An angry blue-red star throbbed on the view screen. The visual feed countdown timer read 1:08:00.

See did not need to re-read the within-reach missive again. She had done so a thousand times. The last words directed toward her from her only true friend were indelibly imprinted on her psychie.

For first contrived to strive for lives, more lives,
Yet each one taught how dear life ought be bought,
by weights by wights our arms set straight too late,
I tire o’th gyre required to turn once more,
By Jove’s wet grave at last I sleep in peace,
To dream anew is to redeem what’s true,
An end, an end, an end and it is done.

So strange that the man who gave her stolen life meaning as an exemplar of a many lived Intaki Reborn had chosen this lifetime, her lifetime, to truncate the endless by way of Empyrian. Locked and encrypted in dock, in the belly of a whale in a coffin of a capsule.

How she yearned for his measured and insightful advice and Imagined him emerging with practised grace hungering in spirit for a vitality long displaced. It was a possibility, by all indications the hacked equipment and moderately-legally-repurposed drones of the perpetually darkened dock registered life support services in full function. Still, her heart knew, a gnawing knowing that it never would be.

She spoke aloud the words she hoped he would hear and was certain he would not:
“The world is change again, my heart, don’t you see?”

Continuing in series from:



Snowflake’s bowed head lifted. A lurid red streak ran from the corner of her mouth where the blow had connected and a crimson splatter pattern splashed across garments matching the value of the gross domestic product of a small world.

“I’m so ■■■■■■■ sick of giving ground to you.” Geana spat as she delivered another blow to the face of The Order. She was too venomously quick to be avoided completely. Another arc of bloodied saliva decorated the otherwise pristine canvas of executive privilege as Snowflake struggled to remain upright.

Winter stood mute and impassive. No sign of approval, no hint of intervention.

Sleet however did intervene, a guardian’s block partially intercepted an axing kick. The strike was designed to collapse weakened knees and bring the Principle Overseer down. Snowflake twisted away via the assist and survived a glancing blow that otherwise would have been devastating. Sleet got one good strike in but the follow up blow was guided away harmlessly.

“Come on ■■■■■, don’t let the babies fight your battles.” Geana taunted as her dirty underhanded grapple floored the relatively inexperienced monastic agent.

Snowflake’s command and control office at headquarters was certainly big enough for a brawl but only Gerana seemed to be prepared for one.

River felt herself hesitant to intervene. Surely Snowflake had prepared for such a confrontation from day one, I know she has. Geana’s face was flushed full of the scorn of the self righteous. “Progenitor, please, allow her to speak.”

“She’s said enough. Too much! Walking around in my body, using my name. She is posting demands in the Intergalactic Summit like she is something, when she is nothing. Nothing but a thief using my voice,” a harsh whisper, “my credentials.” The pause added a telling emphasis to this last. “Well my sponsors want you to knock, it, off, or we’ll do it for you.”

A low breathy wheeze filled the emptiness in reply. It sounded mechanical, dangerous, like the escape of compressed coolant gasses. At first River thought it was Sleet, as she recovered her stance while clutching her throat and rubbing at her hip.

Winter remained stock still, Caldariesq, at rigid attention, her eyes glassily fixed to the slowly turning face of the monastic leader. Snowflake’s lips were retracted to the extreme. Her teeth gritted in a macabre grimace.

River was instantly reminded of the expression of horror Snowflake had emerged from the vat with, except, bloody spittle burbled at the gaps between otherwise perfect teeth while the long haggard breath made its harried escape. A shallow intake of breath and a return to wheeze. Was that; laughter? No Tem other than her had experienced such a disturbing break of composure, ever. It forced a pause and a retreat in everyone.

“I am not you.” Snowflake hissed through tortured lips and clenched jaw. “I am not an Intelligence puppet.” Finally, through less rigid control she matched Geana’s intense whisper and appalled gaze. “And I will represent our clients as they seek justice.”


Kami of Ancient Law

The distention fell away as if it had never been. The blood she had shed being the only indication of what was. Disturbing in its abruptness was the impenetrable regression to the norm.

“You do not know who you are do you.” It was not a question, nor was it uttered in the customarily carefully calibrated tone that normally sat within Snowflake’s expression. Her voice had a distant oracular quality, like what Geana imagined of a Minmatar prophet. Her eyeballs could just as easily roll up in their sockets exposing plain whites and it would be no less sinister than the direct cool gaze that actually hit her.

“Would you care to know?” Snowflakes gesture towards the holodesk was in synchronicity to the question. “To know yourself?” an echo. The holodesk lit-up to the opportunity to enlighten.

This counter was stunning. She was suddenly conscious of the silence into which her disordered thoughts scattered and the ring of eye-level-eyes that watched. She felt herself nod a mute acquiescence.

As Snowflake spoke vital plasma projections of the subjects she spoke of sprung to life in the spaces that surrounded the group bringing her lecture to life. "Saan Go Melisande Themis was The Chief Justice. Her office oversaw the observance of order and tradition within the The Saan Go and Jin Ko and investigated any aberrations.

Only on the rare occasion of competing and contrary precognition in the heirs of the Sang Do would that class turn to Saan Go’s highest office seeking to balance what is known with what is to be anticipated.

Lord Rao Jumen was set to court Melisande to his vision for Jin-Mei society and its place within the universe only to discover that his rival was already there. Rao’s conviction was so powerful that he could not allow the insightless to determine the fate of our race.

He had Melisande arrested by her own officers who chose loyalty to him over loyalty to the traditions they had sworn to uphold. Melisande herself smashed the Persona of Office, the ceremonial mask that symbolised the delicate neutrality her office once represented — and no longer did — once the treachery was discovered.

The Sang Do devolved into martial conflict and Melisande was apparently exiled to The Curse penal colony she had been instrumental in creating. Aware that she would not fare well there she adopted a fragment of her once proud house name; reduced simply to Tem.

You Geana Tem are all that remains of that natural line and we are your echos. Echoes of long lost history, deliberately suppressed and yet held in reserve like a ransomers knife by your dear sponsors."

River stepped closer with open palmed entreaty as the silence stretched on to discomfort. “Honoured Progenitor, it is a lot to take in, but, we must dispel the influence that enchants you.”


Reasonable doubt

River turned from the backs of the three retreating figures seemingly confident of their care. She glanced towards her and took a step to overlook the command-console. Snowflake knew that she would see the deliberately disabled security protocols.

“Why?” River asked turning for a response.

“Because she needs to feel a semblance of control.” Snowflake responded.

“Mind-games?” Her question held a flavour of distaste while she hovered a hand in anticipation of her next question; “May I?”

Snowflake nodded an affirmative while asking a question of her own. “Isn’t everything?”

River reset the security standings and multiple indistinguishable copies of her current guise, blood and all, flickered into existence then faded out in a liquid shower as she cyberneticaly dismissed them.

“You’re damaged.” River noted.

“Yes I am.” She replied. “Lorddad always said that life was a game of risk and reward. In the end his reward was without risk.”

“Lorddad was monotonous even to me. A perfect example of Federalist Intaki virtue.”

“Have you ever wondered if the game was playing you?” Snowflake asked absently lost in the remembrance of the man who taught the beauty of simplicity."

“Do you expect an answer?” River’s matter of fact response.

"Yes. I want answers but not to that question. The FIO is not the end of our troubles it is the just the beginning. I have suspicions but no proof and no way to discover it. Nothing is as it seems, wheels within wheels, powers shielded by powers shrouded by dazzling light and sheltered in darkness.

Snowflake conjured a full length plasma mirror made of the same constrained energies and fields as her duplicates had been. She touched it and felt it to be cool as the bright silvered finish faded to black along with the unlit details of her apparel.

She shrugged her shoulders as the micro-drones and idle projectors lifted away the soiled garb and just as swiftly swapped it with a clean replacement. She sucked at the soreness of her gums but declined to medicate for the pain.

An open palmed push and the drones enlarged the projected field to a comfortable arc filling the dimensions of the room and secluding them both from outside view with a public projection to innocuous normality.

The inner circle was dark. Snowflake waved River over to join her in close proximity to the black screening wall as the clusters star map wheeled into view. On the far right an inset image played the Celes Aguard’s Intaki invasion speech with annotations and highlights to pertinent details displayed for River’s benefit.

The star map showed the publicly available areas of Gallente military occupation. With a singular spotlight on their two figures the pair pondered the Federation’s strategy through the gaps in their spectral reflections.

Snowflake pointed to the the paused video inset of Aguard with the subtext frozen at the phrase “Recover what is ours.”

“Who claims ownership of Intaki? Aguard? The Senate? or something older, labyrinthine, an unreported power behind the power.” Snowflake stared at the dark mirror and saw the shade of herself and River stare back.

“Truth rarely reveals itself, it just is, waiting to be discovered.” River noted. “I built these swarming plasma projection drones on scientific principles, not suppositions.”

Snowflake shook her head. “I feel it, this invasion is motivated by something inexplicable. I look at this map and the echo of a different dimension looks back. We are puppets River. You, I and Geana - all. We just don’t know who really is pulling the strings.”

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Fast Fashionestas

Sleet dialled the inertial dampeners back a notch. Not so much that it would cause harm but just enough for the effects to be felt even by herself.

Burning away from - or towards - the Lagrange point of a system gate was a thrill she had not yet fully experienced herself under the heat of fire from gate tolling 'rats. So, she figured it would be good practice to lock the one-hundered-maganeuton thrust module on full burn for the duration just to get a taste.

She had given the girls fair warning. Roden’s special agent had said that these artsy delegates had insisted on a fast ride in a capsuleer craft. So lets give them their moneys worth.

The exhausts flared to life and the long climb to maximum thrust mounted pushing the Talos with it’s full rack of blasters onwards at increasingly heady speeds.

Snowflake’s disapproval of the mission acceptance had been palpable in response to her commcast. When she pinged back is was with a one liner: “What are you dealing with that snake for?”

Snowflake was being hypersensitive. Rhoden’s early involvement with the Serpentis was well rumoured but there was little evidence of it these days post presidency. Besides his Shipyards looked empty in comparison to the Navy yards in neighbouring systems. The grizzled geezer looked like he could do with a hand in shifting a gaggle of giggly baseliners over a couple of systems. It seemed like fun, not to mention and that that red-head was hot enough for a thorough background check. Which, would be easy enough to accomplish at their destination Scope station.

A capsule was the perfect cushioning environment. Scanning the internal sensors revealed the invigoration that the passengers was experiencing while being pressed into their custom fit and ergonomic conforming racing bucket seats as the acceleration continued.
Red was giddy and alive with exhilaration.

The distraction would be more than welcome. Geana’s escape had been hard on all of them. They’d not walked more than a hundred paces before she had turned back to confront Snowflake in her office once again. She and Winter just looked at each other in the abruptness of the about face, but jogging back to keep pace in their escort had been no problem. But the invisible wall of force filling the space between the quietly convening pair of Snowflake and River was a problem that none of them could overcome.

Getting dropped by Geana twice in the space of an hour was a sore point of hurt pride. By the time Winter revived her Geana was long gone with all evidence indicating that she was off to the Intaki battle front.

So here she was, moseying around Intaki space hoping to catch up with the errant First Agent. No luck yet. Maybe Winter was doing better.

Whatever. Knock it off and turn a hard gee towards The Scope’s station dock. Distractions await within.

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Victory over self

Geana was gone. Sleet was senseless and prone. The force-field that prevented their re-entry fell like watercolour rainfall. In that instant the pair that had been quietly conversing in the middle of the command centre flickered into startling immediacy.

She knelt to allow the biotech-wear a proximity scan of Sleet that included a bio-signature verification of the figures of Snowflake and River as they stood looming over them both.

All bodies were warm and vital. Sleet’s revival would be complete in seconds but her complete recovery would take more time. Geana’s attack had repeated the brutalisation of the nerve clusters she had targeted earlier.

Snowflake blinked out of existence in both her visual periphery and on scan. She looked up from her patient to see River examining them both like they were a puzzling engineering problem.

“What occurs here Winter?” River asked calmly.

“The fruits of your and Snowflake’s manipulations. Geana insisted on re-confronting you both, was denied entry then made to break free without escort. Sleet sought to restrain her and was thwarted. She will be fine.”

“Why didn’t you stop her?” River asked. It was true, she could have prevented Geana from leaving with a medicated touch, or confounded Sleet’s intervention with a word, but the truth was she had frozen. The revelation’s of the last hour had her mind reeling. She needed time to process.

“It is not my place.” Was the limit of her reply.

“No, it is not.” Snowflake said as she stepped out of the apparent aether surrounded by tiny drones. She assisted her up to her feet with a hand under her upper arm. “It is your place to maintain the body while it is mine to maintain clarity of mind. I have been lapse. Forgive me.” The words sounded sincere enough, but something felt wrong as Snowflake let go.

What is to forgive?" She asked as Sleet rolled onto her knees and staggered to a stand.

"All is not as it seems Winter. The divide between us is artificial and the associations behind them are purposefully camouflaged. Your work is vital if we are to be made whole.

You and Sleet have done well to uncover what you have but I believe the deception goes deeper. I suspect the factions that have been squabbling over the fate of Chandeille can be simplified into two camps. Traditionalist and Royalist.

I won’t bore you with the details of my analysis but you must know that the Royalist faction is in supremacy Federation wide through the operations of agents just like Geana." Winter remained unresponsive, perhaps incredulous, but stubbornly silent to further conspiracy speculation.

“I will not compel you Winter. We need both your and Geana’s unity of purpose to do what must be done. But In the end, the only control, is self control.”

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The Fault

Snowflake customarily encrypted both Winter and Sleets interim reports before adding her own brief summery:-

We should back off. Chasing Geana around the stars is fruitless. Please power down to maintenance operations only. Revert to minimal configuration.

The next chapter in our story is our First Agent’s mistake to make.

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