Five

Five opened here eyes and looked at the base spread out across the grays and browns of the asteroidal body it had been planted in.  She didn’t know which base it was, she was fairly certain that it was one she hadn’t seen before.

“We are shedding the kids Commander.” Mother said in Five’s head. A glance showed the twenty roughly similar pieces of rubble that had trailed behind the slightly ovoid blob that was Watcher Sixty five thousand, five hundred and sixty-five were diverging and forming up to make their way into the repair and update bay.

Five looked back at the base. she was looking into the side, though at first glance it was like a city of tall skyscrapers seen from directly above, all sharp edges and spires poking out of the asteroidal body.  The gravity generator spikes speared  ‘down’  from the asteroid.  Mother and Five continued towards the ‘sky scrapers.’  as Five wondered where the word skyscraper had come from, it tasted familiar, but it elicited no definition tag from the tac glossary. 

Mother’s target was now very obviously the ‘bottom’ of the structure, dark blocks with massive lattice structures between above and around them.  That was the BlankBank, like every BlankBank in every other base.  There Five would find her sisters and be able to exercise, eat maybe, think, even sleep, “Perchance to Dream?” a voice not her own or Mother’s seemed to whisper.

“Uh, Mother?””

“Yes dear?”

“Uh did you, hear something?”

“No dear.” 

They were both silent during final approach.  From what Five could see there were at least ten other Watchers docked.  That seemed a lot and if each of the Banks had the same number that would be a Hundred at this base alone, and several thousand more out on their long looping patrol orbits.  Seven minutes later Mother entered a bay and docking arms reached out to snag the camouflaged fighter.

Five slid the transparent cover of the cockpit open and climbed onto the command deck with its various workpanels around the walls.  Mother like all Watchers was based on pieces of an interceptor design.  In this case mostly the command communication bridge and propulsion package. The designers hadn’t wasted time reconfiguring a successful design, other than removing the seats the bridge crew would have needed and embedding the cockpit in the center of the space that opened up.

The hatch creaked as it opened for the first time in a half century.  This loop she hadn’t had any reason to leave Mother to examine a suspicious rock or a destroyed space craft, enemy or friendly.

The space beyond the hatch was scuffed and scratched by centuries of use, the autons kept it clean but they didn’t bother buffing out the accumulating wear, probably didn’t see it. 

“Hello Sister.” A slim golden haired, ‘blonde’ woman with a warm smile and light blue eyes smiled from the entrance into the base.  Five bowed to the golden stripes on the other’s arm, “Hello Senior Sister, may I be of service?”

“I am the Greeter, I am to guide you to your quarters, make sure you are settled and know the location of the mess and gym.” The sister beckoned me to follow her, which I did.

“I did not know that they had commanders provide greeter service Sister?” Five asked as she ducked through the relatively low hatch and into the main access way, checking to see that the hatch to Mother locked shut before hurrying after the commander.

“Oh these?” the Sister brushed the stripes, “The directors did not like our Marshals and Admirals talking back, making up their own minds.  There was a reorganization and now we are all identified by our function and the stripes denote service decades no more.  You are Trigger one, I am a greeter three, though I was born after your last docking. 

“Ah.” Five replied, three women, two young, one older walked the other way along the passageway, all blonde blue eyes, slim, almost slender, the girls within a few years of each other were almost identical, the older woman had gray mixed in with her silver, one leg was artificial and she had only one arm and her face was scarred.  She looked up at the Greeter and Five then back at the datapad grasped in her artificial hand.

“Salutations, Stratego.” The Greeter called softly to the old woman, who ignored her Sister.

As they came even the Stratego pivoted and grabbed Five by the arm, her terribly scared, so terribly familiar face pushed close, “You the Trigger back from a long loop?” The teeth on one side had been damaged and were blueblack, her breath was foul.

“I am, Sister Stratego, what is your wish,” Five replied, wanting to tear herself away from the horror, from the reminder of what might be in store for her.

“What did you see?  Did you see the Dragon?”

Five blinked, like all ‘Pilots’ she saw very little, she spent most of her time in stasis, Mother only woke her when their array of sensors spotted something of interest.  It was Mother who ‘saw’ things.   And what was a Dragon? But Five realized she knew what a Dragon was, an image of a great winged creature, with huge teeth and eyes, breathing fire came to her, and then faded.  Where had that image come from.

“I saw nothing Stratego, no Dragons breathing fire.” Five tried to calm the other woman, her sister, the image, the reality of what she would be if she lived that long.

“Oh but you know the Dragon.” The Stratego smiled, which was hideous considering the terrible damage that no one had bothered to repair,  “Any interesting wakings this time Child Sister?” sounding perfectly sane now.

Five shook her head, “Nothing Sister.  I was surprised we weren’t just sent back out.  I was only awake about four hours relative time, last loop it was almost a hundred, I used the bunk and fresher on the Watcher twice that time.”

“We won the war.” The strategos’ smile, thankfully, was now a frown.

That made Five blink, “Uh, isn’t that good Strategos, all the resources wasted on the war can be turned back to making things for the citizens?”

The horrible smile came again, now an expression of rage, “Perhaps, ten thousand of your sisters were euthanized and turned back into protein soup to feed processors in system.  Half the bases broken up for their resources, made into pleasure palaces and gaming halls for the citizens. Perhaps you want to be euthanized, turned back into protein precursor for the fabricators?”

Five backed away, her stomach roiling, the Directors wouldn’t have done that! Not to the too loyal sisters? Would they?  She had met a few Directors, the tall dark haired, dark eyes men and women so handsome in their blue black uniforms and gleaming boots.  Of course some of that was because all the vidramas she ever saw had Directors in them, never Sisters, never the pallid, little Sisters, who flew the warships, or did any other dangerous work the Directors needed done.  But that was only right, wasn’t it? 

For an instant she saw an image of a Director with a nerve lash, beaming down a Sister, turning towards Five, a sneering smile on her face.  Then other images filled Five’s mind, memories she knew were not hers, that could not be hers, Images of green hills, green trees, crashing waves on a beach….

But what was a beach, where would a sister have been near a sea? She had seen those hills, trees, on a thousand vidrama’s right, but not that green, and what was an oak, an elm, how could she know what burning leaves smelt like?

The Strategos hard grip had stopped Five from staggering back, falling as those alien and yet too familiar memories filled her head.   “You need some sleep child. The Dragon will wait”

Five blinked and the memories were no longer crashing through her mind. She swallowed, “Yes, Sister Strategos, I think I need some sleep.”

“Then get some sleep, foolish girl, don’t stand chattering with a mad old strategist in this hall.  Hell one of the damned hatches could blow and suck us all out at any second.”  The old woman was laughing harshly as she limped away.

The Greeter pulled at Five’s arm, “We should be going, the Strategos has not been the same since the great winnowing.”

Five let herself be pulled, “The winnowing…a purge you mean?” How did she know the words had grimly similar meanings, she’d never heard either before this conversation?

“The winnowing. The Directors had won the war, many older sisters resisted moving on to other duties. Bases rebelled, Directors died!” There was horror in the sister’s voice.  And Five felt some of the horror, but not enough to let go of the idea of tens of thousands of her sisters, of other selves, being murdered because they were inconvenient.

“If we won the war will I be returning to the loops?” Or would she be euthanized and turned back into protein stock?

“Oh no, no, the Directors say that a new enemy is growing.  One that the loopers will not be able to stop, so the Watchers are being converted into what are called torpedoes.  You will wait until the enemy is close enough and then attack instead of hunting them out in the great black.”

So the new enemy, if there was a new enemy, could get much further in-system without being intercepted.  The loopers, tens of thousands of Watcher Interceptors filling celestial sphere around the Directors, Naladay and the great Hab belt provided both an impenetrable sensor net and a vast armada of fighting craft able to intercept from a hundred, vectors at need.  The only reason to pull the loopers in was if they no longer mattered.

Now she was going to be a living mine trigger, hence the name the Strategos had called Five by, instead of the older term Pilot.  And if the enemies technology had improved by the margin this seemed to indicate, it was unlikely that the trigger would get to activate more than once.

The room that Sister Greeter showed Five was the same as the others that she had seen. Pleasantly spacious, with green plants and a fluffy brown and white robopup to cuddle and make a fuss of.  After the Greeter left Five gently deactivated the robopub and set it aside to wait for the next sister visitor.

Five walked to the end of the comfortable bed and set the viewall to show an image of hills. The image was from Nadalay with Great taking up one side of the sky in all its banded glory.  Bright glints hung against the bands, some of the great habs that were the other glory of Humanities Pride, as this system was called.  No simple Nadalay Windsor, like Earth Sol, or Gratham Betelgeaus. 

During the Federated age, before the Directors, it had been Nadalay Windsor, but that was before the Directors had helped defeat the mad ones.  Before the endless war had started. They had thought the endless war over? But then it had returned worse than before apparently.

Five looked at the picture, at the green of the grass and the hills, and knew that this was not the green she remembered.  She had never been on Nadalay nor any of the great Habs, all she had were the plants in the BlankBanks, and the green of those plants was the same, why did she want to say ‘olive’ green as all plant life on Nadalay?

She looked at the door, beyond it were the other Pilots, Triggers now, and the gym and the mess hall, her sisters in mind and training as well as body and looks.  But she didn’t want to go there.

She linked >Mother?<

>Child I was asleep?<

>Do you have work ongoing?<

>No, new orders, new tactical templates, and the Kids will be new, but my propulsors are still the best and the shift drive as quick as any.<  The Interceptor was satisfied with itself.

>I am cutting R&R short Mother prepare for departure.<

>As you order Commander.<

Five let the link drop.  Why as she afraid?  Five was never afraid, had never been afraid. Before.  An image, dark figures, harsh faces hammering fists, steel pipes with handles used to smash in doors.  Hooded figures, pointing weapons, beating their targets with fists and truncheons.

Where did those images come from, the archaic letters, SWAT, the POLICE, the words like battering ram, truncheon, where did they come from, she knew their meaning, attached them to the objects and images in her mind’s eye. How?

She turned from the viewall, she wanted to talk to the strategos again, there would only be one Sister strategos on the base.  She linked to the infosys, >Sister strategos Location?

>None currently assigned.

>I spoke with a Sister strategos a half hour ago?<

>Sister strategos Seven stripe, Pilot, Miner, was assigned at that time.  That Sister is now none assigned.  An accidental hatch activation in section 10-11 as she and escort walked past, all are now non functional, consequently non assigned.<

Five found that the fear she had been suffering was gone, or rather had mutated to something else.  The Stratego had known she was going to die.  Had she stopped and talked to Five to try and pass something on? If so what, these memories that were hers and yet not?

She walked out of the room and down the hall, walking along an interior corridor to the closest access way hatch to Mother.  Then a quick trot to the hatch on Mothers bay and Five was nearly there, she dived through the hatch into the belly of the Interceptor and heard the familiar, friendly groan as it closed. 

“Mother, do we have orders?”

“We do, I am thinking you want to be gone?”  Mother was sharper than most.

“Do it, I’m going to go and get some sleep, where are we going by the way?”

“Beltagen we will be part of the protective halo.”

“Better than another long loop, I suppose.”  Though Five didn’t really know that was true. She’d still spend most of her time in stasis, in a few days, her time, she would either be dead or returning to a base for another R&R cycle. Would the Directors have forgotten her by then?  Did they even care now? Was she just crazy?

Five stripped and slipped into the narrow bunk bed she was familiar with and snuggled down.  Now she rather missed cuddling with the robopup she’d deactivated on the base.   But there was so much in her life to regret, wasn’t there?   A missed cuddle with a stupid robot was hardly much of an issue. 

Sleep came quickly, Five never felt the pulse of the shift drive, carrying them at the speed of light further in system toward the gas giant Beltagen.

End of the Introduction…..so what do you think is going on?

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