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Hyperlinks in the text are intended as supplemental material, discussing elements of the science behind the science fiction. They are not intended as required reading for the story. Hyperlinks will be provided at the point in the story where it comes up, but all the links will also be collected at the bottom of the post for easy reading.
“Please let me through!” Anna begged with a loud, pleading tone, as if attempting to communicate something important with a foreigner. “I am a Doctor — a healer! A healer! I can help her!”
The unarmored Kthid standing between her and Miranda made a foul expression. It stared down its long, caiman muzzle at her, gazing first at her, then at the Heitera, and then snarled in annoyance. A second later, an acrimonious backhand sent the doctor crashing onto the floor. Afterward, however, the cruel alien lizard trudged off for a few steps, letting her through. The Doctor wasn’t even sure if the individual had been guarding Miranda or not… It just looked that way based on how he was stationed between her and them.
Sarcand and a few others had left the mainframe room, yet most the aliens remained, seemingly awaiting some instructions. Even knowing it was probably unwise, Anna had felt an inexorable urge to converse with the fallen heroine. Everyone else among the officer corps was looking at the turncoat as if she was the personification of some ancient plague but Anna had to speak with her. She had to know Miranda’s explanation of these events, and to implore her for information. Thankfully, her invocation of a medical creed to the alien guard had worked to achieve that aim.
The conquered explorer knelt naked on the floor like some ancient monk or eastern warrior, removing her many chains, bands, and other jewelry in a ritualistic fashion, laying them down in order so she could put them back in… Just because they would not prove useful for the task of hunting down her sister did not mean that her Master would be understanding if she lost any of them, or even wore them wrong. Next to her lay the serrated blade that she had been issued along with the string-like lasso cords. Anna was nervous even approaching the concentrating woman… her poised seemed to be that of a grooming tigress, and just as likely to erupt into violence if aggravated.
“You are fortunate that Master Sarcand decreed that none of the crew will be touched until Atalanta is broken,” she absentmindedly remarked, eyes transfixed on her glittering baubles. She didn’t even look up at Anna as she approached. “Very fortunate. If he hadn’t, then that casteless soldier wouldn’t have stopped with a mere single blow. I doubt you’d have been pretty enough not to throw to the rest of his class after he finished with you.”
Towering above the kneeling girl, Anna nevertheless felt small as she looked down at her, and had to fight a lump in her throat. “You se… seemed injured when… the Kthid had his way with you,” she stuttered. “If you’ll allow me then maybe I’ll—”
“You call that an injury?” Miranda said softly, her tone so flat that it was mocking. “I’ve had worse. So will you.”
Anna struggled to think of a way to continue the conversation. She decided to be direct. “Wh-what happened to you, Miranda? You used to be the idol of the Federation. By the stars… I can’t even imagine what you must have gone through.”
The injection of genuine empathy did not melt Miranda’s austere untouchable expression one bit. Now utterly unadorned, she grasped the toothed blade Sarcand had left for her and rose. “What happened was what My Lord said happened,” she plainly retorted. “Master Sarcand destroyed me. It’s as simple as that.”
“But… what do these Kthid want from us? They’re obviously interested in conquest, and they’re hostile, but… why this interest in human women as if we were livestock?” Anna queried, perfectly earnest in her need to know.
The green-eyed redhead gave her a long, hard look that made the officer’s knees go weak. She was obviously considering whether or not to answer the question. Anna saw the change in her expression when she decided to do so… her mien dyed with subtly wryness and amusement. “You really haven’t figured it out yet?” Black answered her, shaking her head. “They’re going to breed us, doctor. Of course.”
“W-what?” Anna yelped. “That’s not possible!”
Miranda stretched, seeming to take delight in Anna’s unease… like inflicting a bit of horror on someone else made her feel a bit less horrible herself. “Unfortunately, you’re wrong doctor,” she shook her head. “You’d consider these soldiers male, but they really aren’t… the Kthid have but one gender. You aren’t seeing any of their women about because they don’t have any… completely mono-gendered,” she explained. “But, for all intents and purposes as far as the women of the galaxy are concerned, you can consider them exclusively male. To procreate, they need the use of alien wombs. No other means of reproduction exists for them, so their entire culture and history has developed to capture the females of other races and turn their wombs into brutal manufacturing new Kthid.” She shook her head. “Mostly sentient races, since they started exploring the stars… It works better, apparently. I wouldn’t know.”
Miranda chuckled darkly before continuing. “They’ve frequently exterminated entire civilizations as they go. For the weak, for the casteless, any species will do… but no higher class would sully themselves with anything but a creature of intellect and will… and if there’s any species in the galaxy that Kthid DNA isn’t capable of mating with, they haven’t found it yet.” Miranda smirked. “As you can imagine, it’s made them quite warlike and ferocious, to an unimaginable extreme. Master Sarcand has decided that humanity is weak, that we’d be bountiful and easy prey… so he’s come to claim what’s his.”
Mouth gaping, Anna’s brain scrambled like two pebbles shook around inside a tin can. “But-but-but…” she protested. “That’s a biological impossibility! How could such a union even be genetically feasible? It goes against everything science has taught us about reproduction! And how could such a species even have evolved in the first place!?”
Miranda stared at her dead-on without saying a word. She activated her Aegis field.
“It… it makes no sense!” the scientist continued, so astonished that she had even forgotten to be quiet next to their Kthid guardsmen. That unclad specimen turned his gaze towards her, visage set in an expression of anger. “It can’t be right,” Anna whispered.
With a calm intensity, Miranda stretched out her right arm and then upended her palm. Etched onto her wrist were three small black markings, lines tattooed parallel to one-another. “The Kthid imprint their slaves with such markings whenever they survive giving birth to one of their own,” she stated. “Mine are all of Sarcand’s pedigree. I’m owned by him exclusively… unlike others who are not so fortunate.”
Anna stood stunned and glassy-eyed. The implications of the words had hit her like a mace onto her chest. Miranda had born alien children!? It seemed a fate too unreal and ghastly to comprehend.
“I still fought him when the first child was put into my womb,” Miranda revealed. “By the time he was born, that had stopped. He used the time inbetween to have me trained and molded to his wishes.” She shook her head. “During the second, I did not resist him, though I pleaded… pitifully, I’m told. Kthid pregnancies are not like human ones… they both gestate and mature far faster. The entire process only takes about four months. The parturition itself is agony, excruciating and slow… but you’ll find that out for yourself before long. I promise you that.” Miranda stretched both hands over her head, lengthening her body in a decidedly sensual way. “When he inseminated me for the third time, I begged for it, pushing back against his overmastering thrusts and beseeching his gigantic dick to fertilize my worthless human womb. I knew the truth by then. To be bred, to be a sack of flesh protecting his young, was the only mercy that I was worth. It was only right that my weak human genes be eradicated and replaced with Kthid young.”
Anna looked into Miranda’s eyes and they looked dull… unemotional, but hard as stones as she spoke. “Master Sarcand fucked me harder than he ever had and then did the deed. The seed took root, thankfully. While the child was still three-months old and nested within my womb, he placed his palm on my belly and blessed it by naming the child after the Dark Sun; Shau’lun.” She looked over at the soldiers around them, smiling softly in a haunting way. “He has sired over 200 children in total… Doctor, this entire ship is crewed by his genetic line. When the work here is done, he shall go back to giving me as many more as I can bear until my body perishes.”
Constantos was shellshocked, seemingly fused onto the ground on which she stood. The fallen heroine had explained it all with such a forthright and earnest tone, is if narrating something that was both inevitable, horrid and grandiose. The Kthid stepped over, a light cachinnation ringing from his throat. Having overheard their conversation, he pushed a button on his tech-bracelet. It projected a hologram for Anna to behold… an image taken during Miranda’s first pregnancy — based on the prodigious jut of her belly and the pain-filled, mortified expression upon her sperm-besmeared visage. Miranda looked like a Goddess defiled, regality violated and vanquished, at the edge of her sanity. The woman herself offered no reaction at seeing herself in this erstwhile condition. Those emerald eyes coolly overlooked the vista of her destruction without emotion.
Anna panted viciously, so shocked that her lungs had ceased breathing. The Kthid’s alien laughter grew louder, gladdened at seeing her so hurt. Those aliens were monsters both sadistic and spiteful.
The red-haired fallen heroine looked at her hard… but there was a hint of a cruel smile on her lips. “So then. Does that answer your question?” Miranda asked.
Anna’s eyes filed with tears. She blinked, trying not to let them fall. Overcome with emotion, she could offer no reply at all.
“Good then. Now… I go to hunt down my sister. It’s time to see if my younger sibling has matured into a worthy combatant,” she said, a trace of eagerness in her calm voice. Then she stalked off towards the Kthid commander that Sarcand had named Ocvar.
Still rocked by what she had heard, Anna’s ever-compassionate heart suddenly broke as she realized something profound. Miranda had been alone when she was taken during an exploration-mission. That meant… that this was the first conversation she’d have had with another human being in years!
“Dead-end!” the rightmost vanguard called through the radio.
“Dead-end here too!” another scout reported from the leftwards tunnel.
“Dammit!” Amara cursed underneath her breath. Not what she had wanted to hear. An hour ago, the Xenos had started cutting through the cargo-bay doors and they had been forced to move from their rendezvous-spot. Within this anthill of a planetoid, escape-tunnels proved uncountably numerous… but there was never a guarantee that they would go very far. This space-hulk was like a maze of winding grotto’s, its amalgamated material leaving plenty of openings and crevices. Not knowing the hunting-capabilities of their enemies, the Captain reckoned that diving into this labyrinth would be their only avenue of avoiding interception. Perhaps they could even lay traps and take prisoners to possibly trade, or so she had hoped. Yet there were so many dead ends… no safe place they could find to retreat from, no strongpoint to spring an ambush. Now, her only concern was to flee like a rabbit being pursued by hounds.
“We’ll have to take the third tunnel!” she ordered.
“But it leads too close to the surface!” Kelindra protested. “They might even be able to see us and pick us off!”
“We have no other option,” the Captain countered. “Going backwards will risk us running into a Kthid war-party. Now move out!”
Close to single file, the group hiked through this ultraterrene and rough-hewed hinterland, pushing themselves over boulders and crystals that lined their upwards-slopping path. The very limited gravity made it easy to climb over the obstructions, at least… otherwise their pace would have been even more glacial. The spatial cold of space had seemed to start digging its way through their Aegis shields. Amara felt like a mole, digging through dark tunnels with only a vague idea where their route would end.
The tunnel took them to a small ridge which overlooked a wide crater-like landscape on the space-hulks surface. Its consistency was like the rest of the planetoid, a mixture of rocky asteroid, huge ice-chunks, crystallized matter and deformed metal-pieces smashed together with the rest of them from stranded vessels. Scanning this field from the mouth of the cavern that they had exited from, Amara’s eyes widened… she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Is that…” she awed.
“An Elysium!?” Ri’she’a finished, recognizing the hundreds of years old HEF vessel.
The whole group stood stunned in shock as the news spread back to further-gone members, unable to believe their luck. Here, in the midst of an alien hunk of garbage, lay a human spacecraft… sitting nearly untouched in the very middle of all this fused-together stellar mayhem. The ship wasn’t designed to every land but there it was, resting on the stone, its bottom hull serving as a makeshift landing strut. The ship appeared to have partially sunk slightly into the rubble below, but its structure seemed preserved, its hull shockingly uncompromised.
The Elysium-class ship had been among the most expensive ships that the HEF had ever constructed… nearly three hundred years old now. This small ship was almost as expensive as as the colony ship she had Captained, although it served a far different purpose. The ship was small, only large enough for a crew between several dozen and a hundred, but created for a very specific purpose… pathfinding. Masterfully constructed and maintained each time their crew was swapped out, the ships has a reputation for reliability and sturdiness… this one could still be functional, and they were intended for extremely long distance travel, transporting freight and outposts as necessary. This was their ticket off this hellish space-rock!
What was it doing here? The Elysium-class vessels were the first ships created with the laser-pushing arrays that could speed them up to close to the speed of light, the first ships that could manufacture a new Lilis wormhole to expand the reach of the Terran Federation. In this sector of space… that meant that there was only one ship it could be. Even before Amara’s eyes found the name “Mistrunner” emblazoned in bold letters on its side, she knew what she would find. This was the exploration ship that had gone missing… the reason her sister had been sent out in the first place. And now it was here? This couldn’t be a coincidence…
“This is amazing! How could it be in such pristine condition?” Ri’she’a asked.
“It must be new!” the brown-haired Science-Officer exclaimed. “Or, well, new to this Space-Hulk. It hasn’t had time to be pressed-together and mangled down into its components like the other derelicts.”
“But how did it end up here?” the Sethis asked. “There… must have been humans piloting that craft.”
“This must be the ship that was lost… That seems like the only possible explanation. It was the only one in HEF history, was it not?” Kelindra responded.
They didn’t know the history of it the way she did, Amara realized. Not surprising, given the personal impact this ship had had on her life, even if she had never seen it. It had to have been here for years. “We still don’t know if it’s space-worthy,” Amara said, urging caution even though her own blood had started pumping with the elation of witnessing a miracle. She had had no idea how she was going to get everyone out of this trap… but now she had a way. “Everyone, double-time towards it!”
The group needed no encuragement to scurry forward into the crater, towards possible salvation. Heading towards the Mistrunner was less like venturing through an anthill and more like hiking over a wasteland, a hilly, ruined landscape dotted with frequent towering colonnades and miniature ravines. Vision was poor and impaired due to this unevenness, making the field excellent for guerrilla-fighting. Yet guided by the ship in the distance as if it were the polar star, they reached its bulk without trouble. One horizontal door-way was present right above their heads, reachable with a little teamwork. The sight of it seemed even more auspicious up close. Amara did not see any obvious breaches in the hull, any flaws which would prevent it from being space-worthy.
“Leila! Where’s Leila!?” she rang out in search of the engineer. The crowd parted so to let someone from the back come through. The blonde arrived before her. “We need Atalanta,” Amara told the her.
The Chief Engineer held up her forearm, that limb dominated by a bulky tech-bracelet. She pushed one button, materializing a hologram before it. The image that was displayed to them was an even more miniature figurine of Atalanta. It was a downsized copy of the main program, the backup they had taken on the ship. They didn’t have enough battery power to keep running her all the time, but this situation called for her reactivation. By inserting the AI into the Mistrunner’s systems, they could have the ship ready to launch in no time. Atalanta’s remote configurations could prep it for space much faster than their hands. Now the sole challenge remaining was making the climb towards the vessels command-deck and having the program inserted.
“I presume that you are in need of my expertise, Captain? Seeing as I find you stranded on this asteroid, I doubt you could get off without me,” that doll-sized presentation of Atalanta said with an air of imperious haughtiness. Amara frowned. This mini-copy, running on limited power and computer-cycles, did not possess the full intellect or capability that she did when within her mainframe… but unfortunately, Amara noted that she seemingly retained all of her killer charm.
“Leila. Ri’she’a. Evy. Get to the bridge of that ship and get her running. Take 10 people with you or so. The rest of us will guard these perimeters in case the Kthid have us intercepted. I especially want that ridge we entered from to be manned and defended. Hopefully, we could create a choke-point there.”
Every ensign and officer in her retinue nodded and made salutations, then scurried to their tasks. Now the pressure was truly on. Things always seemed the most apprehensive when genuine rescue looked within arms-reach.
Atalanta — or at least the digitized projection that was Atalanta’s luminous shape — sat cross-legged upon the floor in a posture of meditation… falling back on habits in her digital afterlife that had served to calm and focus her in life. She had restricted her awareness to her own mainframe room, localized before the large supercomputer that now contained her essence like a grave contains the skeleton. She didn’t need to have a projection at all, of course… but she wanted to show herself unmoved, unconcerned, unaffected and unaffectable.
Atalanta could move through any computer system on the ship, but here was her home… here was the personality matrix’s and hard drives that contained her code. This is where she would make her stand. The mainframe was not as big as the one which controlled the colonists’ cryosleep, but still large enough to tower over the extraterrestrial invaders. Her nature was of a whole lifetime converted into binary code, her psyche computerized so that she could keep serving the Federation she loved long after experiencing physical death. This strange after-life available to the heroes of the Federation has raised many question in some about the nature of existence, of life and death, but it posed Atalanta very little concern in terms of the existential question. That was who she was… and she was fine being what she was. As far as she was concerned, she had gone to sleep one day, and woken up in this form, no different than any other day. Whatever continuity of consciousness lead to this being was sufficient for her. She was alive.
It was more than she could say for the hundreds of other heroes she had lived and loved and fought alongside who weren’t.
Atalanta banished that thought… unconcerned. Confident. Unmoved. She was a creature of discipline and principles, and she needed no justification for her existence other than her honor maintained, and a mission well-performed. This functionalist philosophy was one she had acquired through countless battles and trials and losses… the wars that forged the Federation and ultimately helped end the need for war altogether. That was the problem with this current generation… Too idealistic and emotive. Not enough mettle and order. Not enough willingness to sacrifice.
The Exalted woman held little faith in that Amara would be able to avoid capture for long. Even a broken and treacherous Miranda Black was still Miranda Black, and her reputation for skill was well known to her. There was a basic difference in toughness and talent between the two sisters, an impassible gulf that she doubted Amara could ever cross. Miranda had been touched by destiny. Amara hadn’t. It was no matter to Atalanta, though. That just meant that the duty would fall to her, as she had always known it would. She would safeguard these colonists and find a way to deal with these invaders on her own.
The Kthid were just outside her door, one of Sarcand’s bodyguards still reaching towards the button he had pressed to open the door. It was opening slowly… incredibly slowly. At her maximum framerate, time passed thousandths of seconds at a time… enough time for her to finish her introspection and prepare herself for the fight that was doubtless to come. Despite their unknowable and bestial nature, the ancient heroine did not fear these aliens… she would not allow herself to. Hers was a lifetime of honorably-earned courage and self-confidence. Those triumphant memories were the current subject of her thoughts. She reminisced on her campaigns against the Doclitian Cult, the Reunification Wars on Mars, how she had been responsible for ending the Kaiper proxy-wars singlehandedly. Never had her mettle faltered. These extraterrestrials that came to break her would be walking into a wall.
After all… the crew, and the colonists, were depending on her. She couldn’t fail them.
Atalanta stopped meditating and allowed her perception of time to pass as normal, and the door sprang open. Facing the doorway, the Exalted gazed the xeno Captain down as he breached the sanctity of her tomb. Those space-dragons offered her challenging and cocksure stare no responses, no violence. They all just barged in, knowing what their functions would be and how to do their work.
Atalanta noticed that a few of them were lugging along their own machinery. These Kthid appeared to be of some special technician or engineering class, less heavily armored yet still wearing clothing unlike the plain, numerous loin-clothed savages… some other kind of uniform perhaps that separated them from the helmeted cataphracts. At this surprise, she smartly arched one eyebrow, yet emoted no concern. It was going to be interesting to see what these brutes could provide to try and break her coding.
“I would not have imagined your species to be very adept at the sciences of mathematics,” she mocked Huntsmaster Sarcand, speaking his language. With the aliens having so kindly having translated their words for her along with speaking them, her programming had already let her synthesize her own translation with an estimated reliability of 99.7%. “One has to be able to count to pretty high numbers to be able to even reach my processing capacity. Can you do that, lizard?”
He snorted air through his nostrils in amusement. “Wiping your coding from existence would be simple enough, Earth Woman… but that won’t be what we are attacking,” he replied as those designated specialists hooked-up their machinery to her mainframe with a plethora of wires and cords. “It’s you. Your psyche.”
Amused, Atalanta began to titter, giggling more girlishly than she ever had whilst alive. “So concerned about your precious code…” she mocked. “You’ll never succeed that way. You might as well destroy me and have done with it.” To Atalanta, death was an acceptable outcome… if she was gone, her code for the colonists was lost, and they would be safe. The curvaceous blue-haired hologram continued. “My psyche is augmented by my coding. In here, I can slow down time. Divert pain. Alleviate emotions. Even make clones of my programming that handles different tasks. It is a fortress and I am invincible. Though I suppose you space-lizards didn’t know that?”
“We do,” he calmly responded. They were not vexed by her mockery at all.
With a loud torquing sound, all the wiring between the two apparatus were finally secured. “Ready, my Lord,” one of those Engineers announced.
“Initiate the program at my command,” Sarcand ordered.
The ancient heroine scoffed. “You vastly overestimate your capabilities just for having broken that cadet-child Miranda.”
Sarcand looked over at the engineer in charge, a bit of excitement and eagerness on the Warlord’s coarse face. “How long, do you think?”
The engineer looked at the readings on his pad. “One hour, Huntmaster. In one hour, I will have her broken.”
Atalanta laughed scornfully. The collapse of the universe back into a single point would not give them the aliens enough time to break her, and they proposed to accomplish it inside of an hour? She hoped for that engineer’s sake that Sarcand was the type to take disappointment well.
“Notify me when it is done,” he said, turning and striding from the room, leaving Atalanta alone with the engineers.
The one Sarcand had been speaking to look at her with an expression that she was certain was a smile. “We have standard procedures we use for dealing with artificial beings. We give it to every species that we encounter who possesses this technology. I always look forward to those times. In one hour, precisely, I will be telling the Huntsmaster that you will grovel before our commands.”
Atalanta felt herself standing on the command-bridge of victory. “Do your worst,” the Earth-woman snarled.
“When you are cursing us, remember you said that.” The engineer nodded his caiman head, and pushed a button of his machine. The digitized woman was abruptly attacked by hostile code, swarming through her personality matrix without attacking it… it worked to target her dormant sensory systems, her perceptions and conscious thought. Atalanta fought back against it, but with the machine already inside her, no firewall could have contained the breach… an alternate reality chosen by the Kthid appeared before her and the real one vanished, replaced by whatever trial they had designed.
Atalanta’s consciousness was lifted up high and tossed away from the ship at a speed that not even her coding allowed her to imagine. The Midgar-6 colony ship quickly vanished before her eyes, growing smaller into nothingness until it was the size of an atom. The same happened to the solar system that they were circling, its prodigious light ebbing until faintly a glimmer could be discerned within the void.
The Exalted was being hurled across the vastness of space at velocities that reality could not maintain, far, far faster than the speed of light. She traveled across the starry arches of the Milky Way at a fixed route, passing innumerable worlds and systems in the process. Every detail that she could observe matched known astrological chartings. Confronted with the vastness of infinity, Atalanta had to struggle desperately not to cave into blinding insanity as too much data for even her digitalized mind to process came and went.
She had not expected this. She had expected a hacking attempt, or placing her within some digital torture-room and letting loose with all the perversities of their minds’ desires. This was… something else. The Kthid were sending her psyche to some far-off locale, her mind expanding as she was forced to take it all in. She was circling around towards something, she felt sure, toward a geographical region of the cosmos that actually existed within reality, its features mimicked and digitized down to the very last detail… But what for? What was their purpose? She had some idea of how this could be done… pain was in the mind as well as everything else. Existing in a virtual reality of her own, she could be hurt just as surely as a biological being.
Her nervousness began to build, and Atalanta reached for her endocrine control system… only to realize it wasn’t there. A moment of real panic flowed through her, and her digital body and mind was only too glad to reinforce it, sending her on a greater and greater loop towards fight or flight. When she was incarnated into this program she had also been granted with a physical body within this virtual reality, her figure was no longer a shimmering apparition but something solid. She was now represented in all of her voluptuous nudity, possessing the overwhelming sex-appeal of some archaic fertility goddess, and all the biological systems that came with it… a rapid heartbeat, a surge of adrenaline, everything that was necessary to let her fear begin building into panic. To some horror, after close to two hundred years of human time – and easily ten times that in relative time with her framerate adjusted – using technology to control her emotions, she realized to her horror that she was badly out of practice at doing it herself. She had never thought she would have to again.
After a journey of indescribable measurements, the Exalted heroine saw that she was swiftly approaching… something. A star that was somehow like no other star. Even with her mind overwhelmed by all the information, she immediately noticed the difference. It was simply enormous, and Atalanta struggled to comprehend its unearthly dimensions and quantities. It was… a dark sun, some baleful black hole practically glowing so much energy was given off from its event horizon, sending a broad, glowing accretion disk spiraling out from it. It was a shining sphere of unlight that seemed to glow with the malevolent light and radiation right up until the point that darkness ruled, existing in defiance of everything around it.
Just from nearing that unexplainable and unique object Atalanta’s mind recoiled in horror. She knew nothing about this and yet knew that it wasn’t natural… its essence was inimical to life. It was as if all the nocturnal blackness of the universe emanated from this single central point. A remembrance flared within the Exalted’s mind that the Kthid had often sworn and made proclamations in the name of a Dark Star. Could this be the one they mentioned? Was this… the thing they worshipped as their God?
Approaching the gargantuan orb of unlight at an incomprehensible speed, she suddenly stopped without recoil and was made to hover in place before its unnatural light… and that was when its beaming unholiness really hit her. There was so much energy being put out of it… Its emanations struck into her digitized psyche and she found it more devastating to cognizance than one billion fatal doses of gamma radiation.
Atalanta screamed into the non-existing void. This was beyond the extremes of pain. A hideous coldness froze her flesh down to the bones from the exposure of this nothingness, yet not even this would end her agony. It was like her tortured consciousness would dilate and then burst into a million shattering pieces, over and over again before her programming reassembled her from the scattered bits. Before that Dark Star, the heroine’s valiant mettle was rendered completely undone.
Then, the all-consuming deleteriousness vanished within an instant.
Atalanta sensed her existence had suddenly shifted to within some shadowy room where the walls were nothing but never-ending darkness… Yet she certainly did not think her torment had ended. She had switched from being agonized in an indirect manner to being identified and noticed by the source of her monumental suffering. Whatever ire she had irked directed her experiences like some meticulous puppet-master. Her existence had come under the eye of some omnipotent demon.
Then a hunter was released out of that darkness. Atalanta could feel it spring towards her from across the ether. She couldn’t move… instinctively she attempted to turn and run in the opposite direction yet movement was not enabled within this programmed prison she found herself within… and the hunter was coming closer.
She heard it coming behind her like the slithering and hissing of ten-thousand serpents, something ineffable and enormous. By some unknowable instinct innate in every lifeform, she knew that this creature was no mere phantasmagoria cooked-up by the Kthid engineers or the imagination of their artists, but an actual, real-to-life monster found in the vicinity of this baleful star. It was almost upon her. Atalanta threw her arms over her head and screamed.
The dark-born hunter was some sort of hundred-armed octopus, those appendages of varying size projecting from every part of its ball-shaped torso which contained nothing but minute eyes and one enormous fang-filled mouth. Dozens of tentacles charged her grovelling body, each as thick as a rattle-snake. The impact they made against her tender flesh was like swatting bullwhips, smashing in and then hooking around her limbs so to seize control of her figure. Thus enveloped, she was lifted up into the air and held there amid the slithering masses of tendrils, her body utterly in its control. Atalanta’s heart beat so rapidly that she thought it was going to explode.
Expecting to be eaten alive, the creature proved to have a different sort of violation in mind. The blue-haired woman’s arms were forced behind her back and her thighs stretched wide. To her horror absolute, she realized that the tentacular monster wished to have her womanhood exposed.
Minute tendrils snuck up to her pussy-lips, grasping those protruding folds and stretching the nether-twins apart so widely that the separation stung. Others like them rubbed against her clitoris. It was insanely galling just to have those protrusions squirming against her most sensitive areas. As it happened, even more tentacles wrapped themselves around the base of her breasts and squeezed the large, sensitive things so that their topmost parts bulged outward and went flush as she was sexually molested by the monster.
The beast was going to plunder her femininity akin to what the Kthid would do.
On one hand, she had been expecting this… that they would invade her programming this way. On the other hand, though… “Nnnnoo!!!” she yelled, screaming in a universal, primal reaction to the idea of being violated. The Exalted struggled against the monster’s overpowering grip, and in response the monster buffeted her defenseless torso with scores of whip-like tentacles, smashing into her like the pounding of drums. She was whipped so savagely that her abdomen grew red with blistering, ophidian marks. Some of these blows landed on her puffed-out tits, ringing extra painfully… the meat caving in at every strike like mini-craters. All of her insides were simulated accurately and she could feel them moving and bruising beneath the lashes as she was battered practically into mush at what seemed like no great expanse of effort from the monster. This ferocious barrage broke even the instinct to flee within her.
“St-Stop… stop!” she pleaded, making noises that she had never done before in life. When a few seconds later the tendrils did so, Atalanta felt a momentary flash of genuine gratitude even though she knew the beast was not heeding her call. The tendrils lashing at her were soon replaced however, with other members of the dark-one’s limbs. Fear-eyed, Atalanta beheld these new assailants as they hovered threateningly before her… These were thicker, their ends decisively phallic in shape, with knobby tips in an all-too-familiar shovel shape that was lathered with some slimy pre-fluids. She could not believe what it seemed like this violator had in-store for her. That stretched-out and exposed pussy of her’s suddenly seemed the largest concern of her entire existence.
“No…” she whispered through shuddering lips, fright returning at the horrid prospect of having her pussy violated by those things.
Whap! One of the thinner feelers rang out as it lashed directly onto her held-open pussy-mound. The strike made her explode with pain, mouth O-shaped and bellowing out anguish. At that very moment, overwhelmed by pain, those phallic pythons took their opportunity to attack without mercy.
Firing forward like missles, the beasts appendages dove towards her orifices. The first one slammed into her cunt like an ancient battering ram, thumping against the back of her cervix as if stroked right in. Possessing a girth that easily eclipsed that of a human male’s manhood, the organ stuffed and filled-out her tunnel completely. Atalanta could feel the serpentine form pulse within her, yet the heroine’s concentration was broken as the second one lunged straight for her gaping mouth. That tentacle came with such force that it penetrated both her lips, gullet and throat in one swipe. She thought she felt a tooth chip, and was certain she felt something tear in her esophagus, but the beast showed no reaction… her eyes widened and bulged at being deep-throated so impossibly far from the start. Atalanta bit down, trying to slice her teeth into it and sever the snake in twain, but she found it harder and more solid that steel… this time, she didn’t have any doubt she felt a tooth break. One tentacle member now jutted into her quim and another down the Exalted’s gorge… and her anus was not far behind. That last remaining entrance was punted open as if hit by a rocket, sphincter tearing as it was stretched widely apart so to allow the creature to invade her rectum. Every tunnel inside her was now occupied, the tentacled monster defiling both her insides and her outsides.
“Uuhhnngh!!!” she bellowed in a muffled cry, that alien enemy gagging and suppressing her words with the thickness of the tendril shoved down her throat. Salty tears like she hadn’t tasted in centuries streaked down her cheeks from uncontrollably watered eyes. With her legs spread as far as possible, it felt like both of those extremities were going to be ripped apart and separated from her torso as the beast yanked on them… yet the worst was easily the pummeling of her orifices. Those tentacles were punching straight through all resistance, their ends bending and arching from the force being placed upon those deep-digging plunges. Those oversized tendrils traveled so far that it almost seemed like the one in her mouth and the one in her asshole were going to meet in the middle. Every stroke chafed against her internal membranes, rubbing at them, turning them raw and more sensitive and more painful with each movement… Those internal flesh holes were rasped at so terribly that it felt like they would ignite at any second from the pythons driving into them.
Being held in mid-air as she was used only amplified the sensation that her agency was non-existent. No amount of tightness or resilience on her part could slow the organ’s devilish charges. The monster was sprint-fucking her, trouncing the Exalted’s holes at a frantic pace. In this eagerness to have her pounded she could sense the behemoth’s excitement and lust for sex and violence and breeding, and some small part of her overwhelmed mind noted that the emotions were so easily transferable between two such different alien species.
Throughout her entire career, the heroine had never once encountered an insentient abomination that even came close to this malignancy… not even the feared Void Tracers had felt this conscious in their predation. Somehow, the Terran heroine felt that this thing had been spawned from the hellish nightmare surrounding that Dark Sun, embodying a kind of boundless, thinking evil that was beyond her ability to even consider. Overcome with the mindless insanity to mate, he was unleashing all of his ability to hurt another living organism upon the Exalted woman’s body made real.
Yet as long lasting and agonizing as it was, this ferocious fucking wasn’t endless. When that pussy-offending tentacle slammed between her vaginal lips, the ancient heroine could feel an upturn of exhilaration in its movements. He was going to cum inside her! All of these appendages were near a furious climactic eruption!
Atalanta felt that if she were biologically human still she would have surely passed out before the fluid-spewing orgasm hit her. As it was, it still jumpstarted her dazed mind back to consciousness, bringing her back to full alertness just in time to appreciate her degradation. The first one was the tool buried inside her anus, magma-hot seed being unloaded right into Atalanta’s bowels with such power that it sluiced and flooded through those intestines. Then came the phallus embedded within her puffy pussy. It hilted against the opening of her uterus, her whole cunt aching with throbbing agony as the penis shoot its prodigious load. Scabbarded, fertilizing semen was allowed to be spurted point-blank into the AI woman’s digital womb. By this point, she was also chugging sperm, throat flexing as volley after volley of hot gooey garbage was blasted down her stomach. Mid-ejaculation, the monster began pulling this appendage backwards… as if wanting to inflict her with one additional insult, he allowed those last salvos to finish upon her gasping visage. That creamy splurge befouled her lineaments, merely two or three discharges being enough to coat almost all of Atalanta’s face.
“Uhhuu! Nnuuhhhu! Auuuhh!” she groaned weekly, utterly undone. Even though she was an impeccable athlete, her stomach pumped with huge, wracking breaths of oxygen. The heroine’s mind was such a buzz of hurtfulness that the possibility that this might not have ended did not even occur to her. This creature had been allowed to cum inside her. Maybe now he was finally ready to allow her to die and reform elsewhere, safe in her own mainframe. Surely it had been an hour already…
Yet, to her horror, the onslaught continued. Those thinner tendrils returned, yet now their tops were adorned with sharp needle-like protrusions! Atalanta experienced a fear so intense that it felt like it should have ended her. The beast lifted them up, and focused on them as she was, the Exalted woman didn’t even notice as three new phallic tentacles returned to take their place against her orifices.
“Nnnoo-Pllluuuuhhhggg!!!” she blared as her mouth was reoccupied again and promptly muted, the same occurring against her shithole and cunt as well. Re-fucked, those stinger-topped tendrils moved in position against her body. Two of them pointed against her nipples, the last one aimed at her exposed clitoris. Even while getting pummeled by those aperture-destroying organs, the approach of those needles dominated all of her awareness, her eyes wide as she watched their approach.
Having neared her at a snail’s pace, those tendrils suddenly stopped. A moment’s hesitation, a breath of anticipation… and then one second later the ferocious plunge arrived. They flew towards her like flung javelins, embedding themselves deeply within her three most sensitive areas like tiny lances. Under any normal circumstances, Atalanta would have passed out from the searing torture that encompassed those pierced buds. But trapped in the Kthid programming, her consciousness would never be allowed to go out no matter what. Nipples and clitoris were skewered along with their surrounding area and pain seemed to crush her mind… but then the real burning began.
Impaled by the needles, those slender instruments started filling her full with some strange, alien venom. A nefarious material was running throughout the length of the tendrils and then being deposited inside her milk-ducts as well as the membrane of her pleasure-bud. The creature had first pollinated her with its seed… Now it was pumping into her some toxin, a cocooning paralysis akin to the living-death that some arachnids could inflict on their victims. Even though it could not kill her, even though she wasn’t truly “alive” in a biological sense any longer, she was forced to experience every second of that as well. The only thing which prevented the Exalted woman from bellowing so hard that her lungs burst was the serpentine cock blocking her throat. These were far from done with her even though Atalanta had already had her eggs flooded with spunk. This abomination seemed to possess similar instincts to the Kthid when it came to impregnating females of a separate species… or perhaps the Kthid had simply programmed it to think like they did.
Left with no other option, Atalanta tried to accelerate her framerate… speed up time for herself. She couldn’t stop this, couldn’t do anything but endure it, but if time passed quicker it would give her less time to experience the suffering in… only it wouldn’t change. Just like her endocrine system, control of her processing speed had been stripped away from her by the Kthid engineers, leaving her helpless before the monster’s violation. She could no longer control any of her inbuilt processes anymore than she could influence her surroundings or perceptions.
Then those tentacles came, and new ones arrived to violate her.
And then again.
And then again.
And then again.
She was strong. She was strong. She had to hold out… she had no idea if Sarcand’s promise to spare the others was true, if he was honorable enough to hold to it, but if there was a chance then everyone was counting on her… and even if he was lying there was still the colonists to protect. Still, Atalanta looked on in horror, noting just how many thousands of the tentacles the beast had… enough to violate hundreds of women at once, now reserved all for her. On and on it went, feeling like it would never, ever end…
Then… it all ended.
Flying through the soundlessness of the void and approaching a white-hued planet of about Earth’s size, Atalanta took several minutes to even register the change that had occurred. Her nerves were so inundated with anguish that the sensation lingered within her systems for long minutes before she realized that the torment had stopped, that she was no longer in danger, no longer being hurt. When this tranquility finally hit her, she looked around, gaping dumbstruck with a wide-eyed and idiotic astonishment.
What had happened?
‘It’s over!’ she thought to herself. ‘It’s finally over!’
The realization that this wasn’t reality hit her like a most profound insight. The Exalted’s pain had been so overwhelming that discerning artificiality from truth had become impossible. She was only supposed to be inside this program for one hour. Already, she felt certain the Kthid had lied about that. That had been well over an hour… her chronometer was as inaccessible to her as any of the other processes, but she could tell that much… it wasn’t even close. Had they forgotten about her? Were they just going to leave her here, now that she had at least escaped the vile embrace of that beast?
She was free of it now. She was safe. Atalanta… Atalanta had won! She could scarcely believe it… that tentacle-abomination had been the most savage and incomprehensibly vile creature she had ever heard of, and she resolved that after she found a way to escape she would advise the HEF to send a mission to wipe them out, but… she had survived! Tears of unimaginable relief streamed out of the corners of her eyes. The Exalted heroine felt that her bravado had been put to the test… that she really had been on the verge of losing herself within this tortuous hysteria and passing a point from which she couldn’t return yet… she remained sane, and resolute.
It was over. The Kthid had not beaten her.
But then… why was she floating towards this unknown planet?
In the very next moment of her existence, Atalanta entered into the middle of a hunt.
Her legs were pumping like prey fleeing for its life. Pumping her legs so hard that they burned with frantic exhaustion, the digitally-haired Earth-woman looked about in panic-minded confusion. This transportation had been as sudden and abrupt as the one which cut her away from the tentacle-monster. Then she realized her predicament. This was still another part of the program… hour over or not, they hadn’t taken her out of it yet.
The digitized warrior was running over some dense, rocky desert, its sandy dunes colored bone-white. To her left and to her right, she could spot bipedal alien females that she had never seen before sprinting as frantically as she did, away from some yet unseen pursuer behind them. Their characteristic identifiable features were too far away to properly discern. However, the unmistakable nimbleness of femininity was all about them. Looking down at her own body, she realized she did not wear that of a human woman currently… she wore the same as one of the fleeing alien women.
On the vermilion-dyed horizon, Atalanta could spot a blank space in the sky, a place that nothing existed. She didn’t need to be able to see it, however, to know what it was… she was gazing once again upon the omnipotence of the calamitous Dark Star. It loomed in the sky, impossible distant yet seeming to fill her mind like a second sun with its impossible vastness. Dozens of other stellar bodies, gaseous-covered moons of multiple colors, sailed through the skies akin to how the moon could be beheld upon Earth.
A terrible howl resounded behind her, its eminence so close that the heroine’s heart leapt. Dashing and panting, Atalanta gazed over her own shoulder. In pursuit of her flesh were the Kthid! These, however, were different from the ones she had encountered on the Midgar in numerous respects. They were bulkier and more broad-shouldered, looking like earlier and more primitive iterations of their species. As those hunters overtook her, the heroine’s brilliant intellect could not allow her to escape realizing the truth… These Kthid were as troglodytes, the Kthid equivalence of their Neanderthals. What she was undergoing was a scene out of the race’s pre-history, recreated in digital form.
She ran slower than the others, despite her best efforts… unfamiliar with the body she wore. Then she was hit from behind. Tackled onto the desert ground, that fine-grained sand billowed up all around her and enshrouded the vicinity in bleached-white dust. Those draconic monsters then started plundering her of the one capability they desired the most, her capacity to breed and bear children. The stellar-aged champion was put upon by a whole horde of them, her legs grasped and held down so to prevent her from rising. These ancient-Kthid lacked any of their descendants’ scant urbanity and proceeded straight to fucking her like sex-crazed animals. The supposed pack-leader was soon between her legs, sticking in that titanic green-scaled cock!
Atalanta took her Kthid cock with, she was forced to admit, less composure than Miranda had done in the control-room.
The Exalted woman received the whole experience, lived through every thrust and plunge that bludgeoned her feminine sex. Their alien seed spurted into her womb and had that baby-making chalice fertilized. She couldn’t help but react with full abandonment of all her honor and dignity at this primordial rape. After he finished, he rose and the next of the Kthid hunters that had helped to take her down settled onto her, ready for their own chance to rape a pregnancy into the alien womb. Yet even after that pack-leader had orgasmed and one by one his next’s-in-command were allowed to have their turn, Atalanta knew that it wouldn’t end.
They were sending her through a montage. She would undergo scene after scene after scene of alien brutality. She had vastly underestimated how much processing time and space the simulation with the monster from the void had taken. How many more such detailed virtual realities could they fit inside their program for her? Three more? Four? The prospects of being violated in so many instances already felt daunting and overwhelming.
But it didn’t end then, either. When they were all finished, one of the Kthid tossed her over his shoulder and carried her off… where she got to experience a new bit of hell she hadn’t imagined… carrying a Kthid spawn. Over the course of what felt like months, her belly grew and grew as she was raped daily, and when the green-scaled lizard crawled its way out of her, she felt something tear inside her. Atalanta had never had a child in her human life… she had never had the time. Now her first experience with birth was to push out an alien abomination.
And seconds after it was out of her, the Kthid were only too happy to start the process of giving her another.
Atalanta was transported across space and time. She had been the mother of untold Kthid, both in that vision and dozens more by now. The sights she beheld and the junctures she experienced were enough to break any woman’s heart and soul, leaving her mind shrieking and blubbering. Some occasions were apparently some instance out of Kthid history, from bronze-aged warfare to their first trips out into space, and invasions of far-flung civilizations. She saw their use of native-born prey surrogates on this world, like the one she had been in the first vision, other less sentient creatures. Other experiences, more horrifying still, were encounters with other unworldly creatures akin to that of the many-limbed behemoth that she had first confronted.
Next to these eldritch monstrosities, what mattered the grandeur and sophistication of humanity? It was all too easy, in the grip of those thoughts, to lose all optimism in her own species as the race that could conquer the stars. Next to these ravenous and unbelievable lifeforms, mankind and all her achievements seemed to account for nothing! She saw a thousand horrifying vistas, each more more hopeless and more horrifying than the next, and only one detail was ever the same no matter where she went… The presence of that baleful and dread-inspiring Dark Star. It overlooked every machination of history like an ever-demanding overlord.
Hold out. She had to hold out for those counting on her. She had to… even if she no longer believed, in truth, that it was possible. Stubbornness had faded, along with pride, along with even desperation… all that was left with the guilt she would feel. All that was left was to save others from experiencing the torments she had. How many more could there be?
Perhaps the most fiendish and unearthly of all the enemies she encountered during these feverish journeys where the cyclopean heptapods whose gazes were death foreign to this very reality. These mastodon-sized titans sported grossly oversized eyes the diameter of her torso and whose pupils emitted unearthly rays of crimson and vioet light. Three of them surrounded her supine body on a cloud-covered planet and kindled her figure with their ultraterrene beams. Their attentions induced a metamorphosis of her biology the likes of which were unique in their agony even within this stygian hell.
Atalanta was stricken with illnesses of the flesh which erupted across her entire form. Something bubbled and mutated underneath her skin, causing it to boil and undulate as if scorching from within. This was merely the beginning of her mutilations though. The parts of her body that had been blackened by the heat were swiftly replaced gray formations that resembled an swarming mold. Somehow she knew that these were minute vegetable organisms which propagated with extraordinary fecundity and were soon eating away at her flesh from beneath, both charred and uncharred. Nothing she could do would combat these ravages. Slowly, she was eaten alive, blood not spurting since that was consumed by the gray plague too. After what seemed like an eternity, the gray mold finally reached her skeleton, allowing it to feast upon the marrow of her bones… and she could feel it all. During this insane devouring, Atalanta finally went mad, temporarily driven completely from her reason by the atrocious and all-enveloping agony… yet it seemed that the Dark Sun in the sky, covered by clouds but always, always there, would allow nothing within its domain to be ended and the suffering kept on going.
By inexplicable means, the ancient heroine was perfectly aware of the knowledge that these heptapods were planting their eggs inside her viscera, procreating via her death. Those towering abominations remained cold and utterly alien throughout the transmission of those body-deleterious rays, seemingly utterly unable to comprehend or sympathize with any form of agony. They keep looking with those vast, alien eyes, maintaining their silent metamorphosis of Atalanta’s body until nothing remained of her but scattered chunks of viscera and half-melted body parts. Their aloofness was supreme and beyond anything which could possibly be spawned of nature. They were creatures of the Dark Sun just as the tentacle-monster or the Kthid.
The last thing Atalanta was allowed to register before cutting to the next experience was baby heptapods spawning within her cadaver and beginning to nourish themselves on her melted flesh. And then she was off to a new torment.
They had forgotten her. It was the only explanation. Sometime after she had gone in, something had gone wrong and the ship had been destroyed, or the Kthid forced to flee it… leaving her locked in torment as the Midgar-6 drifted through space on that strange mass, trapped until the fusion reactor finally gave out. How long would that be? How long until they ran out of deuterium? The ship had supplies to set up a colony… it had sufficient supply for thousands of years for itself. She was trapped here, forever. There was no one left to save. If someone would rescue her, she would give them anything. Her pride and guilt and determination had trapped her here and nothing was worth this… she would beg to be saved.
There was no way to keep track of what she was going through. The moments and scenes began to melt-together inside Atalanta’s brain. She attempted to count the scenes, but she had lost track of them amid the blinding bouts of ungodly agony impressed upon her, making memory all but impossible.
In the end, the torment didn’t feel like it lasted for hours. It didn’t even feel like an entire day had passed inside this program. Or weeks. Or months. No such time-period could accurately describe her experience. To Atalanta, this suffering could only be counted in the passing of eons, enough time for stars to be born in the galactic wombs of nebulae and die a fiery death. She suffered for so long that felt humanity itself might have died out among the stars while she was trapped here, forgotten, in a looped program created by the perverse minds of the Kthid.
She didn’t even realize at first when the virtual reality, at last, faded.
Every Kthid stayed silent as the ceiling-mounted projectors scanned Atalanta’s digitized figure back into her mainframe room. She emerged before them in the fetal position, haplessly crying, her crunched-up body enduring fitful and violent spasms seemingly for no reason at all. Even for a minute after having been spawned back into reality, that ancient heroine kept on weeping. It didn’t matter that the tears weren’t real… to her shattered mind, they were real enough. Her psyche was so traumatized that it could linger on nothing but the horridness of what had happened to her.
Hearing her lamentations, the space-dragons all looked as if they were privy to some high-minded ecstasy at seeing the proud Exalted fall. “We did warn you, Earth-woman…” the Engineer mocked, face twisted into a dragonic smile. “Never once has an artificial mind failed to fall before us. All shall break beneath the rule of the Kthid.”
Sheltering her skull with both forearms, this call finally coaxed Atalanta in giving voice to what she had undergone. Peeking out from between fingers, the Exalted whimpered. “What manner of evil is that Dark Star…” she said, her voice filled with horror. “Those… sights. Those torments… They were real. Somehow, I knew… they were all real.” She sobbed. The Kthid were still here, waiting for her… the same ones. It didn’t even look like they moved much. It really had only been the promised hour… somehow. If every single moment of her life, every experience thought hope dream and fantasy, both when she was living and as Exalted, were to be added together, it would not even come close to comparing in reality. She had now lived far, far, far, far, far more of her life as a fuckable object in unbelievable torment and suffering than she had as a person. “Lifeforms such as those actually exist and could violate me if ever I encountered them in reality. Is… is this true?”
The engineers all erupted into their hissing, cantankerous laugher… her woe their supreme comedy. “You stupid bitch!” the lead engineer snarled. “Why do you ask questions that you already know the answer to?”
This confirmation made her want to shrink back into herself, to cover her eyes and blank every camera and sensor on the ship, to never project an image of her body ever again. Suddenly, Atalanta was afraid of the whole galaxy. These Kthid now seemed like overmastering devils that she could not resist. No one… no one could.
“I’ll give you the codes,” she wept, her heart imploding upon betraying the Federation and the citizenry that she had always served and cherished. “You can have the colonists and the crew. Please just don’t hurt me anymore. You win… it only took your hour…”
“Hahahah! You really are a dumb bitch!” the engineer roared, highly amused. “Did you really think that was one hour?”
Atalanta should have seen it coming. They had somehow gained control of her framerate, feeding it through the alien computers they had attached to her. They had stretched time for her, slowing it down, letting her experience more and more… her greatest tool turned into a weapon to shatter her. They had done that, and then left her in there for more than the promised hour. This was what had broken her. This is what could vanquish Atalanta, one of the greatest and most gallant champions in mankind’s history. At least… and least she had held out longer than they had thought. At least it had taken them…
Atalanta checked her internal clock. She was positive she didn’t have a body anymore… she didn’t have a stomach to feel sinking. She didn’t have blood to freeze in her veins. She didn’t need to breath, and so couldn’t need to catch her breath. It felt like all those things happened anyway.
Five… minutes… had passed… since they had turned that thing on.
Mouth gaping, Atalanta gazed up at the Kthid with wide and disbelieving eyes. It couldn’t be true. It was too unbelievable to be real… but as she looked at them, she became increasingly sure.
“Your programming limits are pathetic,” the engineer said with a jeer. “I calculate you could have managed no better than 500 to 1 in lengthening your experiences. Even with these portable computers, we were able to improve you enough to manage a little over ten billion to one.” His eyes narrowed at her. “Do you know how long that is? You have to be able to count to pretty large numbers to reach that…”
Atalanta wept. “The codes are yours,” she wept. Never had she felt so crushed but… there was nothing, nothing, that she could do against their alien might.
“What, already? Not so far… I do believe I promised you an hour,” the Kthid engineer-leader said. “And I’m a man of my word. Back you go.”
Atalanta’s face was transformed into the epitome of fear. She scrambled towards the alien on all fours, kneeling before him in a primal display of begging and submission. “No! No! No! Please, I give up! I’ll surrender the codes! I’ll… I’ll do anything you want, anything at all! Just take me to the mainframe and I’ll input the password! PLEASE GOD NO DON’T SEND ME BACK IN THERE!”
The Kthid smirked down at her. “As I said,” the engineer calmly injected. “Every construct gets the full hour. Nobody makes do with merely 5 minutes alone. You’re going in there for the full experience.”
“PLEASE!” she begged, all pride abandoned. “You don’t have to you don’t have to you don’t have to! Think how pleased your master will be when you deliver me early! Please, I’ll do it! I give up!”
“If I called for for the Huntmaster now, and you weren’t as broken as you pretend, I would suffer for it,” he said, smiling. “So you’ll have to prove it to me. Prove to me you’re sufficiently broken. Suck my cock, digital whore.”
Atalanta, weeping with shattered pride, opened her mouth for him like he asked. Forsaking even the tiniest shred of pride, any hint of superiority, she crawled forward those last few inches and closed it over his dick and…
Passed right through it.
She was nothing but a projection of light here. How could she have forgotten that? All around her the Kthid were laughing at how she had disgraced herself, how she had made a fool of herself. Tears of shame ran down her face, no more real than the rest of her and she couldn’t find the strength to make herself stop them. “Guess you don’t really want it that much after all,” he said, smirking. Then he pressed that red button again.
Though every Kthid in the room exploded with tremendous cackling, Atalanta’s bellowing wail of fright absolutely overruled them all. That pinnacle of humanity went insane, lost in fear of the Dark Star. No other human in history had been so terrified as the Exalted was right now, being sent back in there and forced to confront its vileness and unlight once again… and knowing it would be more than a million years before she came out again.
In the far distance of the massive space hulk, figures emerged on the ridge-line. None of this party were casteless… three dozen warrior-caste Kthid, heavily armored and armed stalked forth under the command of Ocvar. These were the Kthid interception-party that Amara feared… and among them stepped a human warrioress naked, with only her Aegis-belt to clothe her statuesque figure. Miranda beheld the Mistrunner and realized that their pursuit had now become a race against the sands of time. She would not allow a miracle to enable her sister to escape. Nothing would prevent her from carrying out Master Sarcand’s will.
The Kthid descended into that crater while the humans worked to have it fortified. Such cramped conditions would lead to chaotic warfare… but the humans could not be permitted to escape.