Unearthing The Past


Maarten Buitendijk



Disclaimer: CCP owns the universe of EVE; I made the characters so those are my own. And the plot is, as I am mostly borrowing the setting and filling in many of the details myself.

A/N: And we’re going to have some (in person) action this chapter! :-) Also, I can’t believe I’m almost at 100k words already. Heh. This story has been writing itself for the most part, it’s flowing rather well in my head. I’m still just taking it a day at a time for now, so we’ll see where we end up exactly. Sorry it took so long to post this, I’ve had 3 or 4 major academic goals to juggle that really cut into the time and energy I had to write, and I couldn’t stop the chapter in the middle.

Oh, considering this story takes place something like 23000 years from now there are quite a few (mostly social) rules and mores that I’ve decided to change. Except for maybe some of the more... ultra traditionalist or religious groups (or groups facing extinction/depopulation) I don’t think anyone is going to have issues with same-sex couples. I’m also taking the position that most people are a lot more open when it comes to sex or sexual/romantic relationships in general, more comfortable discussing it or joking about it, than we would be used to in our world. Considering the setting I think that is a reasonable working concept, but we’ll see how it pans out. So far it’s not given me any issues writing it (and it’s actually been rather fun. Yay friendly banter!).

Chapter 5 - Recreation and Relaxation.

I quickly looked through my bag to see what clothes I had, wanting to wear some clean ones for the rest of the evening. Seeing Alecto’s underwear made me smile once more and remember earlier today, though I managed to put that from my mind after only a few delicious moments of recollection.

I chose another pair of the same style pants I’d worn before, snug and form-fitting around the upper legs with a looser cut further down the legs. Especially right now I did not want anything inhibiting my movement, I was more than tired enough as it was. For a shirt I selected something a little more... alluring than I normally would. It was decided, then, and I stripped off my shirt to replace it with the new one I had picked out. The new shirt had a rather revealing neckline that emphasized my breasts just a tad. I could already see Alecto’s expression as I showed her that sight, later, and I grinned.

I slowly made my way back down the hall to Max’ room. My legs were a little wobbly, but I managed it without even stumbling once. I definitely would be spending a good amount of the evening sitting. Max can get drinks for us, I thought. Besides, he’s not going to say no to anything when I am dressed like this. I grinned rather evilly at the thought.I missed having a good friend to do these kinds of things with, whether it was just joking around, sharing some good times together, crushing a man’s spirit. I grinned again. Max was such an easy mark for that, and I loved the comfort with which we teased each other already as if we had been friends forever.

It was great. It really was... And I was looking forward to having a great evening to seal today as one of the most amazing days I could have imagined. The only thing that would have made it better was having Alecto here, of course, and falling asleep in her arms after. But still, I’d take this over what my life had been like yesterday. I mean, spending all day in a crowded auditorium and touching yourself in a hygiene chamber, or finding the woman you love, expressing that love for hours, snuggling for even longer, and making a good friend all in the same day... also, drinks and a night out? Yeah, I would pick today for sure.

A giggle erupted from my mouth again as I knocked on his door. So maybe I was enjoying this a bit too much... Except not. I’ve certainly earned this. And Max deserves all the teasing I can manage, he’s certainly made enough unwanted comments for a lifetime of that. Might as well abuse that as much as possible, right?

He opened the door just as recovered from my latest fit of mirth. He was about to say something and just stared blankly at me, instead. After a moment, he tried again, still failing to find words, his mouth opening rather uselessly. Finally, he did wrest something out. “Evelynne... Damn. What... Wow.” I simply smiled sweetly at him, blinking my eyes in a most likely rather unconvincing display of innocence. He didn’t buy it, either, and shook his head instead. It was rather amusing how he tried to look anywhere but at the creamy skin of my rather liberally exposed breasts.

I crossed my arms underneath just for added effect as I waited for him to actually acknowledge me, pushing them up even further, and very nearly causing them to spill out my shirt. You couldn’t quite see my bra or anything truly... indecent. But a rather prodigious amount of soft, round curves was visible right now. I had to admit, it looked damn good. And I worked hard enough staying in good shape, so I might as well display some of my not inconsiderable assets, right?

“Hey, Max!” I spoke, a little too cheerfully. “I figured I would change my outfit a little, you know... Clean clothes can make a world of difference after a long day of traveling.

He managed to keep his eyes straight on my face, and I had to give the guy points for significant self-control as I don’t know if I could have stopped staring at myself right now. “I’ll say it again. You’re just devious. This type of thing should be outlawed!” I just grinned at him in response. “I mean, wow. You really do look amazing, my friend. We’ll be beating interested parties off of you all night, probably. Quite possibly combinations of all sexes, ages and orientations.”

I giggled again. “Thanks, Max. I’m glad you approve.” I added a wink. “I’ve done enough damn exercises to keep my chest muscles in shape that I feel like I deserve to enjoy the fruits of all my hard work. It really does help quite nicely for keeping your breasts shapely.”

He shook his head. “It does. I’ve been trying to convince all my, shall we say, dates of that. Nobody will believe me, it’s such an outrage.” He grinned back at me.

“Yeah, I bet that is very convincing coming from the guy they’ll never see again.” I smirked at him. “It’s not like you would know whether they did or not.”

“Hey! I resent that. I’ve had longer relationships than one-night stands, I’ll have you know...” I looked at him rather dubiously. “Well, I did, once. Some nine years ago...”

“Yeah, exactly. I mean, I”m sure you’ll settle down some day, but then, who would be there to charm the pants off all these impressionable young ladies looking for their mysterious stranger to sweep them off their feet?”

He shook his head. “That just makes it seem... terrible, when you say it like that.”

I smiled at him, rather fondly. “I don’t really care, Max. I mean, you’re all consenting adults, and there’s nothing wrong with having these moments of physical intimacy, especially if you’re not deceiving them by promising them more beforehand... And for all you know, some of them really treasure that experience even if it only happened once.” I put a hand on his shoulder, giving him a friendly squeeze. “I never had fantasies like that, but I think it is quite common for people to want some night of incredible romance. You know, being swept off their feet, being wooed and charmed by some handsome stranger they may never see again. I guess it has quite the mysterious appeal to it. To some, anyway. All I’m saying is... I think you’re the kind of person who does make sure that whoever you’re with has a very good, memorable time... Right?”

He nodded with a rather proud smile on his face. “Yeah, I’ve definitely never had any complaints about that. And while I have never received thank-you notes, either, I think you have a point. From what I can tell myself, many women I charm, as you so eloquently and euphemistically put it, seem to have a wonderful time. I think they know, too, that it’s just a one-time thing, even when I sometimes act like it’s not. But I don’t think that really matters, it’s more about the whole experience that they will cherish after.” He smiled. “At least, that’s what I tell myself to be able to go to sleep at night.” He winked at me at that.

I laughed. “Yeah, you seem very disturbed by the moral implications of it.” I bounced rather excitedly all of a sudden, eager to get going now. Completely forgetting I was not wearing my regular, modest shirt right now. “Fuck. Sorry about that, I forgot.” I only barely saved myself from a really embarrassing situation as I managed to grab the bottom of my neckline just in time to avoid flashing my friend with somewhat more skin than I really wanted.

He laughed loudly at my awkward pose. “That... that was amazing. Yeah, I would be careful trying to jump around wearing that, or you will cause a scene in the bar. And yes, before you expose yourself for real, we can head to the bar and get some drinks.” I smacked him on the shoulder with my free hand before indicating with a finger that he needed to turn while I fixed my shirt.

He grinned and turned around. I quickly readjusted the neckline of my shirt. Especially considering my bra was more one you’d wear to emphasize the shape of your breasts and support their heft, rather than covering all of them securely for more vigorous activities... That would have been quite mortifying. “Okay, I’m good again...” I mumbled back at him.

He gave me a friendly hug, then. “Don’t worry, Evie. You look awesome, and we’re going to have a great couple hours relaxing. Besides, having a beautiful woman sitting next to you who is obviously not your date does wonders for your desirability. Seriously, you should watch that.” He grinned. “This is going to be a goldmine!

I smacked him in the stomach with the back of my hand, a soft grunt escaping from his mouth at the unexpected impact. “Yeah, Romeo, I get the picture. You’d look better because you seem more successful as you have really attractive friends. Basic economic theory. Though please don’t give me more detail than I need. I do not want to know exactly what you do with those women you sleep with. Especially if there’s more than one.”

He nodded sagely. “Yeah, I could tell you stories that would make your brain bleed. But I’ll take pity on you and respect your stated preferences, as a good friend should, and would. Now, let’s head over to the bar before it gets too late.”

I smiled at him, dryly. “Thanks for that. I really can do without them.”

We walked off towards the part of the ship that held all the recreational facilities. There was a gym, apparently, various restaurants and shops. And several bars. I let Max guide me around, as he seemed to know just where to go. Whether it was prior experience with this place, or some crazy instinct he had on where to find the most attractive and willing partners, I had no idea. But find them he, or rather we, did.

Apparently there was a whole system to it, what he did. And it really was rather amusing to me to see it up close like that. I would never admit it, either, but I may have picked up a few rather impressively sincere-sounding lines from him there that seemed to be guaranteed to make someone really want you. Note to self: try some of those on Alecto. I grinned.

He had picked a booth that was quite close to the center of the enormous lounge that the bar was located in, leaving me by myself while he went to grab us some drinks. I was feeling decidedly less optimistic than I had been before about drinking the guy under the table, a guy who did massively outweigh me, and yes, that did matter a lot... I knew that...

My exhaustion was palpable, and it was a testament to my willpower that I was even awake right now. Still, I was determined to enjoy myself a little. Maybe they had some alcoholic caffeinated beverages, here. I’d have to get Max to check for me, I thought with a grin.

Max returned just then with the drinks. “Here you go, beautiful.” He grinned cheekily at me. “I brought you something that should wake you right up. You looked like you were about to fall asleep over here on the table. We certainly can’t have that, as it would totally mess up my plan. I’m aiming for at least five contacts.” My eyebrows were nearly in my hairline in shock. He just laughed. “Not at once, silly. It’s good to know people, in case I ever get stuck on here with little prospects or time to look for them. It’s amazing how small the universe is. Why, there was this time on Matar...”

I was grinning rather broadly as he finished the tale involving several young maidens he had met on one of his trips, and how he had sadly become... separated from them due to terrible misfortune and some business deal gone south. Apparently he kept finding the missing women, one by one, on other trips of his, and had since become convinced that there was some higher power looking out for him. I giggled at that thought. Yeah, that will be the day. I’m sure there’s some Deity who makes sure that these missed connections happen in due time. It was a rather hilarious idea, actually. I’m sure Max would worship that one.

I took another drink of my coffee that was spiked with several types of alcohol, and the combination of stimulants that was in it was making me somewhat hyper. I had pretty much completely forgotten about my earlier exhaustion, although one minority part of my mind warned that I most likely would regret that, later. I was starting to get a rather pleasant buzz from the alcohol, though... I certainly don’t remember being quite that talkative under other circumstances.

Max just sat there smiling as we traded stories about different parts of our life. It felt really nice to have found a second person in one day who was this interested in what was going on in my life. I thought that perhaps I should have done this a long time ago, rather than always focusing solely on my studies. I think having Alecto, and now also Max, in my life will certainly, and quickly, remedy that. I giggled again at the thought, earning me an amused smile from my friend.

A few more minutes later he had sufficiently scouted out the bar to have a good sense for who he wanted to talk to. And I was rather impressed by his taste... He seemed to like almost exactly the same kind of girls that I most appreciated looking at. Not quite identical, obviously, but very similar.

We were busy constructing a ranking complete with a point based scoring system for various attributes, because as he said, you needed some objective measurement based upon which you decided. Right now, we were arguing about curvaceousness. I grinned, shaking my head at him. “Seriously, Max... It just makes a lot more sense to look at these things in combination. I think it is much more appropriate to look at it more, shall we say... holistically? Because it really makes a difference how some physical attribute, for example some deliciously curvy hips, fits with the rest of a person’s body. You can’t just look at it detached from everything else, it’s not the same!”

He chuckled. “Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that. I can perfectly well look at these things in isolation, Evie.” His grin reappeared as he took a sip from his beverage of choice. “Maybe you should try it sometime.”

I just glared at him, though more affectionately than anything. “Yeah, I’ve done that before, doesn’t work for me. But suit yourself, it’s your prospective date, anyway. All I’m saying is that there is nothing more beautiful and perfect than just the right amount of curves to suit a woman’s body, so that it all blends together ever so smoothly into one amazingly attractive whole...” Very much like Alecto. She’s just absolute perfection in every way... I had to stop that train of thought right there or I would have drooled, quite literally.

Max grinned at my expression. “Careful there... You’re about to make a puddle on the table if you don’t stop salivating. And most likely the bench, too.”

I scowled at him. “Ha ha, very funny.” I did blush rather profusely. I hated being quite so obviously straightforward for other people to read. I shifted a little in my seat. “I can’t really help it, though... Still, I’ll try not to get too distracted unclothing her mentally and...” I let my voice trail off meaningfully. “I mean, no offense, but it’s not any kind of competition for my attention.”

He laughed again. “None taken. But okay, so that’s settled then. I am using my executive decision making power vested in me by, well, myself...” I giggled at his phrasing. “Oh, shut up. Anyway, that should be all. Lemme figure out real quick how I want to do this.”

He was rather deeply sunk in thought for a few minutes as he tried to arrange his list of people, currently still marked with remarkably original numbers, of all things... I took the time to look around the large room, to see what others may be doing in the mean time. Not much really stood out at me until I spotted her again. The mystery woman we had encountered earlier on the flight. She was sitting by herself in a rather remote, quiet corner of the lounge. As much as there was such a place in this noisy place. I glanced back at my friend, and he certainly hadn’t spotted her. I don’t think she had seen us, either. I considered going over to talk to her, apologize rather, because I really did feel quite bad for involving her in my little payback scheme I’d designed for Max, earlier. It had quite obviously upset her, and I hated upsetting people like that, especially accidentally. I had just been very much distracted at the time, and had not really considered the effect my act would have on her.

I nodded to myself, having made up my mind. I’ll go over there later when Max is otherwise occupied and offer my sincere apologies. I took another sip of my drink, frowning when it was nearly depleted altogether. And maybe there’s more to her being here than just travel. She might like a friendly ear; it’s the least I can offer her in recompense for earlier.

“Evie?” Max’ voice shook me from my thoughts. “You okay? You seemed distracted again.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. I was thinking I needed another drink!” That was... sort of true. Quite a lie of omission, but I did not consider those nearly as bad as stating something that was obviously false.

He laughed. “Well, then, let’s remedy that. I’ll get you another one of those... And take the chance to talk to that cute girl over there at the same time.” He winked. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do while I’m gone.”

I giggled. “Okay, boss. I’ll try not to seduce any strangers in the... five minutes it’ll take you, max, to get back here... I think I will manage that.”

He grasped his chest again. “Oh, Evie, you wound me yet again. I’ll have to drown my broken heart in much alcohol, and company.” With another wink at me, he was gone.

I glanced over at the bar as he ordered the drinks, and quite smoothly, naturally, managed to involve the woman sitting there in conversation. I appraised the situation for a few moments, and I was pretty sure this was not going to be a short conversation. Perfect. That would give me enough time to go over there and hopefully make amends for earlier. Just like that, Max was suddenly there at the table, handing me my drink with a grin. “I must abandon you for just a few more minutes, my beauty...” I rolled my eyes at that. “I just didn’t want you dozing off while I was hard at work.” His eyes glanced back towards the woman who was looking our way, a rather curious expression on her face as she appraised us?

“Max, what did you tell her?” I raised an eyebrow expectantly. “It better not be anything... unwholesome.”

He grinned. “Perish the thought...” He considered his choice of words. “Actually, un-perish that, as I fear it is exactly like that. I may have intimated that, well, you were very willing to engage in some recreational activity with us, later?”

I just glared at him, making sure she couldn’t see. “You’re awful... Getting her hopes up like that. Truly cruel. But really, not going to happen.” I grinned, then. “Her, I would consider.” I added a wink for good effect.

His eyebrows rose to his hairline, now. “Could I watch?”

A growl escaped my throat that was scary enough that he actually did step back. “Get back there, and do your own work. I’ll not have you giving me a reputation on this ship. Or we’ll be back at the blood and the knives.” I raised a brow meaningfully over light blue eyes. “I’m sure we don’t want that, do we?”

He shook his head, though a faint smile was still on his lips. “Nope, we don’t. Also, remind me never to truly piss you off. That would be a scary sight. Now, I guess I can rely on my own charms to seal this... deal.”

I just shook my head. “GO!” I urged. He gave one last grin, and walked back over to the bar. I really need to invest in some knives. Maybe carrying one around on my person would deter his more... unnecessary and unwanted innuendo. I mean, please... I have standards. I chuckled a little. It was rather enjoyable, the constant teasing. I had to give him that. Just, yuck. Mental images...

I got up, quietly, and made my way over to the other side of the bar. I did not want her to see me approach from afar and kept most of the milling crowd of socializing people in between until I had come quite close to her secluded booth. I was quite nervous, I found... These types of situations never having been one of my strong points. Still, the drink I had helped a little, and I really did feel terrible about it, the more I thought it through. I’d just have to deal with the discomfort, and make this right.

She spotted me when I was mere steps away from her, nursing a cup of coffee? It did not look like the kind I’d had, either. Just regular coffee, although from the faint smell of it I could discern a rather good kind. Fruity, with earthy undertones. I bet that tastes delicious... Her eyes reflected her shock at seeing me again, mixed with pain, embarrassment and still some fury. Her voice was soft, laced with regret, words spilling from her mouth at a rapid, almost nervous pace. “Look, I’m really sore about before... I had no idea he was with you. I would never have been interested otherwise...” Adding softly. “I don’t want any trouble.” Those lasts words especially made the tiny hairs at the back of my neck stand up in faint alarm. There was definitely something going on here.

I cut her apology off right there, shaking my head. “Please, don’t apologize. It is I who should be doing so, as I treated you most unjustly.” She frowned, confused now. I took a sip of my coffee, trying to best phrase what I wanted to say. Finally deciding simple honesty would work best, I ventured forth once more into my explanation. “We’re not really together... he and I. We are just good friends... and he made some distasteful comments earlier on the flight, and I was trying to get back at him in response to that... As I felt he deserved that.”

Her expression was unreadable now, which made me more nervous than I already had been. “Look, I’m really sorry that you got caught up in that, and I feel terrible for toying with your feelings like that, just for a stupid joke. It was wrong of me to do so, and when I saw you here a few minutes ago I just wanted to tell you that. Because it was the right thing to do.” Almost as an afterthought, I mumbled. “And he was just looking for some company for the night... I felt like I probably would be doing you a favor, though that is no excuse in hindsight for what I did. I should have let you make that choice myself.”

She just looked at me, her facial features carefully composed now similar to how Alecto could conceal whatever she was thinking and feeling. At least, in her case, from anyone but me. Finally, she just sighed. “I probably should be angry at you, and I guess I am... Under normal circumstances I would be furious, but right now I find I don’t have the energy for it...”

I sighed with not inconsiderable relief. “That is much more than I dared expect, or really deserve if you ask me.” I thought for a moment, taking another sip of my drink. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do to make this up to you? I truly feel beyond terrible about it. And yeah, that’s the last time I’m doing that kind of thing just to make a practical joke at his expense.”

She studied my face for a moment, a tiny glimmer of amusement visible in her dark brown eyes now. “You’re very convincing when you want to be. I could feel the excitement in your voice when you spoke those words, implied what you did. And you sure know how to embrace a guy sensuously.” She thought for just a moment, then grinned for real. “Thinking about it in this context... the expression on his face was... priceless.”

I grinned a little in response, glad she was taking this better than I thought she would. “I’m sad to say I couldn’t see his expression. He did freeze most effectively, though.” I shook my head. “As for the tone and expression, it wasn’t so hard. All I had to do was think about my partner.” I blushed rather furiously. “She quite inspires that in me.”

She had a small smile on her lips. “She must be a remarkable person, then. As the love and attraction was absolutely unmistakable... I guess I owe you a small measure of thanks, too, because I was quite enamored with that guy. He really is quite charming... And I don’t really want, much less need, any very short-term flings at the moment. I’ve enough going on... I think I just wanted to forget about things for a little while, and I was rather overwhelmed with that much positive attention all at once.”

I nodded in understanding. “Max really can be quite charming when he tries, and doesn’t put his foot in his mouth by making unwanted references and implications about sex.” I grinned in recollection. “He’s back there somewhere, trying to convince some awestruck woman to keep him company for the night.” Rolling my eyes as I added the last part.

She laughed at my expression. “Yeah, I’m glad I escaped that one, then.” Her smile turned teasing, then. “Besides, you’re much more pleasurable to look upon.” Her eyes, smouldering in intensity, raked down my body, pausing meaningfully at my exposed cleavage and she grinned. “I mean, really. You’re utterly gorgeous. She’s a lucky woman.” I turned absolutely bright red at her words. And words completely failed me, as I had no idea what to say to that, it was so unexpected. Flattering, but completely unexpected.

She laughed merrily at my embarrassment. “Oh, that was priceless. I’m sorry about that... I just could not resist flustering you. Which is quite easy, but I’m sure you knew that already.” She managed to calm her mirth a little. “What I said was true, though. You’re a very attractive woman, especially when you’re as confident as you were back then in the landing bay. It was a sight, let me tell you. Although... this flustered part of you also has its charms.” She giggled a little, now. “Wow, that actually felt good to laugh that much. I’m sorry it was at your response, but let’s say we’re even now.” She held out an elegant, perfectly manicured hand. “I’m Amelie.”

I shook my head, trying very hard to control my blush from getting any worse. Finally, I managed to regain enough composure to grasp her hand in my own. “Evelynne, though you may call me Evie if you want.”

She nodded. “Evie it is, then. It’s a pleasure to meet you, even after a bit of a rocky start.”

I shook my head. “Likewise. Today’s just been rather insane. It’s like all the excitement that I missed for years has all decided to crash my life today, all at once. I mean, really...” I proceeded to tell her about some of the things that had happened just today. By the end of it, her mouth was hanging open.

“Wow, that’s a busy day if I ever heard of one. And congratulations on finding your partner, Evie. That’s wonderful, and I meant what I said earlier. She’s remarkably lucky to have you.” She winked at me. “You’re quite the catch, I think. I mean, damn...” Her eyes flicked to my breasts again, teasingly.

It, of course, produced another set of pink cheeks. “You have to stop doing that...” I murmured, as if in physical pain from the blushes.

She giggled. “Sorry, I will soon. I can’t help it, though, it’s just too amusing to take advantage of your gifted ability to blush like that. It’d be a waste to, well, waste it.”

I glared at her for that lame joke. “Wow, that was pretty terrible... My little sister could come up with better jokes than that when she was seven. Besides...” Two can play this game. I very, very slowly lowered my eyes from her beautiful features to her, possibly more so, perfect figure. They moved down the abundant curves of her body at a nearly glacial pace and I made sure to linger for almost a minute just on the rather immensely appealing visual appearance of her large breasts straining against the custom-tailored shirt that so enhanced their already considerable allure. Finally, I looked back at her face with a wide grin, and was pleased to see that Amelie was now blushing as fiercely as I had been before. “How do you like being on the receiving end of that? Hmm?”

She was speechless for many moments, finally saying. “Okay, I totally deserved that.” She held out her hand as a peace offering. “Maybe we should call a truce on that.” I shook it eagerly, and we both laughed. “I must say, though... You definitely have a healthy appreciation for feminine charms.” I smiled, there really was no sense in denying that. “You certainly can’t fake that kind of interest. As if you’re looking at the most beautifully sculpted work of art that the universe has ever known, and you have the unique key to unlocking its meaning.”

I grinned. “Yeah, that sounds like what Alecto says. And you’re right, I do love to look. Other people are my favorite types of art, by far.” The question was clear on her face. “Well... you know how human beings like art for various reasons, as inspiration or affirmation of what they believe in, or just simple enjoyment of something beautiful for its own sake? I really think that you can apply that same concept to people, too. There’s a lot of similarities when you think about it, at least ones I can see rather easily myself. Because most people also have a theme like any work of art has, some overriding element within them that stands out the most. Whether it’s honor, or love, or ambition, or hate that defines them most on an elemental level. And like with a painting, you can look at all the little parts of the whole of them, their person, their mind and character, their body, and to the extent that it all fits together into one harmonious whole, I think that is beauty. And when someone is all fractured, has enormous conflict within them that pulls them in different reactions, or otherwise has incompatible elements that clash constantly, I think that detracts from their overall... sum? And we respond to that, at least I know I do, personally...”

I paused once more, taking another sip of my coffee to wet my dry mouth. “And beauty to me is definitely more than just the physical, as most of these things I mentioned that really define someone are more elements of their mind or character, but they tend to be reflected in their physical form because the two are not divisible, at least not truly. In that sense, many mental traits will add to the physical attractiveness of a person, and also vice versa. Because when someone makes sure, for example, that they take good care of their body, they eat well, stay in shape, don’t damage it unnecessarily, this tends to speak to very positive characteristics, too, like discipline and purpose and self-esteem. So yeah, it’s all tied together. Or I think it should be, when a person is truly at peace with themselves and is not constantly fighting different elements within them...” I trailed off, a little embarrassed now as I had gotten quite carried away talking about that element of my personal philosophy, one that I hadn’t really shared quite so explicitly with anyone else.

Amelie just looked at me for a long time, calculating, processing something. Finally, she spoke with something like awe in her voice. “That was remarkable, Evie. And I think it rings true. Very much so. It’s a profoundly inspiring way to look at beauty, at other people. And I think it is so much more positive than how most of our kind look at it, all separated into little parts. They focus on just the physical traits without any attention to the mind behind it, or the other extreme where people completely disregard the physical world and think themselves better for only caring about the mind, as if the body is some unclean, unfortunate vessel that only happens to be attached to it...” She nodded. “Thank you so very much for sharing such a thing with me, something that intensely personal.” She held up a slim hand as if expecting an objection. “Because it is, it reveals so much about you to anyone who’d care to look... Even if you don’t think of it like that, I feel like you’ve just told me almost everything important I’d want to know about you to know that you’re a remarkable individual, someone I’d be proud to know, associate with, and call a good friend.”

My eyes got a little watery as she said that. Her words touched me deeply, though I imagine the drinks hadn’t helped as I was definitely somewhat less inhibited than normal. “Thank you, Amelie. For not thinking less of me, or ridiculing this. It really does mean a lot to me, yet many people act like it is not something important, as if it’s just empty words that mean nothing whatsoever. I’m glad you don’t, that you recognize it for what it really means, implies.”

She smiled warmly at me. “Well, since you told me that much about yourself, I’ll share some of my own person with you.” My brows drew up. “Not like that. Get your mind off the incredibly appealing shape of my breasts for a moment, please.” She smirked as I turned pink again. “Where was I? Oh yes, my story!” I giggled a little at her theatrics, offering her a sip of my coffee. She took it without hesitation, giving an approving sound to the bitter-sweet taste of the drink. Faint red prints were left on the side of the mug she’d drunk from, the color of fresh blood.

“Pay attention!” She commanded, a smile on her full lips. “Okay then...” Her voice actually turned serious now, though I could still detect in her chocolate brown eyes the remainder of the earlier warmth her smiles had shown me. “My apologies if this sounds overly dramatic, but essentially...” She stopped completely, frowned. Her voice was almost cold now, a marked contrast from before, though her tone still held enough gentle concern around the edges to make it clear she was not upset with me. “Are you sure you want to know? It may involve you in something you’re not ready for. Or you may feel like you cannot walk away from it after wards, and I don’t want to do that to you unless you have at least some prior warning before you hear about it.”

I thought about it for a few moments. From the sounds of it, what she was going to say must be quite dangerous. She was clearly not joking about any of it, not any more, and there had to be some reason for it. Do I really want to put myself in a risky situation for someone I barely know? It only took me a moment to answer that with a resounding Yes. In the end, my concern won out many times over. And whatever it was that haunted this woman, I doubted she had chosen it freely, nor did she deserve that. Especially not by herself, not when I really did like her a great deal. I could never abandon anyone I cared about, whether they were a friend, family or a partner. I’m sure Alecto would not be particularly pleased that I was putting myself in possible harm’s way, though I was fairly confident of my abilities to escape it... But she would understand, know that it was not an option for me to not do anything. I mean, to a large extent it was one of the things she loved most about me, my genuine concern for the well-being of those around me whose lives entangled with mine, and now hers.

I nodded, then, my voice filled with a quiet certainty that left no doubt I had thought this through sufficiently and would not change my mind, not now. “I want to know. If there is something that bothers you, anything I can do to help you, it is yours if you but ask.” I placed my hand on the back of hers in a comforting manner, trying to convey support through the physical act in addition to my words. “Tell me about it, and we will think of some possible solution, together. I’m sure there is something that can be done, even if it is not certain to work.”

A single tear rolled out of her brown eyes on each side, my words touching her. “Thank you, Evelynne. You don’t know how much that means to me. I’ll tell you what is bothering me, why I am here, now... And I’ll understand if you won’t want to help then. But thank you for at least listening...”

I broke her off, again. “Don’t worry about that, Amelie, you’re stuck with me now.” I smiled warmly at her, affectionately. “I’m not going to abandon a friend in need, not for anything. I can’t do that. Just tell me what is wrong, and don’t worry about anything on my end. I am fully capable of weighing the risks myself and taking care of my own interests in that respect, so just trust me on that. Please?”

She nodded, still sniffling a little, eyes shiny. “I will try. I am just not used to that much concern directed towards me, not without any ulterior motive anyway. It’s strange, but very much a wonderful thing that I will try to just accept, and not question. But please bear with me a little, as it’s not something I am familiar with and it may take me some time to fully get used to the idea... You’ll probably understand better once I am done.” I just held her hand in both of my own, rubbing the back of it softly with my fingers to give her a physical anchor of sorts to hold on to, some measure of calm to center her. She took a deep breath. “It’s hard to explain...”

I nodded in sympathy. “Just try, start at the beginning, chronologically might be easiest?”

She let out a breath. “In that case... This whole mess started a long time ago. You see, I was not... born, so much as, well... created. And I don’t mean in a figurative sense, by my parents...” She sighed again, eyes nervously seeking out mine. She leaned forward, then. Anyone watching us would have thought we were having a very intimate moment. Her voice was very soft, as if she was afraid of being overheard, here. “Maybe you could say I was made, in a laboratory... I’m not really human. At least, not completely. As far as I have been able to determine, this started out as a rather top-secret military research project, funded I don’t know how, designed by the Special Operations branch of the Federation Navy. It was outsourced to a small biotechnology company, though I think it was mostly just a legal mechanism so the government wasn’t directly involved if anything ever came out...”

She took another sip of my coffee, apparently wanting the relaxing effect of the alcohol in it. “ It started nearly thirty years back when, as far as I’ve learned anyway, they managed to splice together a fully synthetic, working copy of the human genome, built from the ground up to supposed ‘perfection’. Every gene was custom tailored to be as flawless as possible, every basepair of the sequence argued over at length. I’ve seen the reports, some of them, and it failed many, many times. I don’t know how many before me had flaws, did not work as expected, or were spontaneously aborted during development. It probably took nearly a decade to finally have their efforts succeed, and I was created. I know that since then, they have managed to repeat the process somewhat more successfully, though it still fails due to unknown reasons four out of every five tries.” Her eyes were clouded with the magnitude of the loss of life, and the potential of life. “It’s almost unimaginable how much was sacrificed for this.” She gestured to herself, voice laced with loathing. “To be made, finally. But I somehow made it through all the stages of development that had not quite worked right before me. Grew in a bath of liquid for months as I completed all the crucial steps to form a perfect human being. And I was born nineteen years ago.”

She actually chuckled, even through her gloom, at my shocked expression. “Yeah, the specifics of the process caused normal human maturation from infant to adulthood to be much more rapid, roughly three times as fast. Apparently most of those stages were not considered essential or important, and whoever was in charge of the project wanted as little time wasted as possible that a child would normally spend just being a child, playing, exploring their grasp of the world... I have looked like this for about half my life, as it only took about seven years for my body to fully mature instead of the usual twenty-odd years. But that’s not all, not nearly all. My human body was only a substrate, as they called it. A substrate to be molded, perfected beyond anything mere flesh was capable of. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I was cut into for study, for endless tests, how they replaced parts of me without asking, without any kind of consent given or even wanted... Almost everything about me is more than human, now. I have biosynthetic organ systems almost everywhere, designed for superior function and resilience, my head is full of implants, parts merged and melded with cybernetics to further improve my brain functions. Hell, my skin is mostly biosynthetic now. And most of these surgeries did not take the first time, they repeated them over and over until the technique of it was perfected, until it finally worked. I can’t begin to explain to you the enormous violation this was. To be used like an experiment, a toy, something much less than human, for so very long. Never having any control over what happened, what they did to me, how they shaped me mercilessly into whatever twisted designs they were trying to achieve...”

I reached over, then, no longer able to stand the agony so clearly visible on her face. Folding her in my arms, I felt her tense for a long moment before she lost all tension and went utterly boneless in my arms. I could feel her sob against my neck, and I was touched both by a profound sense of concern, of caring for this woman in my arms who had suffered through so much, and an intense fury directed at those responsible for this barbaric act. I did not know why they had done as they did to her, but there could be no excuse for such violations, such stripping away of a person’s volition, their consent and say in that most basic possession of any human being, their life. I suddenly noticed her scent, then. There was the more powerful, somewhat overly sweet smell of apples that I think was her perfume, but hidden beneath it, only faintly discernible even being this close to her, I could make out her own, too. It reminded me of the clean, crisp scent of freshly cut grass in the spring and it seemed to resonate within me somehow, feeling right and comforting all at once.

She had stopped crying, now, and simply clung to me as if I was the only hold she had left on life, without which she would instantly fall into a deep abyss never again to return. I did not speak, sensing she just wanted the physical contact right now, and that words of comfort would most likely not help at this moment, would only cheapen her hurt as there was really nothing one could say that covered the magnitude of what had happened to her. Possibly later words would help, and I would gladly talk to her about it, then, but not now, not here in this very public place. I rubbed her back soothingly with my hands and she lost yet more tension, slumping against me with a deep sigh.

Eventually, she managed to collect herself enough to continue her tale, though she did not loosen her hold on me. If my touch and comfort was what she wanted to finish telling me this, then have it she would, and I simply wrapped my arms around her in a warm embrace. She looked at me so gratefully then, with such fierce intensity of emotion I could not identify that it did take my breath away momentarily.

After another moment it faded slightly and Amelie started speaking once more. “Thank you, first of all, though words cannot convey the depth of my gratitude for the gift you have just given me. Perhaps with time I will think of some way to repay you for simply being there for me when I needed someone to listen, to comfort me.”

I smiled at her. “You’re welcome, Amelie... It is truly the least I could do, and I am glad I could offer you some small measure of comfort at a time like this. I cannot be any other way than that, it is so natural a thing for me to do. I just couldn’t stand you hurting so, and wanted to soothe it somehow. I hope it helped, even if only a little.”

She shook her head. “It’s not small, or insignificant at all, not to me. I truly mean it... That, what you just did, is one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me, and I won’t forget it.” I nodded, accepting her reasoning as I knew she would not budge on the matter. I could sense when someone made up her mind. And she most definitely had. There was no use whatsoever trying to convince a headstrong woman, not then. I know that first-hand from dealing with Alecto.

“While these augmentations were happening my mind was being filled with all manner of information. First through ordinary methods, though it was more indoctrination than actual learning. Later, once the cybernetic implants had been grafted to me they simply uploaded whatever they wanted into my head, my mind. I cannot quite put words to the depth of the violation of that, as it is almost worse than the physical kind...” My jaw clenched at her words and I had to force down a remarkable surge of violence that filled my mind, directed towards whoever had done these things to her. I simply hugged her closer instead, seeing her smile rather tremulously at me as I did.

Amelie spoke once more in a voice so soft that I could only barely hear it even as close as she was to my ear. “That went on for many years... They were trying to essentially turn me into a living weapon, to fight against the Caldari as certain factions within the military were getting desperate. At least that is all I have managed to learn so far. They never thought it necessary to convince me what they were doing was justified, my thoughts on the matter were never listened to, wanted or even consulted most of the time...”

“How did you end up here? I assume they didn’t just turn you loose?”

I felt her nod, tiny ringlets of her black hair brushing lightly against my face. She chuckled, too, though it was a bitter, harsh sound, not one of amusement. “You could say that, yes. They... overestimated how much control they had over me. It probably was a combination of factors. They grew more complacent over time as I had never given any outward sign I protested what I did. There were also a series of neural inhibitors placed within my brain that made it theoretically impossible to want to escape, and presented an easy means to track me if I ever did. What they did not count on, though, was my desire and dedication to truly live... free of compulsion and coercion.” She shivered, recollecting something. “It took years for me to gather sufficient will and motivation to attempt to set in motion my escape, and many months of planning. Eventually, a combination of circumstances allowed me to try.”

I felt her swallow nervously, and when she spoke again her voice was almost toneless, dead. “There was a certain time each month that personnel levels were much lower at the facility I was housed at due to a large staff conference. With the implants they gave me it was rather simple to figure out how to hack into the mainframes and overload the power stations that supplied the base with power. I am not proud of what I did to get away from that place, and I’ll have nightmares about it for as long as I live. I found one of the scientists working on the project, made him remove the inhibitors. I killed him after wards, even though he had not personally done anything to me. At the time it seemed not to matter, he was the closest target for my fury that had been bottled up, contained for what seemed like an eternity to me. I released it all, and did unspeakable things... there was nothing left of him larger than the size of a finger, and nothing one could recognize as remotely human in origin...”

Her voice broke again, but she kept speaking, as if stopping now would mean she could never say these things again. “There was so much blood, everywhere, I was covered in it from head to toe... I downloaded what information he had given me before he died, took the memory cores from the databanks that I could carry with me, and ran. Everything that got between me and my destination in the shuttle bay died. I killed, murdered dozens of people that day... At the time I felt they deserved it, and more... I would have tortured them all to death if I had had the time right then to do so, but I didn’t so I simply dispatched them as efficiently as I could, as efficiently as they had taught me. I still think that what they did to me was horrendous, and that I deserved to be free. If killing my captors was the way to escape, that was justified... But justified or not, do you have any idea what the cost, the price is of killing so many people, whether they were involved with it directly or not, just to buy your own freedom?”

She was silent for a long time, all I could feel was the shudders of her silent sobs as they threatened to overwhelm, to engulf her. “I finally reached the hangar where they kept a small shuttle... By this time I was near death, having fought and killed so many security personnel, so many scientists. Even as skilled as I was, as they made me, I was hit every now and then, and the injuries had added up. My body heals very rapidly, but I was nearing the end of my ability to stay conscious and by extension, alive. I somehow managed to key in autopilot coordinates to the surface of Bourynes VI and rip out the emergency transponders from the shuttle to make it impossible to track the ship... before I passed out. When I woke up again, I do not know how many days or weeks later, I was still near death. My injuries had healed for the most part, but not having had any liquids for so long had brought me dangerously close to dying of dehydration. I can go without fluids for much longer than most people, but not forever. I had landed in a wooded area some fifty miles from the Epsilon spaceport on Bourynes VI... managed to find some small body of water I could drink from... I hid there for a while, but I had the feeling I was being looked for, hunted, how I do not know... But I have always had very finely tuned instincts for such things... A sixth sense almost for when trouble was about to strike. It came in useful during many of my earlier... missions, and more so when I escaped. And I had to leave once more as I could not remain in the same place for so long... Not when it was so close to my home. ”

She spat the last word with such venom, such undisguised hatred in her voice that it sent a shiver down my spine in dread for whomever this... fury was directed against. Amelie finally loosened her death grip on my body. Some part of me felt a strong sense of wrongness, as if protesting the fact she was not in my arms any longer. It rather surprised me, but she spoke once more before I could give it more thought, her voice a broken whisper. “That is how I ended up here... I changed my appearance some... as much as I could given cosmetic applications and other more superficial touches that were all I had to work with. And I thought hiding in plain sight on a ship such as this would be more effective than taking a fast transport anywhere, or using my own shuttle. They would be looking for that...” Her expression turned despondent. “But now you must hate me... How could you not? I’m a monster, only partly human, a machine made for one purpose, to kill and follow orders... And even since my flight, I have been unable to escape my purpose as I have killed so many...”

She sounded so absolutely miserable then that it very nearly broke my heart. There were certainly many questions in my mind, still, that I would want answers to. But I felt a rather profound certainty that I was not in any danger from her. Maybe from whoever was hunting her... by proxy, but I do not think she could have harmed me, wouldn’t have let herself. It was either the bravest or stupidest thing I had ever done, most likely both, but... I trusted her. It was just a matter of convincing her of that, now... She literally seemed millimeters away from being swallowed whole by some impossibly vast darkness, and I thought it quite possible, likely even, that a harsh rejection when she had made herself so vulnerable, probably against all instinct and reason, that it could be the last time she ever did. I could not have born having that on my mind, even though it was hardly my responsibility. But I could not help myself from embracing that role, that duty.

I summoned all the resolve I could find, most of it was my own but some could have been the drinks talking. “Hey... None of that, now.” I spoke, placing the tips of my fingers on her soft lips to silence her words. “You are not a monster... at least not in my eyes. It is not your fault that they made you the way you are... That you are all these things... so lethal, intelligent and imaginative... That you know a million ways to kill a person probably without breaking a sweat. That does not make you a monster, or less than human. Being human is not about what percentage of you is biological or not, or whether you have the capacity to do terrible things, but about all the higher things that we can aspire to as individuals and as a people. The genius within our minds, the marvelous productive creations that have improved lives so vastly, the tiniest gestures of love and caring that you can show to another... Those are the things that matter most, that make you a human being. The fact that you’ve not been shown these things, and haven’t been able to do any of them is not a reflection on you... It makes whoever did those things to you the monster, and they deserved to have their lives expunged from existence for barbaric acts they committed against you. It does not matter what their cause was, but that violation you described, bodily and mental, is one of the gravest crimes one could commit against another sentient being. Stripping away their consent, their volition... I do not have words for how terrible such acts are, how much they demand justice to be done to make the victim whole in some small measure, though you can never fully recompense them for what has happened... But hearing what they did to you, at the time no more than an innocent newborn child... It makes me want to go on a rampage across the stars to hunt all those responsible for that act of barbarism down... and put them down.”

I held her face in my hands, forcing her to look at my eyes so she could see I meant what I said. “I do not blame you for what has happened, or think less of you in any way. You will have to come to terms with what was done to you, what you did yourself later on... But I think you will over time do so, move past it... And think about all the good things you are capable of.” I smiled warmly at her, encouragingly. “I mean, you probably possess one of the best potentials of anyone ever born... You just have to grasp that potential and aim to fulfill it. I trust you can do so, too. I trust in you...” I blushed a little. “Even if that sounds crazy, I really do. When I look at you I can see the amazing, unrivalled potential that is within you, just bursting to be freed and harnessed by you. It was not your choice how you came to be, or what specific changes or additions they made to your nature... But that is done and cannot be undone... All you can do now is live with what you have, make the most of it. And if you can, you’ll be so successful and you’ll be able to proudly say that it is all because of your effort, because you turned your original destiny around so dramatically, changed it for the better. I really think that is possible for you, and I promise you that I will help you realize it... If you’ll have my assistance and support.”

Th- thank you so much!” She let out in a sob, overcome with tears once more. “I truly feel like I do not deserve this... your comfort, understanding... you. I can’t believe that you would want to associate with me after everything I have done, what I am capable of doing.. That you’re not running away screaming in terror I do not know how to explain.” She smiled very, very faintly. “Maybe you have gone crazy. You’d have to be to trust me.

I shook my head at her, a small smile on my own lips. “That is where you’re wrong.” I added, teasing her gently. “For all your incredibly enhanced intelligence, I think you’re wrong about that, that you’re starting from the wrong assumptions that are leading your reasoning astray. But we’ll just have to say, and I do not mind proving you wrong about this. Just give me the chance to, okay? I know it is a lot to ask, given what you’ve been through, to trust me now, to make yourself so vulnerable even after all that people have done to you before when you were helpless... But it is incredibly precious to me that you would, and I swear to you that I will honor that trust, safeguard it as a priceless artifact.” I used my thumb to wipe away the traces of her tears. “We’ll figure something out so you can escape their notice... and have time to think of exactly what you want to do. Does that sound good as a first step?”

She nodded. “Yeah, that is what I was hoping to do... And I hope you’re right, that I am wrong to be so negative. I don’t think I can give up on that, not any time soon... But maybe one day I will, and I so very much hope I can.” Amelie smiled, then, and it reminded me of one of the incandescently bright smiles Alecto gave me when she was truly pleased. “I think I’ll have a good example to remind me, in you.” Her elegant hands took hold of my own, long fingers wrapping themselves around my palm. “I think that will help. You really are a remarkable woman, Evelynne...” She grinned. “Even if you’re slightly drunk right now.”

I blushed rather furiously, though whether it was from her touch or her comment I could not quite determine. “Hush, it is mostly because I was already tired before I came here. I’ve had a very long day. Besides...”

As I started saying something lightheartedly Amelie’s entire expression changed, instantly, from a teasing grin to a look of pure terror laced with hatred as her eyes saw something behind me. It did not make sense to me as there was a wall behind me, unless she saw something reflected off the polished metal of the paneling? I barely formed a questioning look on my face when her hands shot out and she pulled me towards her with incredible strength given her size.

I saw a glimpse of apology, regret, in her eyes right before she kissed me, hard. It was not a warm, loving kiss, at all, but one fierce with desperation and raw passion. I froze completely, it was so unexpected that my mind was unable to comprehend what was happening, though I felt my body respond to it just the same. I had been attracted to her before, and the feel of her against me now, what she was doing with her lips and teeth and tongue, felt so incredible that it could do nothing but respond. Her kiss was so powerful, dominant, I could do nothing but yield to it, submit to it. And it instantly made me incredibly aroused. Though the largest part of me did not want it to, some part most definitely did, relished it.

She completed her motion by falling backwards on the bench, her unyielding arms pinning me on top of her, covering her from sight completely. Some soft sound I could not place distracted my brain just slightly, though I could not determine what it was. I heard it again, and with the greatest effort I summoned enough clarity in my head to recognize it for what it was, her voice. I had to concentrate very hard just to make out the words, so soft were they. “Evie... I am so sorry! They are here! I do not think they recognized me... and I hoped that I could escape notice by making us seem like any other couple here, that they wouldn’t look twice if it looked like this.”

My eyes started to glance up, to see, as she said they were here. She pinned my head down against her, preventing me from doing so. “NO, you can’t look. It will look suspicious! I can... make them out by other means, ever so faintly. Their presence disturbs the energy in the room, I do not know how to explain it but I can tell they’re not supposed to be here, not here for the same reason everyone else is. It feels off, and they’re close.” She whimpered into my mouth, terrified, clutching my against her even harder. My mind reeled. I did not know what to think, or say, or do... I felt like I should be angry with her as it was wrong to do what she did, kiss me and embrace me without my consent, against my will... But it was an act of desperation, not about power, or abuse, and I could tell she regretted it deeply. It was further complicated by the fact that I wasn’t even entirely sure I did not want her to kiss me. A not insignificant part of myself wanted it, almost needed it, and it felt right in some ways even if the urgency and the time of it were wrong. I did not know how to make sense of it, or how to combine this knowledge, these feelings and thoughts with those I felt towards my beloved Alecto. Those had not changed at all, were still just as brightly present, parts of her interwoven with my own identity in my mind just as they had been this afternoon. These new feelings did not seem to clash, not for now, and I did not know how to resolve it, whether to integrate them all together, choose or what? What I did know was that it did not matter, that I could go through with this if it meant keeping her safe. I had to, that was one thing all of me agreed on. If she needed it to be convincing, I could do so... and deal with the consequences of it later. Doing this halfway and getting her, or both of us, killed, was not an option I was willing to allow, or even entertain, not if I had any say in the matter.

I opened my eyes fully, catching her chocolate orbs that were so filled with anguish, torture... as if she was sure that this would irreparably destroy any chance she had of knowing me. I tried to project as much certainty, acceptance as I could summon from deep within, and saw her expression relax ever so slightly in response. I twisted my frame somewhat, then, and she let me push her against the cushions of the booth so we were laying nearly sideways. I pushed her body down ever so slightly, breaking the seal she had on my lips, burying her face in between my breasts instead. I put my lips to her ear, whispering an apology as I wrapped both arms around her head as if I was desperately to hold her in place, have her continue the pleasurable act she was doing. She was not doing anything, of course, but our new position almost completely sheltered her from view. My own face and arms were covering most of her dark hair that would otherwise very much be an identifying feature.

I did kiss her hair, then, with a soft, fluttery touch of my lips meant to project warm affection and caring. “It is fine, Amelie. Do not worry yourself, as I am not upset about what you did... For a brief moment I was, as it completely caught me off guard, but then the urgency of your distress, your terror hit me and I did not care any longer. I meant what I said earlier, if there is anything I can do to keep you from harm, I will, because you matter to me. You do not have to worry that you forced me, or took anything from an unwilling participant, as you cannot force something that is wanted, nor take something freely offered. Maybe after the fact in this case, and...” I smiled against her hair just the tiniest bit. “Next time I’d appreciate it if you asked, but it really is okay. I’m just glad I can help you like this, or any other capacity.” I paused for just a moment, before asking. “Are they still around?”

She was making rather convincing wet sucking noises from where she was buried in my cleavage. She wasn’t actually doing anything, but the sounds were very appealing and

did produce a rather furious blush on my cheeks, and not altogether unpleasant but certainly not currently wanted thoughts in the more... adventurous parts of my mind. I could feel her nod, her eyelashes tickling the sensitive exposed skin of my chest. “They are, but further away now. They were very close when you... did that, and apparently thought better off looking too closely at us after wards.”

“Good. Let me know when they’re completely gone, and then we probably should get the hell out of this bar. Do you have anything in your room you need to get? If they know you’re here, it is possible that they may find it?”

She was silent for a moment. “Yes, some of the files are in a small bag I carried on me. They have part of my history on it, so I want to keep them. We probably need to hurry, in case they know where it is. I do not want to lose what little I do know about myself. At least, what is not already safely in my memory banks.” Right, in her head... I mentally added.

I whispered again. “Okay, once they’re gone we can make our way over there, then. And then I suggest we head to my room. They should not know to look for you there, and unless they are searching the entire ship room by room, I doubt they’d find you.” I suddenly realized something else. “Although... shit. Do you suppose they will have the customs officials look for you? They will search the entire ship when we hit the edge of the Nexus constellation. Did you have any plans for that, before? How to avoid being seen there, I mean?”

I felt her nod again, and release an enormous amount of tension at the same time. “They just left the room. Let’s wait another few moments just to be sure, and we should go. As for your concern... I was planning to hide in one of the vent systems of the ship. Their SOPs don’t include searching all of those, only a few of the main systems, as there are sensors that cover the system. However, the sensors can be... tricked if you know where to go. We need to find a mainframe and enough time for me to disable a sensor somewhere without anyone noticing, then we can hide inside that vent while the customs go about their way... Do you think your friend will be okay by himself?”

“Max? Yeah, I doubt he’s missing us too much, he seemed to be rather attached to that blond woman back at the bar.” I grinned a little, and I could hear Amelie chuckle softly in response. The warmth of her breath on my skin, and the smell of her that now much more clearly invaded my senses with her being so close for such an extended period of time were rather distracting, though pleasantly so. Definitely something I could get used to... What? Yeah, I’d definitely have to do some introspection about this, later. It wasn’t so much concerning, just... strange and unexpected, and would likely take me a while to sort through. But I could put that aside until after our lives were in imminent danger, I thought. Very gallant of myself, isn’t it? I thought, a smile on my lips once more.

Amelie squirmed a little, and I slowly raised myself up and way from her. She seemed unable to meet my eyes, and I gently placed the palm of my left hand against the side of her face, raising her face towards mine. She still wouldn’t quite meet my eyes. “Hey... look at me.” I whispered to her, gently. Her eyes flicked to mine, finally. “Don’t you dare beat yourself up over that, okay? I meant what I said... You did what you had to do to stay safe, and I’m just glad that I could help you. I’m glad you thought so quick on your feet and did that... Or we may not have been sitting here having this discussion.” I smiled at her as I said that. “It takes a lot of confidence and courage to make the decisions you need to make to stay alive, to protect those you care about in the split second you have to make them. And the fact that you’re willing to make the right decision to do that, even knowing and fearing the consequences... You really are a remarkable woman yourself, Amelie. It’s very impressive, and something I admire and... cherish deeply about you.” And it’s very attractive, I added in my mind.

She smiled, then, much more warmly, and it was as if the sun suddenly appeared from behind the clouds of an overcast sky. I just gaped in response, the sight absolutely mesmerizing to me in its intensity. If she noticed my expression she thankfully didn’t say anything about it. “Your words are too kind, Evelynne.” She shook her head as I started to object, silencing me. “I’m not saying that you are wrong, but...” She sighed. “It is so very hard to accept these things at face value after having been told the opposite, having believed the opposite about myself for so long. I will try to live up to how you see me... I find that the prospect does give me hope, more than I have had in a very long time. Before today I thought mainly about vengeance and other dark things. I still do, but now there is some small glimmer of something better visible, even if the specifics of it evade me still.” She grinned warmly, then. “I will just have to stick with you. I think you will be a good influence, a good example, for me. And perhaps I can repay you some, too, by keeping you safe from harm. You do seem to have a knack for getting into situations that are much too dangerous for comfort.”

I scowled at her, though it was true. “Well, it makes life less boring. Besides, it’s not that I go looking for trouble, I just manage to find it without meaning to. There is a big difference, you know.” I offered her my hand. “Here, let’s get out of this bar, and go find your belongings, then we can hide in my room until tomorrow... When we need to figure out how to hack a mainframe just to avoid getting picked up by customs officials.” I grinned. “Sounds like a good day to me!”

She took my hand with a rather shy smile. I made a rather extravagant bow, and kissed it theatrically. “After you, my lady.” That got me a full laugh, which was truly a pleasure to hear. Amelie really had a very good laugh, and I promised to myself that I’d make sure she had a chance to use it as frequently as possible. It would be a good side project to keep me occupied, that was for sure.

She just shook her head at me when her laughing had calmed down a little. “You’re something else, Evie... I’m glad I met you today, and that you came over here to apologize. I already have trouble thinking about how dreary my life was before it had you in it...” She pointed towards one of the five exits of the lounge. “We go that way. It is not the fastest route, but it is furthest from where they left the room, and it is also much quieter. The less traffic, the better I think...”

I nodded my acquiescence. And smiled again, eyes gleaming. I’ll watch your back.” I made a rather exaggerated study of looking at her perfectly formed behind. “See? I’m quite good at it, too.”

She slapped me on the arm for that, though she still had a grin on her lips. “Hush, you... And there’s no reason to act any more, they are long gone now.” Her eyes were the slightest bit... sad? as she said that.

I shook my head, all mirth gone from my expression and voice. “Amelie, look at me.” I waited for her eyes to meet mine. “I’m not doing this just for show...” I touched her face in affection. “I really do care for you, and I do not have to pretend about anything when it comes to you. It is all very real. Don’t worry about such things... I would never mislead you like that. It would be very much a wrong thing to do, and you deserve better than to be treated like that, to be toyed with. I swear to you that I would not, and will not do that.”

She looked at me for the longest time, her eyes gazing at mine, calculating, thinking. Eventually she nodded, and smiled once more. “I believe you. I do not know how it makes sense that it is like that, but you are definitely not lying, I can tell that much. I can read it in your eyes, your body’s language when I watch you carefully. And thank you for saying that, for making such a promise. It is worth its weight in gold, to me.” She looked at me again for several moments, adding. “As for that... I think we will both have to explore the concept, and its consequences, in due time. I do not know how that could be, but... stranger things have happened in all of existence...”

I nodded, smiling. “That’s good... It is my wish that one day you won’t have to think twice when I say something profound and half-way insane like that.” That earned me a giggle. “We’ll get there one day, together. I do not mind helping you grow like that, be able to trust once more, at least those special individuals who are worth giving that kind of sacred bond to.” I grinned. “Nobody cares about the others. Whoever is not worthy of that... fuck them.”

“My, you’re full of surprises.” She smirked. “Such anger! But okay, let’s head out. We better pay attention, though, as for all I know they really did see us, and just decided to... confront me elsewhere, with less... witnesses. Knowing their modus operandi, so to speak... I would not put it past them. So be ready for anything.”

I nodded, a rather strange sense of exhilaration filling me. We walked out of the bar and almost immediately the crowds thinned, significantly. Amelie walked around the ship like she owned it, as if she had lived her entire life here and it was the most natural thing for her in the world to be visiting someplace within it only she had the right to know about.We walked through hallways enormous and tiny, seemingly without rhyme or reason... But she always seemed to know exactly where to go. I thought perhaps she had learned the entire ship’s schematics and asked her so. She just grinned in response, apparently not deigning that worthy of an answer.

We were in a rather desolate section of the ship, now. For all the many thousands of passengers, the hundreds of crew members, it had been minutes since I had last seen another living soul. I had a fairly good sense of direction, and thought we were somewhere near the aft quarters of the freighter... Not where I expected anyone to have a room. That mystery was explained as we went down a stairway in an unobtrusive passageway. When we came out a few floors below I recognized where we were once more. It looked quite similar to the hallways in which my and Max’ rooms were located, just on the opposite side of the ship.

Amelie finally stopped in front of a door and studied the sensor strip that recognized the boarding passes, her face inches from the device. She gazed at it for some ten, fifteen seconds, and sighed in relief. She quickly pulled her pass through and I heard the telltale noise of the door unlocking, opening wide. She turned around, smiling. “Okay, it looks clear. I don’t think anyone has been...” She stopped in mid-sentence, mid-word and pulled me towards her by the arm before I could even form a thought.

As I fell forward against her I felt something whoosh by the back of my head, right where I had been standing only a fraction of a second before. We landed in the interior of the room, safe from whatever had tried to shoot me in the hallway. The door started closing automatically as these models did and Amelie dragged me further back into the room, putting as many walls between the opening and us as possible. She smiled apologetically at having to handle me so roughly, though she did not hesitate at all as I had alluded to before in our conversation. Acting to protect came before any other concerns to her, more important than being diplomatic or even concerned about whether what she had to do would have repercussions for her personally.

I smiled back at her affectionately, letting her know it was okay, that I was fine. I was rather shaken given what just happened, but it was overwhelmed by the gratitude at her quick response. She rolled over to a bag that was sitting in the corner of the room and quickly retrieved several items from it. A pair of hand blasters, of which she threw me one and a few small discs that I assumed had information on it about her as a project. Quite possibly, whoever was here wanted the information as badly as they wanted her, herself.

I gritted my jaw. I wasn’t going to let her get hurt without at least trying to do something to help, that was for damn sure. My dad had, besides the self-defense lessons with unarmed styles, also given me basic and intermediate projectile weapons training. I had not used it in years, had not needed to, but as soon as I caught the blaster his instructions, his words came back to me just like that. I made sure the blaster was set on its non-lethal firing mode, which mostly served to reduce the power of the shots from there’s nothing left of your head to you’ve been kicked by a rampaging bull. Still, I thought it was best, at least initially until we knew exactly what was going on, to not go in firing live rounds.

Amelie was sitting on the opposite side of the room right now, back pressed tightly against one of the heavy wall panels. Theoretically those would stop ammunition, though you never knew depending on the exact caliber of the weapons they were firing. I did not hear anything for minutes, though she seemed to be paying very careful attention to something that was beyond the door. She must have much better hearing, I mused. She cursed silently, then held up all five fingers of her free hand. Twice. I blanched at the thought of ten people out there against the two of us. I had no illusions about going up against some black ops commando in a fair fight, either, and the fight most assuredly would not be fair to me. Shit...

She flicked her eyes towards the bathroom, just behind where she was sitting, mouthing Air duct to me. I nodded, and tried to crawl across the floor as silently as possible. After an agonizing eternity where I expected to be hit the instant someone discerned my position I finally reached the cover of the wall Amelie was hiding behind. She leaned over instantly, her voice a whisper. “Go for the air duct in the bathroom... It is near the ceiling, should be sealed but you can open it. It’ll set off alarms in the main engineering consoles but we can get far, fast, crawling through those passages so we should be safe until we can drop out in a remote location they wouldn’t as quickly think to look... I’ll hold down the fort over here.”

I nodded that I understood. She grinned at me trying to lift my spirits a little, which it remarkably did, and before I could blink her hand holding the blaster shot out and fired a shot into the wall next to the door. The sound of short-circuiting electronics, a sharp cry of pain and a very colorful string of curse-words rang out from the hallway beyond. “Well, they’re not getting in hacking the sensor pad, now. Now, go! It’ll only buy a few minutes, at most!”

I turned around and found my way into the bathroom. A few personal effects of hers were near a small sink and it touched me to see something like that. As if it really showed me a path into her character to see what kind of cosmetics, or soap she used. I did recognize the apple-scented perfume she wore, which was starting to grow on me ever so slightly now. Still much too sweet for my tastes, but it was hard not to like it a little considering who it reminded me of. Okay, enough distractions, Evie...

I spotted the vent, then, and it looked tiny. I didn’t think there was any way I could fit through... but I thought she must have considered it and thought we could do it. She didn’t strike me as the type of person who would rely on obviously impossible escape routes. I studied the metal grating for a few moments, considering, then looked around the room to see what I had to work with. I could always shoot the thing with my blaster, but there was the danger of bouncing blaster ammo that I did not really want to deal with in an enclosed space, as a ricocheting slug from the hand blaster could easily tear me to shreds in here. No, that was only for last ditch efforts.

I climbed on one edge of the sink which looked sturdy enough to support my weight. These freighters weren’t comfortable, or pretty, but they sure knew how to do structural engineering right. There was no ominous creaking, or a sudden crash and I sighed in relief. Apparently it was able to support my 68 kilos of mass rather comfortably. I felt along the edges of the grate covering the duct, trying to get a feel for the sturdiness of it, whether I could pry it open with my hands and if not, what type of tool I’d need. I had to stand on the tips of my toes to do so, as it was nearly too far for me to reach even now... Whoever had designed these ceilings really needed to be yelled at, later. Bastards.

It seemed like the cover of the grate was a lighter, softer metal, and I sighed in relief. Out here in space, of course, with much lower to non-existent gravitational forces compared to most planets, a metal like aluminium had almost the same tensile strength as steel did at one g. It was a good way to make ships lighter, and the metals had other properties that could come in quite useful. In this case...

I quickly stripped open the blaster, being extremely careful not to touch any of the more volatile components and blow my hands off. I managed to expose the blaster’s little power cell that generated the energy for the shots it fired in a few more moments, and ever so gently detach the energy couplings that connected the power cell to the acceleration module on the blaster. The ends had tiny clips on them, and I attached those to one side of the grating that covered the duct. I grabbed a towel that I had spotted on the other side of the bathroom to use as a makeshift glove. Okay, then. Either this works, or I lose my face. I grinned. I will be suing my electrical engineering teacher at the University if this doesn’t work. I mean, I was reasonably sure that my design would work. It was good enough considering the circumstances. Had to be, anyway, as I couldn’t think of any other good way to do this.

I pressed the trigger on the blaster and instead of firing a slug at incredible speed, all the significant energy output flowed through the energy couplings into the soft, ductile metal of the grate. It started to heat almost instantly, and within a few more moments the metal was starting to glow. I stopped the flow of power and covering my hand in as much of the towel as I could, tugged on hot side of the grate with all the strength I could summon. The heat coming off it was incredible, and after only a few seconds had penetrated through the towel’s insulation, burning my fingers. It had started to move, though. The heated metal was much more malleable right now, and with another great pulling motion I managed to rip off one side of the cover. As soon as I did, I yanked my hand back, studying the damage. It hurt something incredible... The entire inside of my hand was an angry red, and I could see blisters in several places where the searing heat had penetrated the towel more quickly. I do not know how I managed to avoid releasing a piercing shriek of agony, because the pain was unlike anything I had ever felt. I quickly thrust my hand under the cold water. That almost hurt worse, the sharp contrast going from very hot to icy was almost too much to bear.

Amelie must have heard my gasp of pain, as I saw her glance around the corner into the bathroom. She was about to speak when we heard the unmistakable hiss of some laser-based cutting tool slicing into the door. She immediately fired two shots into the door itself. Her blaster was not set to stun, and the shots, full-powered as they were, melted through the thick metal of the door as if there was nothing holding them back but paper. The hiss momentarily stopped, before it picked up once more. It was now accompanied by enough blasts going through the door from the other side that it would have been suicide for Amelie to try and fire at them again. She’d most likely use an arm, even as fast as she was. Great gouges were torn into the furniture of the room, the bed quickly reduced to little more than scrap. One slug hit her bag and the force and energy of its impact seared all the contents together.

I had not nearly chilled my hand enough, but we had little to no time left. I glanced around quickly, and without really thinking about it grabbed a few of the personal items she had in her bathroom. I somehow got the feeling that she wouldn’t wait for it, but still would like to have them preserved. And I doubted we’d come back here. I stashed them quickly in a variety of places. Most in the pockets of my pants but the little perfume bottle, breakable as it was, I slipped between my breasts where it rested rather safely against the lower support of my bra. It is also rather well protected from shock, there, I thought with a grin. I climbed back on top of the counter containing the sink once more just as Amelie rushed into the bathroom.

“Did you get it open? I think we’re about to have a lot of company, and I’m not really in the mood for a party.” I smiled at her in response, pointing with my burned hand that was still bright red towards the torn open duct cover. She just gazed at me for a moment, her eyes filled with a mixture of disbelief and respect. “I see you don’t take no for an answer.”

I grinned. “The grate wasn’t cooperating, so I heated it until the metal became soft enough to tear. It was a rather desperate manoeuvre... but it worked. I’ll have to put something on my hands later, because the skin isn’t happy with me. But I think we can get through now.” I held out my hand and pulled her up next to me. “Can you open it the rest of the way? I figure your strength is significantly greater than my own?”

Amelie nodded. “Yeah. And nice job improvising on that blaster power cell.” She had a rather wide grin on her face when she saw the contraption. She just shook her head, silently, and grabbed the grate. I saw her muscles strain for a moment and she tore the entire thing off. Damn, she’s strong. I thought. I knew she was strong before, but that metal is cold now and she pulled it off like she was removing a bandage wrapping.

She turned around, lifting me off the ground with barely any effort and boosting me up high enough that I could pull myself into the vent. It was a fairly tight fit, but once my shoulders and head went through it was easy. I did not have enough space in here to turn around and offer her my hand, so I simply moved out of the way some. Moments later, I heard her pull herself up behind me. A soft touch of her hand against my leg gave me an idea of what direction to go in.

I started crawling, then, through the air ducts of the transport ship. It was a veritable maze, as nearly everywhere we went several new ducts sprang off from intersections to supply the various rooms in the ship with fresh air. Amelie seemed to know where to go, though... Every time I would stop she would nudge me in some new direction. There was no way I would have been able to get out of this place without getting hopelessly lost, probably falling out of the ducts in the middle of the hideout of whoever was trying to hunt her down. Yep, that’d be just my good fortune. I grinned.

She kept making me take right turns, that much I did know. A few minutes and five more turns in the ducts later we arrived at a terminal node that only had one opening. It looked like another grate covered the opening, though, and there was no way I could break through it with my bare hands. “We need your strength to get through here, I think.” I whispered, my eyes glancing towards the duct cover beyond me.

I felt her crawl further up, and pressed myself against one side of the space to give her as much room as possible. It was an extremely tight fit even so and she had to crawl right over my body in a rather intimate way. She smiled at me, somewhat embarrassed, and I gave her a reassuring smile in return, not wanting to make any sound just now in case we were in a very conspicuous part of the ship. She inched up a bit further and I felt the softness of her ample breasts press against my chin. It was such a wonderful sensation, the skin incredibly soft, smooth like velvet. As tired as I was, I could have fallen asleep in moments resting my head against a part of her that felt like the most luxurious, comfortable pillow in existence.

“I’m sorry for the discomfort, Evie.” She whispered as she used the combined leverage she had against the walls and my shoulders to pull herself up further. I felt the softness of her breasts brush past my cheek as I turned my head slightly, to make it easier for her to squeeze past. Still, it was such a wonderful sensation. It is a good thing that breasts are so compressible, as I do not think she would have been able to make it past me. I thought with a smile. Finally, she did squeeze past my head and managed to pull herself quickly past me the rest of the way. I had to glance away as my current position virtually guaranteed a glimpse of the pale, smooth skin of her inner thighs that was normally hidden by her clothing. Not that I particularly minded, her legs were absolutely perfect, beautiful... But I did not feel quite comfortable right now to see that much of her. Additionally, it was intensely distracting, and for all we knew we would be heading into another dangerous situation in moments.

Amelie raised herself slightly, bracing herself against my body and the walls of the duct with her feet for extra leverage. She started pulling on the grate that covered it, the only sound she made was a slight grunt as her muscles bundled with the effort. Within moments the metal bended and warped, then tore free. A tiny bead of perspiration rolled down her face when she glanced back at me with a smile. That barely broke a sweat on her? Damn... I was definitely impressed. Marvel of human ingenuity indeed.

She looked down into whatever room the duct attached to. Seemingly satisfied, she lowered herself down face-first and slipped into a somersault once her feet cleared the vent completely, managing to land upright in the two and a half meters of space she had to work with. I grimaced, there was no way I was that coordinated. I started to lower myself the same way, dreading the inevitable impact of my face against the ground that was by far the likeliest outcome, when my grip slipped and I fell out of the duct the rest of the way. The floor rapidly closed distance to me face, and I closed my eyes in reflex against the impending impact.

I never quite made it, as instead I landed in a pair of immensely strong, yet soft and gentle arms. I opened one eye carefully, and saw Amelie’s face smiling at me, the expression almost affectionately in its warmth. “Careful there, you could break something important.” She whispered, grinning. She let me down after a few more moments when I had mostly regained my bearings.

I smiled bashfully back at her. “Yeah, that was a bit careless...Thanks for being there to catch me.”

She nodded. “It’s no problem. I’d hate to see your lovely features marred by the impact of these steel plates that pass for a floor around here. It would be such a waste.” I blushed at that, of course. “Anyway, we should head over that way, I believe we’re back in your wing of the ship so hopefully you know how to get to your room from here?”

I thought that over for a minute. “I think so? I’ve only been here once before... I would definitely know my way back from the landing bay, though. Perhaps we could go to one of the access hallways that lead from there to this part of the ship? I’d get my bearings more easily then.”

“Okay, let’s do that. We’re on pretty much the opposite side of the ship from before, so it should be fairly safe.” I cringed internally at her words, as that sounded like someone’s famous last words. Oh well... I did trust Amelie to keep us safe, so what could possibly happen?

We left the small storage area we were in and passed through many more unmarked corridors that she seemed to know like the back of her hand. About ten minutes of navigating the maze of tunnels later, she turned her head around and whispered. “Okay, we’re almost there now. Two intersections ahead this connects to the main passageway that you should be familiar with. We just have to be careful now as there will be more traf-”

Her words were cut off in mid sentence as the butt of an assault rifle slammed into her face, making an ominous sounding CRACK as it impacted her cheekbones. The force of the hit flung her against the ground in a crumpled heap, unmoving. Before I really knew what had happened I had flung myself at whoever attacked her. “Amelie, NO!” I shouted, a sound of pure anger, concern ripping itself from the confines of my throat.

I instinctively felt that I had to get close, very close, to whoever the attacker was, as they were likely to be much bigger than me. And they were. Right around the corner of the next intersection one of the special ops people hunting her had been hiding, and had known exactly where she was from the sound of her voice. Fuck, this is bad. There’s no way I can beat him in hand to hand combat...

Still, having already committed, it was too late to back off. And I would definitely not let them take her from me without putting up whatever resistance I could. He must have not expected me to jump him like that, as I managed to get in a series of surprise hits to his throat. One hard enough to stagger him, as he gasped in pain, struggling to draw a breath. He all-too-quickly recovered enough to slam me against the wall, dazing me instantly.

“Who the fuck are you?” He growled, squeezing down at my throat hard with one of his enormous hands.

I struggled to breathe, let alone speak. “Wh-who are you?” Why would you just attack us like that?” I gasped out the words, not knowing what else to say.

He chuckled. “Says the one who tried to jump me. I should just put you down right here. Nobody would be the wiser... And being in the company of a wanted fugitive like that... Well, I think you’re in way over your head, little girl.”

I felt more anger rise within me, though I doubted it would make much difference. “You hit my friend, of course I would try to defend her! What kind of person do you think I am?”

He grinned, almost dementedly. “A dead one?” His eyes glanced down my body, drinking in my exposed flesh. It made me feel, really made me feel, like taking a bath for two days. Like I was a piece of meat he wanted to taste... to violate. His words confirmed that. “Such a shame I don’t have time... With the rest of the team being close. I’d love to enjoy you properly... At least you’d be good for something in your life, then... Before you die.” I heard the faintest sound, a growl almost, but I didn’t know what it was as his words and the unmistakable threat, promise of pain and suffering and death in it, shut down my mind, leaving only terror.

His other hand grabbed my face then, and just as he was about to apply a quick motion to my head that would easily have snapped my neck the way he was holding my throat with his other hand he stopped, a curious frown only starting to register on his face in horrified confusion. Two things happened simultaneously, and in my dazed state I was not quite able to make out which came first. A veritable sea of blood and bits of bone and brain and too many other bodily tissues I didn’t want to think about splattered all over my face, my dress, as something was shoved through the guy holding me with incredible force. The sound only hit me later, as I heard the unmistakable though muted discharge sound from a hand blaster.

The reason it was muted, of course, was because Amelie had rammed it into the base of his neck from behind, facing up and shot him from point blank range. The enormous energy release that could propel the slugs through solid walls under certain circumstances had absolutely pulverized, obliterated the inside of his skull and had ejected the liquefied contents all over me. I nearly lost the contents of my stomach to that realization. It was beyond disgusting, especially considering who I was... wearing, so to speak.

I actually did lose the contents of my stomach as his boneless body collapsed and I saw the state of her. The butt of the rifle had cracked her cheekbone almost completely in half, which I could clearly tell because it had also torn up enough of her face that it left the bone of her entire left cheek visible. There was just a flap of loose skin hanging down sadly where that part of her beautiful face had been. Seeing that, especially on her...

Before I knew it I had doubled over and was vomiting until I felt lightheaded. Almost instantly, though, I became aware of her gentle touch on my back, my neck, as if she was trying to soothe me, as if my discomfort was anything compared to what she must have been feeling. I mean, I couldn’t even believe she was conscious, or alive for that matter. That blow would have killed most people, easily... Her voice croaked out, sounding strangled, hoarse. “I’ll live, Evie. It hurts so much but it’s not even the worst I’ve had. It will heal up soon, we just have to attach it together.” She said, sounding concerned. My heart broke all over again when she said that, at what they must have done to her before. Monsters.

“We need to move, though. I’m sorry, but we do. You can be sick all you want from the grossness of having him soaked into your clothes, covering your body when we reach your room. We have to get out of here before more of them show up...” I nodded, and after a few moments of trying to take deep breaths I managed to quell the urge to throw up enough to feebly regain my feet. Her strong grip lifted me up, though I could feel her muscles flex almost rhythmically as she strained from the agony of her injury. I saw then that she had a host of more minor injuries, too. Her scalp was bleeding in several places, and I think she cracked several other bones in her body from the force of the impact. Already, though, the flow of blood had slowed to a trickle, even from the half of her face that was nearly completely uncovered.

It was hard to see it... Not that I thought it was disgusting, but because it reminded me of the agony she must be in. Nobody should have to suffer that. I just hoped we could get back soon so she would have time to heal. I would try whatever I could to make that so, though it likely wasn’t much. But I could give her comfort, and be her friend and help keep her safe while she rested. “Okay, I’m ready. Though I am not sure how we can pass through the halls... We look like we’ve just butchered an entiry crowd, there’s so much blood splattered all over us. I mean, it’s mostly on me, but you’re no sight, either.”

She grinned at that, and immediately cringed visibly. “Ow, shit. Please don’t make me laugh. I can’t even begin to describe how much that hurt. I would be crying if my pain dampeners were not working overtime right now. I mumbled an apology, feeling decidedly stupid for forgetting that. It was just hard not to think of lighter subjects around her, even now... It came as naturally as breathing did. “But it’s already quite late, now... There shouldn’t be many people out, and we can probably make it back without seeing anyone. I’ll warn you if I hear someone’s footsteps, and should be able to give us at least twenty seconds of warning or so.”

I nodded, and we set off after Amelie quickly searched the dead body for anything remarkable. She left the weapons, but took the tags he was wearing that identified him as Gallente Navy Special Ops, and a small datachip he had in his belt. How she knew where to look, I had no idea. Maybe she has special visual modes, or she just knows these types of people and knows where they tend to hide stuff... Curious, regardless.

We quickly reached the first main hallway that lead from the landing bay to the section of the ship that had my room in it. Amelie had been right, it was completely deserted. Shit, we must have spent hours in those vents... It certainly hadn’t seemed that long... Alecto must be getting quite concerned by now... And I decided I’d have to send her a message immediately upon getting Amelie settled in and resting, just to fill her in on what had happened. I guess this is the last time I’m ever leaving her sight by myself... But that’s perfectly fine with me. We could have used her quick mind today, I imagine.

I started leading us towards where I knew my room was. It only took minutes of actual walking, but we had to hide in alcoves and doorways a few times to let others pass, managing to give a convincing impression of an amorous couple. At least most of the blood and bits were on the front of me. And in my shirt. Trust me when I say that you do not want to ever feel brain squishing around under your breasts. It’s not nearly as appealing as it might seem. The third time we hid like that, I could tell that all of Amelie’s wounds except for the biggest gash had sealed by now. Her healing system must be remarkable, indeed, which gave me hope that she would be fine even with such a serious wound. And hopefully she hadn’t lost enough blood to need a transfusion, as I doubted we could just walk into the ship’s medical bay without them finding out about it.

We left the little doorway we had been pretending to heavily make out in and after two more turns I recognized the hallway my room was in. Finally... Only seconds later, we reached the door. Amelie stepped in front of me and seemed to pull out all the stops this time to scan for any kind of irregularity her enhanced senses could pick up on. After minutes of waiting, which made me feel quite uncomfortable given we were standing in the hallway, but not wanting to disturb her focus, especially not at a time like this. I mean, she had a right to be cautious, now.

Finally, she nodded, and I used my boarding pass to enter the room. There was a small medicine cabinet in the bathroom that had some supplies for smaller cuts, though nothing for major injuries at all. Amelie just shook her head almost imperceptibly. “Don’t worry, just hold it closed and I will focus my internal control units on regeneration of tissue. I’ll be out for a while once that sets in, as I think I’ll need to use the heavy duty protocol to fix this, and it takes all of your energy for quite some time. Probably an hour or two, at the least? And then I’ll need to sleep and eat to recuperate all the energy I have expended.”

I nodded. “Okay, just tell me where you want to do this.” She motioned towards the bed. “That works... Here, wait a second.” I ran into the bathroom and grabbed several thick towels, draping them over the covers of the bed to soak up any blood that was still in her garments. “There, that should do it...”

She sat down then, and I could tell almost immediately that a ridiculous amount of blood had saturated the fabric of her skirt because a reddish-brown stain started spreading on the light green color of the towel. Good thing I used multiple layers... Damn. I shook my head, looking at her for advice on what to do next. “Just take hold of the skin... I’m sorry to ask this, it must be very disconcerting to see me like this...” She shook her head, sadly. “Just press it tight against the bone and tissues that are exposed and it should attach fast enough that you can release it in about ten minutes. You’ll notice once some warmth and color returns to the skin.”

“Okay, that sounds clear enough. Ready?” She nodded, seating herself in a meditative pose I’d seen Alecto use occasionally. I tilted my head, slightly. “When you come out of the repair cycle I’ll give you some of my clothes to dress in. I imagine you won’t want to wear those when you sleep.” She nodded, gratefully. I took a few deep breaths to center myself, and saw her do the same. Our eyes met with slight smiles, hers of encouragement and acceptance, mine probably more apologetic than anything else. This would probably hurt her a lot, but I couldn’t avoid doing it just to not experience the discomfort of causing her pain, I knew that much.

“Ready.” Her voice trembled slightly. She winced visibly when I touched the tips of my fingers to the flap of her facial skin. I cringed internally, but managed not to show any outward sign as not to upset her more. I ever so gently lifted it up, the agony in her eyes clouding up almost being intense enough to be physically felt. After what seemed like an eternity it finally touched on the underlying tissue, and I ever so gently pressed down. I could see in her eyes that it hurt, unbearably much almost. The force with which she clamped down her teeth was tremendous by the way her jaw muscles, still visible from where skin wasn’t quite covering her face, flexed.

She simply deepened her breaths, somehow managing to contain the pain, embrace it. How she did, I have no idea, but it was an amazingly impressive sight. Amelie helped me with her own fingers, her eyes seeing something that told her exactly where to place pressure, where each section would have to be reattached. Eventually, the whole section of skin was once more resting against her face, though it was very pale, almost deathly so. There was a long gouge running through it, still, from over her mid-temple to underneath her eye where the hard edge of the rifle had simply ripped it altogether with the force of its impact. I simply held it in place for her as her breathing deepened more, then yet more, until there were only five breaths coming every minute. Something changed in her posture then, a mixture of relaxation and stiffening that I had never seen anyone make before. It was as if all muscular tension had left her at once, but it was replaced by a mechanical stiffness as her body locked into some regenerative state.

I simply watched her with pain in my eyes, hating that she had suffered so before in her life, had suffered so today. Not able to help myself, I reached out and touched the tips of my fingers to her pulse point, reveling in the softness of her skin and how it yielded ever so slightly under my light touch. It was so alive and I could feel the enormously slow beat of her heart through her carotid artery... Even now when she was using the most of her biosynthetics that I had yet seen her use, she was remarkably alive. And I realized I truly did not care, that in my eyes she was human where it mattered, and the other parts of her were just improvements on the core of her that remained the same, born of idealized perfection misguided though it had been in intent and utterly wrong though it had been in practice.

Over the next few minutes as her skin was slowly mending and reattaching itself to the underlying bone and muscle, as all those missing tissues that had been torn off or destroyed were rebuilt almost visible directly to my naked eye. But ever so slowly, starting along the line where her skin had held together originally color seeped back into her complexion It looked a little like the way water would slowly suffuse a piece of cloth it was dripping on. After a few minutes Amelie’s entire cheek looked vibrant once more and the pinkish/red flush was slowly making its way around her eye to her temple. You could definitely still tell it was different, though it was a rather subtle difference. It was mostly a matter of the color being subtly changed, for now I assumed, as it was more angrily red than the other side of her face while who knew what cellular, biosynthetic or nanorobotic processes were going on. There must have been a great deal of restructuring to do to properly reattach the nerves, the muscle fibers, everything that had been torn before.

I just knew I was glad she was the way she was, as almost anyone else would not have lived, would not have been able to save me. The agonizingly slow spread of color had now reached most of the edges of the cut and was just filling out the longest end that reached to her hairline. Around it the gouge was slowly mending as well, knitting together glacially under my watch. I mean, compared to normal healing it was light-speed, but it was a very gradual, controlled process. Every little bit of detached skin seemed to bind itself together a bit first, which then allowed the next millimeter to attach, and so on. It was like closing a zipper, except one made of skin without any of the little teeth remaining after. Quite, quite the marvel, I did have to give it that.

Another five minutes later it had completed, leaving only a faint red line around the skin that was very angrily red now everywhere it had been injured. But it felt warm to the touch, I confirmed it only now with the lightest of brushes, not having wanted to do so before while it was attaching and in my mind most vulnerable. I did rise, then, as Amelie was unmoving except for the occasional steady rise and fall of her chest as she breathed deeply. It was such a remarkably attractive, appealing sight. Both that, and her in general. That she’d trust herself to be completely helpless, vulnerable around me already... it touched me. Without thinking, I leaned forward and quickly brushed my lips against her injured cheek with affection. “Please get better... You’re very important to me already, and I don’t want to lose you.” I wasn’t sure if she could have heard me, processed it, in her current state, but I wanted to say it nonetheless. It was the truth, anyway, and I believed with all my being in stating it out loud. It was only just, and fair, and honest to do so.

I stepped back, then, seeing the absolute mess I had made of the towel I had been sitting on. I hope they have a good cleaning service... I have no idea if they’d have experience with how to get squished brains out of your towels... For some reason, the idea struck me as hilarious and I giggled. I went to the bathroom, then, stripping off clothes as I went. These rooms only had sonic vibration-based showers, but it’d have to do and was probably better at removing the current mess than water would be. Within moments I was naked, and seeing myself in the mirror even I nearly became nauseous at the sight. There was dried blood splattered all over me. Especially around my neck, face and chest it was virtually painted on in large blotches, dark brown in hue by now from the constant exposure to oxygen. There were tiny pieces of brain and other tissue stuck to my skin in places more numerous to count, and I had a series of lurid bruises on my throat and neck from where the commando had tried to choke me. There was no way I could hide those from anybody, especially not Alecto. Though in her case, I wouldn’t have regardless. I just didn’t like the idea of her being extremely concerned without being able to do anything about it. It was an altogether awful situation to be in, but now it was not to be avoided. The one thing I definitely would never do was be dishonest with her.

I activated the shower and immediately regretted it as the vibrations caused a rather intense feeling of agony to surge from my bruised throat. The numerous ruptured capillaries certainly did not appreciate the vibrations they were currently being bombarded with, and I immediately shut it off again. I’d have to take one later when my neck had healed a little... I certainly wanted one, but I wasn’t willing to risk damaging my injured self further just for some comfort. I sighed, and instead used one of the washcloths helpfully supplied by the transport ship’s, most likely robotic, staff to ever so gently clean the worst mess off myself. It took nearly twenty minutes of soft scrubbing motions to remove the bits of dried tissue from me, and the washcloth had turned a dark brown from the sheer amount of blood it had soaked up. I shivered rather profoundly at the thought of going to sleep like this, still covered in the remains of someone... But I didn’t know how to help the situation unless I had access to an actual hydro shower, or my throat healed sufficiently to allow me the use of one of the sonic showers that were easily available.

It’d have to do for now, anyway, and I walked back into the sleeping area of the small room to gather some clothes. I’d need to do some serious sterilizing cycles later. Let’s hope the Gallentean Military properly immunizes their commandos... shaking my head at the thought. I put on something comfortable enough to sleep in, selecting an older shirt that wouldn’t be spoiled too badly if it absorbed some more of the blood I hadn’t been able to remove from my form. I normally didn’t wear much of anything to bed, but I didn’t want to make it too awkward for Amelie when she came back to consciousness later.

Speaking of which, she was still sitting in her meditative pose, her elegant hands resting in her lap, palms facing up, her breaths still deep and even as before. The redness of her injured skin had receded somewhat, already, even in the half-hour I had been cleaning myself. I thought that was probably a good thing, though I was no expert on regenerative protocols for biosynthetic hybrids. I wasn’t quite sure what the proper term for it was, technically speaking... To me she was as human as I was, at least in the ways it matter most. An impossibly beautiful, smart, strong and determined human, but human nonetheless. I simply watched her for a while, wanting to drink in her presence, her existence, and wishing to make sure she really was okay, and getting better every minute. It was such a joyful notion, to know that she existed. That was one thing I was sure of, even if I hadn’t yet had time to sort through the exact thoughts and feelings, the abstractions and implications of them, that I felt coursing through me. And I did know they were not at odds with any other part of me, any other conclusions or feelings I had come to earlier today.

It was an entirely separate reaction, though springing from the very same root cause that inspired my response, my love to Alecto. I think in some ways it was the abstraction, the entirety of my life that responded to theirs, to their person, mind and body. It was just very unusual, very complex, and confusing to feel it directed towards more than one person at a time. I had never experienced that, though it by no means felt wrong to me. That ultimately satisfied me, at least for right then. I’d certainly revisit it later in my mind, but as long as there was no obvious conflict, no reason to suspect I was making an error or lapse in judgment, I was confident enough in myself to go with it.

I laid myself down on the bed, careful not to shake Amelie too much as I had no idea how delicate, how vulnerable to interruption her current regenerative processes were. I looked down and saw the rather profoundly ruined shirt I had been wearing earlier, and was momentarily saddened that I wouldn’t be able to show it to Alecto. I’ll have to take her shopping, so she can pick out something for me that she would like to see... I grew warm inside from the thought, envisioning the delighted expression on her features, what actions that would then inspire in her. I smiled at the thought, and the knowledge of how wonderful it was that she desired me so... in every way it was possible to want to experience someone. Whether it was my mind that she loved to explore in endless conversation, or my body that she had only just begun to...

I reached down, then, and grabbed my holopad. Positioning it slightly upright so she’d have an easier time seeing me, I navigated through the options quickly, decisively, and initiated a call. It took a minute, this time, before it connected and the very adorably sleepy features of the woman I loved popped up on the small screen of the device. “Hi...” I breathed out, a smile tugging at my lips, stretching them almost impossibly wide with the joy of seeing her face again after such a trying experience.

It was instantly greeted with its twin, except with slight differences deriving from her unique features. “Evie, love! I fell asleep at some point, you must have had a good night with Max, huh?” Her eyes noticed the bruises that were clearly visible below my chin, ones I imagined were turning a rather appealing shade of purple and yellowish-green. “What the hell happened?” Her voice came out, incredulously.

I shook my head, trying to reassure her quickly before she would get too upset from seeing me hurt. “I’m okay, Alecto... Truly, I am. It’s... a complicated story, I’ll need some time to explain it in detail. I just want to stress that I am not in any danger right now, and whoever did this won’t be doing anything again.”

Her eyes hardened at the implication of my words, replaced by a satisfied glint once the last of my words was processed. “They’re lucky... Nobody does that to you and gets away with it... They’re lucky I wasn’t there or I would have thrown them out of an airlock for their efforts. How the fuck dare they?

I shook my head at her, smiling at her protectiveness. “It’s a long story, but he is dead. But I should start from the beginning, as it won’t make much sense otherwise.”

She nodded. “Well, as long as you’re safe now... I can wait to hear you explain that... It was supposed to be a relaxing evening, you know.” Her eyebrow rose in challenge of a response to that, which I wisely did not offer. “Exactly my point. Though I suppose you can’t help it if trouble seeks you out like a heat-seeking missile.” She grinned a little at that. “Oh, Evie, you’re something else. You truly are a special individual, you know.”

I smiled back at her, overcome with warmth at her words, the sentiments expressed in them. “Thank you, Alecto. That means a lot... I really didn’t set out to find any trouble today. It found me... in the form of her.” I shifted the holopad so she had a clear line of sight to Amelie’s resting form. “She was one of the passengers on the shuttle, the one Max tried to seduce?” Alecto nodded her recognition. “Well, Max and I were sitting in the bar, drinking, when he found some woman to chat up to. After making more inappropriate comments about threesomes, of course.” I rolled my eyes at her for that, and she laughed softly in response. “Anyway, I spotted Amelie, then.” My hand motioned to the frozen form of the woman next to me. “I felt quite bad about what I did earlier, because she was so upset by it... And I went over to apologize to her.”

She nodded in understanding, her eyes softening in sympathy. “We started talking after she accepted that I was sorry, and told me some of her story...” My voice came out a whisper, my heart nearly breaking all over again just thinking about what she told me. “You can’t imagine what they did to her...” I did start crying then, as the intensity of the night’s events and the constant sympathetic pangs I had experienced for Amelie’s troubles finally overwhelmed my resolve. Being around Alecto, too, made me lower many of the barriers I would otherwise maintain at a higher level, made it much easier to express these things.

She looked absolutely miserable herself, not being able to comfort me the way she really wanted to. “Evie, love... It’s okay. I’m so sorry I can’t hold you right now, I wish for that so very much...” Instead, she whispered words of love, warmth and affection to me for many minutes until I finally calmed down enough and my sobs turned more silent. My eyes were still wet as I slowly, with my voice breaking down several more times, told her some of what had happened to Amelie over the years. And I could see in her eyes that she was absolutely horrified at the knowledge, and shared in my misery at having knowledge of that without the ability to have stopped it.

Eventually, I finished telling her of Amelie’s past. “I’m sorry to hear that, my love... And I now see why you had no choice to help her... You could no more refuse that than to ruminate on grass as a cow would, it is just outside of your nature... And I find that I don’t think I could have not helped her, myself... I’m so sorry, though, that you had to go through that by yourself. And I’m immeasurably proud of you that you managed, that you did help her. It is a reflection of the best in you, in my mind, and almost sums up right there why I love you so. That decision is a crystallized essence of everything about you that I love, from your determination to your sense of justice, from your incredible generosity and sympathy towards those who deserve it to your drive to actually make things better in the wake of your path as you go wherever you set your mind to going. It is remarkable... It truly is.”

I nodded, my cheeks turning crimson from the praise. “Yes, and then we retrieved something from her room, which was when everything went to hell in a handbasket. We spent hours in the ducts after escaping from her room with our lives... and we eventually made our way back to my room where she could hopefully stay more safely. Well...” I paused, not really wanting to recall that incident but not knowing how to avoid it, either. “We were ambushed by one of the commandos who was hunting her, and he knocked her in the face hard enough that she went out cold. He started crushing the life out of me, was about to kill me, when out of nowhere, she was suddenly there and killed him without batting an eye. Half her face was torn up and she didn’t even wince! She saved my life right then and there, and I don’t know what would have happened to me otherwise... The things that guy said before he died... it filled me with terror, and she saved me from that. Even when she was so injured herself her only thought was to protect me, keep me safe. It touched me, very much so...”

Her eyes studied me for a very long time, filled with so much love and conviction that it took my breath away like it had done earlier today, and did every time I saw that look all anew. “You care for her, do you not? I can tell by the way you speak about her, and more than that, from how your eyes soften and seem to smile whenever you refer to her.” She shook her head as I started to speak. “It’s perfectly fine, my beloved Evelynne. She seems, truly, like a remarkable person to know. Any response that she may invoke in you, that the good and admirable in her does, can and should only be cherished, treasured, as something most precious. There is nothing wrong with that, and I think you should simply relish and delight in these feelings because they do spring from the same part of you that makes you love me. It is all connected, do you see?”

I nodded, hesitantly. “I... think so. It is such a strange concept, but that is what I was essentially thinking of myself earlier. I don’t know why or how it happened, though that is less relevant now that it has happened... but I cannot identify anything bad or problematic about it, quite the contrary in fact. When I think about her, when I think about how much she went through, how incredibly driven and courageous she must have been to make it all those years when all they did was pain and torture her constantly, treating her as less than human, as property... And the pure love of life she must have had to make all that pain worth it, and how she can still trust me now after all that, it’s amazing and somewhat miraculous, and I do not think something of that kind, something so positive, uplifting and good, could be bad. You know?”

Alecto nodded. “Exactly. That is how I see it.” She smiled warmly. “And she sounds remarkable, truly does. I hope that I will get to meet her in person soon, though perhaps you could introduce us tomorrow when she is more... aware? I take it she’s resting from her injuries?”

My eyes clouded over, darkened, just thinking about those. “Yes, she was hurt very badly. It was amazing she lived through that, and she’ll need some time to recover even with all the incredibly advanced technologies that are part of her now. She should awaken fairly soon actually, if her original timeline still holds... But she said she would be utterly drained, then, so I think we should, like you said, introduce you two tomorrow.” I yawned, then, myself, overcome with exhaustion now that the enormous flood of adrenaline from earlier was starting to completely fade. I had been running on maximum alertness for so long it left nearly no energy, now.

Alecto smiled once more at the sight. “Aww, you’re incredibly adorable when you are tired and sleepy like that... I will let you go soon, then. You need your rest... And take good care of her, okay? She’s obviously an amazing person, and I think that is something to cherish and protect. I can’t wait to meet her myself, as anyone who inspires feelings of that magnitude in you must be worth knowing.” She placed a kiss on the screen, and immediately I pressed my lips against hers. Even like that, it made me feel better, a little bit more energized, and much better loved. “I should get back to sleep myself... I have to get up for work in a few short hours... Can you contact me later tomorrow morning after I get off? I may be able to think of something to help you two, and I would definitely like to meet Amelie myself, and see for myself how wonderful she is.”

I nodded, a fond smile on my lips. “That sounds good. Good night, my love, and sleep well. I will speak with you in the morning... And tell you about the rest of the details when Amelie is also there to add in ones I cannot recall myself. Her memory is beyond perfect... It is almost frighteningly good.”

She smiled. “Okay. Good night, my Evie. I love you!”

I returned it in kind, and we both shared in the connection for it for a few moments. “I love you too, Alecto.” She grinned happily, and terminated the connection after another moment from her end.

I stretched, turning to look at Amelie’s face more fully. It had returned nearly completely to its former color by now, almost all of the angry redness gone from the previously torn skin. I sat there watching her for I do not know how long, the steady rise and fall of her breasts entrancing me in an alluring, but more peaceful and soft than anything else, way. When I thought of her, when I saw her like that, all I could really think of to describe the feelings that suffused me was a profound warmth that I only experienced towards Alecto, combined with an intense desire to keep it safe from harm, to protect the source of that wonderful sensation that filled me at all costs. It felt like for it to be taken from me would be a truly terrible loss, especially so soon after having found it for the first time. I certainly didn’t know the future, but I was more than content to see where it could lead us. Even if it took a very long time to fully explore the idea, the practical side of it, in all its remarkable consequences. It would definitely be worth the effort, I could sense and I knew that much even now. And furthermore, it filled me with such radiant joy to think of all the things that she had never been able to experience before, that I could now show her, present to her as wonderful gifts of life, and to experience her pleasure at being introduced to all the many things that ordinary people took for granted their whole life. It was such a remarkable thing, something so beautiful and precious... It nearly filled me with happiness to bursting just thinking about the potential, the possibilities of it.

I was lost in thought for a long time, gazing at her, not even noticing immediately when her eyes slowly opened showing her incredibly rich chocolate brown orbs. A rolling motioned moved through her frame then as if she was a cat stretching itself languidly after a nap, and in its wake was left a remarkable vibrancy that had been absent only moments before while she regenerated. I grinned happily at her, seeing her back in the realm of the living, seemingly in one piece as far as I could determine given the limited information I had. “Hey.” I said, simply.

She smiled slowly, as if it took a great deal of effort to stretch the muscles. This time, she did not wince, and I was hit with a remarkably intense flood of joy at that small gift. “Hi, Evie. Thank you for watching me, keeping me safe while I did that.” Her words came out much more thickly than normal, heavy with some enormous sense of exhaustion that I had never seen on a human being before, and probably never would. “I think I need to lay down. Can you help me?”

I nodded immediately, hopping off my spot on the bed and grasping her forearm to help her up. Her fingers clenched uncertainly around my arm, then tightened a little more firmly as she got the full use of her muscles back ever so slowly. She pulled herself up, swaying a little as she stood unsteadily on shaky feet. I embraced her immediately, tightly, overcome with happiness that she really was fine. She almost instantly went slack in my hold as she let herself sink into my hug, apparently wanting, needing it as much as I did right then. “I’m so very glad you’re alive...” I whispered in her ear.

She nodded, the little curls of her hair brushing against my cheeks as she did. “Me too... That was what spurred me into action, when I heard him say he would kill you, when he promised those unspeakable acts to you... I couldn’t just let that happen, and I don’t know how I managed to rise and do what I did, but I am enormously glad I could. You’re wonderful, Evelynne... Truly a light in the darkness that was and still is my life. And I can’t bear the thought of losing that so very soon after first seeing it.”

I smiled at her words. “I’m glad, it is not just myself who is that invested in this, then. I was literally terrified I had lost you so soon, before... Now, let’s get you out of those clothes so you can wear something a little more clean. I can’t imagine it’s comfortable, and I’d rather not have bits of perverted commando in my bed while I sleep.”

She grinned at that. “You say the sweetest things. I think that sounds good. I don’t know if I have the energy to remain awake for more than a few minutes at most. The healing took everything I had, it always does. Leaves me absolutely drained after wards.”

I nodded, smiling. I knew she would not be able to disrobe herself at all, so I did not even suggest it. I sensed that she did not like having to ask for assistance, so I simply offered it freely instead. It was a small gesture, and the least I could do right now to make her a little more comfortable. I helped her strip off her thoroughly ruined shirt that despite everything still placed an incredibly appealing emphasis on her form... And what a form she had as it was slowly revealed. I had a very hard time not gaping like an idiot, but somehow I managed. But damn... Her breasts were left in little more than a rather lacy, but quite sensual, black bra that covered less than half of the wonderfully soft surface. In size they were easily equal to my own, if not slightly larger, and somewhat more rounded in shape near the top. Probably the tougher skin, I imagine that helps support their weight much better. Her abdomen was sculpted, very flat with the slight ridges of her muscles easily visible under the silky skin that was sheathed around her form everywhere. Her arms were equally well-defined, and I knew how much strength lay hidden underneath the deceptively soft wrapping. The width of her hips was ever so slightly less than mine, her waist quite a bit thinner. She definitely had more of an hourglass figure than I did, which was very much appealing to my appreciative gaze.

I offered her one of my clean shirts, then, and she gladly put it on, covering up the wonderful bounties that lay underneath once more. Which was perfectly fine with me. As much as I enjoyed seeing her unclothed, there was something equally wonderful about her wearing one of my shirts. She looked absolutely and stunningly beautiful either way, even exhausted as she was and having nearly died hours before. It really did not make much of a difference to me, the specifics of how she was dressed, as the clothing merely served to further enhance her considerable beauty. Perfect human being, indeed. No matter what she thought of herself, and one day I’d get her to stop referring to herself as something inhuman... But to me she was perfection incarnate, and one of the best example of what humanity was capable of, what it could be that I had ever had the pleasure to witness.

I sat her back down on the towels to remove her shoes and socks. Her high-heeled footwear came off easily, the socks followed moments later, revealing an equally perfectly formed pair of feet. I gently but firmly pressed my thumbs against the bottom of one in a circular rubbing motion, and she literally moaned in pleasure. I imagined the heels placed a lot of strain on the muscles there, and I was certainly right that they were sore. It served to almost instantly relax her, too, and she nearly fell over backwards as her body lost what little tension remained. I repeated the motion with her other foot just for a minute, placing a tender kiss on the upper arch of each foot as I finished, nothing more than a simple gesture of affection, just because it felt right to do so, and I could. I could see her smile at that act, and I knew she appreciated the tenderness and kindness I always treated her with. It was, after all, only right to do so in my mind. But that, of course, wasn’t quite as obvious to her, that she deserved that kind of behavior as much as I thought she did.

I helped her pull off her skirt, then, revealing more of her incredibly soft legs that were so enormously powerful below the surface. Her undergarments were similarly lacy as her bra had been, and quite appealing though I did not feel comfortable studying them as of now. Still, even the accidental brush of my fingers against the silky feel of her thighs was enough to set my senses aflame. Reluctantly, I pushed that away, and simply focused on the aspects of it that marveled at the aesthetic beauty of her form. That came easily to me, and was much more comfortable to dwell upon at this time. “You’re such an amazing work of art...” I whispered in awe, without even thinking about it.

I blushed immediately, of course, but she merely smiled, almost shyly? “Ah, Evie, you say the nicest things to me. I’m glad you feel such wonder when looking at me. It makes me happy that I inspire that in you, from you. It makes me appreciate myself that much more, to know that at least some parts of me are capable of evoking that response in someone else, especially someone as wonderful as you.”

I blushed even more heavily at her praise. “I am simply acknowledging the beauty that is within you, clearly visible to anyone with eyes and a mind that is open and willing to see. One day you’ll see that within yourself, I promise.” I grinned. “Even if that takes me many years to accomplish, it would be worth it. Really, it would be.” She smiled even more shyly when i said that, which was a marvel in itself... That this amazing human being, the closest approximation of a living goddess I had ever seen, Alecto excluded as she was perfect to me in a different way, could be so vulnerable and shy was hard to comprehend, to understand. You’d think she would be utterly confident with all her many gifts and abilities and in many ways she was... Except she could not believe that anyone could see her as more than what she could do, what she had been made to do. And who, really, could blame her for thinking that? Only a great many experiences that showed the exact opposite could ever hope to remedy that. I only hoped that I was up for my part of that, and swore to myself that I’d make it so.

We were both dressed in shirts and undergarments, now, yet the familiarity of us being around each other like that was clearly palpable. I could not sense any type of awkwardness being this close to her, and I was normally very sensitive to that feeling as I hated it. But there was none of that, it felt as natural to sit here, like that, next to Amelie as it did when I was around Alecto. Truly remarkable, it really was.

I stretched myself fully, then, the weariness of the longest day I had probably ever experienced finally hitting me in full, causing a yawn to escape from me that immediately infected Amelie. I collected the towels off the bed and put them in a pile on the floor. I could worry about those much later. I opened the covers of the bed, slipping underneath in an instant. The cool softness of the sheets felt wonderful against my tired body. I kept them open for Amelie, waiting.

Her eyes met mine and I could tell she hesitated, wanting to ask me something. “Come over here, silly.” I spoke, the smile clearly audible in my voice. “You’re tired, and hurt, of course you can sleep here with me.” She smiled rather luminously at that, clearly grateful. She was about to lay down next to me when I placed my hand against her face, tenderly stroking the newly healed skin. “When I feel as badly as I imagine you do... It helps a lot to have some physical comfort, to feel the warm embrace of someone’s arms around me. Whether it was my mom’s, or those of a dear friend or partner.” I paused for the duration of a heartbeat. “Do you want to...?”

She hesitated even less than I thought she would have. I definitely read that one right... I thought, proud of my intuitive grasp of her needs right then. She happily snuggled up against me. I smiled at her again, shaking my head, lifting her body up enough that she was almost directly on top of me. I felt her hesitate for just a moment before she relaxed into my warm body. My arms wrapped around her back, holding her tight against me while my hands massaged the muscles of her upper and lower back ever so gently. Amelie sighed out in utter bliss at that, and I felt even more of her remaining tension melt away. Her weight was actually quite considerable for her size, but our bodies were soft enough that it was still remarkably, even wonderfully, comfortable snuggling like that. One of her legs slipped in between my own and I noticed my feet hooking themselves around hers. I simply buried my face in the soft dark curls on top of her head, breathing in her scent and letting it overtake and soothe my own senses. She very nearly purred at that, but the sound almost immediately grew less focused as I felt her drift into a deep, restful sleep.

I felt myself following her into slumber, though it took me a few minutes to completely drift off. Right before I could, I felt her jerk wide awake, her breaths suddenly short, gasping. I simply hugged her closer in response, and noticed she wasn’t quite awake, just nearly so, and frozen in the grips of some bad dream I probably wouldn’t even be able to begin to imagine the full horrors of. The thought itself of her suffering through that alone nearly made my tears come out once more, and it kept me awake for quite a bit longer. I felt her startle from her nightmares several more times, though each time was somewhat less intense as the first had been, and she went back to sleep faster each time when I refused to let go of her, refused to relinquish my hold. Eventually, the dreams must have ceased, and I finally felt the embrace of my dreams take me. They were not terrible at all, quite the opposite in fact. I dreamt of affection, companionship and love, of platinum hair and green eyes and midnight black hair and brown eyes, and felt so utterly peaceful and content and so blissfully happy that I would have cried with joy were I awake. I did cry in my dream, though the tears were warm and sweet. Now we just had to find some way off this damn ship, help Amelie to safety. And we’d take it from there, one day and one step at a time. Certainly the current trajectory of my life could not be better if I had written it myself, so I was more than happy to follow its current course wherever we would go. And that really was the end of the longest, busiest day I had yet had.

To be continued

A/N: Okay then, that’s all for this day. Now they’ll have to figure out some way to avoid alerting the customs officials who may or may not be working with the other guys who’re after Amelie... And get off a ship that really only has a limited number of exits. I have not yet decided what will happen and probably won’t know until I write it, as the characters have their own ideas of what they want to try and do now. It makes it more fun as a trip, though.

This chapter was more flirty than anything, and I hope I dealt with the attraction that existed between Evelynne and Amelie in a satisfying and believable way. Like with the other stuff, I haven’t exactly decided what will happen... And remember, we just have Evelynne’s perspective on this, and maybe she’s completely and utterly mistaken about her feelings. It’s possible, though I don’t think so :-) But we’ll have to see how that develops, as I can say that Amelie really isn’t in any position to, shall we say, physically consummate anything with her past, not in the near future. We’ll learn more about that later, so for now it’s just lots of physically affectionate/caring gestures. But then, who dislikes those? Certainly not me :) Anyways, I hope you enjoy the chapter! Next one will most likely be sizeable as well as there’s a lot of things I need to address to make any resolution of the transport ship section of Evie’s trip work. So it may be a bit before it goes up, unless I find some super easy solution that I am not yet aware of. And with that, I’ll leave it to you guys.

I really am very pleased with how it is turning out so far, much more so than I thought I would be when I started writing this a few weeks ago. This chapter also has quite a bit of philosophical thought in it, at least from various characters’ perspectives, but I always enjoy that stuff, and I hope some among you do, as well. I think it is important to show how these people we’re reading about think, what they value in life, both implicitly through their feelings and actions and explicitly through their stated belief systems.

And thanks anyone for reading it, especially for commenting and/or favorite-ing the story. It really means a great deal to me to know that others derive enjoyment out of reading this, as much as I do writing it. So warm and happy thoughts to all of you! And my apologies if the next chapter will be a bit; work has been utterly insane and has made writing a significant amount difficult in the evenings. I swear I won't drop this, though, and another chapter will go up eventually, but probably not until things have calmed down in a few weeks. Sorry :(


To be continued

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