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Rhea (Part 2)
Posted By: Mr Bill Jr V<mr_bill_jr_5@hotmail.com>
Date: 12 September 2005, 6:21 pm

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      She reached for the knife, scattering a bottle of pills across the sink. She grasped the blade in both hands, feeling the edge cut and dig, grating with bone that was never there. She slipped it down, carving across her arms. She reached for her veins, cutting deeper and deeper….

      The voice came quickly, dragging her mind away, back to its silence.

      They would have asked, as it had become, years later, how she had arrived at her present state of insanity. When questioned, she would have returned to the same beginning: it had never happened at once. The story brought to her imagination, however, remained the same, and she would have launched into it with that strange neutral tone of hers, ever aware that it displaced all common logic.

      She awoke in the corn fields, lying under the meter high stalks of golden autumn. She stood with care, brushing the stalks aside so as not to break their fragile roots. Thick husks pulled and heaved as the wind blew, swaying the stalks from side to side. The sun burned, heating Rhea's ever bright skin. Miles and miles left empty yet burning. It was wonderful, the light on her skin. She felt it melt in, seeping closer and closer to her bones. Through and through. A bird whistled somewhere amongst the stalks, its voice carried on the wind. A silent metaphor found itself and was lost again, Rhea dared not speak it.
      Perfume and incense burned up from the ziggurat, then fell and rolled like fog over the gold leafed steps. High above, glowing in the bright of the day, a pale faced moon shown, her surface afire in blue wash- that of a cloudless day. This was truly her temple of light. A voice called down from the pyramid's steps, called down and begged her rise. That she did, indifference and lightness in her steps. High she climbed, a hundred steps ascend. Feverish and twirling, light mist of incense wrapped around her body, warm tones coloring her skin and shading her eyes. She breathed it deeply, waiting for the moment of realization to follow- as it surely would. In the light the sky folded dark and yet burned with greater intensity. Stars shown in the daylight and the sun glowed in the warm night, yet never did the two collide. It was a harmony in time.
      Atop the ziggurat, scraping the ceiling of the heavens, there stood but a single man. His form was indescribable, held in a perfection near impossible- as his stance and figure equaled. His skin vanished, shining green; like his red painted face. Or was it truly his skull that burned beneath? He motioned her forward, his hands outstretched yet concealed within his contracted form. Rhea stepped forward. She felt compelled, yet held in the soft grace of those knowing what better things lie above. Indeed, in that moment, everything lay above- all the answers and all the wisdom in the world. She stepped again. The painted feathers opened and bloomed.
      The choc mol grinned his deathly grin, hands begging yet offering. It was there, standing amongst the pillars and columns of painted stone, that Rhea knew: nothing was real.
      The choc mol laughed his deadly laugh, and drew her forward. She pulled back, but to no avail. The ziggurat grew higher, impossibly, and the perfume grew stronger. Still, the choc mol smiled, waiting for the inevitable. Rhea pushed back, futile as it were. The voice spoke again, whispering inside her mind. It spoke of death. The choc mol raised his palms. They were bathed in blood, her blood. Rhea screamed, heart pulsing.
      The clouds formed and rain fell. The feathered serpent swept her away.

      "Vega Command, requesting pattern," spoke Michael Clark. The ship's interplanetary radio crackled as each message came and went, coded and decoded at the speed of light.
      "Confirm, this is Command," returned the already heavily distorted voice of a computer agent, "request on who's authority?"
      Clark thought for a moment, buying time in what would now be the telling point of this operation. Could the lie become reality? He took a breath, then replied with as great indifference as he could muster. "Authority on Kay Roberts, Vegan Energy Bureau."
      The computer went silent, static coming across the connection. Michael wondered why a collection of silicon components somewhere on that ball of earth a hundred kilometers below was allowed to decide the fate of his ship and crew. Of course, and this was what Michael appreciated, the computer would deny their request. However, due to its simple and inescapably pointless manner, the computer would allow them to land nevertheless. Hence the beautiful nature of power. As he thought this, Michael knew, the computer was no doubt sending a forwarding request to Robert's office, somewhere down below on the Vegan landscape. Once the computer there had found no local request form- since none existed of course- the landing control computer would report back to Michael with as much information.
      That happened now.
      "Request denied by the office of Kay Roberts, Energy Bureau," spoke the computer. Following this announcement came Mr. Robert's office address. Michael killed the connection. Behind him, the ship's engineer, nursing a cup of coffee, smiled.
      "They're beautifully stupid, eh?"
      "For sure, Jeff," replied Michael, beckoning for the coffee, which he promptly received. Address recorded, it took only a minute for the powerful ship-board computer to locate the Vegan Bureau of Energy and Service Utilities. Michael acknowledged the approach vectors their computer had calculated and, taking a sip from the coffee cup, waited.
      "That's it," he spoke to the engineer, "tell Eric to get his team together."
      "I guess he's got a date with Mr. Kay Roberts, then?" inquired the man.
      Clark smiled, "Not a chance, Jeff. This is where we get to do the hard work."
      Jeffery, the ship's engineer, opened his mouth to respond, but instead just crooked a grin. You better believe it, he thought to himself as a shudder ran through the bridge; the ship's engines firing. It took a few moments for the ship to position itself in the correct orbit over Vega Prime, however this was accomplished without great difficulty. In-system traffic was even superbly light, as Michael was pleased to notice.
      Jeff stepped down in-front of Michael, standing over a console. He keyed up Eric's room, waiting for the green light indicator to flash.
      Somewhere below, in his quarters, Eric hit the response button on his bridge-quarters communicator, and the green light appeared.
      Jeffery turned back to Clark and gave him a thumbs up.
      "All right," replied Michael, "go get the landing ship prepped, I'll call your crew from here."
      "Right," replied the engineer, hurrying off the bridge.
      From where he stood it took Clark less then a minute to awaken the rest of the ship's crew, and then only a few words over the ship's loudspeaker before they were headed to the docking bay, no doubt with the rest of Eric's team.
      Now came the clever part. Clark switched seats from the captain's chair to the observation officer's station. "You know what's just as good a crew, but pays cheaper?" Michael spoke to himself as he walked across the bridge. "No crew at all."
      He spun the station's chair forward and took a seat. The monitor in front of him was already displaying the ship's atmospheric co-ordinates, some hundred kilometers above the darkened Vegan continental land-mass- and, naturally, directly overhead of the Vegan Bureau of Energy building. The office, Clark noted, was located in the downtown central core of the Vegan capital.
      Looking out through the quartz viewscreen in-front of him, Michael could just glimpse the lights and glow of what could only be deep city sprawl on the planet's dark surface. Over the horizon, nothing showed- in fact, the horizon itself seemed to simply vanish, absorbed by the stars and distance of space spread before him. He estimated a few solid hours before there would be any signs of sunlight.
      His attention returned to the console. He had the building's orbital location- the location of his ship, now in geostationary orbit- and the building's planetary address, as provided by the planet's landing computer. Those two pieces of information gave him the ability, through the use of his ship's artificial intelligence, to determine nearly anything he need determine. And in this case, he was looking for personnel files.

      A passive data stream forked out, waiting for the moment to worm in. Someone's computer, a hundred kilometers below and under a dozen meters of cement, was still active. The probe waited, and the computer refreshed, its satellite modem feed reconnecting. The stream linked in, quickly overriding the system's safeties. A moment later, the probe was active and in the system's hard line, instantly connecting the entire building with Clark's terminal. The ship's captain smiled, and ran a search function, a copy of Paul's earlier briefing in hand.

      Eric Glantz ran the zipper up his flak-jacket. He cleaned his glasses with a cloth from the one of the jacket's pockets. The meshed Kevlar may have been old, but with this sort of thing, age really made no difference. Replacing his glasses, Eric reached for his restraining harness, clicking the crossed belts together over his chest. He leaned back into the transport's leather seats and let out a slow breath. The four men around him did the same, one taking a moment to light a cigarette from a hand-designed case and lighter. The refined industrial tobacco smelled horrible, Eric noted.
      As they waited, the landing-ship was undergoing her final preparations before departing. One crewmen had just finished with the fuel-line, and was going over the windshield with spray and cleaner now. The transport's pilot and co-pilot where already harnessed in and running through a checklist. Eric sighed, awaiting the inevitable launch order from the docking-bay. No doubt Michael, back in the bridge, would have the final lift-off say, of course that was merely a formality. It was his ship after all.
      Eric ran a finger over his side-arm, concealed against his thigh, just above his jackboots. It was always reassuring. For the life of him, he could not remember how many had died under the bullets of that weapon, slipped so inconspicuously at his side. Was he the killer, or was it really that piece of metal and polymer?
      His sub-machine-gun was strapped up behind him, pressed into a foam storage block. Several magazines of sub-sonic ammunition were lined up beside it. Eric noticed it all, filed it away and waited.
      The pilot moved his hand over the transport's dash, and a rewarding engine hum growled into earshot, quickly rising in pitch. "Come on, Mike," Eric thought to himself, "either you know where the target is by now, or you don't."
His thoughts manifested themselves into the form of a response from the ship's captain. Eric's headset crackled to life, and Michael's voice chimed in. "All right, I just forwarded you and your team the target's address. You're on."
      Eric pumped his fist, indicating his readiness to his team, and the docking bay crew. "Good to go, roger," shouted one of the ship's crewmen. He nodded to another crewmen, who Eric noted was the ship's engineer. The man pressed a panel held in his hand, and the transport's rear door began to swing closed.
      A cigarette burned one last time before being tossed out onto the flight deck, a moment before the transport's rear door slid shut.
      Engines whined. Air cycled. Eric closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

      The azure glow of the planet below them grew brighter. No details found themselves. Total darkness dominated. But, even then, as the transport fell through the planet's atmosphere, lights began to shine. Out of the thermal radiance of re-entry came the echoes of planet-side life: first the brief outlines of distant highways and towns found themselves in view. Then great waterways and ships at sea, their wakes luminous in the darkness, trailing away behind them. Then cities bloomed into life, entire networks of roads and buildings for a thousand kilometers in every direction.
      The transport seemed to hover, totally motionless, despite the constant freefall she was enduring, as a mute witness to the open and vast storm of radiance appearing below her. Looking above, back into the night sky, stars were almost totally washed out by the city's light below. One could still, however, make out the distinct shape of their ship, orbiting, above, yet dimming constantly as the transport fell closer and closer to her goal. Aircraft and electric surface trains moved in the darkness, running lights and headlights cutting distinct acres of brightness. The desert, so foreboding and empty during the sunlit hours now seemed teaming with life and motion, almost spilling over into chaos.
      Closer now still, the orange glow of street lights and parking lots shone through portholes. Car-light and building top rose up toward them alike. For a moment, Eric could hardly see how their transport would find its way to a suitable landing spot, so dense was the cityscape below them. Building spires were rising deadly closer, within reaching distance it seemed. The great thousand story high skyscrapers of the Vegan capital grew pointed and singular- then plumed out stretched into infinity, rising and falling with the transport's decent. Individual office lights and residence apartments cast further light into the torrent of brilliance. Cars and trains fell past on vertical highways and airborne magnetic rails.
      Eric opened his eyes as the transport touched down, her landing struts extending with an audible vibration. The pilot was counting off figures, finishing with an altitude countdown.
      "Two, one, down," he spoke aloud. "Pressure cycle and open," he continued, flipping a pair of switches. The transport's rear door de-bolted and blew wide, lowering with a swift gust of atmospheric wind. Eric waited for his restraining harnesses to give way, which it promptly did. He stood, and in a controlled and practiced manner, turned for his gun and ammunition. He had equipped himself in under half a minute, spare magazines pocketed about his person and sub-machine-gun slung over his shoulder.
      "All right," he spoke over his team's communicator channel, "everyone out!"
      Eric followed his men out and onto the landing platform below. The wind was intense, as was Eric's immediate vertigo response. The platform itself was slung underneath a copula connecting two buildings together, at what must have been well over the three-hundredth floor. Above Eric, the towers, and countless other buildings, continued and rose higher still. Below him, the ground was invisible, vanishing into the darkness. The city itself stretched out all around him, a maze of lights and motion.
      "We're out of here," spoke the voice of the transport's pilot, "we're drawing way to much attention."
      "Roger," replied Eric. He knew the transport would be back on the hour for their pickup. In the meantime, there was the task at hand.

      There was no question, it was the right apartment. The place was a mess, water dripping from overhead pipes, clothes and paper scattered everywhere. Getting in had been easy, and it only took a moment to sweep the apartment's entrance. No one was there. Eric shouldered his machine-gun, clicking the weapon's safety back on. In frustration, he kicked a fallen lampshade across the room, the broken light fixture clattering across a wall in response.
      "There's no one here, sir," spoke one of Eric's men.
      Eric shot him a relentless glare. "No shit!" He paused, sweeping his eyes around the room again, looking for anything that could have been missed- any reason why their target had not been here.
      "I don't like it," Eric began, then, a shout came from across the room: "Wait!"
      Eric turned to another man, one just emerging from a search of the apartment's bathroom.
      Eric nodded in his direction. "What?"
      "You should take a look at this."
      Eric shuddered. He hated surprises.
      The bathroom was covered in blood. The sink's mirror had been smashed, the room's lighting torn out, and seemingly painted in blood. The light still flickered, casting a red glow over the room. A knife lay in the sink, glass and broken tiles mixed with it. Worst of all, what haunted Eric immediately, was the blood itself. It was visibly too bright, far too bright for dried blood- and too bright still for human blood.
      "What happened here?" he thought to himself, an eerie sensation crawling up his spine. And rightly so.

      Rhea woke outside, the dream still fading. Her cheek was numb, laying against the concrete floor. Bass ripples pounded through the cement, coming with dizzying ringing. Her body shook as she tried to stand, her pants were covered in blood, and her chest likewise. Had she tried to kill herself again? She shook her head, almost in self pity. It never worked, and probably never would. They had thought of that.
      Yes, she had tried again. Her forearm was cut deep to the veins. She held her arm in front of her, sighing at the pointlessness of her own efforts. She pressed a finger into the wound, feeling where the vein, encased in a layer of titanium fiber, had proved totally resilient to her earliest attempts. The damage was all on the surface, to her false skin and muscle- soon repaired. Her eyes lit the darkness and she walked forward, trying to realize her surroundings.
      Her mind flashed for a moment, and she stood still. Her body racked, her brain's inhibitors clicking back into place, and a swarm of forgotten memories returning. Suddenly she remembered, the dream already forgotten. She remembered trying to knife away at her own face, her eyes and lips, tongue and throat. She remembered the voice catching her at each attempt and stalling her efforts. She fell against the mirror, cutting it apart along with he arm. She must have blacked out, or, more accurately, her body had blacked out. There was a darkness there for a moment, then she saw herself walking, stumbling outside onto the pavement. She had collapsed next to a steam vent.
      The nightclub a few floors below was in full swing, bass and tone vibration coasting up the pipes and through the floor. The air was stale, piped in like the water and steam itself. It was still night, Rhea knew the time instantly, her mind a clock within itself.
      Someone was coming. Rhea slipped away, watching through the shadow.

      Eric stopped at the bathroom door. He pulled out his communicator, turning to leave the apartment, looking for a single.
      He knew what he was seeing, but it was impossible. His mind lost control, functioning without common reason.

      Rhea's hand fell across his mouth, silencing him- pulling him close, her back against the apartment's outside wall. Slowly she backed away, turning to face him. Her grip was light, yet unshakable, Eric knew that immediately.
      She stood and faced him, eyes glowing. "Why did they send you?"
      "What?" began Eric, horror boiling over imagination as his focus returned, the women before him becoming whole.
      "Do you know who I am?" she asked in her rasping voice, metallic and cold.
      Eric could not answer, so he repeated the obvious. "No… I was sent here to kill you."
      Rhea's eyes resolved, seemingly growing larger. "And?"
      "And nothing!" spat Eric, instantly in regret. Rhea had only to lean her arm against his neck to make him reconsider.
      Eric coughed, trying to answer against the weight on his throat. "We needed a DNA sample…"
      Blood flowed behind Rhea's eyes, burning them brighter still. They seemed to disappear into two red divots, as bright as the moon which bore her name. "What did you want; what did you come for?" Rhea screamed.
      "I don't know, I don't know!" he tried to repeat, but only a garbled phrase fell out. Rhea's eyes seemed to vanish in that moment, consumed in the glow of her own spirit.
      She broke his glasses, shredding them with her fist. "Yes you do! What did they want?" Glass and blood mixed on Eric's face, some running from his mouth. He spat away, trying to clear his mind.
      Rhea's screams carried through the hallway, and back inside her apartment. One of Eric's men shouted something inside. Someone was coming to the doorway.
      "…I was going to take some of your hair, to prove we killed you," Eric managed.
      Her hair. God, her hair.

      There was a scream. Eric felt like he was falling. He knew, before he even had to look, he knew what had happened. He was too tired, too lost… mistakes. The room lights, dark already, died.
      "Where the fuck did that come from!" shouted someone, outside the bathroom.
      Eric tried to close his eyes, tried to forget the memory dawning.
      "I didn't see shit!" came a reply, "you guys are all in the fucking bathroom!"
      Eric dropped his machine-gun, leaning back against the apartment's outer wall, his eyes clenched shut. He no longer wanted to hear, no longer wanted to see.
      Blood drained out the doorway, around his boots.

      Everything was wrong.

      She was looking right at him. His eyes in the darkness. She had killed the first man, his body crumpled to the floor. She could only imagine his thoughts upon that moment of death.

      She moved away, stepping with inhumane deftness past his gaze and through the room in fog like dark. There was another man somewhere in the room, and another two in the bathroom. Her eyes flicked over to heat sensitive, and caught them instantly. One was in the kitchen. Rhea came up behind him.

      There was another scream. Someone panicked. He fired into the wall, quieted muzzle flash and bullet impact skipping over the walls in a burst of light. Shell casings hit the floor, splashing across the pools of blood. The man saw a shape, drifting in front of his vision, totally immune to his fire. She, for it was clearly the silhouette of a women, came closer and closer still- his gun fire blind and useless.

      Outside, Eric heard the screams come again.

      Rhea stepped down upon the first's knee-cap, feeling it break backwards in half. He started to fall, so horribly slowly, and Rhea killed him with a punch to the head. His gun flew from his hands, high into the air. With one hand, beyond comparable speed, she swung up, warping her fingers around the machine-gun. She stepped around his body, pushing it aside with the other hand; it still falling, and decapitated the second man with a burst of gun fire- the sub-sonic bullets chewing away at his face. He did not have time to scream. Her eyes clicked back to normal, view refracting.

      Eric knew then, knew in that moment why he was still alive. He cleared his eyes, swept away the blood and glass from his shattered glasses. He pulled his back-up pistol, and headed back inside.

      "Bastards!" She cried, over and over again.
      "Stop!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, "please stop!"
      Rhea turned to face the man standing before her, blood covering her hands, arms and face. The room was painted in it, mixed with her own dried blood. Shades of red ran across walls, over the sink and down the mirror with no seeming end. A pair of bodies lay on the floor, ruined beyond recognition.
      Eric breathed heavily, tears of nothing welling at his eyes. He leveled the pistol at that women, watching her watching him.
      "Who are you?" he asked.
      "Spartan Seven-Seven-Four, Rhea," she replied, speaking the words she had not spoken for half a decade.
      Eric reached forward, pulling back the pistol's action, slowly- deliberately. His hand reached the open breach, feeling the weapon's grip over his gloved fingers. He pulled back, the air shimmering under the glint of the chambering bullet. He let go, the slide falling forward and closing around the loaded round.
      "I could kill you," spoke Rhea, eyes dimming.
      "Then why don't you?" asked Eric, hand and finger over the gun's trigger.
      She looked to the floor, hands falling to her side. "I want you to promise me something," she spoke.
      "What?" asked Eric, totally deliberate.
      "There's nothing left to take… Don't take my hair."
      "I don't intend to," replied Eric.
      He shot her.

      Eric Glantz walked down onto the ship's deck, as the transport powered down behind him. Michael Clark met him halfway across the docking bay.
      "I'm not going to ask, so don't think I'm wasting your time," he began. "I just want to know one thing."
      Eric nodded, motioning for the man to continue.
      "Who was she?"
      Eric unzipped his flak-jacket, then stopped. "She was never meant to live," he spoke to Clark. "You understand?"
      Michael Clark did indeed. Eric reached to his thigh, un-holstering his back-up pistol, one round short of a full magazine. "Take it, Mike," he said, deadpan.
      "You've got it, Eric," replied the ship's captain. "You look awful," he added. Eric knew it, and said nothing.
      "Are you ok," prompted Clark.
      Eric stopped for a moment, turning to face the ship's captain. "You remember on Tycho," he began but trailed off.
      "What?" asked Clark.
      Eric continued. "You remember on Tycho how we didn't know who we were helping?"
      "Everyone who was on that mission does, Eric."
      "Well, this time, I'm the only one."
      Michael Clark nodded. "Its your burden then," he paused. "You really do need a vacation. We'll be back on Earth in less then two weeks," the captain concluded.
      "…Another job well done," finished the mercenary.

      The last image Rhea ever saw was of herself.
      Her mother ran the brush through her hair. The velvet lengths of red fell in perfect form. Her vision was perfect, clear. There was nothing but the reality- the truth. Her ruby dress had always been her favorite- she crossed her hands at her lap. Her legs could have swung, but she refrained. In the mirror she looked back upon herself. Her hair, her eyes, her lips. Red. It was her.
      Her mother stopped and sat the brush down. Rhea's reflection showed no change. Her lips glowed all the brighter, but her expression stayed blank. Soon she was alone, only the mirror's vision casting impossible light.
      The darkness never came. This time, the darkness never came.
      The sun was burning endlessly, bright and perfect. Its warmth washed over her mind, as the child herself. The choc-mol, his voice, was gone, the air glistening like water like light and like peace. She stood on the edge of the celestial plane, where so many billions had stood before her.
      She looked behind, the darkness burning away under the endless light. Her mind opening as she had never known. Her dreams clearer, her voice awake and her beauty teeming. Her dress billowed as clouds, her lips swam in the warmth…
      She looked forward, off to the new world before her- and stepped away. A child no more.