Androgyne/A Lighter Touch

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A Lighter Touch
Perspectives: Training

For the second consecutive year, the Perspectives writing series presented a "Marathon" challenge in May. Instead of the usual single writing prompt for the month, Yuki Frost's player put up a new topic every 5 days, along with a bonus topic for a grand total of seven. I missed out on all of the previous year's, but this time managed to bang out a story for each before the following topic went up. After realizing I'd done it unconsciously for the first two, I tacked on a personal challenge that surprisingly made it easier to get the ball rolling when I sat down to write: starting each story with the same sentence.

I really enjoyed writing this one, "Training", for a few reasons. First, I don't get enough opportunities to write for the Androgyne when e was still a villain, since I didn't really start RPing em until e came blueside. Second, I really wanted Ani to come across as a bad, scary person, and highlight eir utter indifference to the lives of Rikti, which continues to be a defining trait of the character even after e's embraced the desire to do right in the human world. Third, by the end of the story I actually liked Bur'Roz. Writing the Rikti from a sympathetic point of view was an interesting exercise.

Sunken Road, White Plains. August, 2008.

"Preparedness: Irrelevant.  Pursuit: Initiated," taunted Bur'Roz, the armor-clad leader who had dispatched his platoon throughout what was left of this collapsed mine beneath the War Zone.  The saboteur that had been chased out of the mothership was hiding here somewhere, and moments ago when he activated the thermal scanner in his helmet to inspect the ground, Bur'Roz saw the faint patches of warmth where their feet had touched the ground.  Judging from how the footsteps disappeared into a pile of rocks that ended the natural corridor, the fractured support beam lying across his path had only recently been knocked loose to shield the saboteur's flight.

Bur'Roz unslung his massive weapon from his back and slammed the prongs of the sword into the rocks, then pulled the trigger to unleash a blast of plasma from the cannon grafted to the blades.  For a moment he was showered in stone shrapnel, but his armor protected him from any injury the flying shards could have caused.  The last reports from his squadron had informed him of another path around the blockage, but after confirming that their prey had created the obstruction he was not about to let them shape his path of pursuit.

Kicking aside rubble and rocks with his foot, Bur'Roz lowered to peer through the sizable opening he had created, gunsword held at the ready as he scanned ahead for any sign of the saboteur.  Content that they had put more distance between them rather than lie in wait, Bur'Roz climbed through and sent a signal to the rest of his team to report in and give him a rendezvous point deeper in the mine.

No reports came.

Keeping his sword at the ready and his thermal imaging active, he stalked down the old mine car tracks at a brisk pace, slowing only when he could not see around bends to approach them carefully.  Switching on other sensors in his armor, he received grim confirmation that there was in fact nothing jamming his and his team's transmission frequencies.  Their broadcasts were not being blocked, they were either prevented from or unable to respond at all.  Still, he would not send for reinforcements.  The breach of the ship had been under his watch, and he would not draw more troops away from it in case the saboteur was no more than a distraction to let the humans strike in earnest with less resistance.

Bur'Roz released a growl of dissatisfaction as he moved into the central chamber the miners had excavated many years before his people came to this world to avenge the strike made against them by its champions.  He hated fighting in deceptively open spaces such as this, where each level of stone around the cavern only provided more hiding spots and choke points that were used against his people as often as for an advantage.

A pained gurgling reached his ears and set his heart beating in anger -- the voice was most definitely Rikti, one of his troops.  A weak psionic tingling trickled down from his parietal lobe, the awareness of danger washed over him and he felt a distinct urge to direct his sight upward.  It was a warning from Mentalist C'Kar, and like the initial whimpering it came from above.  Weapon at the ready, Bur'Roz moved with caution up the stone ramp at the side of the chamber towards the upper levels.

Reaching the first of the two levels above, Bur'Roz clenched the grip of his weapon tighter, the knuckles of his great gauntlet creaking under the strain.  The team he'd sent through the eastern shaft when they had reached the mine were all here.  All six were accounted for and three more conscripts besides; all lay dead.  They had died fighting, judging by the plasma burns dotting the walls and smell of seared human flesh that still lingered here.  Lowering his sword and staring down at the recently disfigured communications officer who must have teleported in the reinforcements, Bur'Roz felt another pang of anger rush through him.

Now, closer to its origin, C'Kar's psionic transmission began to take better shape, every word crystallizing in Bur'Roz's mind in the midst of a cloud of the mentalist's own agony and regret.  Saboteur: deranged.  Intrusion: a lure.  Pursuit: Abort!  The message began again, each time an unverbalized plea that rescuers abandon him to his fate for their own safety growing in urgency.  Bur'Roz erected his own limited mental screens to shunt the warning from overwhelming his mind, stepped over the dead officer at his feet and began to make his way to the next and final level above.  C'Kar's willingness to be sacrificed was noble, but he was sure it was founded on the thought that the half of the squadron C'Kar had not been assigned to still lived.  He would not surrender one of his most loyal men to whatever human monstrosity had turned Communications Officer Rukkel's face into a complete mockery of his true Rikti self, not if he had unwittingly ordered the rest of these soldiers to their death.

He heard whispering as he neared the upper level, and increased the sensitivity of his armor's microphone to try and make out the words.  The voice was human, that much was certain.  "Tell me how it feels. you think you're dying?"

Bur'Roz stepped carefully up the ramp until he could see across the floor of the uppermost level of the chamber.  The rest of his squad was here, but these ones still lived for the most part.  Not for long, he suspected, judging by the wracking shudders that rolled through many of them as they writhed on the ground.  Near the middle of the chamber, facing him, was C'Kar, enveloped in a shroud of shimmering iridescent shadows that seethed and swirled in response to the human's slow, plucking gestures in the air.  Like Rukkel, half of C'Kar's face was no longer C'Kar's, but a warped mimicry of a human's.  His captor, a pitifully small and slender thing, was clad in a lightweight variant of their Vanguard operative battle armor. 

C'Kar's terrified eyes found Bur'Roz, he was sure because of the psionic sensation of alarm that surged against the barrier he had erected in his mind to maintain his concentration.  Bur'Roz focused his thoughts to give C'Kar a clear order to read outside the barrier with his outstretched consciousness.  Despite his fear for his commander, C'Kar obeyed and turned his psionics as subtly as he could through his own pain towards his captor, not seeking to intrude but carefully masking their senses with false input.  C'Kar was visibly strained by the effort needed for such a discreet telepathic attack in his current straits, but the human regarded it only as more evidence of the pain he was subjecting the mentalist to, "Is it getting worse or are you just scared?  Tell me and I might end this fast for you."

Bur'Roz crept onto the upper level, trusting C'Kar to conceal his approach.  One of his Headmen, who had been alive when he first caught sight of the situation here, gave a final shudder and death rattle beside him.  Again the rage welled up, but his commitment to his mission and those who might survive this forced him to suppress it.  He strode with surprising grace for his towering height towards the Vanguard agent and drew back his sword, intending to end this as quickly as possible, and as he approached performed a biometric scan of its dimensions in the hopes it was an operative the Rikti had faced before and their databanks could recommend a course of attack.

It returned quickly on his screen: The Androgyne.  A Sword operative usually encountered in the process of assassinating mid-to-high-ranking members of the Lineage of War.  Instantaneously fatal transgenic radiation: it imprinted its own likeness on even Rikti flesh, and the process when the radiation penetrated to vital organs had universally extinguished the affected Rikti in an instant.  Bur'Roz paused, a step away from coming into range to strike this monster down.

Universally, instantaneously fatal.  Yet a few of his men still lived.  C'Kar's face had been irradiated to such extent that the rays should have penetrated to his brain tissue yet he lived, albeit in agony.  Why?  Why would the Androgyne choose his men to toy with in this way when any others it had bested had been granted a mercifully swift, if still grotesque, death?

If they lived, there could be hope for the damage the Androgyne had wrought to be repaired: Rikti lives could be saved, and they could report back about the changing nature of the threat this human posed.  Their scientists would have an opportunity to study the processes by which it corrupted in a surviving victim.  Bur'Roz had hoped to free C'Kar and capitalize on whatever further aid the psychic could lend, that if he struck, the few who still lived might find the strength to at least lift their rifles and offer covering fire.  Now, with reluctance but grim determination, he decided he would have to try to end this alone.

Bur'Roz issued the command that triggered all all the emergency teleport beacons assigned to his squadron and, as was tradition when a leader brought a mission to such a point of staggering failure as to necessitate such an evacuation, disabled his own.  Shimmering green portals swirled open around C'Kar, the survivors, the dead, and transported them all to the mother ship's medical ward.  The Androgyne yelled out in protest and thrust a hand towards C'Kar's face, but was too late and their radiation burned harmlessly through the space where his head had been and into the cavern wall beyond.

Bur'Roz surged forward before the Androgyne could detect his breathing, now that their senses were no longer masked by the mentalist, stabbed the prongs of his sword into their midsection and, as with the pile of rocks earlier, pulled the trigger of his plasma cannon.  The force of the blast knocked the stunned Androgyne off the end of the sword and threw him across the cavern with a startled scream, the back of his armor torn open, burnt flesh still bubbling and blistering around the gaping wounds left by the sword.  Bur'Roz fired a second blast as the human bounced and rolled across the rocky ground, then ran after them, raising his sword to obliterate them with a single--

Bur'Roz was surrounded in a miring cloud of shimmering darkness, much like that which had held C'Kar captive for the Androgyne.  At once he understood the terror that C'Kar had felt, as his senses flooded with the awareness of what the Androgyne could do to him and bizarre glimpses of this moment, only different, flashed through his vision at all angles.  He saw himself corrupted, his face replaced by a warped and rotten mimicry of the Androgyne's stretched horribly over the noble angles of his own skull, corrupted and dead.  Vaguely, he could make out the Androgyne through the murk, staggering to their feet and clawing at the air, pulling at something unseen one moment and in the next standing tall and steady, unhurt.

The Androgyne's hand lashed forward and a bolt of vile green radiance flowed down their arm, seared through the murk and into and past Bur'Roz's chestplate, and he cried out in shock and agony.  This was not one of the phantom strikes he saw unfolding in a thousand different ways in the glimpses of other possibilities that danced through the shadows enveloping him, but instead a real and actual attack here and now.  According to the brief Bur'Roz had downloaded moments before, he should be on the verge of death already as his heart was rewritten with the genetic structure of a human's, unable to replicate some strange portion of the Androgyne's genetic code.  Instead, he felt a searing pain as the skin reshaped, but nothing deeper.

The Androgyne stalked forward, eyes and hands shining with green light.  Bur'Roz struggled to ready his weapon and move, but the slightest movement in this seething mire assaulted his senses with a new slew of horrible possibilities for his ultimate fate at the Androgyne's hands.  "Why are you still here?  Why not escape with the rest of them?"  They threw another angry bolt, eliciting a pained cry from Bur'Roz, and he fired a barrage from his rifle that came nowhere near the Androgyne.  They let out a thin laugh, almost a giggle.

Bur'Roz pressed his eyes closed and tried to push the barrage of images of his own death away and focus on what was real.  It was one thing to shield his mind from a psionicist's communication, but quite another to try to block his own assaulted senses.  He strained to growl at the Androgyne, his confusion and anger not helping his use of human language.  "Our pursuit: Tempted...My men: Playthings?  Not War: Murder.  You: ...Monster."

The Androgyne's lips pursed as they stalked closer to Bur'Roz, fingers dancing and slashing through the air as it kept the shining murk whirling around him, preventing him from striking out as he quaked in rage and barely contained terror.  The Androgyne reached up and touched the seams of Bur'Roz's helmet, and he realized they knew exactly where it disengaged from the rest of the armor with a terrible familiarity.  A flash of radiation came at the edges of Bur'Roz's vision, but he felt no pain -- they were simply weakening the latches, and then his faceplate was pulled away and thrown aside.  As he beheld the Androgyne with his own eyes, Bur'Roz refused to blink.

The Androgyne shook their head, and gave Bur'Roz a serene, hating smile.  "No, not murder.  Just...practice."

They reached for his face.

Last Updated: 12/27/2010

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