of the situation. She heard footsteps up the steps outside and turned to look at the dog lying across the room just in time to see its ears perk up and open its eyes.

We’re out of time Em. You need to leave now.

Emily blinked.

When she opened her eyes a fraction of a second later she was back in the park.

She blinked again.

This time she opened her eyes to see the alley where she first confronted Jiro.

A third blink.

Emily was standing on a bridge, the Willamette river stretched out in front of her. A bus rumbled by behind her and she looked to her right and saw the sun setting behind the city skyline. Time to disappear for a bit I think. She turned towards the sun and headed into downtown. No more magic. I need a path he has trouble following.

She travelled down the street at a brisk walk. People seemed to step out of her way and look more closely at her than she was used to. She tried to ignore them, but something felt wrong as she made her way to the Grand Hall.

Emily, you’re carrying a broadsword through downtown Portland and you have a knife in your hand. People are going to be watching you.

She looked down at her left hand wrapped around the dagger she had just pulled out of a wizard’s wall, then at the sword stuck through her belt. Ged’s gift of vision had faded but the weapons still looked impressive as objects. Guess I better hurry.

She arrived at Ged’s doorstep within minutes. Two other mages and an enforcer were waiting for her.

“Did you get it?” Ged asked.

“I– I think so?” Emily replied unasuradley. “I found three objects that resonated with me. I took them.” She carefully pulled the sword and knife out and set them on a table, followed by the bell from her bag.

“Does he know you were there yet?” asked one of the other members of the Council.

“I’m sure he does by now. He come in as we left.”

The enforcer moved his hand to his sword on his hip and the two councilors looked at each other.

“Hypatia and I will study these tools and try to figure out their purpose,” Ged’s voice was soaked in authority, “You three must try to maintain our barrier as best you can. I’m hoping he will turn away when he finds where she went, but we must stand ready.”

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Zenith – Part 13

Emily stepped out into the green fields at the base of hill. She stumbled for a second and turned around just in time to see the door behind her close on the downtown alleyway. She shook her head a few times and tried to regain her bearings. That was… something.

She could feel Violet chuckle through their connection. Wait, was that your first teleportation? I liked your use of a door. And hey, you held in your lunch.

At the slight mention of potential side effects Emily felt her stomach clench and try to return her last meal to the world. Really? You just had to. She swallowed and took a deep breath before looking around and getting her body back under control.

Emily reached back into her mind and found the image of the house they were looking for again. It was a yellow house, definitely on the base of mount Tabor, but where. Shadows. The trees cast shadows on the house, but the sun wasn’t in the picture so it was hard to tell where in the sky it could be. She knew that the whole ‘moss faces north’ myth was in fact a myth, so that wasn’t useful, but there must be a hint to keep them from having to walk the whole circle.

The sun. That’s it Emily! Look at the paint!

Emily focused on the sides of the house. The walls were a pastel yellow, slightly faded from sun and rain. On one corner there was some peeling. But then Emily noticed something. While the whole house was definitely weathered by the rain, the colors were brightest on the side facing the viewer. The hill was in the background.

North side. let’s go. Emily broke into a trot northward. She felt close and needed to help her friend. The sun was currently starting to get low and Emily’s Prime vision was starting to get weaker. Please, please, please, let him be gone, Emily thought mostly to herself.

Everything will work Em. Emily couldn’t help but believe her.

She got to the edge of the street where she predicted Jiro’s hideout would be, but something didn’t feel right. Violet, something’s wrong. Space is folded all over itself!

A labyrinth? Be careful Em, but I know you can navigate, trust your gut, not your eyes.

Emily stepped forward and reached out with her magic. Space was twisted and turned, but she wasn’t able to unfold it directly, she would have to navigate through it and unfold it as she went. She took a step and smoothed the first fold. If a sleeper walked by they would just see her slowly walking straight down the street, but she was navigating an invisible maze of walls. She turned enough times that she should have been facing back where she came from, then had to take a step up a wall. She experienced a strange vertigo as she made a full flip around the sidewalk and should have become upside down.

Every step she took she reached out with her magic and unfolded the realm. This is exactly the things that Ged wanted me to avoid. I worry what would happen should a sleeper find themselves here. Emily had a flash of memory of a newspaper about missing people, last seen nearby. Were they abducted or did they get lost? She briefly shuddered and returned to the task at hand. She felt close, but it was hard to tell when trapped in this maze of glass and mirrors.

At last she turned a corner that didn’t exist and was at the steps to the house. We’re here. She took a step up and paused. Are there any minds here?

Violet reached out through Emily’s eyes and felt for other minds in the center of the labyrinth. One, but I think it is an animal. A dog maybe?

Best to be careful. Help me try to avoid it when you can. She continued up the stairs and got to the door. Unlocked. Either he is arrogant about his safety, or has another defense mechanism. I’m hoping for the former. She turned the handle as quietly as she could and walked in.

Much of the house sparkled. This would make her search hard. When everything is magical, finding the one artifact that she needed would prove difficult. She took a couple steps in and examined the first things she found. A book, a lit candle that didn’t seem to be burning down, a sword mounted to the wall with a couple strange marks on the hilt. But everything felt a little wrong. Emily’s stomach clenched when she looked at most of the artifacts. The light from enchanted candles made the shadows around her feel tangible.

Please don’t spend too long here, Em, I don’t like this one bit. Violet’s voice lacked its normal confidence. She was scared too.

There must be a way for me to change what magic I see, or at least be able to tell what kind of enchantment it is right? Emily questioned.

I’d imagine, but I’ve never tried it. Violet reached her mind further to Emily’s and pushed her fear out of the way. I will do my best to support you while you try.

Emily looked around at the sparkling objects and focused on her concept of Space. The book faded away, then the candle. One by one she canceled out the aura of objects around her. Most she couldn’t pinpoint the magic, a couple were based in Mind. She was left with three objects. The sword on the wall, a bell in a display case, and a dagger stuck into the wall in the next room.

Carefully she reached up and pulled down the sword off the wall and placed it between her belt and pants. She stepped carefully to the case and opened it, then using a towel silenced the bell and removed it, placing it in her bag. Then she turned the corner to the other room.

Stop. The animal is in there.

Emily froze. What if… she didn’t want to finish that thought so she peeked around the corner. The third artifact, the knife was stuck into the wall through a red leash that was attached to a Great Dane. She relaxed her restrictions on sight, and saw that the dog’s collar had an enchantment. Mind. It’s collar is connected to Jiro isn’t it. This is very much a guard dog.

Leave the knife. We’ll try the other two.

No. If I don’t take all of the possibilities He’ll make it harder to try next time!

Maybe we don’t even need the artifacts. Maybe you can just open a door to me like you did earlier!

I want the best chance I have Violet. I want you.

I’m not worth it.

Emily paused and felt a tear form in her eye. She couldn’t tell whose tear it was. Violet pushed enough emotion that both were on the verge of crying. Emily took a breath and replied, You are worth every bit. Now try and create a calming aura, we need that dog to keep sleeping.

She reached out and started working her magic. She needed the far wall to be close to her without alerting the large dog in between. She started moving her hands in a circular motion. The room started to rotate. Not the whole room. Just the far wall. The knife moved, the leash stretched to twice its original length.

Then it was at arm’s length. Emily reached up and carefully pulled it out of the wall. The room righted itself.

Another mind appeared.

We need to go.

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Zenith – Part 12

Emily followed her memory of Jiro’s path through Portland. Winding down streets and alleys, Feeling the bumps in space leftover from minor folds. The further they went the faster Emily felt herself travel. We’re close, she pushed to Violet, Feel anything that concerns you?

Violet’s thoughts flowed back, Just the sleepers around you.

Then they were at the corner. Emily reached her hand out and felt the space where she had last seen Jiro. There must be a trace, something to guide me. She felt Violet’s hand reassuringly touch her shoulder. Space was definitely bumpy here, like someone tried to hastily smooth out some sheets on a bed. She ran her hand over the bumps, closing her eyes and letting space itself guide her hand.

In order to follow Jiro, she needed a fold of some kind. She found bumps, but nothing seemed to form a hole. Frustrated she pulled her hand back. I can’t find it. We need another strategy.

Violet sent images of a house to Emily’s mind. Do you think you can get us here? It is the only hint I ever got from one of his sleepwalkers.

Emily studied the house. It did look familiar. It appeared to be an unassuming enough house. Pastel yellow paint, surrounded by trees. There was a covered front porch and was set into a hill in a way that the garage was actually below the house itself. A hill. Not just a hill, The shape that was visible from the image was more than just a hill. This is near Mount Tabor. I’m nearly certain.

I trust you. Let’s go.

Emily turned and headed back down the alley, running numbers in her head. I hope we have time. The train doesn’t get us straight there, and it takes some time.

It might increase danger a bit, but why not go the same way he did?

Emily paused. She hadn’t thought of that. She had avoided manipulating space in the past, focusing on seeing and traveling, not creating her own folds. She turned to look at a door facing into the alley they were in and concentrated on a door she remembered from a rarely used state building in Mount Tabor itself. She pushed her will forward and connected the two doors. Then she reached out, grabbed the handle and turned it with a click and pushed through.

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Zenith – Part 11

The sun shone through the grand window in the Council hall. Only two chairs were needed today. Emily sat across from Ged and studied the nervous look on his face. Emily was calm, but focused. Today wasn’t a day for training or lessons but action.

“Before she got separated, Violet was working recon for the Society,” Ged sighed and wrung his hands on the table as he talked. “She, unlike most of the Mages in Portland, knew Jiro was here and was helping us uncover his plans. Her particular skill in Mind was necessary for this task to interrogate a variety of sleepwalkers Jiro had corrupted.” He looked to the side, “I’m now afraid that we pushed her to go too fast and that is what caught His eye. I’m sorry.” Ged’s apology was meant for two.

Don’t worry Ged,” Emily and Violet both tried to say the same thing at the same time. “I’m hoping someone can tell me who Jiro is other than a guy who can sling fireballs.”

“He’s a powerful mage,” Ged blinked and paused briefly as if he was holding something in, “and an anarchist. His goal is to tear down the council of mages. He believes that Mages have the right to control the sleepers.”

“OK, sounds evil enough, what would you like us to do?”

“First things first, He shouldn’t have the skill in Space to fully cut off Violet. I think he has some relic from the old times that he used to seal that fold. With both of you on this I think you should be able to find and infiltrate his stronghold enough to get that relic. I think with that and your skill in Space we can bring Violet home.” Ged locked eyes on Emily, “Just promise me to run at the first sight of trouble.”

“Alright, any idea what it would look like?” questioned Emily.

“The physical appearance of most magical artifacts is meaningless, but many older artifacts were enchanted to do something related to the original form. Here, let me lend you my sight.” Ged reached out his arms and Emily placed her hands on his.

Her vision blurred slightly as she felt Ged’s magic course through their physical connection. Suddenly Emily saw things she had never seen before. Ged was glowing, sparkling. In the center of the room, an ethereal fountain pulsed what Emily could only assume to be raw mana, filling the room with a purple glow.

“This is Prime sight, it will allow you to see the core of all magic. If I had more time I’d try to help you awaken your own Prime, but I’m afraid of what may happen if we wait too long.” Ged pulled his hands back and returned to fidgeting with his rings. “You have the best idea so far of where his hideout might be since you followed him that day. I’ll be awaiting you here when you find your target.”

“We’ll succeed master, don’t worry,” Emily assured him.

“Be careful.”

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