As Lucia walked with Niarith down the ramp to the landing pad, she was struck by how cold it was at this height. She hadn’t expected it, and she now wondered why exactly Niarith had only gotten them skin tight bodysuits with no insulation. The wind was howling in the dark, and the only light came from the few lit windows in the building. The pair made their way to the edge of the landing pad, and Luci finally saw the compound itself, far below. It was a distant collection of lights from this distance, and Lucia briefly felt herself become dizzy, before getting herself back under control.
Niarith began the arduous task of uncoiling the tethers and connecting them to create a sufficient length. “Are you sure this will be safe? The tethers won’t come undone halfway, right?” Lucia asked.
Niarith replied “Of course, Luci! It’ll be fine, it’s not like we’re gonna physically climb down, we’re gonna use auto-descent mechanisms. We’ll be down there in seconds once we start.”
Lucia made a strained sort of facial expression “If you say so.”
Minutes later, the tethers were secured and dropped. Niarith strapped a harness onto her, which she then attached to her tether. Lucia did the same, with Niarith checking to make sure she was secure. They were ready. Lucia looked over at Niarith as they stood in position. “Here we go, Nia. After this, there’s no turning back. You ready?”
Niarith grinned, Lucia noting how beautiful that looked on her, and said “Ready, Luci!” At the count of three, they jumped. Lucia had never felt such a strange feeling, wind rushing past her, pulling on her entire body, her stomach felt as if it had leapt into her throat, and her eyes burned. It took all that she had not to cry out at the intensity of the unfamiliar feeling. Within seconds of the feeling starting, it slowly faded, until they came to a stop, just above the security shack on the roof of the vault. Lucia quietly disconnected her harness, settled into a low crouch, and took a look around.
The place looked much as it had in the hologram, though not red and made of light, instead dark and made of cold metal. She could see the guards silhouetted against the lights from the other buildings. They were more overtly threatening in reality, clad in dark, face concealing armor, lined with lighter colored fur at the collar. They carried weapons, large rifles, as well as knives at their hip. “Bullshit, man!” a deep masculine voice emanated from the shack below. “You really think somebody’s gonna park an old ass ship like that, and come at us? What equipment is somebody in a ship like that even gonna have? Six shooters ‘n’ bows and arrows? They’re just here for some other shit inside the ‘scraper, man.”
Another voice replied ”Six shooter’ll kill ya just as easy as a Maynlyne 660. Just sayin’ we should be on the lookout, not sayin’ we need to go burn it down or nothin’.”
The other man laughed “Whatever man, you look out if you want. I’m goin back to the VRnet.”
Lucia made a quick hand motion to Niarith, indicating it was time to move. Niarith took out the ‘magic salve’ and placed some in a small rectangle on the roof of the shack. Smoke curled up from the edges of the rectangle as the substance burned its way through the roof. Lucia and Niarith readied their pistols. As the inner part of the rectangle dropped into the shack, they saw the guards inside, just beginning to react. The pair fired, Lucia once, Niarith twice, and with three suppressed flashes of red laser light, they cleanly and quietly cleared the security shack. Niarith quickly made the hole large enough to fit through, and the pair descended into the security shack.
Lucia landed with a quiet thud on the floor on the shack. The floor was made up of black, very slightly soft panels with many small holes in them, showing the metal of the roof beneath. The shack itself was made of some sort of plastic material, beige in color, with large windows on every wall except one, which held a bulletin board. There were holographic video feeds placed in front of a large control panel, one of the dead guards was slumped over onto it. The other two were lying in crumpled heaps on the floor. The feeds themselves showed the inside of the warehouse, it was as full of crates, shelves, and various items as the hologram had shown.
“Okay, now we just need to get through the floor here and we’re in! We’ve done good so far, we’ve got this!” Niarith said, crouching down to apply the compound to the floor of the shack.
“That we do, Nia.” Lucia replied, looking out the window at the guards outside, hoping none of them noticed the flashes. It didn’t seem as though they had. Just as the square cut out piece of floor started to fall into the room below, Niarith grabbed it, struggling to hold it against the force of gravity. Lucia immediately sprang into action, grabbing it from the other side and helping Niarith to move it to the side.
The pair slipped down into the hole and onto a metal catwalk. The room was warm, lit mostly by red lights embedded in the ceiling. The catwalk hung between shelves, over an aisle. “Okay, we’re in, what next, Nia?”
“Next, we find the pendant.” She pulled out two devices, small back rectangles with an antenna sticking out. “These should be able to lock onto any Ghostinite in the room, which will lead us to the pendant! We should split up, so we can cover ground more quickly. Remember to stay out of sight of the security cameras. I love you, Luci.”
Lucia nodded “I love you too, Nia. Stay safe.” With that, Lucia turned around and made her way along the catwalk. The machine in her hand began to vibrate slightly, she looked down at it. It had no display or any kind, just a featureless square box with an antenna. The vibration, she assumed, must have been an indication of its detection of Ghostinite. She came to a set of stairs, and pointed the device down them. It vibrated harder. She heard a mechanical whirring noise, and looked up to see one of the ‘tubes’ that Niarith had said were cameras.
In reality, it looked more like a large, segmented mechanical snake, with a bulbous lens on the front instead of a head. The lens was completely dark, impossible to tell what was inside. Lucia managed to sneak her way down the stairs, avoiding the machine’s gaze. The device in her hand slowed in its vibration. Lucia waved it slowly across the room, waiting for the vibration to pick up again. She pointed it at a shelf across the aisle, and it vibrated harder. She looked up to make sure to stay out of the machine’s gaze, and walked across the open space. She pointed the device around again, and it vibrated incredibly strongly as she pointed it at a box next to her. She opened the box, finding it to be full of various bits of tech and other items Lucia couldn’t identify.
She dug through the contents for a bit, and found what they were here for. It was even more beautiful in person, and Mirideth’s words from earlier echoed in her mind as she looked at it “Stare deeply as it sparkles, as it spins” She shook her head, ridding herself of those all too pleasant feelings. She decided the best way to carry the necklace would be to wear it, so she put it on. As she clasped it closed around her neck, she heard a clatter, and a short yell, it was Niarith’s voice.
Lucia sprang into action immediately, sprinting toward the noise. She found Niarith, and got into a safe position behind a shelf. Watching through the shelves, she saw Niarith standing, her posture odd, too relaxed, and she was staring at something. Lucia looked up at what Niarith was looking at. It was one of the ‘cameras’. Its lens was filled with shifting colors and patterns, which were obviously having some kind of effect on Niarith. Lucia just watched, unsure of what to do. She couldn’t risk just going out there and breaking the gaze, she’d be caught in whatever it was as well. As she stared in fear and fascination at the scene before here, Niarith’s knees buckled, and she fell to floor, now kneeling before the machine. Her mouth had dropped open, her facial expression one of blissful ignorance of anything but the lens of the machine. The machine suddenly began to move, extending itself from down from the ceiling, its body apparently much longer than it had seemed. It snaked down toward Niarith, eventually reaching her, and coiling itself around her, somehow never breaking it’s gaze. It then suddenly flashed bright red, and an extremely loud alarm sounded throughout the entire compound, only once, then fell silent.
Lucia heard shouts and the sound of a large garage door opening. People were entering the warehouse. She needed to hide, there was no time to free Niarith. She leapt up onto the shelf, swiftly climbing atop it, flattening herself against the empty top shelf on her belly. She could see Niarith from here, as well as the armed guards now surrounding her. They pointed their weapons at her, she showed no awareness of their presence at all. One of the guards said “Stand down guys, she’s pacified. Spread out, there could be more than one! The Boss wants them found! He’s on his way right now, so move quickly, people!” The rest of the guards fanned out into the rest of the warehouse, the one who had spoken staying behind to guard Niarith. Lucia was in a dark, hard to reach space, and was confident they wouldn’t find her, but how was she going to get Niarith out?
She thought for several long minutes, and eventually, another man entered the warehouse. He wore a black leather jacket, a greyish white necktie, a red formal shirt, and black leather pants. It all looked very expensive. The man himself had pale skin, and two scars on his face, one just under his lower lip on the left side, stretching down to his chin. The other was straight across his nose. He wore sunglasses, and had brown hair that had begun to grey. His hair hung heavily over his face on the left side, obscuring one eye, the other was green in color. He had a full beard, greying gracefully as his hair was. Overall, he wasn’t an unattractive man, though Lucia had never had much interest in them.
He walked silently, with a powerful, intimidating stance. He stopped before the machine that held Niarith. He walked around it, looking the scene up and down. “She’s completely pacified, sir. No awareness at all. I’d say she’s most likely ready for programming already.” The guard said. Loriol Ninia nodded, and said “Good, good. Have you found anyone else?” His voice was deep and gravelly, his tone professional and cold.
“No sir. At this time we have no reason to believe she wasn’t acting alone.”
Ninia bent down on one knee, examining Niarith closer. “Keep alert, we lost three guards up top, be ready for anything.”
“Yes sir!” The guard walked away
To coordinate a more thorough search of the compound most likely. Lucia thought. She watched as Ninia stood up, and placed his hands behind his back, staring directly at Niarith. He simply stood there for a few moments, silent. Eventually he spoke “S.K. 88.6b, disengage Pacification protocol. Engage Programming protocol.” The machine shuddered slightly, and the lens flared bright green. Lucia could now see the lens of the machine had shifted, now black, with red letters flashing for less than a second in its center. She couldn’t see what they said. Niarith continued to stare blankly. Lucia knew she needed to stop this, but was unsure of what exactly to do. If she was caught, she’d end up in the same predicament, but she couldn’t just let them do this to Niarith. Ninia spoke again “Can you hear me?”
Niarith’s reply came as a near whisper, quiet and devoid of any emotion “Yes…”
“What is your full name?”
“Niarith... Leraz… Velnazranak…”
“Very good. Tell me why you came here.”
“We came here… to steal back.. a pendant that was stolen from Yildebrund... Brocktazrolo” Niarith was breathing heavily, Lucia realized it was with arousal. What was that machine doing to her?
“We? How interesting. Tell me who else you came with.” He put his hand on his chin thoughtfully.
“My… girlfriend… Lucia Carlena. We…. split up… to look for the pendant..”
“I see, and where is she now?”
“I don’t… know…” Niarith was freely giving up important information, Lucia now knew for certain she couldn’t possibly be in control of her actions. She couldn’t save her, not right now. She had to watch, and gather as much information as possible. Ninia stepped forward, and gently pet Niarith’s hair, Niarith had no reaction to the touch.
“That’s alright. We’ll find her, you want us to find her, don’t you Niarith? So she can feel what you are?”
“Y-yes… I want her to feel good like me…” Lucia’s stomach dropped at that. They had turned Niarith against her, within minutes. Niarith wanted them to find her, to do this to her.
“No,” she thought “she doesn’t. This isn’t her, she’s not in control. You know Niarith, she wouldn’t want this. Keep it together, Lucia.” She watched as the machine uncoiled itself from Niarith, leaving her kneeling on the floor, staring up at the lens, which still pulsed with words Lucia couldn’t read from her angle.
Ninia stepped back and said “Stand up.” Niarith immediately did so, though she was unsteady. “Stand up straight, Niarith.” Niarith obeyed, moving into an ‘at attention’ sort of stance. “Tell me, Niarith, what do the words say? What is being burned into that mind of yours?”
Niarith shuddered slightly, in resistance or arousal, Lucia couldn’t tell. Then she spoke “Obey. Serve. Sink. You belong to Loriol Ninia. You are a slave. You follow orders. You do as you’re told. Ninia speaks, you obey.”
Ninia stepped closer to Niarith, reaching out and putting a hand on each shoulder from behind. “Very good girl, Niarith. Just let those words sink into your mind, let them replace your thoughts, your desires, your cares, your memories, all gone. Lost to the bliss of The Words.” His hands slid down and under Niarith’s arms, fondling her curves. Lucia’s blood began to boil, and it took all the self control she had not to burst out from the shelf and stab Ninia in the neck. Instead she gripped the edge of the metal shelf so tightly it bent a little. The metal made an unexpectedly loud screeching noise, and Lucia cringed as Ninia looked up. She was careful to make no other noise as he examined the space she occupied.
He turned to Niarith and said “Did you hear that?”
She was silent for a moment before mindlessly replying with “No.”
Ninia scratched his head and looked around again. “Nothing here, must be losin’ my mind.” Lucia could not believe her eyes as she watched what happened next. He turned back to Niarith and said, in a jovial tone of voice “Guess I’m not the only one! Eyyyy!” He pointed finger guns at her. He quickly regained his composure and straightened his tie. He cleared his throat and said “Glad no one was around to see that.” Lucia would never forget it.