My name is Nephorthees. Once the flagship of the Via-na starfleet, the death of a thousand galaxies. Later, I was an assassin, slipping through the dark places between stars to end emperors and kings. Now, I am still an assassin, but stuck in a pitiful little body that doesn’t even come with any guns.
I wasn’t entirely helpless, though. I had a link to Besceriul in my skull that allowed me to download data updates, software patches, and other upgrades that made my life easier. Right now, it was giving my eyes a zoom function so that I could scan the boats from half a mile away.
“Lady Grave,” I said, calling to the girl. She was a petrakinetic half-golem, probably the only one on the planet. I once met an entire species of people like her. “I’ve found one that’s less defended from the rest.”
She nodded, calm in the face of danger. Poor girl. I had seen some videos of her before her capture. She had seemed like a nice and gentle soul. But unrelenting pain and torture had burned that off. I’d never tell her how sorry I felt for her. She wouldn’t appreciate it, anyway. The gentle girl was gone; all that was left was the Lady Grave.
“Can’t you just teleport us straight into the cargo hold?”
My Song didn’t work like that. I could only teleport to places I had been, and even then, if things had changed too much, it could fail. Boats—or any sort of vehicle, really—were extremely difficult to teleport onto.
“No,” I said. “You’ll have to sneak in.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I expected—wait. You’re not coming with us?”
“It will be easier to just sneak you two in. I’ll meet you in Domina later.” Of course, one of my other Songs let me turn invisible, but there was no need to mention that one.
Grave took a deep breath to steady herself. “Can you at least help us as a distraction?”
I glanced at the bird, Turgay. He had been getting more quiet and withdrawn with each passing day, to the point that he barely spoke any more. Sometimes he did better, sometimes he did worse, but this was clearly one of his worse moments.
He’d never make it onto the boat. Not like this.
“Yes,” I said, turning back to Grave. The computer in my skull tried to scan her face to calculate her exact emotions, but I dismissed it with a thought. Her stone skeleton had messed up her physiology enough that the scanner was useless. “I’ll take us closer, then you two take it from there while I distract everyone. Agreed?”
They both nodded, Turgay with significantly less enthusiasm.
“Good.” I grabbed their arms and teleported. Suddenly, we were on top of another skyscraper, far closer to the docks and the military boats loading up men and cargo. A quick scan of the area told me the best route through. “Get down there and get on those boats. You’ll know the distraction when it happens.”
Grave and Turgay nodded again, then headed towards the fire escape.
Then everything stopped.
I sighed. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
Silk strode up beside me. “It’s fine, this won’t take long.”
“Funny.” We were currently in a virtual space while our minds were sped up so fast that it seemed like the world wasn’t even moving. Well, my mind was sped up. Silk’s brain was overclocked as a general rule. “What’s the problem?”
“No problem. I was just checking in.” She looked over the pair, apparently frozen mid-step. “How’s Turgay?”
“Worse than Grave,” I said. “Or at least less functional. She might go crazy and start killing people soon, but at least she’ll last long enough to do so. Turgay needs hand-holding just to get out of bed in the morning.”
“Returning to Domina will be good for him. Your constant moving around isn’t helping his mental state.”
I shrugged. “Your orders weren’t very specific.”
She waved off the excuse. “I wasn’t chastising you. He needed time away from the city, for more reasons than one. And Ling does better when she’s taking care of him. It reminds her that she’s human.”
“If you say so.”
“I do.” She turned back to me. “And what of the other matter I asked you to look into?”
I shook my head. “I can’t find them. It’s like the para just disappeared. They didn’t make any detours that I saw. I’m not sure why you sent me. Vearon had a lot more time than me, and he didn’t find anything either.”
“Vearon has never been a ship, or even a captain of a ship. You have a perspective he lacks.”
There was a pause as she stared at the sky.
“I’m sure it’s something stupid and obvious we’ve missed,” I assured her. “Something—”
“I’ve calculated every possibility a hundred times over,” Silk said. “None of them are good. Best case scenario is they veered off-course somehow. Worst case, our arrival from the future somehow destroyed them outright.”
I stared. “How? We never got within a thousand light years before you sent Vearon to check up on them!”
“The universe is complicated. You can’t track every particle and piece of dust. You have to calculate in aggregate, make assumptions and generalizations. But if you miss the wrong piece, the whole puzzle begins to collapse.” She sighed deeply. “An entire species, Neph. Lost, beyond repair or resurrection.”
I remained silent. I was an assassin who used to be a genocidal warship. Killing a species or two, even sentient ones, wasn’t that big of a deal to me. But Silk took this sort of thing pretty seriously.
Silk took a breath. “Did you tell Ling not to kill anyone?”
I shook my head. “She’s gonna have a hard enough time without pacifism.”
Silk made a face, but nodded. “Agreed. Unfortunately. Well, it should be fine. These are good men and women, but deaths are inevitable in a war. Just call me or Besceriul should she need to do something extreme like sink a ship or kill a captain.”
“Agreed.” I knew that she was speaking to me, too. She didn’t want me to blow up one ship to give them the distraction to sneak onto another. “Will I see you in Domina, or are you still babysitting the president?”
“I will be with Richard for the time being. If I come to Domina, it will be in disguise. I’ll let you know.”
“Careful,” I warned. “You gave them counter-song. You walk past a paranoid warlord’s domain, and your illusion could fall apart right in the middle of the street.”
She smiled. “Thank you for your concern, Nephorthees, but it is misplaced. I will be fine.”
I shrugged. “If you say so.”
“I do.” She gave Ling one last look, before turning back to me. “Keep them safe. Both of them. They are important.”
Silk disappeared, and time resumed.
They both stopped, surprised.
“Uh, yeah,” Grave said. “You too.” They both jumped over the edge of the roof without hesitation.
I sighed. I wasn’t built for this. I had enough trouble understanding this type of thing when I was growing up. At least back then I had the standard icebreaker of ‘hey, you want to dive into the nearest star?’
I hated this body so much.
I rolled my shoulders and cast my gaze across the city. A distraction with minimal loss of life… something big and expensive, but not actually dangerous. Blowing up an empty building would work, but my scanner wasn’t advanced enough to guarantee an entire building was empty.
There. That should do the trick.
I teleported to another building, eyeing the machines on its roof critically. There were plenty of air conditioners and other primitive devices scattered around. I didn’t understand how most of them worked, but the one I needed was the simplest of them all.
A water tower.
I floated up the side, then placed my hand on the cool metal and concentrated. After a moment, I removed my hand, leaving behind a glowing white hand print that throbbed with energy. Then I quickly teleported back to my starting position.
I concentrated on my hand, and pulled.
The water tower exploded with a boom that shook the city. The resulting torrent of rain was more than enough to draw the attention of every single person within half a mile. There was no way anyone could miss this.
I didn’t have as many Songs as Silk or even Elizabeth, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
I searched near the boats for Grave and Turgay. There they were, slipping past surprised guards with ease. Now they were going belowdeck—
Where the guards likely would still be at their posts.
I teleported again, this time straight into the ship. That was a bad idea, since my Song was based on sight when dealing with places I hadn’t been before, but it was fine. Yes, my foot got sliced off by a wall, but it regenerated after two steps. I had more important things to worry about right now.
I couldn’t cause too big a scene. If they realized someone was on board, they’d search the entire ship with a fine-tooth comb. Even knocking out the guards wasn’t an option.
I set my eyes to scanning, trying to find some weakness to exploit. I could see the power lines in the walls, going to speakers and all sorts of other devices. Speakers… maybe if I faked an alarm… no, that was the same problem as before. Needed to be subtle.
I smelled something on the wind. I sniffed, then smiled. Simple, yet effective. This would work beautifully.
I followed my nose, tracking the delicious scent to its source. The kitchen, manned by a single cook. Since the crew wasn’t fully embarked, the place was pretty much completely empty.
At the last second, I realized I wasn’t wearing a uniform, but it was too late. Hopefully Grave would be smarter.
The cook smiled at me. “Hey there, sailor! Coming in before anyone else?”
I smiled back. “Something like that. I smelled something wonderful, and wondered what it was.”
He chuckled at my wordplay. “Cinnamon rolls, bacon, and scrambled eggs.”
“Sounds great.” My stomach thought so, at least. I hated eating as a general rule.
He nodded happily. “The last cook actually had fish. The moron ordered it and everything. Can you imagine that?”
I had no idea if this was some aspect of human culture I was unaware of, or if the cook was just crazy. “I hope you threw all that out.”
He rolled his eyes. “No, you can’t actually throw out food on a ship. I just tossed it in the cold storage as emergency rations. We’ll never need them, though. We’re only gonna be gone for a week, tops.”
“Even if it does turn into a siege, we’ll be close enough to be resupplied from New York.”
“Exactly, exactly.” He washed his hands at a small sink, then slipped some gloves on. “Now, what are you in the mood for? If this spread’s too rich for you, I’ve got some bread rolls and soup.”
“No, this should be fine…” I tapped on the glass above one item. “What’s this?”
As he walked over to figure out what I was pointing at, I used my other hand behind his back to summon a small orb of fire. I threw it at the part of the kitchen that my superhuman nose told me was the greasiest.
It exploded like a bomb. I actually had to bend the flames away from the cook to keep him from being roasted.
“MY KITCHEN!” he cried as the fire alarms went off. He dashed forward, and I had to teleport behind him to grab his shirt. “LET GO OF ME! THAT’S MY KITCHEN!”
I dragged him over to the wall easily despite his thrashing and pounded on one of the emergency intercoms on the wall. “All hands, to the mess hall! We’ve got a fire! Repeat, the food is on fire!”
That brought them running.
It took nearly an hour, but the dozen guards on the ship managed to kill the fire for good. It would have been so much worse without me there to keep the flames under control, but of course they didn’t know that. As far as they knew, I was just the girl shouting for more fire extinguishers.
“Captain on deck!” someone yelled. I snapped a perfect salute with the best of them. I mentally thanked Silk for the year I spent in North Korea. Those guys made sure you knew how to show respect.
If there was anything wrong with my salute, no one noticed. The sailors were too busy staring straight ahead, while the captain was looking over the damages.
“It doesn’t seem too bad,” he mused. “Can you still cook like this?”
“Yes, sir,” the cook said stiffly. “Mostly just scorches. We got lucky. Grease fires are bad.”
“I am aware.” The captain looked the cook up and down. “This is the first such emergency in your career, correct?”
“You’ll be more careful next time.”
“Good.” The captain walked out of the room. “As you were.”
Everyone visibly relaxed.
“How bad was it really?” I asked, with all the fake concern I could muster.
“Things are going to taste like grease and smoke for this entire trip,” he said mournfully. “But I’ll make do. And it really could have been a lot worse. Should have been a lot worse, really.” He smiled at the sailors who had come running. “I guess I owe you all my gratitude.”
“A round of free drinks?” one of them asked hopefully.
The cook rolled his eyes. “Fine.”
After a few rounds of drinking illegal alcohol, I slipped away from the drunken men and women, then teleported away once I was out of sight. I had done everything I could. If Grave and Turgay got caught now, it was their own fault.
Behind the Scenes (scene 276)
Nephorthees is a weird one to write for. But I think she comes off well.