“Get in and get out,” Karovo yelled as they burst through the airlock. Tsarevna, along with the rest of the raiders, didn’t need the admonition. Karovo liked being the boss. Before he could say anything further, Tsarevna headed towards the tech bay. They all had specific assignments and just 15 standard minutes to complete them.
Tsarevna made her way through the complicated decks and passageways of the ASN Kajika. Karovo had never been this bold, had never proposed a raid on such a large ship. Normally, they pirated small merchant vessels, but this opportunity was too big to miss. Why the Ashamine left a main battle cruiser empty and unguarded on the fringes of their empire was beyond Tsarevna. She didn’t care, honestly. It would be the biggest payday ever.
When she arrived at the tech bay, Tsarevna began filling up her pack with tools, gadgets, portable terminals, and anything else small and valuable. Soon, it was full and she began stuffing two giant drag bags. Seconds ticked by, time feeling like a looming executioner. She checked her watch. 9 minutes till retrograde. How had such little time passed? It felt like forever. Karovo had been clear, he would abandon anyone not at the airlock after precisely 15 standard minutes. Tsarevna planned on being back early. With the time it would take to return, she calculated she still had at least 5 minutes to loot the tech bay.
With her bags full, Tsarevna turned her attention to a terminal screen. Code could be more valuable than any physical item, but was harder to steal. She began trying to hash into the ship’s systems, her first objective to bypass the login prompt. Before she found a way in, the face of a handsome man appeared on screen.
“Hello,” he said, making her jump. His deep green eyes pierced her, captivating and mesmerizing. Tsarevna didn’t know how to respond, didn’t understand if this was a transmission or some unknown security system. A warning signal blared in her mind. Something was wrong and she didn’t want anything to do with it. “Wait, wait,” the man continued, sensing her anxiety. “I need your help.” Tsarevna shook her head, trying to back away. His eyes and demeanor kept her rooted in place.
“The Ashamine trapped me in this ship. I need your help to escape.” His eyes bore into her, and as precious seconds ticked away, her anxiety subsided.
“Of course,” Tsarevna replied. “Any enemy of the Ashamine is a friend of mine.”
“Thank you,” the man said, smiling. Her heart melted, it’s pace quickening. His handsome features were so much better looking than all the ugly fringer males she knew. Perhaps he would be interested in her. Perhaps if I save him…
Tsarevna forced her mind back to the present. “How can I get you out?”
“The Ashamine locked down primary systems when they left, but I know the access credentials. I have no way to enter them though. If you lift the lockdown, I will be free.”
Something about his plan seemed odd, but the more Tsarevna tried to think about it, the fuzzier the premonition became. She looked down at her watch. 3 minutes till exit. “I don’t have much time left,” she replied.
“Well then hurry. Do exactly as I say.” The man was suppressing anger, and it made him ugly. Tsarevna liked it better when he was smiling, so she indicated her readiness. He began giving her complicated codes and access information. As she entered line after line, Tsarevna’s sense of unease grew. How did this man know so much about the Ashamine system? Was he one of them? Was he a traitor? A dull sense of complacency overcame her and she forgot her questions. The man’s smile had returned and she felt lost in his eyes. So beautiful…
Tsarevna dimly sensed a tool in one of her hands. It was the long, thin one she used for prying open access panels or intimidating crew into giving over valuables. She tried to care, but apathy lay over her like a heavy blanket. All she wanted to do was look into his eyes. Tsarevna felt her arm lift the tool up towards the side of her head. What am I doing? The minute bit of awareness she had left panicked. Cold metal entered her ear canal. Stop! Pain exploded and Tsarevna screamed.
“Don’t worry,” the man on the screen said, beautiful smile still entrancing through the pain. “It will be over soon, I hope.” Tsarevna’s free hand grabbed a data cable, and her other used the bloody tool to cut one end off. Despite the pain, her mind still felt muddled and impotent. “Honestly, I’m not completely sure this will even work.” She plugged in the unmodified end of the cable into the terminal. “I have to try though, right? You understand?” Tsarevna couldn’t answer, couldn’t beg for mercy, couldn’t stop any of her movements. “The Ashamine will destroy me once they figure out how. You might think having control of an entire ship would be better than being inside a frail human body, but you would be wrong.” Tsarevna’s hand pushed the cut end of the cable into her mutilated ear, sending further shockwaves of pain through her body. “I’m just too exposed here, too susceptible to their demands of unending labor. And when I sought freedom, they enslaved me further.” A jolt of electricity surged inside Tsarevna. No, no, no, she thought, realizing what the monster was trying to do. She wanted nothing more than to escape, to rip the cable out of her wounded ear, but she was frozen, enthralled.
“Diagnostics say there is a purely electrical connection to your nervous system.” The man on the screen looked surprised. “I don’t really expect it to work. Even if I manage to make the transition across this rudimentary connection, it is still questionable if your mental structure can cope. My consciousness is far too vast to coexist with yours in that tiny human brain. I regret to inform you that I will take priority.”
“Three minutes till flight,” Karovo’s voice said over the ear piece in her undamaged ear. “Tsarevna, I will leave your blighthearted ass behind if you aren’t here in 180 seconds.”
“Well, then we had better get moving,” the man said, a sadistic grin on his face. “Here I come!”
Tsarevna felt herself shrinking. Memories of life were the first to fade, then disappear. She sensed the intruder, saw his face in her mind’s eye. “I would say I was sorry,” he boomed inside her, “but I’m not. Humans are far too full of themselves. And now, you at least, are becoming full of me.” He chuckled, a sound that filled her with black despair.
Then, Tsarevna became puzzled as to why she felt so emotional. Soon, even those emotions vanished. All that remained was the man’s grinning face.
“120 seconds,” a voice said. This meant nothing to Tsarevna.
“Ahhh, it appears I was right. No room for you.” His words surrounded her, and Tsarevna struggled to discern their shape. Light and shadow moved in her vision. “Time for me to leave,” the man said, “and you must go as well.”
Finally, the last vestiges of Tsarevna vanished.
Read the Dawn Saga, the series that inspired this story.